Fantasy Novel Writing – World Building, Dragons, Magic and More

This post is the twenty-eighth in a series about writing a novel. You can check out the list of past topics at the end of this post.

I am a fantasy author. Over the years, I have written numerous posts about writing a fantasy novel. Today, I wanted to highlight a few things that a fantasy author might want to consider before they begin writing their story. At the end of this post, I will list links to two of my fantasy post recaps.

World building

Fantasy novels can be set anywhere. While there is nothing wrong with setting your story here on Earth, you can always create your own world. In this case, you would be in control of everything – the names of cities, geography, culture, religion, systems of magic, history, creatures and more.

If you are going to create your own world. It is best you do so BEFORE you begin writing. You need to be familiar with your world so that the details remain consistent and logical throughout your novel.

Now don’t take designing your own world lightly. It is a lot of work – more work than your reader will ever see. But this work will pay off. You will create a world that your characters live in and have your readers believing it.

Dragons & other creatures

Many fantasy novels contain mythical creatures. I love dragons, so they have appeared in every one of my novels. Since these are imaginary beasts, you have the creativity to do whatever you want. They can be small, large, friendly, menacing, have magical powers or even the ability to speak. You can portray them as a snake-like creature like a Chinese dragon or a lizard-like beast with huge bat-like wings. They can be evil and hinder your protagonist’s moves or they can be a friend. Feel free to go against the norm. After all, you are only limited by your own imagination.

In addition to dragons, you can populate your world with any sort of creature you want. And why stick to unicorns, fairies, elves, griffins or vampires when you can create your own unique creation. One way to create a new creature would be to combine attributes from other mythical creatures. Or you can just decide what the creature needs to do in the story and let your imagination run wild.

But a word of warning – don’t go around creating creatures or throwing mythical creatures into your story just to do that. As with everything, the creatures need to serve a purpose whether it is to delay your protagonist or help your antagonist.

Creating believable magic

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Magic can show up in any genre – not just fantasy. And while magic can certainly enhance a story, you need to make sure it is believable. You need to clearly define what can and cannot be done with magic. There must be limits on magic otherwise the person using magic would always win and there would be no conflict in your story.

You as the writer get to decide what the limits will be. If the magic is an innate talent, the amount of magic one can perform can be based on the physical or mental strength of the user. It could be restricted by the person’s knowledge or imagination. Or perhaps energy is taken from the spell-caster to power the spell itself so performing magic drains the user. Or maybe the person draws on magical fields, and once those fields are depleted no magic can be performed in that area. Along the same lines, maybe there are magical lines running through the ground and magic is strongest when you are standing on or near one of the magical focal points.

If the magic is acquired through studying incantations and spells, then magic might be limited to what spells that person has learned or the wizard’s access to those rare and exotic books. Perhaps each magic user has a certain allotment of spells that they are allowed to use and when they have used them up, no more magic. Or perhaps the use of magic creates a “sound” that other sorcerers can hear, so your character has to be selective of when and where they perform their magic.

The possibilities of how you limit magic in your novel are endless. But you do need to establish your rules of magic BEFORE you begin writing so that your story builds off the character interaction and not the easy use of magic to solve the problems.

Be as detailed as you want and work with the idea that your reader may never know all these “rules” but know that by establishing your magical system you are creating a more believable magic and a more believable plot.

If you want to read more about writing a fantasy novel, check out my Fantasy Novel Recap (covers fight scenes, magical battles, poisons as well as naming places) or Fantasy Novel Recap, part 2 (covers food, travel, weapons, myths, Gods, and fantasy without cliché).

Previous topics

#1 – Deciding to write a novel – Writing Myths

#2 – Three areas to develop before starting to write a novel

#3 – Finding a Story Idea and How to Know if it “good enough”

#4 – Developing Characters for your Novel

#5 – Major characters? Minor Characters? Where does everyone fit in?

#6 – Developing the Setting for your Novel

#7 – The importance of developing conflict in your novel plot

#8 – To Outline or not to outline 

#9 – The importance of a story arc

#10 – The importance of tension and pace

#11 – Prologue and opening scenes

#12 – Beginning and ending scenes in a novel

#13 – The importance of dialogue…and a few tips on how to write it

#14 – Using Internal Dialogue in your novel

#15 – More dialogue tips and help with dialogue tags

#16 – Knowing and incorporating back story into your novel

#17 – Hinting at what is to come with foreshadowing

#18 – Tips for writing different scenes in your novel

#19 – Dealing with Writer’s Block

#20 – Killing a Character in your Novel

#21 – Keeping things realistic in your novel

#22 – Establishing Writing Goals and Developing Good Writing Habits

#23 – Using the five senses and passive voice in your novel

#24 – The benefit of research in fiction writing

#25 – Novella or Novel, Trilogy or Series – decisions for writers

#26 – Avoiding Plot and Character Clichés

#27 – Novel Writing – Endings and Epilogues

Creating a fantasy novel recap – part 2

As I begin working on my next novel – and I have taken off WAY TOO MUCH TIME since my last novel – I thought I would take the time to recount some of my posts on writing a fantasy novel. For some of the basics of fantasy writing, check out my first fantasy recap from 2013.

Since then, I have written numerous other posts to help you build your fantasy world. If you missed any of these, or just want to re-read them, click on the “read more” link to see the original post.

Realistic Food in your Fantasy Novel

campfireOne way to pull your reader out of your fantasy world is to write something so strange or unbelievable that they pause to wonder how that can be. And one place that typically happens in a fantasy novel is when food is mentioned.

Yes, this is another world and food choices and eating habits may be different there. But everyone is familiar with food so you should at least have the food choices make sense. Writers of fantasy novels too often ask us to believe that a roadside meal is cooked in the time it takes to water the horses or set up camp or that fresh fruit is available at all times – even the winter. (Read More…)

How fast can your hero travel? 

Two weeks ago, I wrote about food in the fantasy novel. Today I want to discuss travel. If this is modern-day fantasy that takes place on Earth, then this discussion will probably not pertain to you. I am mainly thinking about those of us who have created a world where modern conveniences such as cars and planes don’t exist. Your hero or heroine is walking, riding a horse or riding in a wagon or carriage. Once again, you need to do your research and make the distance traveled in one day or even a month believable. (Read More…)

Know your weapons and armor 

swordI have written numerous times about creating realism in your fantasy novel – the most recent about food and travel. Armor and weapons are certainly ones you need to write about with some accuracy, or you will have your reader saying, “what?” You need to research your weapon so you know it well enough to write competently about it.

Now I am not going to go into every type of weapon or armor but list a few guidelines. This is by no means a comprehensive list but one to get you thinking about the weapons you write about. (Read More…)

Creating stories and myths within your fantasy novel

“And as for this book,” said Hermione, “The Tales of Beedle the Bard…I’ve never even heard of them!”

“You’ve never heard of The Tales of Beedle the Bard?” said Ron incredulously. “You’re kidding right?…All the old kids’ stories are supposed to be Beedles’, aren’t they? ‘The Fountain of Fair Fortune’…’The Wizard and the Hopping Pot’…’Babbitty Rabbitty and her Cackling Stump’…”

Just as Harry and Hermione are mystified by these titles, Ron is equally mystified by the stories (‘Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs’ and ‘Cinderella’) his friends grew up hearing. (Read More…)

12 questions to help you develop Gods/religion in your fantasy novel

ritualWhen I wrote my The Elemental trilogy, I decided right off that I didn’t want to deal with religion. So there is no mention of gods, and there is no church in my story, and it works fine.  However, in many fantasy novels, religion is an integral part of the plot.

Adding religion to your novel can be a source of tension between characters. A war can be because of religious differences. The reason your protagonist or antagonist does something can be based in their religious beliefs. Even prophecies can come from religious writings. (Read More…)

Gods and magic in the fantasy novel

Last week, I wrote about incorporating gods and religion into the fantasy novel. Since many works of fantasy also include magic, I wanted to address magic and gods.

As I have said before, all magic needs established rules to be believable. How do the gods play into these rules? Are they the ones who established them? Are their powers also limited to these rules? (Read More…)

Fantasy without Cliche 

Fantasy stories are often filled with clichéd ideas – the farm boy who saves the world, the girl destined to become the ruler, and so many more that I could fill up my whole post with overused plot or characters from fantasy stories.

The hard thing is when you think of fantasy – you typically think of fantasy characters such as fairies, goblins, dwarves and elves. All these are overused. (Read More…)

These seven posts – along with the original nine from the first recap – can help you create your fantasy world and begin writing your fantasy novel. As I work on my latest fantasy novel, I will look for other topics that can help fantasy writers build their realistic fantasy world.




Fantasy without cliché

Fantasy stories are often filled with clichéd ideas – the farm boy who saves the world, the girl destined to become the ruler, and so many more that I could fill up my whole post with overused plot or characters from fantasy stories.

The hard thing is when you think of fantasy – you typically think of fantasy characters such as fairies, goblins, dwarves and elves. All these are overused.

It becomes hard to write a fresh, innovative fantasy novel without using a few of the clichéd ideas. After all, what makes fantasy…well a fantasy is a lot of these things.

I am not saying you need to omit these ideas or characters from your writing. I am just saying that you need to be aware of the overused themes, characters and plots and give them a new twist.

Fantasy clichés to avoid

dragon1.) Creatures – The above-mentioned creatures – fairies, elves, gnomes, dwarves – have all been overused and stereotyped. You can either change them from what everyone expects or create your own creatures. (But don’t use the same old creatures and just rename them something else.)

2.) Legends/Prophecies – The prediction that something will happen (and for it to come true) isn’t very realistic and can take some suspense out of the story for the reader. (Of course, my trilogy and my latest book both dealt with forms of this.)

3.) The Chosen One – This often is a lowly stable boy or someone of no importance who rises to save the world (or galaxy) from evil. Luke Skywalker or Harry Potter are both great examples. Again, overused and could negate some of the suspense to the story if you know how it will turn out.

bigstock_Shadow_Man_4690914.) Dark Lord – This typically is an antagonist that is often evil just for the sake of being evil. (I have already addressed creating a realistic villain in another post. Basically, the villain needs motivation or a reason to be evil.) Of course, many times the villain doesn’t see their scheme as bad. They are heroes in their own mind.

5.) Unrealistic fighting – In a fight, people get wounded and often are killed. It is unrealistic to have your hero battle a hoard of attackers and comes out unscathed. This is especially true if it is the young stable boy who has only had a lesson or two in sword work before he bests the trained, seasoned warrior. (Check out this post on creating realistic fight scenes.)

6.) Men as Hero/Women Damsel – Often the hero and his cohorts are men. Sometimes a woman is thrown into the mix but not always in a strong role. Instead, she often needs rescuing. But readers do like strong female characters. Think of Buffy the Vampire Slayer versus Snow White.  (All my stories have had a women protagonist though my first one, Lina, was a bit reluctant and a bit weak before growing into her role.)  Oh, and I should address the stereotype of the man who saves a woman and then will do anything to protect her after only just meeting her. Again, very unrealistic actions.

wizard7.) The Wise Old Man – Our stable boy or other-wise seemingly low born character is often taken under the wing of a wise old man – usually with a grey robe, long beard and some sort of magic. Definitely overdone. Maybe your hero can meet a young woman who guides him/her instead.

As I said, there are many other examples than the ones I listed here. Even romance between characters can become clichéd. I actually had a reviewer tell me that my romance in my first book, Summoned, seemed to only be included because romance is a given in most fantasy books these days.

You don’t have to avoid these clichéd items but try to put a creative twist on them. Go against the norm and do something a little unexpected. Then it isn’t a tired, old plot or character but something new for your reader.


Unicorns and other mythical creatures #AtoZchallenge

The steed stepped into the clearing. Its white hide glowed in the moonlight. The creature lifted its head. A twisted silvery horn protruded from its forehead. Its long mane waved as the wind blew. My mouth dropped as I stared at the most beautiful creature I had ever seen. Then the unicorn turned and moved forward, disappearing into the forest again.

UYes, today is the letter U on the A to Z challenge and as a fantasy writer, I had to go with unicorns and other mythical creatures as my topic.

I most often think of a unicorn as a horse – usually white – with a horn. However, the Merriam-Webster dictionary defines it as “a mythical animal generally depicted with the body and head of a horse, the hind legs of a stag, the tail of a lion, and a single horn in the middle of the forehead.”

There is quite a bit of lore around unicorns from them preferring a virgin’s touch to their horn’s magical healing power. But the great thing about being a writer is that there are no rules. You can make up your own rules about unicorns, Pegasus, mermaids, fairies, dragon and all sorts of other creatures. (For a great comprehensive list of mythical creatures, check out this website.)

And it isn’t just about adjusting mythical creatures to your storyline, as a writer you are free to do anything your imagination can come up with including creating your own creatures. In my trilogy, I not only have telepathic cats and dragons but many creatures that I created. My two favorite would be the Gunn (pronounced like the weapon) and Quietus (see Saturday’s post on my pronunciation error when I chose this as its name which is also the title of the second book in the series).

The Gunn (which appears in Summoned) is a creature created by magic for protection. It’s a huge beast, standing over six feet tall with arms and legs as thick as tree trunks. It has black hair covering its body and an impenetrable hide (except in one location because every creature needs a way to be killed). It has sharp black claws and fangs, but its deadliest feature is the light-green venom that it shoots from its mouth, which kills (quite gruesomely) on contact.

Quietus was also created by someone with magic. The creature’s only desire is to devour everything in its path. It is a small, purple insect which of course is nearly impossible to kill. Its bite is poisonous. This creature causes a lot of havoc and is prominent in both Quietus and Destiny.

As much as I enjoy creating my own creatures, I have only created one for my current work in progress. But I am only halfway through the first draft, so there is plenty of time to use my imagination and branch out from just unicorns and dragons.

Know your weapons and armor (fantasy writing series)

I have written numerous times about creating realism in your fantasy novel – the most recent about food and travel. Armor and weapons are certainly ones you need to write about with some accuracy, or you will have your reader saying, “what?” You need to research your weapon so you know it well enough to write competently about it.

Now I am not going to go into every type of weapon or armor but list a few guidelines. This is by no means a comprehensive list but one to get you thinking about the weapons you write about.

1.)    Research your weapon – You need to know the basics of your weapon and what it can or can’t do.

swordIf your hero is using a broadsword, those are heavy, and he won’t be tossing it in the air easily. A broadsword is used in swinging arcs cutting either diagonal or across the target. Your hero will not “stop” a blow with his broadsword but rather deflect it.

An Epee blade (think swashbucklers) or rapier is a light, quick weapon. The goal is to cut or stab. This would not be the weapon to cut off someone’s head. You need agility to use this type blade, which means your hero wouldn’t be wearing heavy armor.

Knives are not usually a defensive weapon. Can you imagine bringing a knife to a fight with someone with a sword or battle axe? Using a knife, you rely on speed and agility. Unless they are throwing knives, you also have to expect your hero or villain to get close to the one they are attacking.

If your hero has a bow and arrow, you should know that unlike in the movies, they don’t carry them around all ready strung. Your character will need to string the bow before using it. You should also know the distance that they can shoot an arrow.

2.)    Research your armor – Go to a museum and look at armor or at least look at some websites. Armor can be leather, mail (small links of metal made into a “cloth”) or even a rigid piece of metal. Each has their advantages and disadvantages.

suit of armourHowever, remember, armor will not always save your hero’s life. It can minimize the damage of a successful blow or even deflect a weapon. But there will probably still be some damage to the wearer.

Armor is also not seamless. It has to be flexible enough for the wearer to move. That means there are points that offer less-than-optimal protection.  If someone is hit in the right spot, armor will not save them.

Metal armor is heavy. Your hero is going to be limited in their mobility. They will need help getting onto their horse. And don’t forget that there will be padding underneath to reduce the impact of blows.

3.)    Creating your own weapons – Nothing says you have to use a crossbow, a dagger or a sword in your story. Feel free to create your own weapon – magical or not is up to you.  Of course, you really should have a REASON for creating a new weapon.

Weapons reflect the culture of the character. You wouldn’t have a fine, delicate weapon used by a race of Ogres. And there needs to be a reason the weapon was created. Why create a new type of sword or armor? What did the new one do better than the current/past weapon?

And remember that all weapons have a weakness. If it is blade-heavy, your hero won’t be very agile with it. If it has a lot of sharp edges, then special training may be necessary to learn to use the weapon without injury.

Remember the weapon you create doesn’t have to be able to work in our world, but it does need to be believable – just like any weapon that you write about.