How To Write A Fantasy Novel

How To Write A Fantasy Novel


In this article, we'll learn how to write a Fantasy novel from scratch, covering at a high level everything you need to get started. This article hopes to be a helpful guide for everyone who wants to write Fantasy, including:

  • People who have never written a novel before, and would love to try.
  • People who have attempted to write one in the past, but struggled to complete their first draft.
  • People who have written and published a novel before.

Although the examples included in this article focus on writing Fantasy, they apply to all kinds of books, both fiction and non-fiction.

I will also share my experience attempting and ultimately abandoning multiple drafts over the years, and what I'm doing differently this time to ensure I complete my upcoming Novella, A Wizard's Hunt.

How To Write A Fantasy Novel

Writing a novel is somewhere between an art and a science, and cannot be summarised into a series of replicable steps. However, we can attempt to define the core elements novels are made of. 

These elements work together and result in synergy:

[Synergy is] the combined power of a group of things when they are working together that is greater than the total power achieved by each working separately.

Crucially, there's no best way to write a novel. We all have stories that are worth sharing, and shouldn't let any writing framework prevent us from doing so.

Instead of a prescriptive formula, I offer you some proven steps and techniques used by writers throughout history to help them write faster and better. Feel free to take what helps and leave the rest.

Recommended Preparation

Writing a novel is a complex process that is, nonetheless, extremely accessible and affordable. To get started, I recommend arming yourself with the following:

  • Knowledge of your chosen language — you'll need to write clearly, first and foremost.
  • Writing supplies — be it pen and paper, or a digital writing device (laptop/tablet/desktop).
  • Formal education in writing, for instance, writing workshops and courses —  this is optional but may be helpful to get you started or further hone your craft.
  • Time — completing a novel is an exercise in patience. Writing tens of thousands of words cannot be done in one sitting, nor through sheer motivation; embrace the process and be ready to build a regular, consistent writing habit.
  • Are you a perfectionist? Well, to write a novel, you'll have to understand that part of yourself and work on it. There are ways in which you can turn your perfectionism into a friend, especially when writing a book.

Read... Or Don't

Each book you read is a fountain of knowledge that you can tap into for inspiration and reference. There are certain conventions you must learn if you wish to market your book to the masses, as they will be expecting certain standards to be followed, for instance, splitting your book into chapters.

Reading many books over time can also help you absorb conventions specific to your chosen genre, known as Tropes, and you may begin to recognize them across books. You might begin to feel comfortable writing them. Reading other people's books can also help you look at your draft with a critical eye.

Reading Does Not Equal Writing

However, it's important to make a distinction: the skill of reading is not the skill of writing. Being a great reader does not automatically make you a great writer, and vice versa. In other words, reading (and comprehending) ideas off a page does not equal putting ideas onto a page. Consider this: it might take a fast reader one afternoon to get through a book (assuming their reading comprehension is excellent). On the other hand, it may have taken the author years to write it. Both people can be equally bright and are skilled in two different ways.

It's also easy to procrastinate from writing by telling ourselves that we need to read more. I certainly fell into this trap when, a few years ago, I wrote down a list of books I needed to read before I could try writing my first draft. When I finished the last book (granted, I skipped a few in the list), I knew the genre better, but when I tried to write my first draft, I didn't feel any more prepared to write than I did at the very beginning. If this is also you, let me help you: pick two fantasy books by different authors, read them, and then start your first draft.

You'll notice I haven't included reading as a requirement in the prior section because it technically isn't. You must, of course, be capable of reading and writing in your chosen language. By reading more, you're gaining skills that are crucial in writing, such as reading comprehension and an understanding of your chosen genre. However, if for some reason you end up skipping on your reading, don't let it stop you: go ahead and jump into the writing!

(If you choose to skip reading before you attempt to write a novel, I strongly recommend reading at least one or two books in your genre — start to finish, so you can understand how conclusions are written!)

Reading May Pidgeon-Hole Your Creativity

Although I found reading extremely beneficial to my writing, before I read any fantasy books, I had wildly different and distinctively creative ideas. For example, a lot of the magic and divinities in modern fantasy feel similar. If you've never read a book in the genre you are trying to write, you may want to write a few chapters of your story or brainstorm some ideas, so that you can tap into that uniqueness, before you expose yourself to the mainstream interpretations of these ideas. 

In short, my suggestion is to create a habit around reading that is sustainable and gives you space and time to write. The two things, when done in tandem, can help each other flourish. They will work in synergy. But if not being able to read, for one reason or another, is going to prevent you from writing, then just write!

Understand The Key Elements

Let's understand the three key elements that make up a novel.

Plot means what happens in your story; the events.

Setting means the place and time in which your story occurs.

Character means the people in your book, including, but not limited to, their backstories, personalities, relationships, and motivations.

For an in-depth explanation of these three concepts, see the 2014 lectures by Brandon Sanderson on Plot, Setting and Character:

In addition, there's Prose, which includes every aspect of putting your words onto paper, from the POV with which the novel is written, to chapter structure, to dialogue.

Outline Your Ideas... Or Jump Into Writing

Let's discuss a contentious topic: should you outline your novel before you write it?

Different archetypes, such as the Plotter and Pantser, were developed by the writing community to describe the typical writer who plans their novel (Plotter), and the one who jumps right into writing it (Pantser).

Fantasy authors George R. R. Martin and Brandon Sanderson look at it in a different way: there are Gardeners, who plant the seeds of their stories (brainstorm ideas), watch them grow (write them), and tend to them (edit them), and the Architects, who plans meticulously every detail before sitting down to write.

The truth is that writing a coherent and likable story requires a lot of shuffling of ideas, refining, and re-writing. Ultimately, whether you outline your novel is a question of whether you choose to do this work before or after you write your first draft. Some writers, like Stephen King, admit that outlining their novels takes away the joy of writing them, whereas others may feel completely lost without an outline to the extent that they struggle to complete their first draft.

I have, countless times, wasted time outlining details of chapters that were taken out of my drafts, or developing the backstory of a character that wasn't included. Recently, my approach has been a hybrid: I know some key events, characters, and locations before I begin writing. I let the rest develop while I write.

As with everything, you're encouraged to experiment and try out different approaches. As you improve your writing, you'll also develop a sense of story structure and you might require less planning in your next books. Conversely, if your novels are suffering from bad structure, you might want to consider taking on more outlining in an attempt to improve your books.

Write, Write, And Write

A finished novel is the product of a consistent writing habit.

There are three things you must embrace if you are to succeed in writing a novel:

  • A relentless belief in yourself.
  • Feeling comfortable being a novice (and nowhere your potential) when you first start.
  • Accepting you might need to throw out ideas if they don't work, no matter how attached you are to them.

In addition, some ideas can be too big for your first-ever attempt at writing. For instance, if you've never written a novel before, you may want to park that idea you have of a worldwide conflict where the stakes are the survival of humanity, and with a cast of 20+ characters. I recommend trying simple ideas to begin with, with a limited cast of characters (for instance, three main ones and five secondary ones). You might also consider starting with shorter fiction, such as writing a Novella like I chose to do with A Wizard's Hunt

If you feel shy about your writing, sit with that feeling for a moment rather than immediately rejecting it. Reflect on the reason you are feeling it. Are you scared of the opinions of your friends and family? Are you afraid you are wasting time? Are you feeling unqualified to write a book? All writers feel this.

But then, remind yourself why you chose to write in the first place. Share your work anyway. Writers that are capable of doing this have a competitive advantage over everyone else.

Gather Feedback

Is writing a hobby? Do you do it for yourself? In that case, seeking feedback is not necessarily crucial.

However, if you hope to get your book published, I recommend getting it in the hands of readers as soon as possible. Coming from a software development background, I'm a firm believer in early feedback. When publishing, readers are your customers, and you need to listen to what they say; oftentimes, they'll tell you exactly what they want.

Writing for the mass market is, once again, somewhere between art and science. A successful book needs humanity, emotion, and depth, but it also needs to cater to the reader's expectations, whilst following the rules of the publishing industry, the bookstores, and the online book retail website.

If you're interested in reading more about the concept of sharing your work and learning how it can empower your creative journey, I recommend picking up Show Your Work by Austin Kleon.

The Stereotypical Writer

There is a similarity between the way society looks at programmers and writers.

Once upon a time, programmers were thought to live in dark basements, code all day long, and rarely venture into the outside world. This old and harmful stereotype prevented people from getting into coding (and still does). My experience is that this could not be farther from the truth; some of the most social people I've ever met are coders.

The same can be said for the stereotypical writer. When presented with the idea of an author, lots of people immediately think of a recluse who spends all day working on their manuscript (which no one can ever touch before it's ready for submission). They smoke and drink all day, typing away on their typewriter — think of Jack from The Shining.

In truth, modern writers are empowered by the Internet, which allows instant and free access to information, and a vast range of books in any genre. They can share their work with other readers and writers through local gatherings and events such as NaNoWriMo, receiving instant feedback, and can even benchmark their work with the work of other people from around the world.

Step By Step Guide

Writing a novel looks different for every writer. However, if you need inspiration, here is my recommended approach to starting:

  1. Pick up a few fantasy novels in your favorite subgenre (for example, High Fantasy or Low Fantasy), and read them at your own pace. If you are struggling to afford retail bookstore prices, charity shops often sell books for very affordable prices.
  2. Learn the fundamentals of Plot, Setting, and Character.
  3. Find and complete a simple Worldbuilding template (this will cover the broad elements of your world).
  4. Does your world have magic? If yes, decide what kind of magic it is, and write down the basic rules of your magic system.
  5. Decide what will be the central conflict in your story. This could be a large, world-scale conflict (a villain trying to take over the world), a medium-sized conflict (one city fighting off another), or even an internal one (your character trying to overcome their trauma).
  6. Decide the key events that will happen in your story — including your story's Hook, the Inciting Incident, the middle point, and the conclusion.
  7. Place your events into three "buckets"
    1. The Beginning, which should be 20% of your novel, and end at the Inciting Incident
    2. The Middle, which should be 60%
    3. The Ending, which should be the last 20%
  8. Write the first few chapters

At this point, if you have a better idea of the storyline, and know what will happen in your story, you can write down a list of chapters for the rest of the book and a quick summary of what happens in each chapter. Otherwise, if you prefer the Pantser approach, you can also keep writing.  

My Experience Writing A Novel

In the first years of writing, I didn't know what I was doing. I hadn't read enough Fantasy to know the conventions of the genre, and I didn't understand concepts such as POVs, time jumps, and magic systems.

The First Attempts

Six years ago, while on vacation, I attempted my first novel. I wrote 15,000 words in a week. I loved the process and felt like words were flowing onto the page. Reading it now, those chapters seem clunky and the lack of Fantasy elements makes them feel like they belong to no genre at all. The story is told from a one-dimensional character with a one-dimensional perspective, and nothing interesting happens — there are mostly descriptions of cool-looking places. My biggest mistake was fixating on the first chapter, whilst only having roughly 5 chapters written, and no idea of where the story was going. I shared many drafts of the first chapter on Reddit and received mixed results. I also hired a beta reader to receive some professional feedback, which, to my surprise, criticized (constructively) the basics of my writing — grammar, clarity, and redundant sentences. Suddenly, I was confronted with the hard reality of being a novice. I failed to realize that this was, in fact, ok. I put the pen down and didn't try again for a few years.

I tried writing again during lockdown. I had lots of time on my hands and, by this point, I had read a few fantasy books. This time I was determined to get it right. So I studied books on writing, read blogs, and watched YouTube videos. To my surprise, I found conflicting suggestions, hard-to-believe anecdotes, and empty promises. The Pomodoro technique, the writing sprints, the Plotting and Pantsing. I was determined to make sense of it all, so I compiled all of the advice into one giant document. I compiled all of the different story structures I could find (for instance, Save The Cat and Story Circle) into one story structure template, determined to make my story fit into it. I took all of the Worldbuilding templates and merged them into one. I created character sheets with in-depth questionnaires, with trivial questions that, in hindsight, did not help me write my first book — what foods your protagonist is allergic to is not important, unless they eat those foods in your story. 

Despite the strictness of my approach, I still felt lots of satisfaction from completing my chapters. Every so often, I would share a chapter on Reddit for a morale boost and reached a total of 60,000 words. Nonetheless, once again, I abandoned the project. I felt that the manuscript suffered from the same issues as my first story: the story felt shallow and centered around a one-dimensional character. Everyone other character in the story felt like a background character, and the plot felt as if the character was moving from one square to the next on an imaginary board game. I felt unqualified to write a book.

Trying Again

Later that year, I rediscovered my passion for Fantasy, and I decided to take a step back and read more novels to get a sense of how to do perspective, character, narration, and plot.

In the past year, I picked up the writing habit once more and started with writing a few sample chapters of a character-centered story written in first-person, inspired by Circe from Madeline Miller. That experiment was fun, but I ultimately decided to write a story that was in my head for a long time: A Wizard's Hunt, my upcoming Novella. As part of this journey, I decided to create a website and start sharing my progress and the lessons I learn as I go along, for the benefit of my readers and myself. This time, I am making some changes to my process:

  • I am not seeking feedback for validation but for constructive criticism.
  • I'm not expecting my first chapter (or even my first draft) to be perfect.
  • I am following the hybrid approach to plotting that I recommended earlier in the article.
  • I'll stop reading Fantasy books if I don't like them, and pick up ones that resonate with me most so that I can learn how they are written.
  • I am giving myself time, and use deadlines as a tool rather than a strict schedule.

In sharing my story, I hope to give you a sense of how chaotic my writing journey has been. The abandoned projects are what allowed me to grow and learn (I recommend saving those very first drafts so that you can back to them and cherish them). You might not end up publishing your first-ever fantasy story. And if you never let other people read your work, you've not wasted your time: there are other benefits to writing. But if your goal is to publish, and you simply keep going, magical things may happen! You only fail once you stop trying.

Notes On Artificial Intelligence

Although I'm not here to preach for or against Artificial Intelligence (AI), I must acknowledge that broadly available input-to-text models such as ChatGPT (alongside more novel-focused ones) are powerful tools and are already employed by many writers across the globe.

AI tools are useful not only in generating the text in books themselves but also for idea generation and all kinds of editing. They can also be very useful when practicing writing, as they can give you feedback in real time.

If you choose to use AI, I recommend opting for an ethically-trained AI product. This means that the people who created the data used to train the AI (such as text, images, and videos) gave express consent for it to be used in the training process. Not only is this a choice that respects the work of the creative professionals, but also protects you from potential copyright lawsuits from the original creators of the data, in the event they had not given their consent in the first place.


In this article, we attempted to break down the journey of writing a novel into actionable steps. We explored what's required before attempting to write a novel, covered the fundamental elements of stories, and explored different approaches to outlining.

Writing a novel looks different for everyone. You're encouraged to take the suggestions that you find useful and leave the rest. Don't let any writing guides, frameworks, or models stop you from writing the story you want to write.

Andrea Cerasoni in Rome, Italy
Andrea Cerasoni

I'm Andrea, a Software Engineer, Technical Editor, and aspiring Fantasy Author. I'm originally from Rome, Italy, but am currently based in Glasgow, United Kingdom. I read and write classic Fantasy: the sword-and-shield, dragons, and wizards kind. In my articles, I talk about writing fantasy fiction, productivity, coding, building a website or platform, establishing a personal brand, and more!

Want to share feedback on my articles? Contact me!