The Fantasy Formula: How to Build a Realistic Fantasy World
From the blurb of The Fantasy Fiction Formula by Deborah Chester… There’s more to writing a successful fantasy story than building a unique world or inventing new magic. How exactly is a plot put together? How do you know if your idea will support an entire novel? How do you grab reader attention and keep it? How do you create dynamic, multi-dimensional characters? What is viewpoint and do you handle it differently in urban fantasy than in traditional epics? What should you do if you’re lost in the middle? How do you make your plot end up where you intend it to go?
Convinced there’s no need to shroud the writing process under a veil of mystery, Chester supplies tips that are both practical and proven. They are exactly what she uses in writing her own novels and what she teaches in her writing courses at the University of Oklahoma.
START WITH A PLAN
Although writing begins as a creative process, the reality of putting a logical story into prose can be a daunting task. Where does one start?
Easy. With a plan.
The first decision to be made is how long will your novel be? It seems like a simple question, but it carries a lot of weight. Generally, books run from about 60,000 to 100,000 words. Even though some authors write epics at around 200,000 words, these are exceptions. The father of modern fantasy novels, J.R.R Tolkien, did not write excessively long novels.
Beginning novelists are advised to keep their works below 100,000 words.
Because publishers have to pay for paper, ink, and distribution. Simply put, longer books cost more money.
Keeping a lid on word count also means you’re forced to write leaner sentences that aren’t filled with unnecessary fluff.
Beginning, Middle, and End
Each of the three components of beginning, middle, and end contain specialized elements to tell a good story. Each component should include:
Grabbing a reader’s interest.
Sustaining a reader’s interest.
Steadily increasing tension and suspense regarding the outcome.
Guiding readers through an emotional catharsis.
Providing a satisfying resolution of events.
Answering the story question.
Delivering poetic justice.
YOUR NOVEL’S STRUCTURE
Generally speaking, a novel should be divided into thirds. The beginning and ending will be the shortest sections, with the middle section taking up the majority of the book.
Does this mean the middle can be longer than the beginning and end combined? Yes!
Why should these three parts be of equal length? They’re not measured by the same intensity. But, writer beware! The middle can be the trickiest part of the book to navigate, and many unwary writers can “drown in a swamp or wander forevermore within a maze of muddle, never to emerge.”
“One of the worst mistakes I see among inexperienced fantasy writers is the desire to teach their readers. This impulse manifests as the dreaded fifty-page explanation, background summary, and info-dump opening whereby said writer informers his readers of his world’s terrain, climate, history for the past nine thousand years, mythology, and magic system.
…Write the history if you must. Write the explanation. Describe all the mythology and magic in loving detail. Get that all keyed into your computer.
Then set that file aside and don’t insert it into your manuscript.”
If you aren’t allowed to info dump, then what? How do you relay the importance of your awesome magic system and complicated world? Here are a few suggestions.
Instead of lecturing, get your protagonist into trouble in the first scene, and keep her there.
As you hook readers, small snippets of information can be woven in from time to time—but not too much. A sentence or two is fine.
Lure your reader into wanting to know more about the history and background. Promise to explain later.
It’s not until readers care about or sympathize with your characters that they’ll want to know more.
“When the novel’s beginning is over, and readers are well and truly hooked, then—out there in the middle of the plot, when the pacing permits a brief lull in the story action—you can share a few paragraphs of what you’ve invented.”
YOUR STORY’S OPENING: THE DO’S:
• Include a hook in SENTENCE ONE!
• Introduce the protagonist and story goal.
• Introduce the central story question.
• Clearly establish your viewpoint.
• Set up the story situation as it’s happening in story time.
• Note the location and time of day.
• Introduce an immediate form of an antagonist.
• Show the scene action and conflict.
• Plant hints for later development.
• Use numerous small hooks to grab reader curiosity and sustain reader involvement.
• Introduce the first complication.
• Raising a question.
• Introducing a vivid character.
• Using unpredictability.
• Changing the existing circumstances.
• Creating immediate danger.
• Utilizing a sinister atmosphere.
• Leaping into action.
Now that we’ve discussed an engaging hook, a likable protagonist is key to drawing readers in and keeping them interested in the story. An unlikable character can doom a novel from the beginning. Here are a few hints to get started:
1. What is your character’s full name?
2. How old is your character?
3. Physically describe your character.
4. Where is your character from?
5. Describe/explain your character’s background.
6. What is this character’s personal objective or dream?
7. If this character’s worst enemy were to state what’s wrong with him or her, what would it be?
8. Why should a reader like this character or want them to succeed?
9. What are his or her weaknesses? List three.
10. What are his or her strengths? List three.
11. If this character can perform magic, describe his or her skills.
12. Describe this character’s childhood and parents.
13. How is this character like you?
14. How is this character not like you?
15. What mood is typical for this character?
16. Is this character a loner?
17. Can this character trust and/or work with others?
18. Does this character ever confide in anyone?
19. Who is this confidant?
20. What does this character need to learn?
TEST YOUR PREMISE:
You’ve created an awesome plot, devised a hook to keep readers reading, and developed an interesting protagonist to keep readers engaged, but you’re not finished yet. Now it’s time to test your premise to make sure you can sustain a full-length fantasy novel.
S- Situation. The backdrop of trouble, the threatening change in circumstances that will force your protagonist to take action.
P- Protagonist. The central character in your story. This individual must drive the story forward and carry it through to the end.
O- Objective- The protagonist’s goal. It can be the solution to his/her problem—what he/she wants and can’t live without.
O- Opponent. The antagonist of the story. The person directly preventing the hero from succeeding.
C- Climax. The ending of your story. The most intense and dangerous portion of your plot. This should be a direct conclusion and answer to the story question brought up in the first scenes—the solution to the situation.
Use the SPOOC as a testing template to measure your idea and check for weaknesses. It shouldn’t be approached in a paint-by-numbers fashion. Rather, let your creativity flow as you think about your characters and backdrop. If what you’ve come up with can’t fit into the SPOOC template, you’ll know you’ve overlooked something critical. For example:
Situation: When his young daughter is kidnapped,
Protagonist: King Faldain
Objective: vows to do anything to get her back. But can he bring her safely home when
Opponent: the evil wizard Tulvak Sahm
Climax: demands Faldain’s soul as the child’s ransom?
NEWSLETTERS, WEBSITES, AND STREET TEAMS
• Simple designs are best. Too much clutter can be distracting. Where do you want your reader’s eyes to focus? What’s most important?
• Pick one main color and another to compliment it. White and black are usually best, accompanied with one other color such as red or blue.
• What is your website’s focal point? How is the focal point driving new subscribers or leading them to check out a new book?
• Most important: book sales and subscribers.
• Think of the Welcome page as a newspaper. The top 1/3 is the most expensive real estate on a paper. Many people will glance at your welcome page and either decide to click somewhere else or stay and scroll. You want them to stay and scroll. Choose a simple design with minimal clutter with one focal point.
WHAT TO INCLUDE ON YOUR WEBSITE’S TOP MENU:
News and Announcements
7-9 tabs max.
In addition to the header and the tabs, the homepage can include links to books (including new releases) and information on how to subscribe to your newsletter. The bottom half of the homepage can include “how to find me” icons, links to recent blog posts, links to books, and videos.
First, choose your email service. I use MailChimp and I recommend it. It’s user friendly. One drawback is the more subscribers you get, the more expensive it gets, although it is free if you have less than a certain number of subscribers. Other options are Mad Mimi and Mailer Lite. After comparing services, choose one that will work best for you.
• Send three newsletters to new subscribers.
• The first one is a welcome email, plus a “here’s your prize” announcement. I send it immediately after they subscribe.
• The second is a “did you claim your prize?”
• The third is a welcome to the team!
The most important item in your email is your subject line. Subscribers will see this first. It will determine whether your email will be opened or deleted. In many ways, your email subject is more important than your email. A great newsletter is worthless if it never sees the light of day. Spending a little extra time on improving your subject line will boost open rates, avoid the junk folder, and get your message in front of your readers. Some successful subject lines are…
Ask a question. Example “Did You Win the $50 Gift Card?”
Include a deadline. “Only Five Days Left to Claim 43 Free eBooks!”
Make an announcement. Example: “The Winners of the Book Giveaway Are…”
A tip for writing good subject lines: Write 10 subject lines, then choose the best one.
The purpose of a street team is group of people who will “hit the streets” promoting an event or product. These are the people who will promote you—that’s why it’s so important to get readers to read and rave about your books. They do your job so you can write!
Q: How often do you post on your street team page?
A: Approximately every other day.
Q: What do you post?
Snippets from my WIP no one else sees.
Suggestions for character names.
“Fan girl stuff” Ex: pictures of Thor and Dr. Pepper.
“Read this first” type posts.
Always welcome new members.
Call for beta readers.