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Michael Pryor’s tips for fantasy writing

Hi guys,

Michael Pryor’s Extraordinaires 1: The Extinction Gambit has just been recognised as a Children’s Book Council of Australia Notable Book. Well done, Michael! I asked Michael (on Facebook) if he would contribute something for our blog, and he’s kindly shared his top tips for fantasy writing.

Top Tips For Writing Fantasy

Michael Pryor

I was going to call this ‘Golden Rules for Writing Fantasy’ but I wasn’t happy with

the ‘Rules’ part. Rules are a problem in Fantasy because when imagination is king, anything

is possible. So as Captain Barbossa said about the Pirates’ Code, these are more guidelines

than your actual rules.

Tip 1. Do all the other stuff really well.

Fantasy writing is tricky. You’ve got to do all the fantasy stuff – invent new worlds, create

bizarre creatures, imagine mighty magics – but you also have to do all the things that make

for standard good writing. You have to have interesting, complex, motivated characters. You

have to organise your plot so it unfolds in a logical but engaging way. You have to make your

descriptions colourful and vivid. You have to put your words together in the right order so

they make sense.

Many would-be Fantasy writers spend all their time on the Fantasy side of the equation,

creating a world full of elves and dragons and high enchantment, but don’t pay enough

attention to the basics of good writing. Don’t be like that!

Tip 2. Choose a setting.

Many Fantasy stories are set in a world that’s roughly like our European middle ages in, with

castles and knights and long horseback journeys. But Fantasy can be much more than that.

Remember: History is the Fantasy writer’s best friend. Cast your eye over history, find an

interesting time and place, add some magic and Bingo! You’ve got yourself a new world for a


Tip 3. Choose your type of Fantasy story.

Is it There and Back Again, where your characters start in this world, somehow go to a

Fantasy world, then return (The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe)? Or is it a full-on Fantasy

world and the whole story unfolds in this Other Place (The Lord of the Rings)? Or do fantasy

characters/creatures intrude into this world and adventure ensues (The Alchemyst)? Or would

you like a combination of some or all of these?

Tip 4. Get your Dialogue Level right.

If you have a story set in an old-fashioned society, full of kings and queens and swords and

armour, make sure the characters speak appropriately.(Don’t use ‘Okay’, for instance.) But

don’t overdo it, either. Having your characters spouting off ‘Forsooth’ every second sentence

gets a bit boring.

Tip 5. Think hard about magic.

Magic is almost essential for a Fantasy story. In fact, I can’t think of a Fantasy story that

doesn’t include some sort of magic. But magic is a real challenge for a Fantasy writer. All

of your carefully constructed plot falls apart if the reader says ‘Well, why don’t they just use

magic?’ to get themselves out of the dungeon, slay the dragon, find the treasure or conquer

the Evil Overlord.

So how can you include magic and have all the good fun with it, without letting it spoil your

story? Answer: magic should have some limits. Remember Aladdin? He only had three

wishes. Imagine if he had limitless wishes. All his problems would disappear and we’d have

no story. So if you include magic in your story, you have to figure out a clever way to limit its

use. (Magic can only be used once a day. Magic can only be used at night. Magic can only be

used by red-headed people on Tuesdays.)

I’m sure this will be appreciated by keen fantasy writers. See his post about his recent book award on his website here.