How To Write A Successful Fantasy Novel (or not.)

7:00 AM

Look at this, I wrote, like, a serious writing post for once. With actual facts. *heavy sarcasm*

Welcome to the very first September post, which also happens to be the post that kicks off the super-fancy theme thingy I'm doing this month. In other words, all this month I'm going to be rambling about several different genres I'm familiar with, and you can take it or leave it.

This week I'm going to ramble about fantasy. (High fantasy, mostly.)


I've written exactly one fantasy novel. It didn't go well. Clearly, this makes me qualified to write a post about writing fantasy, so I'm going to use my wide knowledge gained through reading YA fantasy novels and give you a handy guide to writing the perfect bestseller fantasy novel.

What You'll Need:
  • 1 orphan boy with extraordinary skill, power, and luck
  • 2 dead parents 
  • 1 smart-and-sassy princess who don't need no man 
  • 1 sarcastic and single best friend
  • a handful of Elders 
  • a Prophecy of Evilness or something 
  • 1 Dark Lord *insert unpronounceable name here*
  • many evil minions
  • a world that's kinda like medieval Europe but, you know, not really??? No substitutes, ever.

Step 1: Watch Lord of the Rings 

If you read the book you'll get all the worldbuilding clues and miss out on Orlando Bloom, which no one wants to do. Stick to the movie; it'll give you all the advice you need and prove that you do indeed need that race of semi-intelligent, monster-ish minions that look horribly deformed, smell like rotting flesh, speak in gravelly tones, and can be slaughtered in droves without any remorse from Our Brave Hero. 

Step 2: Orphan Boy Has Special Powers 

People will only see it coming if they've reading every other popular fantasy series ever, which surely they haven't. Also, how else is he going to become famous, able to fight off enemies, and no longer adorkably clumsy? He needs those special powers, fellow author. It takes too long if he has to work for it. 

Step 3: Dramatic Prophecy + Quest

Funny the lord of the rings legolas hobbits best thing ever gif

You'll get nowhere without THE QUEST. THE QUEST, I tell you! Nevermind the plot holes in THE QUEST; you need it anyway. Preferably this step will include sarcastic best friend and the princess, who hates your hero right now because she's obviously being unreasonable. Don't worry, after chapters of pointless angst they'll suddenly discover feelings. 

Step 4: Dark Lord Wants Them Dead/Is Going To Destroy Everything And Ruin The Party 

At this point I just feel the need to fit in as many Orlando Bloom gifs as possible. 

Never mind why the Dark Lord is there or why he wants them dead. IT WORKS, OKAY? No one will question you as long as he has an evil laugh, wears a black cape, makes poor choices in regards to captives, thinks himself too good for things like logic, and has a super-rad battle ax or something. 

Step 5: Kill The Wise Old Mentor 

Cue the angst and moping. 
Everyone will cry because they totally cared. Including your Orphan Boy. He'll cry too, but don't worry, he'll be over death of any kind in like two chapters anyway. Just don't forget the oath of revenge. 

Step 6: BATTLE 

The more confusing, watered-down, and over-dramatic the better. 

Step 7: The Hero's Gonna Fail -- Cue Deus Ex Machina

Convenient, just like the way people never run out of arrows or horses never get tired. 

Step 8: Showdown with The Dark Lord

I don't know if you noticed but I'm having fun here. 

Again, we don't know why the Dark Lord is so angry, or why he's facing the Orphan Boy himself. 

Probably because his minions are so conveniently incompetent and he didn't notice this when he picked them up in the first place. 

Bonus Points: Your Hero (who wins, of course) conquers some limitation to himself or his powers just in time to slay Dark Lord, who will scream as he falls down the cliff or whatever. 

Extra Bonus Points: As many overused one-liners as possible.

Step 9: Romanceeeeee. 

Your smart-and-sassy princess who don't need no man has discovered that she is, in fact, incredibly attracted to Orphan Boy now that he's a hero, despite the fact that he has no personality and they've hated each other for no reason for most of the novel. 

Good for her. 

Step 10: Happily Ever After 

No consequences. No trauma. No death that anyone remembers or cares about. All the romance. Orphan Boy is probably a prince or something at this point. And hey, no one involved in this story gets to care about cleaning up after all that war! 

Everyone's happy. 

And that, my friends, is how you write a successful fantasy novel that everyone will love. Good luck. 

What are your tips for writing a fantasy novel? Do you even write fantasy at all? 


  1. So. I was laughing. And then I decided to pull out Matryoshka for fun and see how many I can tick off. Orphan boy, check -- Thomas complains loudly enough about his dead father to count for two. Someone else's mum is dead, so that's two dead parents. We have many many awesome ladies, that's our sassy princess down. The sarcastic best friend is there. There are no Elders, but there's an unofficial triumvirate of power in the government, that'll do. I have no prophecy, but Thomas made a vow for vengeance. My "Dark Lord"'s name is pronounceable, but I never mention his first name, so kind of. And there is a garrison lying around which we can call the minions. Whoops.

    Oh, and yeah, it takes place in medieval Europe, but Asia exists! Not just East Asia, also South Asia and India (is that Central Asia) and all the Asias! So does northern Africa/Middle East!

    Also, all the Legolas gifs. Just, PERFECT.

    1. Hah, I'm very much looking forward to reading this. *flails*

  2. This is hilarious. I wrote a fantasy novel attempt for NaNoWriMo last year, so I decided to go through your list.

    Orphan boy - check. Sarcastic girl who don't need no man - check. Dead parents - check. Elders - check. World similar to medieval Europe - check. That is all I had but I am already reconsidering my entire book. I thought I was being unique! Perhaps it is too cliche after all.

    1. I've found that using one or even more of these isn't *bad* or cliche, necessarily; I was more trying to poke fun at the novels that seem to follow this format pretty consistently. I've totally done this before, too. :)

  3. My high fantasy I'm writing... Orphan boy, nope. Main female character's parents are both alive albeit not together. Main male's mother is dead, but his father is still alive and cracking skulls. No main character princesses, though there is a princess but she's kind of just naive. No elders just one baddie and all his minions. And he has a pronounceable name :) No prophecy, the best friend is only single for the first two books - and she's more analytical/nerdy than sarcastic. The world isn't based in or on any real world, it's a mishmash of many.
    I think my novel is going to fail :(

    :) :)

    1. Yes, I'm sorry to say that you're doomed to fail. No one will want to read something as different as this.


  4. I was more than amused while reading this. Killing off the mentor especially is something which I hate -- I was on edge the entire time while reading the first book of the Ranger's Apprentice because I was expecting the mentor to die any moment, and he survived until the end of the series.

    1. Yessss I really wish people would stop because it's gotten to the point where we totally expect it, but oh well.

  5. Oh, this post was hilarious. I used to hate reading fantasy books with the exception of those by J.R.R. Tolkien and C.S. Lewis because they were all the same to me and it was getting boring and sometimes the worlds were just too weird for me. Then, I picked up Anne Elisabeth Stengl's books and bam! It was an epic fantasy series I enjoyed. I hear Brian Sanderson's amazing, too. So yep, dashing away those cliches or creatively twisting them is the key to making a fantasy book stand out because otherwise it's just another story that's way too similar to the other fantasy books out there. I have never written an epic fantasy book before, but maybe someday...Ideas have been floating around in my head, but I think I'l stay with sci-fi and historical fiction for a bit before I tackle fantasy.

    1. Fantasy is difficult for me both reading and writing for lots of reasons, and mostly's SO easy to make it cliche, for some reason. *le sigh*

  6. *dies laughing*

    So. Many. Tropes. Grr. *rips out hair* Fortunately, I'm so tired of these, I don't have too many in my novel. I have a few that I've put a spin on--for instance, the "dark lord" would do anything to keep the main character from dying. Also, my setting is based off my experience with Africa. This list is super handy though, and it's definitely something to keep in mind for this and future novels. I look forward to the rest of September's posts. :)

    1. Ooh, that DOES sound interesting! I love spins on any kind of trope, really. That's a surefire way to get my interest.

  7. This is why I don't read fantasy, actually (except for the Silmarillion and the Chronicles of Narnia, because there are always exceptions). I got so fed up with seeing the same tropes rehearsed again and again and again. It's kinda sad.
    But this post was hilarious, and had such good pointers!! I'm looking forward to the rest of the series.

    Also, I love the graphic. I love all graphics, but yours is particularly pretty (maybe I have a thing for knights and fancy fonts, yes?).

    1. Those are great exceptions, of course! I've kind of quit on it too, because I can't seem to find anything really different, but occasionally I'll come across something unique. I've enjoyed Brandon Sanderson especially.

  8. This is so accurate. It's sad, really. Fantasy is one of my favorite genres, but half of them are just pretty much exactly what you wrote here, so there isn't much diversity anymore. (Just another reason to appreciate Brandon Sanderson's Stormlight Archive series) This is why I strive to write fantasy novels that aren't from the same cutout.

  9. ALL THE LEGOLAS GIFS!!!! I LOVE IT TOO MUCH!!! *coughs* Anyways...

    I have a prince and a princess, and all four of their parents are alive in the beginning (but they all die in the end, and my dear little prince and princess may or may not have had something to do with that). My princess is smart and sassy, but she doesn't fall in love with my prince and instead tries to kill him several times so I think I'm good there. And there's no prophecy or evil overlord or anything, so I think I'm good.

    And may I just say that I laughed so hard throughout this entire post? IT'S BRILLIANT, I TELL YOU, BRILLIANT!! And so sadly true. I blame LotR, I suppose. I think Tolkien started the whole Evil Overlord and medieval Europe thing. But hey, we got those awesome movies and Legolas out of it, so I'm hardly complaining.

    1. Ooh, that sounds interesting! Princesses trying to kill people is always entertaining. For me, at least. xD

  10. I loved this, and I laughed so hard because I wrote this, I wrote this exact book at twelve. It had literally everything you listed except for romance because I was against it. I was obsessed with LOTR, and I probably thought I was being extremely clever, but no. Anyways thanks for the laugh and the Legolas gifs, I love that elf.

    1. Didn't we all write the same book at twelve? Because I'm pretty sure I did too. xD

  11. The terrible thing is that THIS IS SO TRUE. There are way too many fantasy books which fit everything on your list, haha. (I don't read quite as much high fantasy as I used to, though. Both the mountains of information & irritating tropes started to make my brain hurt.) Anyway, this is so fabulous -- I will, of course, be using it to write a Very Original Fantasy Book Coming Soon To Bookshops Near You. Ahem. :P

    1. I know, I kind of wish I didn't have to write this post in the first place, because there shouldn't be so many books that fit this and yet...there are.

  12. Oh I love this. And all of this is actually really true, which is why I love this more. Although I don't read much Fantasy (it's not really my type of genre), but I've read enough to know that so much of that is true. My WIP is Fantasy and despite trying not to follow the usual outline... it's hard :)

    1. Fantasy isn't my genre, either, which is kind of sad because it used to be but I was turned away by all the tropes and such. *sad face*

  13. "who hates your hero right now because she's obviously being unreasonable" XD This made me laugh so much! All of it! I love the gifs and just-- EVERYTHING!

    On the realistic side of fantasy, yes, I do actually write fantasy. I've been wondering recently why all fantasy almost always deals with war. I've yet to read a fantasy book without one battle in it. I've recently come to a tentative conclusion (warn: long comment in the making). You know how we write fiction but there's truth in it. It's like we're really writing the truth under the guise of fiction in order to distance ourselves from it so we can deal with it more easily. Without having to endanger ourselves with how overwhelming hard truths can be. And when it comes to fantasy, it's about as far from the real world as you can get. War is also a very hard topic. Some people want it. Some people cry out against it. Some people maturely accept that sometimes it's necessary. But even they still question why it's necessary. Is necessary even the word for it? The utter loss and devastation war causes is so horrific, it makes people question a lot of things. SO to digest the topic of war and everything that goes along with it, while still pretending it's not really there to need dealing with, we distance ourselves from it by placing it in fantasy. It's nice and safe in fantasy, none of that stuff ever happens. Dragons attacking the city, never running out of arrows, lost orphans become kings and falling in love for no reason with that unreasonable princess. Yeah that doesn't happen in real life. But war does, that's the bit of fantasy that's true and fantasy makes war easier to think about.

  14. XD You basically described the first fantasy novel I tried to write. Like you point out, there is an unfortunate amount of repetition in the fantasy novels, and I think that's part of the reason that the fantasy genre has faltered a little bit in terms of overall popularity right now (I am still waiting for the fall of contemporary romance right now, but the end is not in sight and it makes me sad).

    Both of my WIPs are actually fantasy, though. The active WIP is a contemporary fantasy which means that I have two dead parents and some elders and some minions, but hopefully I don't have a lot of the other things corrupting my story. :/ I mean, maybe, if you count Vermont as a Europe-esque setting. And South Carolina. And the other... it's definitely not the same plotline that you described but the character scheme at the beginning is fair enough. BUT WHO CARES? Tropes are the best. In their own special way. And that is enough for me. :)

    Thanks for the laughs, Aimee!

  15. Loool!! You're so funny! Do you know that you've basically described The Magician by Raymond E. Feist? I hated that book by the way.

    You nailed it. That's pretty much all the elements you need to write a fantasy novel and often that's the only elements published authors use.

  16. AAAAAAAGGGHHHHH I LOVE THIS IT IS SO SARCASTIC AND YES. Seriously though, I've been fooling around (mentally) with my first high fantasy idea and I'm making a huge point to stay away from the typical fantasy races like dwarves, elves, mermaids, angels, etc. Instead I'm trying to mix them and animals and humans together in different ways to make new races. The results are very interesting and quite different from Tolkien's creatures. And yes to the Medieval Europe setting. There's nothing wrong with it but different cultural bases would be a breath of fresh air.

  17. *will do everything she can to make Children of the Nameless not like this*

  18. LOL, this is perfect.


  19. Just re-read this again and, oh, help. Aimee, you are dangerous for my continued existence. I can't breathe from all the laughter!



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