Sometimes the truth is wilder than fiction, and sometimes reality is just grim and depressing. I mean, stick on the news, and find yourself bombarded with confusing messages about what to think.
Writing a fantasy novel can be liberating in many ways – just imagine: creating a world you’re in control of. And there’s no need to stick to the boring old stuff like gravity, bills, and politics.
In this article, I’m going to explain how to get started with your first (or next) fantasy story, with some inspiring ideas that might just kickstart your next great piece of fantasy fiction!
Ready? Let’s go!
What are good fantasy topics to write about?
Fantasy is a world of its own, and – most importantly – it’s unconstrained by the rules and ethics that form how we usually behave and think.
Let your imagination run wild – create a new world where the laws of physics or social constructs are different. Perhaps the language your characters use differs based on age, or the way they communicate uses a medium that hasn’t been invented yet.
Great fantasy writing blends the world we know with the realms of the supernatural. It’s a world where magic exists without question. Or perhaps you want to explore mythology and folklore, placing characters from classic historical texts into the modern day?
Sometimes, excellent fantasy story ideas extend from a central question that challenges historical events. Think about The Man in the High Tower – Philip K Dick’s tale of a world where the Nazis won the second world war.
Fantasy characters and story elements can be scientifically impossible. Protagonists might be able to leap over buildings or read people’s minds. Or they might have a hoverboard that helps them escape the tyranny of the antagonist.
Is it hard to write fantasy?
Fantasy often melds with sci-fi, but they’re not indelibly bedded.
Fairy tales often incorporate fantasy tropes. Mary Poppins can fly and scare inanimate objects into tidying themselves away; Cinderella has a fairy godmother who turns a pumpkin into a carriage.
These are all classic “what ifs” – what if this strict, soothing nanny could fix this broken family? What if Cinderella COULD go to the ball?
Next time you sit down to write a story, think about plot ideas where one night, something changes everything your character knows. Fantasy stories might harbor a dark secret; a ghost might visit to right the wrongs of the past. Or your protagonist might discover a new power they never knew they had.
How do you write a dark fantasy?
Dark fantasies are exciting because they tap into our human fears. They incorporate the stuff of nightmares, sending readers into strange, uncomfortable realms.
Consider a world that lacks definition between peace and war. Imagine characters with the power to change the future, suddenly challenging historical moments that blur the line between a dream and the everyday.
The fantasy genre is naturally dark, finding plot ideas from the outlandish. Start writing and stop questioning – magic is in town, and a family defends the secret idea that could change everything.
Never be afraid of the magical. Explore worlds where nature behaves differently to our own planet earth.
Fantasy writing prompts – what are the main elements?
The key element of fantasy writing is magic. That’s not necessarily magic in the “abracadabra” school of sleight-of-hand – no, magic in fantasy is genuinely potent; WAY more than a simple card trick.
Magic in all its forms exists in fantasy worlds. It could be a superpower or a planet where the natural world is somehow different.
Fantasy genres cover romance, action, and history stories, but magic is somehow central to the events on the page.
What are some common themes in fantasy?
Like other genres, fantasy stories explore the human condition. Through short story and novel, fantasy writers examine the following themes:
- Magical realism – a genre where magic coexists with reality as we know it
- Good vs. Evil – the classic protagonist overcoming the tyranny of the baddies.
- Humans vs. Nature – our vulnerable position against the power of Mother Nature
- Revenge – righting the wrongs of the past
- Fate – fighting against the inevitable, changing the future by addressing the present.
- Death and betrayal – classic Shakespearian tropes of deceit and inescapable consequences
- Coming of Age – the youngster breaking the bonds of innocence.
How do you create a unique fantasy world?
A great starting place when creating a unique fantasy world is to consider the Magic IF.
The Magic IF is Konstantin Stanislavski‘s approach to exploring character – the chance to question what would happen in any situation IF something else were to happen.
It’s effectively the What If game. We all played it as kids: what if the world really was flat? What if strawberries tasted of sausages? What if Kings were chosen by the people?
I’m going to list a bunch of plot ideas with the Magic IF at the heart of them at the end of this article. And these can help inspire your next short story or novel.
Writing fantasy is immense fun because you’re in charge of an entire world, but you need a starting point.
What should you NOT do in fantasy writing?
The principal difficulty when writing a fantasy story is the author’s desire to explain. Front-loading information about the world is the least fun way to write. Keep your audience guessing.
Allow your readers to DISCOVER the story ideas through the ACTION. Don’t tell us that – in your world – the town is full of the undead. Let us work that out through the life of the protagonist as they navigate through this slightly mysterious reality.
Make us question: is everyone dead? Why are they ignoring each other? Why don’t they ever seem to sleep? Why is life in this town so old-fashioned?
Secrets are fantasy writing gems
Once you’ve created your magical world, the temptation is to tell us the secrets.
Avoid telling, and start SHOWING.
Write a story where the plot UNFOLDs. The plot is your path of revelation – let us INTO the secrets a little bit at a time.
Other things to avoid in fantasy writing
Try to avoid:
- Introducing too many characters – it gets confusing and dilutes focus away from your protagonist.
- Cliches and stereotypes – sure, George Lucas got away with it, but avoid recreating Star Wars characters
- Terrible dialogue – dialogue is a character’s way of getting what they want. Try to avoid using dialogue to tell the story.
- Illogic – sure, we’re creating worlds that differ from reality, but characters and plot ideas still need to feel convincing, following a path of action born of their super-objective.
How should I start my fantasy story?
Well, an excellent place to begin is at the door of creative inspiration.
But that doesn’t always come easily – plot ideas need a kickstart. And that’s why I’ve put together a list of helpful fantasy writing prompts to help whet your appetite.
Maybe these ideas could kickstart your next novel. If not a novel, perhaps a short story?
Fantasy writing prompts
- What if sound was what fed you?
- What if your pet was a dragon, and it was the only remaining one left on the planet?
- What if the girl at the door was you from another time?
- What if your house was haunted by a group of young people desperate to correct your wrong opinions?
- Your protagonist discovers a bag at the end of the bed. They didn’t leave it there.
- You wake up one day to discover your hands have fallen off.
- You wake up, lost. You have to get home, but everyone is out to get you.
- What if the child standing at the end of your garden has stories of apocalypse and destruction?
- Why can’t you speak? Why can’t anyone hear you?
- What if your pets could speak? What are they really doing?
- What if your cat was trying to kill you?
- What if your car was haunted?
- What if the earth only had night?
- What if the person at the other end of the telephone is downloading a virus into your brain?
- Life, as you know it, has ended. You and the person you most hate are the only ones left. Can you resolve your differences to save humanity?
- You discover you can fly. Where would you go?
- Dead people talk to you. What are they saying? What do they want? Can you stop them?
- Your partner discovers suspicious text messages on your phone. But they’re messages to you from the person you killed.
- You give birth to a child who can already talk. What else can they do?
- Write a story about a magic tree.
- Write a story about a magic window. What can you see? How does it change everything?
- Set your story in a doctor’s surgery. But there’s something odd about the receptionist.
- Set your story in a world without money.
- Begin your story with someone walking out of the sea. End it with them burning the island to the ground.
- Write a story about a character whose future has been foretold. But they want to change the path of their destiny.
- Two children discover a secret door in the attic. It wasn’t there yesterday. Where does it lead? How will it change the world?
- You wake up to find the ghost of a friend waiting to tell you to stay at home. But you’ve got a big presentation to deliver.
- You turn up at your new job. But it’s not what you were expecting – you discover magical abilities only while you’re in the building.
- You can’t work out if you’re asleep or awake. Which nightmarish ghouls follow you around?
- You’re walking in fresh snow. You turn around and realize you haven’t left any footprints.
Fantasy writing prompts for story ideas
I hope these have given you some ideas about where to start. Let your ideas flow, and put your story ideas on the page.
From your story ideas, see if you can form an opening moment of action that hooks your reader.
Harry Wallett is the Founder and Managing Director of Relay Publishing. Combining his entrepreneurial background with a love of great stories, Harry founded Relay in 2013 as a fresh way to create books and for writers to earn a living from their work. Since then, Relay has sold 3+ million copies and worked with 100s of writers on bestselling titles such as Defending Innocence, The Alveria Dragon Akademy Series and Rancher’s Family Christmas.
Harry oversees the creative direction of the company, and works to develop a supportive collaborative environment for the Relay team to thrive within in order to fulfill our mission to create unputdownable books.
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