Writing a series set in a familiar culture is hard enough. A unique world with unfamiliar tenants and elements demands added attention to detail. When writing fantasy, those little details are what make your otherwise completely illogical story spark with life. It’s what captivates readers and keeps them coming back decades later.
The most popular fantasy books pay the greatest attention to the slightest of details. Things like regional powers, royal hierarchy, continental creatures and vegetation, and civic nuance are just a few things to consider when world-building. That said, it’s easy to see how details get overlooked, forgotten, or missed entirely.
If you’re stretching your writing chops to write a fantasy series, here are some definite do’s for creating a multi-dimensional fantasy story.
Create a series bible to preserve world facts.
Creating a series bible for your world means knowing each element intimately. It means thinking about it once and compiling every innocuous tidbit into a larger, almost overwhelming place. A series bible combines everything you’ve created for your world—world-building, character development, settings and environments, magic systems, and other story elements—into one easily accessible reference document.
The location can vary from a folder on your laptop to a composition notebook you keep with your writing essentials or a writer-focused program like Scrivener. Project management applications like Trello and Notion are other good options for a streamlined organization process (because endless file folders on your desktop and disorganized notebooks can get fruitless).
Break the mold but stay true to the genre.
Readers expect certain things from fantasy books they wouldn’t expect otherwise. Certain tropes and clichés are abundant in many fantasy series, such as the farm boy being the long-lost king apparent or your fantasy story taking place in medieval times.
While these can be good starting places when brainstorming your outline, you want to update these old fantasy tropes with new and unique details. It’s your job to create a distinct world your readers are sure to fall in love with.
J. K. Rowling’s Harry Potter series and George R. R. Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire are two prime examples of fantasy stories that continue to garner new readers decades after their original release. Their stories have captivated readers for over four combined decades—J. K. Rowling’s Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone released in 1997 and George R. R. Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire was released in 1996—making these two exceptional series multi-generational.
Map your unique world and your protagonist’s journey through it.
If you’re a more visual person, mapping your world is a fun project. It doesn’t have to be perfect and you don’t have to use special software—though you could use a fantasy cartography application if that suits your fancy. Using a simple pencil and paper, you can create a physical manifestation of your world.
Once you’ve mapped your world, different civilizations, and important elements, you can track your protagonist’s journey visually. Use clear overlays or draw their path directly on the map—whatever works best for you!
Using a map might seem archaic, but it’s an easy way to commit your imagined world to memory. Many of us have looked at our local geography from a bird’s-eye view to help us remember which way is north, or which direction certain places are. It’s the same in your fantasy world. But since you’ve never actually been there, there’s a higher chance of forgetting different landmarks and environments.
Define the magical elements and rules.
Having larger-than-life and, dare I say, fantastical elements is what fantasy stories are all about. If I opened a fantasy book that didn’t have any magic, I’d likely be disappointed.
So, creating rules and rituals your magical elements are bound by is imperative to their creation. Even the most unrealistic things can be made to feel realistic. Nothing is completely infinite. Everything has boundaries.
Even the most powerful creatures have an Achilles heel—like, Achilles, for example, which is a Trojan war hero from Greek mythology donned as the greatest of all Greek warriors. He met his untimely death near the end of the Trojan War when Paris, who harpooned an arrow to his heel. Since, the term has been synonymous with a point of weakness, whether it be for a hero or villain.
These magical weaknesses make something unrealistic—like, magic and parallel universes—realistic, allowing readers to believe them even when they’re universally unbelievable.
Write short histories about your world, its people, and historic edifices.
Not only do I find brief backstories—that is, less than 500-word—an effective way to get a better grasp of your world, but they’re also excellent writing exercises. Choosing important elements and significant structures to write brief backstories helps you understand them better and helps you avoid info-dumping onto the page when you get to that chapter.
Crafting short stories about historically significant things, like a structure’s creation or historical event, can help you distinguish necessary backstory from info-dumps. These short backstories create easy references when you start writing your book.
Create strong and memorable fantasy worlds by identifying the simplest nuances, then exploit them into structurally sound story elements and themes. The best way to learn your fantasy series preferences is to pick up a few books within the genre, read and reread them, and noting their strengths and weaknesses.