Genre tips / writing

59 Tips for Fantasy Writers

fantasy writersSome of the most popular writers of all time pen in this genre. J.K. Rowlings, J.R. Tolkein, Piers Anthony. Who doesn’t love creating a world that exactly as you wish Mother Earth and Uncle Universe would be. If only. Not to be confused with Science Fiction–that brilliant writing that extrapolates its reality from our present.

From the Fantasy Novelist’s Exam:

These are from David Parker who admits to being ‘sick’ of all the writers who are darn sure they can write the next big Fantasy…”so we’ve compiled a list of rip-off tip-offs in the form of an exam. We think anybody considering writing a fantasy novel should be required to take this exam first. Answering “yes” to any one question results in failure and means that the prospective novel should be abandoned at once.”

Very interesting:

  • Does nothing happen in the first fifty pages?
  • Is your main character a young farmhand with mysterious parentage?
  • Is your main character the heir to the throne but doesn’t know it?
  • Is your story about a young character who comes of age, gains great power, and defeats the supreme bad guy?
  • Is your story about a quest for a magical artifact that will save the world?
  • How about one that will destroy it?
  • Does your story revolve around an ancient prophecy about “The One” who will save the world and everybody and all the forces of good?
  • Does your novel contain a character whose sole purpose is to show up at random plot points and dispense information?
  • Does your novel contain a character that is really a god in disguise?

  • Is the evil supreme bad guy secretly the father of your main character?
  • Is the king of your world a kindly king duped by an evil magician?
  • Does “a forgetful wizard” describe any of the characters in your novel?
  • How about “a powerful but slow and kind-hearted warrior”?
  • How about “a wise, mystical sage who refuses to give away plot details for his own personal, mysterious reasons”?
  • Do any of your female characters exist solely to be captured and rescued?
  • Do any of your female characters exist solely to embody feminist ideals?
  • Would “a clumsy cooking wench more comfortable with a frying pan than a sword” aptly describe any of your female characters?
  • Would “a fearless warrioress more comfortable with a sword than a frying pan” aptly describe any of your female characters?
  • Is any character in your novel best described as “a dour dwarf”?
  • How about “a half-elf torn between his human and elven heritage”?
  • Did you make the elves and the dwarves great friends, just to be different?
  • Does everybody under four feet tall exist solely for comic relief?
  • Did you draw a map for your novel which includes places named things like “The Blasted Lands” or “The Forest of Fear” or “The Desert of Desolation” or absolutely anything “of Doom”?
  • Does your novel contain a prologue that is impossible to understand until you’ve read the entire book, if even then?
  • Is this the first book in a planned trilogy?
  • Is your novel thicker than a New York City phone book?
  • Did absolutely nothing happen in the previous book you wrote, yet you figure you’re still many sequels away from finishing your “story”?
  • Are you writing prequels to your as-yet-unfinished series of books?
  • Does your novel contain characters transported from the real world to a fantasy realm?
  • Do any of your main characters have apostrophes or dashes in their names?
  • Do any of your main characters have names longer than three syllables?
  • Do you see nothing wrong with having two characters from the same small isolated village being named “Tim Umber” and “Belthusalanthalus al’Grinsok”?
  • Does your novel contain orcs, elves, dwarves, or halflings?
  • How about “orken” or “dwerrows”?
  • At any point in your novel, do the main characters take a shortcut through ancient dwarven mines?
  • Do you think you know how feudalism worked but really don’t?
  • Do your characters spend an inordinate amount of time journeying from place to place?
  • Could one of your main characters tell the other characters something that would really help them in their quest but refuses to do so just so it won’t break the plot?
  • Do you think horses can gallop all day long without rest?
  • Does anybody in your novel fight for two hours straight in full plate armor, then ride a horse for four hours, then delicately make love to a willing barmaid all in the same day?
  • Does your main character have a magic axe, hammer, spear, or other weapon that returns to him when he throws it?
  • Does anybody in your novel ever stab anybody with a scimitar?
  • Does anybody in your novel stab anybody straight through plate armor?
  • Does your hero fall in love with an unattainable woman, whom he later attains?
  • Do you really think it frequently takes more than one arrow in the chest to kill a man?
  • Do you not realize it takes hours to make a good stew, making it a poor choice for an “on the road” meal?
  • Do you have nomadic barbarians living on the tundra and consuming barrels and barrels of mead?
  • Do you think that “mead” is just a fancy name for “beer”?
  • Does your story involve a number of different races, each of which has exactly one country, one ruler, and one religion?
  • Is your story about a crack team of warriors that take along a bard who is useless in a fight, though he plays a mean lute?
  • Is the countryside in your novel littered with tombs and gravesites filled with ancient magical loot that nobody thought to steal centuries before?
  • Is your book basically a rip-off of The Lord of the Rings?

For the rest of David’s list, click here.

From Bruce Coville:

Bruce Coville is the author of nearly 100 books for children and young adults, including the international bestseller My Teacher is an Alien and the wildly popular Unicorn Chronicles. Bruce has been a teacher, toymaker, magazine editor, gravedigger, and a cookware salesman.  His books have won Children’s Choice Awards in over a dozen states, including Vermont, Connecticut, Nevada and California. His books have been translated into nearly 20 languages.[from his biography]

Here are his hints:

  • Know the Rules
  • Humor is Always Welcome
  • Do Your Research
  • Use Sidekicks
  • Start at Home
  • Retain a Sense of Mystery
  • Master the Art of Naming

If you write fantasy, I’d love to hear your hints for doing it right.

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Jacqui Murray is the author of the popular Building a Midshipman, the story of her daughter’s journey from high school to United States Naval Academy. She is webmaster for five blogs, an Amazon Vine Voice book reviewer, a weekly columnist for and TeachHUB, Editorial Review Board member for Journal for Computing TeachersCisco guest blog, IMS tech expert, and a monthly contributor to Today’s Author. In her free time, she is the editor of a K-8 technology curriculumK-8 keyboard curriculumK-8 Digital Citizenship curriculum, and creator of technology training books for how to integrate technology in education. Currently, she’s editing a thriller that should be out to publishers next summer. Contact Jacqui at her writing office or her tech lab, Ask a Tech Teacher.

19 thoughts on “59 Tips for Fantasy Writers

  1. Ha, I think this list would result in almost 90% of fantasy books not being written, including my own. My view is, as long as its written well, a cliche of the genre is not always a bad thing, in fact, without it the book may fall a bit flat (that’s what I’m telling myself anyway!).


    • Well, as my new favorite mentor shared at our latest workshop, there are only two rules for writing: Use words and be interesting (see the poster here–

      Really, the guidelines can be considered a genre description as much as a how-to.


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  7. After I initially commented I appear to have clicked the -Notify me when new comments are added- checkbox and now each time a comment is added I receive four emails with the exact same comment. Perhaps there is an easy method you can remove me from that service? Many thanks!


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  10. Jacqui I love it and will keep it when I start my fantasy story, it really makes you think outside the square. Thanks great read and made me laugh a lot! PS it did not put me off writing my story but it will help me put a new spin on it.


  11. I’m laughing heartily and you probably know why. Great list and a post that a lot of people should pay attention to. But they won’t.

    Well, we all think we are writing the next great Fill-in-the Category-Novel. I’m off to work on mine.


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