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

Image provided by freedigitalphotos.net

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

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.