Narrative Transport. The official Michael Pryor website.


They sparkle!I was going to call this ‘Golden Rules for Writing Fantasy’ but I wasn’t happy with the ‘Rules’ part. Rules are a problem in Fantasy because when imagination is king, anything is possible. So as Captain Barbossa said about the Pirates’ Code, these are more guidelines than your actual rules.



Tip 1. Do all the other stuff really well.

Fantasy writing is tricky. You’ve got to do all the fantasy stuff – invent new worlds, create bizarre creatures, imagine mighty magics – but you also have to do all the things that make for standard good writing. You have to have interesting, complex, motivated characters. You have to organise your plot so it unfolds in a logical but engaging way. You have to make your descriptions colourful and vivid. You have to put your words together in the right order so they make sense.

Many would-be Fantasy writers spend all their time on the Fantasy side of the equation, creating a world full of elves and dragons and high enchantment, but don’t pay enough attention to the basics of good writing. Don’t be like that!

Tip 2. Choose a setting.

Many Fantasy stories are set in a world that’s roughly like our European middle ages in, with castles and knights and long horseback journeys. But Fantasy can be much more than that.

Remember: History is the Fantasy writer’s best friend. Cast your eye over history, find an interesting time and place, add some magic and Bingo! You’ve got yourself a new world for a story.

Tip 3. Choose your type of Fantasy story.

Is it There and Back Again, where your characters start in this world, somehow go to a Fantasy world, then return (The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe)? Or is it a full-on Fantasy world and the whole story unfolds in this Other Place (The Lord of the Rings)? Or do fantasy characters/creatures intrude into this world and adventure ensues (The Alchemyst)? Or would you like a combination of some or all of these?

Tip 4. Get your Dialogue Level right.

If you have a story set in an old-fashioned society, full of kings and queens and swords and armour, make sure the characters speak appropriately.(Don’t use ‘Okay’, for instance.) But don’t overdo it, either. Having your characters spouting off ‘Forsooth’ every second sentence gets a bit boring.

Tip 5. Think hard about magic.

Magic is almost essential for a Fantasy story. In fact, I can’t think of a Fantasy story that doesn’t include some sort of magic. But magic is a real challenge for a Fantasy writer. All of your carefully constructed plot falls apart if the reader says ‘Well, why don’t they just use magic?’ to get themselves out of the dungeon, slay the dragon, find the treasure or conquer the Evil Overlord.

So how can you include magic and have all the good fun with it, without letting it spoil your story? Answer: magic should have some limits. Remember Aladdin? He only had three wishes. Imagine if he had limitless wishes. All his problems would disappear and we’d have no story. So if you include magic in your story, you have to figure out a clever way to limit its use. (Magic can only be used once a day. Magic can only be used at night. Magic can only be used by red-headed people on Tuesdays.)

Five top tips. How’s that for a start?


  • Comment by Dee White — March 22, 2011 @ 2:38 pm

    Great post, Michael.

    Five really good tips.

    Thanks for sharing.


  • Comment by Marjorie — March 22, 2011 @ 2:42 pm

    I did leave a comment but it hasn’t come up?

  • Comment by michael — March 22, 2011 @ 2:45 pm

    Hi Majorie – your comment popped up in the previous blog post, for some reason …

  • Comment by Elaine — March 22, 2011 @ 3:13 pm

    Thanks Michael that link worked. Great tips. I hope I have handled magic well in my story. I will interested to have your views on that.

  • Comment by michael — March 22, 2011 @ 3:18 pm

    Hi Elaine. Now I’m back from Queensland, your ms is on top of the ‘Must Do’ pile. I’m onto it!

  • Comment by DC Green — March 22, 2011 @ 3:19 pm

    Very true! I’d add: don’t make your elves enigmatic, elusive, super-athletic, forest-loving Scandinavians with pointy ears and delicate speech. Nor your dwarves gruff, determined, cave-loving, axe-wielding stumpy Neanderthals who speak guttural vowels and too amny umlauts!

  • Comment by michael — March 22, 2011 @ 3:22 pm

    Nice idea for a new post, DC – ‘Fantasy Cliches to Avoid’!

  • Comment by Scott Chambers — March 22, 2011 @ 9:45 pm

    Thanks for the post Michael, loved the tips. Do you have any magic that works on red-headed, big nosed people on election day? … thought it was worth a shot. =)

  • Comment by Dora — March 23, 2011 @ 3:31 pm

    The nail’s head and the hammer. BANG.
    Oh me oh my.

  • Comment by Stephen — April 8, 2011 @ 11:30 am

    If I may add a couple?

    First off, before you fire up the word processor, read Diana Wynne Jones’ Tough Guide to Fantasy Land. Learn the well-travelled paths and cliches, know them and avoid them. This should be an actual rule, not a guideline.

    Setting is very important. In fantasy, the setting can be almost a character in its own right, and can inform the plot development (rather than simply reflect it) to a much greater degree than most other genres. John Clute and Peter Nicholls’ The Encyclopedia of Fantasy is a useful if now ageing text for this, with entries on most of the types of fantasy worlds and what they’re used for. Polders, Wainscots, Secondary Worlds, and so on.

    With magic, limits are part of the ‘physics’ you have to set up for how magic will work in your created world. This imaginary physics doesn’t have to be explained in great detail and often it is better if it isn’t, but it gives an underlying consistency to how it ‘feels’ in the story. Same goes for magical creatures- work out their physiology and ecology, and stay within that. Working these physics and physiologies into the story here and there prepares the reader so that when the plot requires the magic to run out, or the dragon lose its flame at a critical moment, it makes sense to the reader and the book doesn’t get thrown at the cat.

  • Comment by michael — April 8, 2011 @ 11:56 am

    Excellent suggestions, Stephen. I heartily endorse the DWJ text – an essential Fantasy writing tool.

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