The internet has no shortage of advice from writers on writing, but fantasy-specific tips can be harder to come by. That’s why we asked 21 published authors to give their top tip on writing in the genre. From paranormal romance to grimdark, you’ll find most subgenres represented among them, as well as a mixture of self- and traditionally published writers.

Appropriately, much of their advice centres on how to tackle worldbuilding and, equally importantly, how convey that worldbuilding in your prose without boring or alienating readers two of the greatest challenges in fantasy writing. For expert advice on these topics and more, read on!

Olena Nikitin

Keep it as real as possible, or explain it in a way that the reader can relate to.

The fantasy world can give you opportunities to invent your own system of magic, creating creatures out of pure imagination, and often, that creativity will struggle to explain the rules of your world.

To make a fantasy world natural and relatable to the reader, all actions should have consequences, and your hero should embrace the struggle rather than pulling tricks out of thin air.

In short: Plan the magical system/laws of your world and balance it with believable consequences.

Olena Nikitin is the pen name of a writing power couple who share a love of fantasy, paranormal romance, rich, vivid worlds and exciting storylines. In their books and out, they love down-to-earth humour, and a visceral approach to life, striving to write realistic romances filled with the passion and steam people always dream of experiencing.

Meg LaTorre

To write fantasy well, you must first read the genre to understand it. What tropes do readers love? What books are currently resonating with readers? Start there. Then take what’s useful to you and your story from what you’ve learned and toss the rest.

Meg LaTorre is an author of steamy science fiction and fantasy and the founder of iWriterly. In her free time, Meg enjoys spending time with her family and friends, going to Renaissance fairs and comic cons, watching anime, and napping.

E.E. Holmes

When writing fantasy, you must clearly establish the rules of your world. Is there magic in your world? How does it work? How doesn’t it work? Only with a clear understanding of the rules will you be able to execute your plot effectively and avoid writing yourself into a corner. Now ask yourself, how can you break those rules? Are there exceptions or loopholes you can employ for plot twists and to increase dramatic irony? Make the rules, then break them (intentionally and within reason) and you will create a world readers can get lost in, without getting lost yourself!

E.E. Holmes is the internationally best-selling author of The Gateway Trilogy, The Gateway Trackers, and The Riftmagic Saga series. Her first novel, Spirit Legacy, was named a first-place category winner in both the Paranormal Awards and the Dante Rossetti Awards for YA Fiction by Chanticleer Book Reviews and Media.

Jack Shannon

Have a map. You can use fancy software or the back of a sugar packet. But make a map as you go. Don’t worry about the place names! You can edit those in the second draft. But having something you can reference and consult (and keeping your compass points consistent!) will help you when writing that first draft. Also, you’re not Tolkien. You don’t need to map out the entire world right away. Just expand the map as the protagonists explore the world. You can fill in the blank bits later.

Jack Shannon is a massive nerd. He’s also the author of Brigandine, a Grimdark fantasy novel full of swords, bloodshed, and Lovecraftian horrors. If you like your books sweary, bloody, and just a bit funny, why not give it a read?

Katharine and Elizabeth Corr

For us, creating a satisfying work of fantasy is about getting the bones of it right. Whether you’re writing contemporary paranormal, epic fantasy or an alternative history, you’re going to be asking your readers to accept the crazy, imaginary world you’ve created, and that’s a lot easier if the world has an internal sense of continuity and some sort of order it can map to. Give your fantasy world a proper, detailed backstory: its own history, geography, culture, laws, and so on. You won’t put all of it into the final draft, but your story will be all the stronger.

Since the publication of their first novel in 2016 (The Witch’s Kiss, HarperCollins Children’s Books), sisters Katharine and Elizabeth Corr have gone on to co-write another six YA fantasy novels, encompassing contemporary witchcraft, fairy tale retellings, high fantasy, and Greek mythology. Their most recent novel is Queen of Gods, the second half of the House of Shadows duology, published by Hot Key Books. They both live in Surrey with their families and are very grateful for cloud-based technology; if they had to physically write in the same room, it would definitely end badly.

Christopher Mitchell

Writing fantasy can be liberating, as you can disregard the rules of the real world, and replace them with your own rules. However, these rules must be adhered to throughout; they are just as binding as the laws of physics, and if you break them, the reader will notice. Give thought to these rules before you start, build them from the ground up, and make internal consistency one of your guiding lights. This goes for magic systems, magical creatures, and any other aspect of your work that departs from the real world.

Christopher Mitchell’s first memory is of Elvis dying. His gran told him it was because he’d eaten too many cakes, and Christopher believed her. She also told him that there were fairies at the bottom of her garden, and he believed that too. He counts himself very fortunate to have a supportive wife and four beautiful children. He loves deserts, which is too bad as he lives in Scotland, but the mountains, glens and lochs more than make up for it. His other love is Greek Tragedy, especially Euripides, and he also reads history, science, fantasy, and pretty much anything about the Beatles.

Kate Shanahan

Research the culture your world is based on, and ask yourself ‘What if?’ and ‘How?’ In my case (10th-century Japan): ‘What if the gods really did send messages via cracks in a turtle shell?’ ‘What if everything they believed about spirit possession was true?’ That led to ‘what if someone accidentally summoned the wrong spirit, and the two spirits had to live together in one body?’ And then ‘how does divination/spirit possession/spirit summoning work?’ ‘How would it feel to share a body with another spirit?’ The answers to these questions support world-building as well as plot.

Kate Shanahan received her MA in Asian Studies – Japan Specialization from the University of Michigan, taught English in Sapporo, Japan, and enjoyed a long career with Honda Engineering North America, Inc. in business, project, and people management before fulfilling her dream of writing a book set in Heian Japan.

Janice Hardy

Fantasy is just as much about the world as the characters, but endless pages of description can make a reader start skimming. Background your world and show how it works through character interaction. For example, don’t explain that the air is toxic, show a rack of masks by the door and how everyone puts one on before they leave the house. Show someone without a mask coughing or struggling to breathe once outside. Let readers see the world through action.

Janice Hardy is the award-winning author of the teen fantasy trilogy The Healing Wars from Balzer+Bray/HarperCollins. She also writes the Grace Harper series for adults under the name J.T. Hardy. When she’s not writing fiction, she runs the popular writing site Fiction University, and has written multiple books on writing.

Melanie Dufty

To write fantasy we need to enter a new world and communicate from it. I tune into a simple meditative state and say ‘show me the city’ or ‘show me their relationship’ or even ‘show me the book’. Breathe into the heart and right intuitive brain, and feel the expansion beyond the limits of the rational left. Let it be and trust. In the moment there aren’t necessarily images or precise understandings to be consciously aware of, but over the coming hours or days impressions arise that find their way out through our grounded writing efforts.

Melanie Dufty is the author of metaphysical adult fantasy I Am Lilith, a qualified astrologer, and a writer and editor. After 12 years as a business writer, she shifted into spiritual studies and practice with a passion for the feminine aspect of unity. She lives in Perth, Western Australia with her architect husband and their two teenage sons. 

Jenna Moreci

Fantasy isn’t a one-size-fits-all genre. If you’re dying to go the traditional medieval fantasy or Tolkienesque route, go for it. But don’t for a second believe those are your only options. You’ve got a ton of subgenres and hybrid genres at your disposal: romantic fantasy, dark fantasy, contemporary fantasy, urban fantasy, portal fantasy, sci fi fantasy, and so on. No matter how niche or obscure you believe your concept to be, there is a place for you in this genre. Don’t be afraid to explore and create.

Jenna Moreci is a bestselling dark fantasy romance and writing craft author, as well as a YouTube sensation with hundreds of thousands of subscribers. Her first installment in The Savior’s Series, The Savior’s Champion, was voted one of the Best Books of All Time by Book Depository.

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Paula Constant (Lucy Holden)

Build your world as if you were living in it. A fantasy world, like our own, is complex and nuanced. Everything in it has a backstory. Your reader might not need to know that story, but you certainly do. After you’ve built the world, forget it, and allow your characters to live their lives. The world is a backdrop, not the main character.

Paula Constant writes fantasy and paranormal romance under the pen name Lucy Holden. She also writes historical fiction and travel memoir under her own name. She is the author of seventeen books, both traditionally and self published.

Barry S. Markwick

I’d say it’s a combination of world-building and populating it with characters that you have created. Let your imagination run riot: Don’t edit yourself in your first draft and allow your characters to be born, grow and develop within your story and your world.

‘I wisely started with a map.’

― J.R.R. Tolkien

Barry Markwick is an English language teacher. With a teaching career spanning various countries, Barry’s passion for fantasy and sci-fi novels has fuelled his desire to become a writer. Now, having realized his long-held dream, he presents his debut novel, The Waxing Moon: Volume 1 of The Areekyan Chronicles Trilogy.

Rachel Rener

When writing fantasy, it’s so important that your characters feel real and fully fleshed out: thoughts, actions, flaws, reactions all of it. Some writers plot this out in advance, using character journals, character histories, and so on. Other authors hear the characters speaking to them as they write. Whatever your method, be true to your character, be consistent in their actions, and most importantly, be sure to focus on how the plot of your story impacts their character arc. Best of luck to you in your writing endeavors!

Rachel Rener is an award-winning, #1 bestselling urban fantasy author who loves blurring the line between science and magic. When she’s not engrossed in writing or reading, Rachel enjoys art of all kinds, riding her motorcycle, going to rock shows (both musical and mineralogical), Vulcanology (the lava kind as well as the pointy-eared variety), and being the voice behind Tana the Tiefling on the popular podcast, Of Dice and Friends.

R.E. Palmer

As writers of fantasy, we not only have to come up with the plot and characters, we also have to create worlds, creatures, magic systems, and races. And if that’s not enough, we then have to give them all names! I started with a map. You can get really creative with tall mountains, windy rivers, hazardous seas, and ancient forests – it’s your world after all. Then take a look at your world and think about how the land shaped its inhabitants and influenced their beliefs throughout its history. Now you have a canvas for your story.

R.E. Palmer was born in Solihull, England. After ten years as a computer programmer, he left to train as an Alexander Technique teacher to follow his main interest sports performance, and he has since written three books for athletes and golfers. From an early age, he loved to read and soon developed a love of sci-fi, fantasy and horror.

Olesya Salnikova Gilmore

The key to writing fantasy for me starts with well thought out world building. I first think of what kind of world I want real world with fantastical elements or high fantasy. From there, the time period, setting, culture, and magic system. The first three come with my story; the magic system usually needs work. I research familiar magic systems to make something of my own. Ask questions. Never forget my curiosity. Then I make superfluous notes on how my magic works, with what magical objects, its parameters and limitations, and other fun details. After all, the magic is in the details!

Originally from Moscow, Olesya Salnikova Gilmore is a speculative historical fiction author and lawyer living in Chicago. Her writing is inspired by Eastern European history and folklore. She is the author of The Witch and the Tsar and the forthcoming THE HAUNTING OF MOSCOW HOUSE (Berkley/Harper Voyager). Her essays and reviews have appeared in LitHub, Historical Novels Review, Bookish, the Washington Independent Review of Books, and elsewhere. 

Jamie L. Biggs

Create a story bible. My story bible is a place for me to keep track of world building. When you create elements of magic, mythical creatures, and imaginary lands, it helps to have the details documented to reference as you write. If you compare fantasy with general fiction, fiction is set in the real, everyday world without fantastical elements. Fantasy has many moving parts, and it’s easier to keep track of it all with a story bible. When you give your characters magical powers, you want to document it to stay consistent throughout your story.

Jamie L. Biggs is a paranormal fantasy writer. She has always had a passion for storytelling (decades-worth of advice and anecdotes!) and has been known to people watch and take those normal day-to-day situations to spin into storylines. She is a self-proclaimed coffee addict that loves all things paranormal and creatures that go bump in the night. When not reading or writing, she spends time with her husband, Mark.

Annie Westphal

World building is one of my favorite parts of writing fantasy, but it can also be the most daunting part of the process. How do you know when the work is done? How do you know that your reader will be transported, as if by magic, to the same place you go when you sit down to write? The short and frustrating answer is that you can’t, and you never will. I think if your world feels real to you, it will feel real to your reader. ‘Real’ is obviously subjective, so this is where beta readers can come in really handy, but in the end, trust your gut. It is your world, after all.

Annie Westphal is an author, award-winning translator, and blogger. Annabelle, Annie’s debut novel and Book 1 of the Lost Princess trilogy, was released in 2021. When she is not staring at black pages, willing stories to write themselves, Annie is either cooking or singing or doing both at the same time. Annie is based in the Philadelphia area, where she lives contentedly with her husband and their small, grumpy dog. 

J.W. Elliot

Remember that Magic and technology function the same in fiction. Both provide access to power otherwise not available to your characters. Both come at a cost and are of limited utility. Neither the technology nor the magic can, or should, solve your POVs problems. Even if you have created a hard magic system, leave some aspects of the magic unknown, or misunderstood. Leave room for wonder and mystery. Once you have established the rules of your magic or technological system you can’t break those rules ever. If you do, you destroy the wonderful illusion you were struggling so hard to create.

J.W. Elliot is an award-winning and bestselling author of fantasy, science fiction, and historical fiction. His bestselling series Archers of the Heathland has sold over 37,000 copies. Both books in The Ark Project series won the New England Book Festival for science fiction in 2021 and 2022. He is a professional historian. 

Andy Peloquin

Only show as much world as is necessary for the story. Worldbuilding is such a crucial component of a well-written fantasy, but can be overwhelming and, dare I say, boring for readers who are invested more in the characters than the world. Give us (the reader) enough of the world to keep us grounded and give us context for the story, then keep adding in details as they are needed (not before). Do as much behind-the-scenes worldbuilding as you want, but only include on the page what is crucial to anchor the character in their surroundings and drive the plot, setting, and challenges forward.

Andy Peloquin is, first and foremost, a storyteller and an artist – words are his palette. Fantasy and science fiction are his genres of choice, and he loves to explore the darker side of human nature through the filter of heroes, villains, and everything in between.

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Olivia Atwater

Every fantasy author should take an interest in real history! Your ability to worldbuild is only as good as your understanding of existing patterns in society. First-person resources are especially helpful but if you can’t bring yourself to read nonfiction, you can always listen to historical podcasts or watch documentaries instead.
Olivia Atwater writes whimsical historical fantasy with a hint of satire. She lives in Montreal, Quebec with her fantastic, prose-inspiring husband and her two cats. She has been, at various times, a historical re-enactor, a professional witch at a metaphysical supply store, a web developer, and a vending machine repairperson.

Jeffrey L. Kohanek

Fantasy, particularly epic fantasy, poses a unique challenge for authors. We craft entire worlds from our imagination but conveying the nature and complexities of these worlds can be overwhelming to both author and readers. My advice: Less is more. Reduce worldbuilding barriers by sticking to established tropes when possible. Inject unique elements only to the most impactful aspects of the story. For instance, readers are trained to expect characters stopping at inns while traveling. Unless it is critical to your story to do otherwise, stick with that trope and do heavy lifting elsewhere.

Jeffrey L. Kohanek grew up in rural Minnesota where comic books sparked his young imagination, inspiring fantasies of heroes with super-powers saving the day. His tastes later evolved to fantasy epics featuring unlikely heroes overcoming impossible odds to save worlds born from the writer’s imagination. He is best known for his Wizardoms and Issalia novels, which have combined for over 700,000 ebook, print, and audiobooks sold across dozens of countries.

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