Writing a fantasy novel – tips and things to consider

Writing about magical things and miracles has existed as long as fiction has existed, but fantasy fiction these days has its own rules and conventions. If you’ve dreamed of writing a fantasy novel, this post should help you get started on that magical journey, whether it’s cozy or gritty.

Tips & tricks for writing a fantasy novel

What makes a fantasy novel

Fantasy is a genre of speculative fiction with some kinds of magical elements, usually taking place in an imaginary setting. Most fantasy novels take place somewhere that is like Earth, except somehow different and usually resembling past rather than present. Unless, of course, you’re writing urban fantasy, in which case the magical elements might exist alongside normal things in the “regular world” or there might be an adjacent magical world that is accessible from the normal world, for example.

What does your fantasy novel need?

Folklore is a big influence in the fantasy genre and usually there are people who practice magic, such as witches or mages, and even magical creatures. Magic on its own doesn’t necessarily mean it’s a fantasy novel, though, if other important fantasy elements are missing.

Subgenres of fantasy – pick your favourite

What's the right fantasy subgenre for you?

If writing an epic fantasy novel to the tune of Lord of the Rings is not your thing and you feel like the concept of high fantasy is too restrictive, you have nothing to worry about. There are so many different fantasy subgenres these days that I’m sure you’ll find one you enjoy writing in and you’ll be able to find your readers.

This Reedsy Discovery article lists 50 different fantasy subgenres with examples, so if you haven’t picked your subgenre yet or you’d like some more inspiration, do check it out.

Romantasy and cozy fantasy have been fairly popular in recent years, but maybe you’d rather write something more timeless than trendy. Historical fantasy probably isn’t going away any time soon and neither is urban fantasy or YA fantasy.

Whichever fantasy subgenre you choose, I hope you’ll choose one you actually want to write in and enjoy! Just copying and pasting elements from other people’s stories that happen to be popular might land you on BookTok but it won’t help you write a great book and won’t bring you lasting success.

The importance of reading within your genre

Do this if you want to write fantasy novels

Whatever genre you want to write in, you have to make sure you’re actually reading within that genre as well. An inexperienced writer might say “well, I want to write something completely unique and I don’t want to be influenced by other people”, but that’s not how it works at all. You need to know the genre you’re writing in.

If you don’t read books in the genre you want to write in, I’d definitely question why you want to write in that genre to begin with? What makes you think you’d enjoy it? If you like the idea of writing fantasy but you think existing fantasy books are somehow too boring or not good enough for you, I don’t think you’re very familiar with the genre and perhaps you should explore some of the subgenres and newer releases.

Naturally, you don’t need to (and probably shouldn’t) read ONLY in one genre. Every novel has something valuable for you to learn from and I firmly believe that every writer should read as extensively as possible without thinking any specific genre is inherently more valuable than some others.

What are you inspired by?

What is your fantasy novel inspired by?

When you start your fantasy writing journey, it’s good to get clear on what inspires you. Is it existing works in the genre or perhaps a period of time in real-world history? Is it folklore or your favourite TV show?

Whatever you’re feeling inspired by, make a list of those things and what you like about them. Then try to broaden your scope by finding more things that are similar and see if you can find something completely new. The more material you feed your creative brain, the better your stories will be.

It’ll also be easier to find an audience and to pitch your book to agents or publishers when you can tell what your work can be compared with. Again, don’t think that creating something completely unlike anything that’s ever been written is going to work in your favour or be something you need to try to achieve!

Storytelling should still be your priority

This is a requirement for every great fantasy novel

Here’s a pet peeve of mine: I grab an interesting looking fantasy book from the shelf in my local library so I can read the blurb. But, much to my disappointment, the blurb only tells me how the book is about an epic battle between this and this kingdom, and look, isn’t the worldbuilding great! And I simply don’t care about any of that stuff.

I know battles are common in fantasy novels and worldbuilding is definitely important, but that’s not a STORY. If you want your book to be read by other people besides hardcore fantasy fans, you need to lead with your story. It can’t be trampled by soldiers on magical horses.

Do you know when genre fiction goes “mainstream”? When the story is excellent. Donald Maas talks about this in his book Writing a Breakout Novel and says that all “breakout novels” have certain things in common and you can become well-known outside your genre if your story ticks all those boxes. In other words, a great story will lead to a greater number of readers.

And hey, even if you don’t care about “getting more readers”, you still can’t replace a story with realistic battle scenes and detailed settings. Don’t disrespect your readers like that.

What are your story’s stakes?

The two kinds of stakes that your fantasy novel needs

What your hero has to lose if he fails is what your story’s “stakes” are, and there are two kinds of stakes: public and personal.

In an epic fantasy novel, it’s easy to come up with public stakes. Why, of course it matters that the world will end if the evil wizard gets a hold of the magican bracelet! The problem is, it’s a lot more difficult to get your readers to care about your story with only public stakes.

People care about people, even if those people are actually elves of werewolves. What does your hero have to lose personally if he fails? Has he fallen in love with this childhood friend and he’ll never get to confess his love if the world ends? Or is the evil wizard actually his long-lost father? You need to make the story matter on a smaller scale as well, you need to have your readers rooting for you protagonist in particular.

Naturally, this works the other way round as well. If you’ve only got personal stakes, try to find something that expands beyond that one character’s experience. It doesn’t have to be a global catastrophe, just think of how other people can be affected by what happens.

How to do worldbuilding for fantasy novels

Don't forget these whe you build your fantasy world

Fantasy worldbuilding should probably be its own blog post, and maybe one day it will be. As you probably already know, worldbuilding is the act of creating everything in your world from weather and political systems to family dynamics and fashion.

Not every detail will be relevant for your story, and many won’t come up more than once, but it’s still important for you to have an understanding of your world and your readers will appreciate feeling like they’re really inside your story world.

When you build your fantasy world, you should remember that the bigger things will have an effect on the smaller stuff but not necessarily the other way round. What this means is that politics can affect the way people dress but the way people dress doesn’t affect politics. That being said, it’s up to you whether you want to start from those big things and zoom into smaller or start from small and go big from there. Different subgenres of fantasy will also have different emphasis on the bigger and the smaller things.

I’ve actually created a fantasy worldbuilding planner that you can find in my Etsy shop, and here are the categories included in that planner:


Who lives in your fantasy world and how do these groups of people or sentient creatures interact? Are there smaller groups inside races and nationalities?


What is the landscape like? What are the major mountains, rivers, desers, seas, etc?

Climate & weather

What is the overall climate in your story world? Are there any extreme weather phenomena? Can magic affect weather?


What are animals and plantlife like your world? What is common and what is rare? Are any of them magical?


Do people live in big cities, small towns or tiny villages? Do they live in small settlements in the wilderness and how do people travel between different settlements?


Who rules your world? What are the laws like and who upholds the law? What do people think about those in power?

Technology & inventions

Is there any kind of technology in your world? You’re writing fantasy so you probably don’t have computers and cars, but you can still have compasses and magical sundials, for example.


How do people pay for goods and services in your world? How do people earn a living? What is trade like? What kind of socio-economical classes are there in your world?


What do people do in their free time and what kind of art is appreciated? How do people celebrate? How do friends interact with each other compared to how they interact with elders and superiors? What are the social norms and are there any taboos? What do people wear?


What are common foods in your world and where is food sourced? What do rich people eat? What about poor people? What special occasion foods are there?

Health & medicine

Who do people go to when they’re giving birth, hurt or dying? How are illnesses treated? What is used as medicine? What common illnesses are there? What do people die of besides accidents, killings or old age?

Daily life

What does a normal day look like in your story world for different people and social classes? What common obstacles are there? What kinds of events are considered as normal or commonplace?


How does magic work in your fantasy world? Who gets to use it? What are the attitudes towards magic? What is the cost of using magic?

Religion & beliefs

Do people workship something in your world? Where do they go to worship? What kinds of rituals are there? Are deities present in everyday life? Is religion for or against magic?


What are the different languages in your story world? Are you going to invent new words?

This barely scraped the surface of what you can do when it comes to fantasy worldbuilding, but hopefully it gave you some ideas. Again, you can find my worldbuilding planner here in my Etsy shop.

The fine line between genre expectations and clichés

The difference between fantasy genre expectations and chiches

Genre expectations are things that your readers expect to be in your story. It’s basically what you’ve advertised for when you’ve chosen your genre. Magic is a requirement of the fantasy genre but your book doesn’t necessarily need to heavily rely on magic or the use of it – it just needs to exist in your world somehow.

Since you’ve been reading fantasy (I hope), you already know what kind of things exist in these stories. You don’t need to include all those things and you can certainly add more and make the story your own. Just don’t promise your readers a gritty fantasy story when it’s all about drinking magical herbal tea with your dwarf friends.

Then, there are clichés. They are themes and plot devices that have been so overused that they basically make your readers gag and then predict how the whole story will play out. For example, a poor peasant boy who is “the one” according to a mysterious profecy is definitely a cliché and I think everyone will know how that’s going to play out. Good versus evil is another thing that’s pretty tired and overused.

Tropes are different from clichés although it’s difficult to say where exactly the line goes. Let’s just say that a trope makes your reader go “oh, this is familiar, I like this” and a cliché makes them go “blech, not this again, how uncreative”.

In other words, you have to make sure your readers will know your fantasy story IS a fantasy story and you need to keep them happy without resorting to tired and uncreative, recycled ideas. This shouldn’t be too difficult to do as long as you read a lot and pay attention to things you enjoy reading! If you’re unsure, don’t hesitate to ask for someone else’s opinion.

How to name your fantasy characters

How to name your fantasy characters and stories

Typical fantasy novel names with unnecessary apostrophes are a bit of a running joke at this point, but how can you name your characters in a way that shows they’re from a different world?

I’m not telling you not to use apostrophies ever and maybe one name in the style of D’Aniel is okay and doesn’t stick out too much – just remember to think about your readers. They want to be able to sound out the names in their minds and tell them apart from each other. The adventures of F’LaxximJ’han and G’Lerthygshist might be difficult to follow.

Now, I might have been exaggerating a little, but your best bet might be using regular names that are just a little different or perhaps old-timey. If you’re writing historical fantasy or something based on folklore, you might only use real names. You could also use a mix of regular names and made-up names.

To learn more about naming your characters, check out this blog post.

What should you call your fantasy novel?

Let’s be clear: naming your novel should not be your first priority. It’s cool if you’ve got a title in mind already, but there’s no reason for you to figure it out in advance if it’s going to postpone your writing process. I come up titles very late in the game and my current WIP is called “That Spirit Book” only because I needed to call the yWriter file something. I have no idea what I’m going to call it and at the moment I don’t care.

Following trends in your genre might be something you want to do, or not. In fantasy novels, “The Something of Something” is a very popular title format, as is “The Adjective Noun”. If you want to name your novel this way, pick something from your story that is different from others. Any number of books could be called The Evil Queen.

If you’d like to learn more about titling your novel, you can read this post.

Start writing your fantasy novel this week

If you’d like some help getting started with your novel, my free online course for writers helps you plan your story in just five days. Need more time? No problem – the lessons are yours to keep forever, including the workbook for figuring out what to write about and helpful writing exercises.

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