Writing Fantasy Is Hard

VHS box art for "The Iron Master"

“The Iron Master” VHS box art, aka “Every sword & sorcery cover ever”

Writing fantasy stories is tough work.

I’ve been slowly grinding out a fantasy/horror novel over the past year, and I have a whole new respect for authors of the genre.

I’ve always loved fantasy novels, especially the “sword&sorcery” sub-genre, but they are definitely outside my wheelhouse when it comes to writing. I stick almost exclusively to horror and weird speculative stories, but I wanted to venture outside my comfort-zone and dip my toes in the shimmering magical pool.

Here’s a few things I’ve learned.

World Building Sucks

“Sucks” might be kind of a strong word for it, but I find it frustrating. Sure, it’s really cool stretching your imagination to create all these fantastical places and things, but it’s also REALLY difficult! There are supernatural elements in horror, but they are often limited, and can be put into real world settings, like New Mexico or something. I vastly underestimated the amount of time and effort that goes into fantasy world building. Now I get why so many books rely on variations of time-tested tropes.

Names, Places, Names, and more Names…plus Dragons?

How do fantasy writers keep track of all this stuff? Character names, places, and magic systems. The number of things you need to record is mind-numbing. All novels require some level of research, but the nature of fantasy usually requires deep backstories, complex interactions between entire races, and “systems”. For the most part, other genres can safely assume things like gravity and physics are a given. Even Science fiction (at least the good kind) is grounded against certain rules, that provide a baseline to start against. TL;DR – If you write a fantasy novel, buy extra notebooks and Post-It’s.

Being Original is Difficult

Creating an original idea in 2017 is tough no matter what you write. We all have influences that shape our voice. Fantasy cliches and tropes are especially easy to spot though. As soon as “Orcs” or “Orks” show up, you’re already ripping off Tolkien. Kids who use magic? You might be treading on Harry Potter’s toes. The wide berth of stories and subjects in just the last five decades speak to both the popularity of the genre, along with the extraordinary challenges inherent in coming up with something unique.

 

I’m determined to finish my fantasy book, because I love the characters and the story, but my expectations have certainly been adjusted since I started the first draft. I have a newfound respect for fantasy novels and the people who write them.

 

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15 thoughts on “Writing Fantasy Is Hard

  1. blackslug says:

    I loved reading your post!I started publishing what I call sub-fiction on my blog. Just a short story here and there based off others. I decided on working on my first fantasy book concept as I do various writings on my blog but, strangely enough ,I am quiet the opposite with you regarding these problems you faced. New worlds tumble before my very eye! My mind always wonders off stretching to stupidly ridiculous places, I just zone out and get the jitters on returning hahaha ! Yet ,more real concepts in horror and detective genre-types, I have not even dared thinking of writing a whole book on those ! So props to you for trying something different!!!

    Liked by 3 people

  2. josiah harry says:

    Your points are well-captured! I think, no matter how clever or original a writer might be, there will always be elements of that writer’s work that will share some likeness with a minor or great work that preceded the writer’s own “unique” creation.

    Liked by 2 people

    • B.L. Daniels says:

      I totally agree Josiah. For a long time, I got hung up on being completely original, and threw away countless stories that were probably viable because I thought they were derivative. What I finally came to understand is that pretty much everything has already been done, but it is each author’s personal voice that makes their interpretation of stories unique. I think a big part of accepting that comes with time and experience, and cultivating that voice. Thanks so much for reading and commenting!

      Liked by 2 people

  3. mcgrimmworks says:

    I love your whole post here and it’s something I have thought about a lot in the past. It’s also easy to fall behind your own expectations, as a creator – you are your toughest critic.

    South Park touched on this where ‘the simpsons did it’ made everything everyone was doing seemed irrelevant. However, you can absolutely make it your own and original. Look how many versions or vampires exist through hundreds of years of literary history and yet Twilight (of all things) becomes huge. I don’t think it’s about reinventing a world, people don’t understand something so original because they can’t relate to begin with. It’s about taking something you are passionate about to breath life into and give it (your work) its own personality.

    What’s the difference between Sean Connery’s as Dragonhearts dragon, and a dragon from GOT? Identity.

    Liked by 1 person

    • B.L. Daniels says:

      I totally agree with you. It goes along with author’s “finding their voice” and just injecting their own style and personality into whatever genre or story they are trying to tell. You’re also right about audiences wanting at least some amount of familiarity. The concepts and tropes are what genres are built upon to begin with. Thanks so much for reading and commenting!

      Liked by 1 person

  4. alicegristle says:

    I feel your pain! Personally, I find that the better acquainted you are with the genre, the easier it gets – like with any other endeavour! The better you know detective fiction, the easier it is to write it, etc. After a while, things that previously needed immense concentration become instinctive.

    The downside is, this approach does take time. 😦 But things get easier the farther down the road you get!

    Liked by 1 person

    • B.L. Daniels says:

      Absolutely. I’ve been seeking out and reading up on the types of fantasy that I’m hoping to create. It is a time consuming process, and I want to ensure I’m not overly influenced by other stories, tropes, etc. That said, my book is in the “re-write and polish” phase, so understanding the themes and tropes fantasy readers expect is helpful. Thanks for reading and commenting!

      Liked by 1 person

      • alicegristle says:

        I hope things go smoothly with the polishing phase! I’ve also struggled with not wanting to be overly influenced, and I’ve heard it’s a widespread fear among writers. Strangely, I’ve found there is no such thing – generally, the more you read, the better off you are. So, I’ve come to believe a writer cannot be overly influenced. After all, writers don’t exist in a void. Whatever we write, we’re riffing off something. Still, it’s always best to be influenced by the best, so I wish only the best kind of writing for you!

        Liked by 1 person

  5. Jonny Velasco says:

    World building…you’re right. Indeed sucks. Not even with the full D&D 3.5 sourcebooks can it be any less painful. It really makes me wonder how DMs could weave such stories and engage in world-building.

    Like

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