The challenges of fantasy

Challenges in fantasy writing? Why? Isn’t everything possible in fantasy?

Yes. Everything is possible. But the big question is: should everything be possible?

Lately I have seen a large surge in new fantasy authors, people who start into writing and expect that fantasy is a genre which is easy to do, because of the many possibilities.

Something that often gets overlooked is that, even when you write fantasy, there has to be a sense of reality in it. Your writing should not alienate the reader. It has to feel as a step into a new, fantastic world, but some base values (not all of them, and not always the same ones) should make the readers feel that they are able to relate to the environment that is painted. Life forms can be strange, there can be magic. People can fly, or change shape, or become invisible. Perhaps they confer with ghosts just for fun. In that case a basic necessity like houses, to name something, should be recognisable.

Another challenge is to be innovating. Try to find something new, something that no one, or at least not many people have tried before. This does not mean you have to go out on a limb and invent something totally new and unique (although if you succeed in that, more greatness to you), but if you start writing about, let’s say wizards, see if you can add something new to the wizards. Dress them in jeans and give them plastic wands. Or make your main wizardly character stand out because he found a baseball cap. Add something fresh to your story, but keep it credible. If your wizards live in a deserted, far-away land where technology does not exist and the furthest away someone has ever been is 400 miles, you will have a hard time explaining that baseball cap. Or an empty Coke-bottle.

The worst thing of fantasy, in my experience, is to make sense. Contrary to the lives we lead, in stories everything has to make sense. Loose ends are not allowed. The weirder and more outrageous your fantasy world is, the more challenging it will be to keep everything together, to make the different parts and plots in the story interact and connect. If the ever so important dragon is there, then give it a bit of a background story. Why is it there, how did it become how it is? Why is the dragon slayer invincible, or why isn’t he?

There I reach another thing in fantasy: keep your characters “human”. Give them some vulnerabilities. Give them traits that the readers can identify with, let them make mistakes and pay for those. No matter how fantastic, let your story talk about the real life and problems of your characters, like the readers have their real lives and problems. Life can be difficult, so make it equally difficult on your characters, and while doing that, give your readers the certainty that every problem has a solution. No matter how fantastic it sounds.

Paul Kater

(This post originally appeared at, as the guest post in the OrangeBerry Summer Splash.)

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