What Good Fantasy Writers Can Teach Us

Fantasy writers such as George R R Martin use skills every writer can learn from.

To make productive use of my time in isolation I thought I would set myself a challenge. Having been an avid Game of Thrones fan, I wanted to read the books. What better time to do it than when I had time on my hands?

My only concern is that not all the books have been released, yet. I join now with all the other voices that want George R R Martin to hurry up and finish.

Although I will cut him some slack because what he has written is a masterpiece. Recently I have been lucky enough to work with an amazing fantasy writer, Jack Mulcahy.  I urge you to check out his short stories. These are only the start of a brilliant novel he has written. Look out for his work as he is the next big thing.

Oren Cohen is another Medium writer who has a talent at fantasy writing. I was lucky enough to be involved in his fantasy course this month. I can’t tell you how much I learnt, even as someone who doesn’t consistently write fantasy. Keep an eye on his profile for release of the course, it is well worth doing.

I’m in owe of fantasy writers.

There is something that good fantasy writers do that few others manage. Martin, Oren and Jack have this skill in abundance they world build. All writers could take a lesson from their creativity.

Before you start writing a fantasy you have to build a world. Not just the lands and buildings, but a political system, a magic system and even humanity.

As a writer of crime, I invent my characters, murders and relationships. My novels, however, are based in a world you all know, planet earth. Fantasy writers take this one step further, they build the planet one day at a time. I can only imagine the books of planning, the details they have, that never make the novels.

Whichever genre you write we could learn from them. If we made our worlds as detailed as theirs in our minds our writing would benefit. Sometimes writers become complacent, they presume the reader knows what they know. I have been guilty of this in my writing. You are not alone.

I am in owe of fantasy writers and their level of commitment and imagination.

Character Development

Design a handful of brilliant characters to tell the tale. Having watched Game of Thrones on TV you will know what a huge cast of characters there are. Could you imagine a book where you switch between twenty different characters?

Martin, however, tells his story from the perspective of a handful of characters. In the first book, we follow the lives of

  • Eddard Stark
  • Catelyn Stark
  • Sansa Stark
  • Arya Stark
  • Bran Stark
  • Tyrion Lannister
  • Jon Snow

All the other characters are bit parts in the story. Think of all the other characters from the series that don’t have a voice. As a writer, it is a genius move. We grow to bond with these characters, although we meet the other people, we are not confused by them.

As the books progress, I don’t think I’m giving any spoilers away to say, that some characters leave and their voices are replaced by others. Still, I am halfway through the series and Cersei is yet to appear as a main character. Her part is told through the lives of Sansa and Tyrion. The awful Joffrey is again told through Sansa and Tyrion.

You don’t need multiple characters to tell your story, one voice might be enough.

Magic Systems

Within many fantasy novels, there is an element of magic. Martin’s books don’t have a large amount if you forget about the flying dragons.

Fantasy writers design these magic systems. They then need to make them believable. They do this by relating them to what we know.

‘The magic sliced through her.’ None of us can imagine what magic cutting you in half feels like. However, the fact it slices through gives as an idea. I imagine a pain similar to a sword slicing through me.

The very essence of fantasy writing is using description, so the reader can put themselves into the story. All the writers I mention do this superbly.

Lessons to learn

Looking at fantasy writers who take their creativity to the highest level what can we learn.

  • Build complete engaging worlds.
  • Build strong characters we relate to.
  • Build systems and action we can understand.
  • Description is your friend.
  • Have a strong background of information to draw from. Not all this has to make the book.

As a writer don’t be afraid to create the impossible and take a chance.

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