Come on, don’t tell me you haven’t looked at a favorite fantasy novel and thought, “I could do that.” I don’t remember why I started, but it’s been almost five years since I began my first novel, and I’ve learned a thing or two since then. I hope. This post will show you the basic guidelines for not totally bombing your attempt.
Ideas! I can’t find any under my bed… Writers are always in pursuit of ideas, whether we’re trying to start a new novel or not. You don’t magically get the Idea Talent after finishing your first novel. Or your fourth. When I was ten, I didn’t worry too much about ideas because I took up writing as my way of playing pretend without involving anyone else at all. So what you really want is to keep your eyes open. But you need to watch yourself as well. What are you trying to be like? Do you take your cues from somebody you know? Are you always trying to come off as gentle, or smart, or sassy, or strong? And look at places--somebody bothered to build those ionic columns. Who came up with their design? Now you have a character who’s smart but trying to come off stronger than s/he is, and who makes meticulous drawings of buildings that don’t exist. Why? (Hint: It might not just be because it’s fun.)
Characters. Because you can’t write about scenery forever. Don’t go give her long black hair and green eyes just yet (or a male equivalent). The title says non-cheesy. Your character can look unusual, but not perfect. I can’t tell you how many teen stories I’ve seen (*cough* QUIZILLA! *cough*) where it’s told in second person, somewhat like this: “u have long black hair it comes down to ur nees and you have brihgt emerald eyes that match the forest where u live all alone.” That’s where I stop reading. So, how to make a good character? Come up with a personality before you design appearance and name. “My character is a baker’s daughter, who can use magic. She’s a little naïve, but kind and has a photographic memory.” Sounds like something readable, right? Then design your character. Don’t use a name that’s extremely rare unless he lives in a place where that's normal. It’s cool if you name that passing wood elf “Aminianarelle," but please don’t stick this name on your hero’s favorite love interest. It takes too long to type, for one. Also, be realistic—try to make sure that there aren’t disproportionate numbers of redheads unless it’s set in Ireland (or you’ve established that this is your own world, and you have different numbers elsewhere).
Plot. What, we can’t just sit here eating popsicles? No matter how good that popsicle is, it’s not fun to read about until a passing werewolf roundhouse-kicks it out of your hand and then proceeds to start licking its ankle. But—and this is the golden rule—you have to know how the plot is going to end. Don’t worry about the middle, and you might change the ending slightly, but you do need to know which direction to go. If you’re the organized type, you might want a full outline. I don’t. Sometimes I wish I did. You pick for yourself. And make sure this stuff is interesting, no?
And Then What Happened? Books need a lot of And Then What Happened (ATWH). Usually named “conflict,” but we’re not in English class. ATWH is like when I had a part-polar bear guy who was afraid of heights, and the only way out was via pegasus flight. Oh, and he had dragons chasing him. That’s funny! And it’s fun to write. You don’t always have to have dragon scenes, though. Witty lines will do.
Villains. You need to actually have the villain do evil stuff—not just order his henchmen to do it. We get it, the entire nation is impoverished. But did Umbridge order Filch to do everything? No, she was right in front of Harry when she forced him to write “I must not tell lies” into his hand. Because she’s evil!
Ending. Because, sadly, the Neverending Story has already been done.
Step one: Destroy your villain. Do not convert him to the good side. This is an incredibly cheesy plot device used when writers get literary crushes on their villains. If you’re crushing on your villain, he’s not evil enough.
Step two: Rebalance what was unbalanced. If your villain ruled a whole country, are you just gonna leave them in anarchy? Or is there a convenient intelligent jester to take over? (See Terry Pratchett’s Wyrd Sisters.)
Step three: Marry the girl/boy; set up your hero’s future happy life. And for the love of kittens, please tell us what happens to the hero! Cliffhangers will piss off your readers. I personally want to know where Harry works and why he didn’t take the DADA job. Or did he? Maybe he flies an enchanted car to Hogwarts.
And if you need an ego boost, my horrible ten-year-old-kid writing is available for all the world to see at myexplodingcat.com
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Are you an aspiring writer? Do you have any tips for how to write a fantasy novel?