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06 March 2011 @ 10:09 pm
Our Best Advice for Writing Fantasy  
I thought I’d ask the other Inkies to share their best fantasy writing advice today for all you aspiring writers out there.

Mine? I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again (and it comes from the incredible Libba Bray so don’t just take my word for it). Write what scares you. It applies to any writing of course, but it’s especially pertinent to fantasy because if we don’t free ourselves, how can our imaginations ever fully develop the worlds that await?

Here are some more nuggets of wisdom from my Inkie sisters:

Kate Coombs: My best fantasy-specific advice is to read Diana Wynne Jones's Tough Guide to 
Fantasyland and try to feed your characters something other than stew! I would 
also say you should play around with your ideas extensively so that you can come 
up with a fresh premise and fresh world-building. Don't be satisfied with 
ordinary fantasy; it's a genre that deserves to be breathtakingly extraordinary.

Hilari Bell: My advice for new fantasy writers--new writers of any kind--is to go to writers conferences. You get to network with other writers and, at many conferences, pitch to agents and editors. You can learn about craft, and maybe even more important--or at least harder to find in books and articles--you'll hear people talk about the business of writing. You get tips about all kinds of things, like how best to submit, and who's looking for what kind of story, and avoiding scams, and managing your taxes, and building a platform before you publish, and...almost everything. And I don't know why I say "almost." Writers conferences are great

Ellen Booraem: The advice that's helped me most came from Ann Lamott's BIRD BY BIRD: SOME INSTRUCTIONS ON WRITING AND LIFE (a fun and funny read). I can't quote her verbatim on a family blog, but she basically says that all first drafts are supposed to be dreadful, and books only start to make sense in the second and third drafts...and beyond! This is a particularly useful thought when writing fantasy--your story can take a sudden left turn that may not make sense in terms of whatever world-building you've done, and you just have to trust that you can make it right on revision. Fight off despair and follow the story, no matter what.

Marissa Meyer: I guess my fantasy-writing advice would be to not get SO focused on world-building that you forget to tell a great story. It's so much fun to create a world that's pure imagination - where you have your choice of creatures and social heirarchy and the complex rules of magic - that it's easy to forget you still need an exciting, suspenseful plot to take place in that world. Your story should read like a great story first and foremost, not a travel guide to Middle Earth.

Marissa Doyle: Don't be afraid to write dreck. Most successful authors have several half-completed or even fully complete stories and books locked away in drawers or hard drives that are terrible and will never be published...but that's how they learned to become better writers. Musicians practice for thousands and thousands of hours before performing in public; why should writers be any different? Give yourself permission to be bad, and practice, practice, practice!

Carmen Ferreiro-Esteban : I agree with Read, Read, Read. 

I would specify though, read the classics.

Also, keep it simple. As they say about lying, the closest you stick to reality, the less chance you have to make mistakes.

And do your research. Inventing a believable fantasy world is incredibly difficult. You must know how real societies and civilizations have worked over the years to be able to create a coherent one. 

As a corollary of the previous one: If you want to write fantasy to skip the research, don't. 

Anna Staniszewski: Your readers trust you to create a world they can lose themselves in. They trust that you've answered all the questions, figured out all the logic, so they don't have to.
-As important as creating a memorable world is, your characters need to be just as unforgettable. The world and the characters should exist together, one informing the other.
-Finally, I think a powerful story (fantasy or otherwise) taps into some deeper truth or emotion. Fantasy can let us escape from the real world, but it also has the power to remind us of the things that are important, disturbing, etc.

Bryony Pearce: I reckon you should immerse yourself in your world so much that it seems normal and everyday and then write about it as if it is normal and everyday - almost as if you're writing contemporary urban fiction - you shouldn't feel the need to explain every little thing. If your characters treat their world just like they would if they were living in our world, it will come across as more natural.

What’s the best advice you’ve ever heard? Share!
anitasaxena on March 7th, 2011 08:05 am (UTC)
This is all great advice. Thank you for sharing.
Lisa Greenlisagailgreen on March 7th, 2011 04:07 pm (UTC)
Glad you found it useful!
SP SipalHP4Writers on March 7th, 2011 05:45 pm (UTC)
Loved all the different advice - especially the write what scares you and having your characters treat their world as natural.
Lisa Greenlisagailgreen on March 7th, 2011 06:34 pm (UTC)
Glad to see you here! :D
Girl FridayGirl___Friday on March 7th, 2011 05:46 pm (UTC)
All great stuff, but particularly love Bryony's advice, super useful, thank you.
Lisa Greenlisagailgreen on March 7th, 2011 06:34 pm (UTC)
I learned so much just from doing this post!
Lena Goldfinchlena_writes on March 7th, 2011 05:55 pm (UTC)
Writing Fantasy
Great post! Thanks. :)

I love all this advice and will add a recommendation to check out Orson Scott Card's How to Write Science Fiction and Fantasy. I found this particular piece of advice incredibly helpful:

"In a fantasy, if magic has no limitations, the characters are omnipotent gods; anything can happen, and so there's no story. There have to be strict limits on magic." [my emphasis]

Scott urges writers to look at the magic in your story (or at whatever a special ability your character has) and ask: "what is the cost of that power?"

I kept this excellent advice in mind when writing my young adult fantasy, AIRE. My heroine has the gift of visions, but there are some catches: she can't see anything she wants, whenever she wants; the visions simply come to her, sometimes at inopportune times. Also, after she has a vision, she's left with a debilitating weakness for a short period, which creates some added story tension.

Lisa Greenlisagailgreen on March 7th, 2011 06:35 pm (UTC)
Re: Writing Fantasy
That is excellent advice! I don't think I've read that one either... I'll have to put in in my TBR pile. It makes perfect sense.
natalieag on March 7th, 2011 08:14 pm (UTC)
Re: Writing Fantasy
Great advice. I appreciate it. And just reading all the great books that you all have written really helps learn what makes a great fantasy.
Lisa Greenlisagailgreen on March 7th, 2011 09:54 pm (UTC)
Re: Writing Fantasy
i'm constantly in awe of all the AMAZING talent in the Inkpot. :D
kikihamiltonkikihamilton on March 8th, 2011 12:27 am (UTC)
Great post Lisa, thank you! I love the 'write what scares you' advice. Something we all have to remember - always stretch to create something unique.
Lisa Greenlisagailgreen on March 8th, 2011 12:31 am (UTC)
Thanks! It really struck a chord with me at the right time. And I felt like I made a huge leap forward in the MS that followed.
Rosecellophaneroses on March 8th, 2011 01:54 am (UTC)
Thank you so much for all this advice! I'm actually in the process of putting together a student-run course on fantasy world-building and a lot of this advice resonated with some of the problems I've been wanting to address, so doubly thank you!
Lisa Greenlisagailgreen on March 8th, 2011 02:13 am (UTC)
Yay! Glad we could help!
Jenny Gordonjennygordon on March 8th, 2011 11:22 am (UTC)
Some great advice - thanks. Bryony's especially stood out for me. I think it's a brave writer who doesn't feel the need to explain everything in a created world, but it makes for a better world and story if they can find that courage, and simply allow their characters to live in it. It also has to do with trusting the reader not to need mountains of detail to engage with the world.
Lisa Greenlisagailgreen on March 8th, 2011 04:11 pm (UTC)
Absolutely! We do so much research regarding world building, I think it's hard for us to step back and say, "I don't NEED that wonderful bit of information for this story."