Where to start?

It can be very difficult starting a fantasy novel when you’re creating a world from scratch, so here are my top 10 tips for kicking off.  I hope they help.

1. Don’t stress – find inspiration from everyday things and build from there.  You won’t develop the full idea overnight, you have to let it germinate and blossom first.  Give it time, jot down good ideas and park the bad ones (you may be able to develop them later).

2. Write down your plot – every book has a beginning, middle and an end.  If you start to bring your plot together in point form you’ll see how all the pieces in the puzzle will fit together.  Summarise each chapter and get the order right so that you’re sure the timeline works.

3. Understand the rules – your fantasy world will have natural and imposed rules that your characters must adhere to, e.g. physical, geographical, political, social, etc.  Define them well and then look at ways your characters can break them!

4. Define your magic – it has to come from somewhere and it will have its own set of rules and regulations that characters must follow, that’s what makes it challenging for your characters and interesting for your readers.

5. Create your world – think about the everyday things people will use/do in your fantasy world (such as what form of time, money and distance measurements/units you will use), to what it looks like (e.g. pink sky, 3 suns, floating landmasses), to how people get around and interact.  Drawing a map can be helpful (particularly to get your directions right as you progress through the story).  You have a blank canvas, but there’s nothing to say you can’t lean heavily on what you know of the real world.  But don’t go too mental with changing the real world, it can be confusing for you and your readers if they need to keep referring to a glossary every time your characters go for a walk.  Look at the world you wish to create a bit like you’re an animator, you have to have a clear mental picture of how it will all look so that you can describe it well or it won’t feel realistic to your readers.

6. Start with a crisis – you’ll find that most fantasy stories start with something going completely wrong for one or more of your characters.  This sets up the challenges they will face.  But don’t solve your crisis straight away.  Your characters have to work hard to get to the end of the story in one piece and usually there will be a few that won’t make it.

7. Create a handful of strong characters – decide on your key characters and the journey(s) they will take.  Try not to have too many as this can overwhelm your audience as they try to remember who did what.  You will also need to decide what each character can and can’t do individually to provide challenges and hurdles for them along the way.  None of your characters have to be saints, but make sure that at least one of your characters has enough redeeming features so that your readers want them to make it to the end, this will keep them turning the pages.

8. Use all of your senses to describe your characters from head to toe – yes, even taste and smell (e.g. you may have a repulsive character that smells like old onions and has a kiss that tastes like dish-water… ew!… but this can make them memorable).  Also, your characters don’t have to be human or humanoid because this is fantasy.  Look at my blog about “Look under a rock or down a microscope” for some inspiration.  Also remember that characters don’t have to be perfect specimens, there’s nothing wrong with crossed-eyes, bulbous noses, baldness, missing fingers, bad breath, nasty skin diseases, etc. as this makes them easier to identify and can also provide motivation for their actions.

9. What’s your motivation? – Fantasy characters don’t just jump up off the couch and say “I’m going to grab my sword and horse, then go and save the world today”.  They need a very good reason to do so that really drives them to get through the story, otherwise it’s hard to believe in their purpose.

10. Don’t stop the action! – If you’re bored writing something down then your reader will be too.   Shorten the quieter spots in your story so that you can get back to the interesting bits and any action as quickly as you can.  If you get stuck or your characters hit a boundary you can’t get over, give yourself time – let your brain mull it over overnight and you’ll be amazed what a fresh day can do.

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