Do you want to be the next JK Rowling and write a smashingly good fantasy novel that will earn almost as many good reviews as it does money?
Or maybe you want to tap into the creative half of your brain and let off some steam before smoke starts spouting from both ears?
My motivation for writing a fantasy novel came from the unadulterated joy I experienced as a voracious young reader of fantasy novels. In school I would be scolded for reading underneath my desk while the class was supposed to be learning arithmetic. My mother, a reading teacher herself, helped nurture and feed my increasing appetite for new books. I simply could not get enough of the wizards and magical creatures swirling around inside these pages. The time I had spent pouring over these different fantasy novels meant so much to me that I realized I wanted to share it with others.
At 13 I caught the writing bug, and started writing a fantasy novel, Aether Warriors.
After five long years of writing, editing, and revising, I self-published Aether Warriors with Outskirts Press in 2013. It was nowhere near easy, but I had managed to make my dream come true. My book was showcased on Barnes & Noble and Amazon and I started visiting middle schools around Connecticut as a guest speaker.
I learned a few crucial secrets along the way, secrets I’d like to share with you. If aspiring authors follow these steps, they’ll be sure to improve their writing skills.
1. Don’t Read. Devour.
That’s right. Before you lift a pen or lay a finger on that keyboard you need to do some reading. The best way for any writer to improve his or her craft is to read, so start tearing your way through those books. Even if you consider yourself well read, there is simply too much fantastic material out there, and every year more is being published.
Since this cornucopia of literature would take more than one lifetime to sort through, writers should focus on materials that inspire their writing. What piques your interest? If your interest borders on the dystopian, maybe try a best seller in that genre such as the Hunger Games or the Maze Runner series.
A Google search of successful writers in your genre always provides plenty of new reading material. One resource you can use is BestFantasyBooks.com, which creates lists based on votes from users. A great place to start would be their all-time top 25 list.
2. Research Potential Book Markets
I know you want to write and tell an original story, and that you didn’t come here to do some boring fact checking. This is always the most difficult part for me too.
At the end of the day writing a fantasy novel and selling it is still a business, and if you want to be successful, you need to see what the currently trending authors are doing right.
Pay attention to what genres are selling, and what it is about each series that makes it so successful. Do fans fall in love with the characters or the complex plot twists? Although it is important to produce your own unique ideas, poking around success stories can always offer inspiration or give you an idea of what the market is getting excited about.
3. Try a Fresh Perspective
The way your story is told has a huge impact on how it unfolds in the mind of the reader. First of all you need to decide from what viewpoint the reader will experience the story. Will we be seeing through the eyes of a single character, or multiple? Will all of these characters be human? Will it be written in first or third person (since second-person is seldom used)?
A specific type of point of view can be chosen to allow the writer to intentionally leave bits of information out, in order to increase suspense and surprise the reader later on. Deciding on which viewpoint to use can impact how you choose to progress your plot, so it is important to make this choice early.
4. Map Out the Lineage of your Series
Will this novel be a standalone? In this case the world you create and the characters in it must be introduced and developed much more quickly in order to allow room for plot progression. If you decide on fashioning a series, more planning is involved.How will the passage of time affect each book? Will it be a trilogy or a tetralogy?
Since the survival of a series is determined by the number fans drawn to its first book, you will want to hook as many readers with your opening novel. Be sure to introduce your characters and the concepts/ struggles that they may face in your fantasy world as methodically as possible. Don’t forget to save some room for some nail-biting action and maybe even a cliffhanger ending to ensure fans have no choice but to buy the next book.
5. Paint Your Characters
You don’t need a canvas or palette for this next step, only a pen with some ink. Describe each one of your characters with as many words as you can think of on a piece of paper. As an author you must have a very vivid picture of what you are creating for the reader.
If you are artistically inclined, sketching out pictures of your characters can be a useful tool. For the more analytical of writers I have found Excel to be an extremely handy method of organizing characters. You can map out physical traits, where their loyalty falls in your world, whatever special abilities they may possess, or any other aspects important to the story you are telling.
When designing characters, it is imperative to consider is how they may change throughout your book. Character development is an excellent way to surprise or keep readers guessing. Perhaps a young boy is learning to become a hero, or a seemingly loyal friend shows his true colors as he switches sides, or maybe even an unstable character loses their grip on reality. By focusing on the starting point of each character you can guide their paths as you develop your novel.
6. Build Your Setting
The world you create is the place your readers should be transported to every time they open your book. This means vivid descriptions to make the experience as realistic as possible for the reader. Their introduction to this world should not just be physical, however — think about all of the differences that an entire new world would contain.
Here are some possible variations to consider when building your world:
- What is the infrastructure of your world like?
- How do your characters communicate or travel?
- Is this world full of tranquility or constantly warring factions?
- Are there different cultures at play here?
- How do they interact and function differently than we do in ours?
There are a number of nuances that are easy to overlook when creating a new world, so be careful to cover as many plot holes as you can conceive.
7. Don’t Beat it to Death
So you hit your stride and everything is working in perfect harmony. Relatable characters, gripping plot points, and an immersive setting. You fell so madly in love with your creation that you decide to pump out one extra book, then another, then one more.
Here’s a warning: Don’t muddy your original idea by trying to keep it alive for too long.
Author’s have fell victim to this affliction before, such as with the Magic Tree House series, which was painfully stretched to over 50 books. With an idea as inventive as a treehouse that has the ability to transport its inhabitants throughout time, it is easy to imagine getting lost in all the different scenarios the main characters could wind up in.
However, it’s important to keep concepts fresh, or eventually your readers will get tired of the same show with a different background. It’s important to never fear cutting the umbilical cord and moving on to your next series.
8. It’s a Process, Not a Checklist
The whole point of writing a fantasy novel is to feed on creative energy, so never be afraid to explore something new. Writing a novel is not like taking a Scantron test; there are no right or wrong answers.
Although researching what other authors have done right can help, the reason these books were successful is because they were innovative. Maybe they invented a fresh take on an old story, like in the bestseller Lightning Thief.
So dare to be different, to be bold, to never hold yourself back. Who knows, you might come up with a whole new genre of fantasy …