So you want to write fantasy? Good luck.
In all seriousness, fantasy is notoriously difficult to write no matter which way you look at it. It’s not uncommon for fantasy writers to take years to complete one single book (unless you’re Brandon Sanderson, but we don’t all have that luxury). Besides that, a major aspect of writing fantasy is all the worldbuilding you need to put into it. But what gives? Nearly every genre requires worldbuilding in some form, so what makes fantasy so different? Additionally, why does every integral aspect of a good story seem to be dialed up to eleven when it comes to fantasy? Why is fantasy so hard to write in comparison with other genres?
The epic scope of a typical fantasy certainly makes for a much larger story that takes longer to write. A lot more effort needs to be put into some areas of fantasy writing than in other genres, such as backstory and worldbuilding. Why is fantasy so hard to write? Look below to find out why and what you can do about it when you write fantasy.
Worldbuilding is the most distinguishable trait of fantasy. You either hear about how important it is to the story or how often genres like fantasy depend on it. And fantasy DEFINITELY depends on it. Just the extensive focus on worldbuilding helps make fantasy one of the hardest genres to write. Why does worldbuilding make fantasy so complicated? Often, with fantasy, you need to create an entirely new world.
A singular aspect of fantasy is that, most of the time, you have to build a completely new world from scratch. Some fantasy might be based on the real world, sure, but the different parts of the story that make what you’re writing “fantasy” involve establishing certain things that are different from the real world. Fantasy exists in a realm of its own, often with many aspects completely or nearly completely different from reality. Speculative fiction genres like science fiction or horror, on the other hand, often exist in worlds directly based on our world or even located in our world. It’s natural for these genres to focus on a familiar setting as its world. So in order to make a world that is believable but distinct, you need worldbuilding.
How do you simplify your fantasy writing when it comes to worldbuilding?
1) Find a balance between writing and worldbuilding. Sometimes writers focus too much on getting the story written down. Other times they do so much worldbuilding the story is neglected. Take the time to work on both separately. Not only will it put less stress on you, but also your work will end up with a good story AND a good world by the end of it.
2) Develop information, then incorporate it later. Infodumping is NEVER the answer. Sure, you have all the information on hand, but that doesn’t mean you need to include all of it at once. Have your worldbuilding outlined, whether in a separate document or even a sheet of paper, then drop in details throughout your story as they become relevant to the plot and your character’s environment.
Want to know more about the different types of worldbuilding and how it affects the way you write? Check out this post here.
Also, worldbuilding involves creating societies and cultures in fantasy most of the time. For an outline of what to include in a culture, check out my post here!
I just mentioned all the different aspects of worldbuilding, but that centers on how your world works. But there’s more to worldbuilding than that. You need history and layers of story on top of function. With the history of your world, you need to be able to explain how your world existed up until the events of your story. A world needs a history, after all. So unless you begin from the very beginning, information about the world beforehand needs to exist. To do so in a unique and meaningful way involved a couple of things:
1) Establish major events in your history (but write only what you need at the time). Significant events in the past profoundly influence the future in real life. The same holds true for fantasy. What kind of events could you include? For example, what if there was a major battle centuries before that influenced how the government or society of your story works today? In The Hunger Games, a major event almost like an apocalypse helps establish the city of Panem that the series takes place in. Despite existing in what was once North America, the government, society, and culture are all wildly different thanks to this event that’s mentioned early on. Write down your events, then determine where best to explain them. (Just don’t do it all at once).
2) Understand how history affects your story. Ask yourself: Is the history I’m including in this specific part of my story relevant? How does it advance the narrative or otherwise offer the correct information to the reader or the characters? History needs to connect with what’s happening at the moment. Otherwise, you risk infodumping information readers don’t need to know right then. Additionally, how might the history you present connect to your overarching story? interweaving details throughout that readers only recognize when they finish reading adds depth to your story, so see what you can do!
The same holds true for your backstory. A lot of your backstory might involve history pertaining to your characters, but that doesn’t make it less important. You need to flesh out your characters, their motive, and their personalities too. Figure out what events got them to the specific moment you’ve just written about. Is now a good time for them to explain their backstory to another character? For example, what if your fantasy character is an assassin? How did they become one? Did something tragic happen? If so, how might that backstory be revealed to your readers and the characters the assassin interacts with?
I mentioned at the beginning of this article that fantasy often has a broad, epic scope. That means that fantasy often focuses on multiple perspectives, multiple stories and subplots, and multiple settings throughout the world. This is often where a fantasy story gets complicated when you write. Not only is it difficult to balance multiple elements at once, but also it’s easy to make these factors TOO complicated on your own. You inadvertantly frustrate your readers later on, and you end up frustrating yourself as you write. How do you simplify the fantasy writing process? How do you balance more than one perspective/setting/plot and keep your fantasy story from being so difficult to write?
1) Recognize the complex vs. the complicated. It’s good to have layers in your story. Multiple perspectives, subplots, and more bring out more of your world and get your readers invested in it. This is especially important for fantasy. However, writer’s often get complex mixed up with complication. They end up making a concept more difficult for readers to understand than it really should be. (I’m guilty of this). So here’s what I do: introduce a concept, whether that be magic, a setting, an event, or whatever, and write down how it works or what it does. If it takes quite a bit of explaining, or even you have trouble describing it, it might be too complicated. To simplify something, often “cut it out of the story” is the best answer. You could include it later, but if it convolutes the story, it’s best to just let it go.
2) Focus on the overarching story. In an epic, you need a strong beginning, middle, and end. If you don’t know what to do, what direction you want to go, at any point, your story ends up wandering aimlessly, and that’s just frustrating. You don’t necessarily need to outline everything in advance (though that does help some writers). Just be sure that you have an end goal in mind for the entire story and each of the plots you introduce. You can even have a goal for each chapter, as if each chapter is a mini story that connects like puzzle pieces. Additionally, make sure you know what each scene and setting purpose is. How does it advance the story in the long run? How does it connect with everything else?
Fantasy will always be a difficult genre to tackle. But it doesn’t have to be impossible. By simplifying the above, the writing, worldbuilding, and editing process becomes loads easier. Got a fantasy story in mind? Let me know all about it! Happy writing!
I’m currently UPDATING my portfolio. In the meantime, check out:
The Facebook Page
My 2022 chapbook
My 2023 micro-chapbook