BASICS:

Genres:

  • Alternate World: A setting that is not our world, but may be similar. This includes “portal fantasies” in which characters find an alternative world through their own. An example would be The Chronicles of Narnia.
  • Arabian: Fantasy that is based on the Middle East and North Africa.
  • Arthurian: Set in Camelot and deals with Arthurian mythology and legends.
  • Bangsian: Set in the afterlife or deals heavily with the afterlife. It most often deals with famous and historical people as characters. An example could be The Lovely Bones.
  • Celtic: Fantasy that is based on the Celtic people, most often the Irish.
  • Christian: This genre has Christian themes and elements.
  • Classical: Based on Roman and Greek myths.
  • Contemporary: This genre takes place in modern society in which paranormal and magical creatures live among us. An example would be the Harry Potter series.
  • Dark: This genre combines fantasy and horror elements. The tone or feel of dark fantasy is often gloomy, bleak, and gothic.
  • Epic: This genre is long and, as the name says, epic. Epic is similar to high fantasy, but has more importance, meaning, or depth. Epic fantasy is most often in a medieval setting.
  • Gaslamp: Also known as gaslight, this genre has a Victorian or Edwardian setting.
  • Gunpowder: Gunpowder crosses epic or high fantasy with “rifles and railroads”, but the technology remains realistic unlike the similar genre of steampunk.
  • Heroic: Centers on one or more heroes who start out as humble, unlikely heroes thrown into a plot that challenges them.
  • High: This is considered the “classic” fantasy genre. High fantasy contains the general fantasy elements and is set in a fictional world.
  • Historical: The setting in this genre is any time period within our world that has fantasy elements added.
  • Medieval: Set between ancient times and the industrial era. Often set in Europe and involves knights. (medieval references)
  • Mythic: Fantasy involving or based on myths, folklore, and fairy tales.
  • Portal: Involves a portal, doorway, or other entryway that leads the protagonist from the “normal world” to the “magical world”.
  • Quest: As the name suggests, the protagonist in this genre sets out on a quest. The protagonist most frequently searches for an object of importance and returns home with it.
  • Sword and Sorcery: Pseudomedieval settings in which the characters use swords and engage in action-packed plots. Magic is also an element, as is romance.
  • Urban: Has a modern or urban setting in which magic and paranormal creatures exist, often in secret.
  • Wuxia: A genre in which the protagonist learns a martial art and follows a code. This genre is popular in Chinese speaking areas.

Word Counts:

Word counts for fantasy are longer than other genres because of the need for world building. Even in fantasy that takes place in our world, there is a need for the introduction of the fantasy aspect.

Word counts for established authors with a fan base can run higher because publishers are willing to take a higher chance on those authors. First-time authors (who have little to no fan base) will most likely not publish a longer book through traditional publishing. Established authors may also have better luck with publishing a novel far shorter than that genre’s expected or desired word count, though first-time authors may achieve this as well.

A general rule of thumb for first-time authors is to stay under 100k and probably under 110k for fantasy.

Other exceptions to word count guidelines would be for short fiction (novellas, novelettes, short stories, etc.) and that one great author who shows up every few years with a perfect 200k manuscript.

But why are there word count guidelines? For young readers, it’s pretty obvious why books should be shorter. For other age groups, it comes down to the editor’s preference, shelf space in book stores, and the cost of publishing a book. The bigger the book, the more expensive it is to publish.

  • General Fantasy: 75k - 110k
  • Epic Fantasy: 90k - 120k
  • Contemporary Fantasy: 90k - 120k
  • Urban Fantasy: 80k - 100k
  • Middle Grade: 45k - 70k
  • YA: 75k - 120k (depending on sub-genre)
  • Adult: 80k - 120k (depending on sub-genre)

WORLD BUILDING:

A pseudo-European medieval setting is fine, but it’s overdone. And it’s always full of white men and white women in disguise as white men because around 85% (ignore my guess/exaggeration, I only put it there for emphasis) of fantasy writers seem to have trouble letting go of patriarchal societies. 

Guys. It’s fantasy. You can do whatever you want. You can write a fantasy that takes place in a jungle. Or in a desert. Or in a prairie. The people can be extremely diverse in one region and less diverse in another. The cultures should differ. Different voices should be heard. Queer people exist. People of color exist. Not everyone has two arms or two legs or the ability to hear.

As for the fantasy elements, you also make up the rules. Don’t go searching around about how a certain magic spell is done, just make it up. Magic can be whatever color you want. It can be no color at all. You can use as much or as little magic as you want.

Keep track of what you put into your world and stick to the rules. There should be limits, laws, cultures, climates, disputes, and everything else that exists in our world. However, you don’t have to go over every subject when writing your story.

World Building:

Cliches:

Note: Species (like elves and dwarves) are not cliches. The way they are executed are cliches.

CHARACTERS

Like any genre, you need great characters. Fantasy opens up more opportunities for characters because of the world you created around them.

These characters are part of an impossible world and they are the link from the reader’s life to their universe. Fantasy stories are more often character-driven than plot-driven, and with good reason. The characters of fantasy are meant to do great things, whether those acts of bravery, valor, or kindness are large or small. The reader is supposed to root for your heroes and heroines. The reader should look up to them. They are what makes your story great.

Learn about what makes a great hero and look into using archetypes to base your characters if you don’t know where to start.

Check out the morality alignments (links and explanation. in the “Guide to Writing a Villain” post) to act as a guide for certain characters.

RACES AND SPECIES:

It’s fantasy. You can do whatever you want,

BUT

it should reflect the real world in some way. There can’t be a world full of white people with the occasional magical negro or any other magical minority person. Put diversity in your world.

That being said, you have to be careful with culture. Different regions in your world will differ with culture, whether that difference is large or small. Don’t appropriate any cultures if you borrow from our world.

And with culture comes the patriarchal society that seems to be present in 90% of fantasies. This is overdone. It’s boring. It’s socially backwards. You’re writing a fantasy. You can do whatever you want. So please rethink what you’re writing about.

Books:

Other Guides:

More:

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