"" Rob Parnell's Writing Academy Blog: The Fantasy Fiction Formula

Thursday, February 17, 2011

The Fantasy Fiction Formula

Isn't life wonderful?

I don't think we say this often enough.

I read a great quote yesterday from Alan Clark - a UK politician you've probably never heard of. He said, "If you want to be great, you should always start from the position that you can do anything and that anything is possible."

Okay, so I've probably paraphrased (ie misquoted) a little - but the sense of his wisdom is there I think.

In the spirit of pushing ourselves, I've been rehearsing with a theater group recently - acting in a play, actually a farce, due to open on the 31st of March. Should be a lot of fun.

Today, my article is about the "Fantasy Fiction Formula" - and how it's the basis of every fantasy novel out there - from Lord of the Rings to Eragon - and everything in between.

Now, most fantasy writers have been constructing their fictional world since childhood. It grows with them; they add to it as they develop as writers until it's so real to them that writing about it feels effortless - even when they seem to have created a huge, and very sophisticated universe.

I remember an interview with JK Rowling where she wandered her home town for the camera, recounting the points, places and people that influenced her Harry Potter world, right from when she was a kid.

Similarly, JR Tolkein was an ardent lifelong scholar of Middle Earth languages way before he set pen to paper.

But if you're new to the genre, where do you start? Click on the image below to make a very good start:

The Easy Way to Write Fantasy Fiction

Many professional fantasy writers will joke about 'the formula' for good fantasy because it does exist and good fantasy authors still use it - not because they're lazy but because the fans want it - in fact insist on it!

It has been condensed thus: 'Hero, artifact, quest'. That's it. All you need to start a fantasy novel! Think Froddo, the ring and the journey to Mordor and you'll see what I mean.

I prefer something a little more organic and creative.

Get a very large sheet of paper. A3 at least - that's about 3 feet by 2 in the US. Draw an outline for your kingdom - or provinces. Experiment with the shape of coastlines, archipelagos and spits. Maybe put some islands around it.

Use a blue crayon or chalk to shade in the sea and draw a compass somewhere on the paper to orientate the map. Maybe a scale too: one inch equals 100 miles say.

Divide your kingdom into countries or regions - draw in the border lines.

Using different color pencils, add mountain ranges, lakes, rivers, whatever you like. Have lots of fun with this bit!

Cities normally grow up on rivers and ports - so start placing the important cities and towns, farming communities, military posts etc. Start thinking about trade routes, badlands and resistance enclaves where nobody goes...

Don't forget that most fantasy is set in an entirely medieval world where technology is limited to bows and arrows, spears and fire, with a liberal sprinkling of magical swords, jewels or articles of clothing like magic capes or belts. Don't take these elements too lightly. They will most likely shape your fantasy plot in many surprising ways.

But don't try to violate the genre specifications to much!

I have known many would be fantasy authors who try to insert guns and flying machines into their world and are promptly asked to remove them by pedantic publishers!

Fantasy readers, it would seem, know exactly what they want.

Now for some writing.

Invent three major castes of inhabitants. For example: human, elven and dwarves say, or make up your own. One of the castes may well need to be dragons if you want to be faithful to the 'formula'.

Describe the class system for each. Who's the king or the head magician? How does the government of The Elders work? What do the peasants do with their time? Are there bands of mercenaries roaming the countryside?

Now think of three characters for each caste - have them related by blood - or magic - for maximum impact.

For instance, three characters might be Princess Tumar who needs to regain the crown after her father was killed by the evil Majadon, aided by her younger brother.

Write a paragraph for every character, describing their physical appearance.

Give each of the characters an agenda that is at odds with at least two of the other characters.

Write a few pages describing the scenario you have invented.

By now you should be feeling an attachment to one or more character. Choose one to be the hero and give him or her an important quest that they must undertake to gain maturity, power or enlightenment (perhaps all three!)

Next, choose a magic artifact that the character must obtain during this quest. Don't choose a book - all writers do that!

Then create a huge threatening situation (a war, natural disaster or magical event) in which the characters are all at risk - of losing their power, authority, self respect, lives etc. and then...

Open up a new file and write: Chapter One.

Okay, over to you!

If you need more help, go here.

Till next time,

Keep writing!

Rob at Home
Your Success is My Concern
Rob Parnell's Easy Way to Write


"At the beginning of any writing project is the agonizing period in which nebulous ideas dance before the mind's eye like memories of a dream, and vaporous vague
shapes take on human form and begin to answer to their names." James Cameron, director of Avatar, Titanic, Terminator 2, Aliens, and more.

No comments:

The Writing Academy

Welcome to the official blog of Rob Parnell's Writing Academy, updated weekly - sometimes more often!