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16 Tips for Writing a Great Fantasy Novel

dac213 has all the tips you need to write the next YA bestseller!—Sparkitors

I haven’t written a fantasy action novel (yet), but I have read my share of good and bad fantasy novels, including some that seemed wonderful in 7th grade but now just seem tedious and drawn-out *cough*Eragon*cough*. So I present the rules of a great fantasy novel:

Gigantic spoiler alert: If you’ve never read and/or seen the Inheritance cycle, The Lord of the Rings, or Harry Potter, stop now and go read Harry Potter, all seven of ’em. I’m not kidding. Why are you even on SparkLife if you haven’t at least picked up Sorcerer’s Stone?

1. Make it clear who the hero is from the beginning. This can be achieved by titling the first chapter with the hero’s name, or narrating from his/her point-of-view, or by titling the book with the hero’s name (e.g. the hero of Eragon is a guy named, you guessed it, Eragon).

2. Our hero can’t be special from the beginning, or at least s/he can’t know s/he is special from the beginning. It doesn’t matter if our hero is the Warrior Heir, the Wizard Heir, the Chosen One, or the Last Dragon Rider, they can’t know that from the get-go. This gives the reader time to get to know the average farm boy/soccer player/hooligan/severely neglected orphan s/he once was, which allows the reader to relate to the hero and track his/her growth into the hero he/she has to become.

3. Mentor time! You can’t expect a farm boy to turn into the last hope for Alagaesia on his own, can you? This mentor must be someone the hero knows, someone who’s a part of his/her life and has either known he/she was special the whole time or can recognize his/her recent growth of specialness. In other words, the mentor needs to be magical, and completely comfortable with being magical. The mentor is usually a good guy, and if s/he is a little eccentric or uninvolved with the general quest to save the world, that’s good too. (e.g. Dumbledore heads up the Order of the Phoenix, which kind of operates outside the Ministry even before the Ministry turns evil; he’s also powerful, eccentric, and always knew that Harry was the Chosen One).

4. Time to leave home. You can’t have crazy, less-than-socially-acceptable adventures in the dull old Shire. Our hero needs a reason to leave, whether it’s magical fairy genes, the need to avenge a parental figure, or the fact that if s/he has to pick up lot of minor characters who will eventually die.

5. Training. No one is born knowing how to fight/use magic/find treasure/survive long enough to get to Mordor. Therefore the mentor must use the time s/he has with the hero to train him/her. If the mentor and hero are either on the run or in hiding, that helps too (e.g. Brom starts training Eragon after they’re forced to leave Carvahall).

6. If you haven’t mentioned it yet, explain the villain now. By now the bad guys have probably done something horrible to the hero or to his/her friends/family/true love, so it’d be nice to know about the guy pulling the strings and why he’s so obsessed with destruction and evil-doing. The villian must be inordinately evil, have a lot of power (magical and political), and have it in for the hero specifically. It’s also good to show the villain doing something like killing his/her own people, to show that they’re REALLY, irrevocably evil.

7. Did I mention that the villain should be evil?

8. Bye-bye mentor. The mentor usually disappears before the hero’s training is complete. Usually the mentor gets killed off, but double-crossing everyone, getting captured, or never having been what s/he claimed to be in the first place works to. This way the hero has to ultimately defeat the villain using his/her own skills, talent, and the personality traits we will have seen develop by now.

9. Time to join the rebellion, if you haven’t yet. By now the hero, not completely trained, alone but for a dragon/sword/group of friends/loyal gardener/mysterious stranger, will have no choice but to officially join whatever rebellion is mounting against the villain. Of course, the hero will have been on the rebellion’s side all along, but now it needs to be official.

10. Now’s a good time to introduce that love interest. Love interests not only give the hero something specific to fight for, it gives him/her a reason to live as well. The love interest should be physically attractive, unattainable for any number of reasons, brave, generally awesome—and being magical doesn’t hurt either. Unfortunately, being a hero comes at a price, and our hero can’t be with his/her one true love for a while (I’m talking 100 pages minimum). Oh yeah, and the love interest should either be on the good side or have some good side-type qualities.

11. Battles are always good plot devices. A battle with the bad guys gives the hero a chance to show off his/her skills. Also, it’s probably about the first time the rebellion has officially attacked the bad guys, so now there’s a war on. This war will force the hero to face the villain sometime soon, unless the writer wants to draw out the story by having the bad guy inexplicably not attack until everyone’s had the chance to move, repair a large gemstone, and the hero has gotten more training from some stuck-up elves; the author will then validate all this with a huge plot twist which also gives the author an excuse to write another book to draw out the plot even more.

12. The hero’s going to have to face the villain at some point, but first let’s have another battle. Think the Battle of Hogwarts from Deathly Hallows: before Harry can get to Voldemort he has to run into all the minor characters in a massive final battle first. The final battle must include every good guy and bad guy we’ve met so far, and the hero will have to literally or metaphorically fight through something to get to the villain and kill him/her.

13. Don’t make it easy, build suspense! Make us think there’s a chance the hero won’t make it. Of course you can’t actually kill the hero after all this, but if it looks like he’s going to die, well, that’s one way to make sure no one stops before the end.

*Note: If you do kill the hero after all this, he/she had better die for a darn good reason; true love usually works. And then someone else, someone we know and like, had better kill the villain, or else!*

14. The villain must die. He/she just has to. It doesn’t matter if they’re stabbed, beheaded, expelliarmused, or their powerful magic ring is dropped into a volcano; pages and pages have led up to this; the villain just can’t make it.

15. Epilogues are nice. Admit it, you wanted to know what would happen to Harry after he killed Voldemort; you wondered if he would marry Hermione or Ginny, and you just knew his kids would be named James, Albus, and Lily. With an epilogue the reader can be sure that the hero gets a happy ending.

16. Rules are made to be broken; the best fantasy novels probably don’t completely follow any formula my meager teenage mind can come up with!

Will you use these tips in your writing? What do YOU think makes a great fantasy novel?

Related post: How To Write Your Own Fantasy Novel