Guest Post: Three Ways to Improve Your Fantasy Writing Instantly by Grace King-Matchett
Guys, I am SUPER excited to have Grace King-Matchett on my blog! You may remember her as the amazing artist who drew Rina and Crimson for me last month. As it turns out, she is also a FANTASTIC writer! She's got the coolest post for us today, all about fantasy writing! I know I'll definitely be taking these tips to heart!
Also, if y'all enjoyed this post and can't wait to work harder on your worldbuilding, then I hope you'll join me next month for another fantasy linkup!
Y'all feel free to chat in the comments and let Grace (not me, the other Grace) know what you think of her post! Also, I hope you'll check out her fantastical blog here! She just debuted a writing productivity challenge today that I think you'll love!
I think we can all say that writing a good fantasy book requires a lot of effort, and that it’s quite difficult to do so.
No, let me shorten that. Down to the bare bones.
Writing takes effort and is difficult.
I know how it feels. I struggle tremendously with my own writing. Sometimes, it’s quite hard for me to get the characters, moments, and worlds in my head out onto paper. Let’s not deny it, it’s hard to capture just how a character is feeling or what they’re thinking or seeing.
It’s inevitable; you will struggle to write something at some point, whether that’s trying to construct the world your characters see around them or a simple moment, a feeling, that you can’t quite get right. And this will make you want to smash your head on your keyboard, yes. (Although you might think this will help, it does not. It hurts, and replaces your character’s decisive moment with ‘askjhSDIUKJSsai’=lgwy217389’.)
Thankfully, there are ways to avoid this happening more often than it should, and it’ll spare your computer keys, too.
Method #1: Writing From a Different Time or Perspective
The first way that I find effective to improve fantasy writing is to, on the side, write from a different place in time or character perspective. This method can be applied to all writing as well.
Let’s say you have a main character named Hanna in a work you were writing, and Hanna has two friends named Lilith and Kylie. Perhaps Hanna has a critical moment with Lilith and Kylie where she finds a treasure chest in an ancient pyramid, but you can’t seem to get the moment to be appropriate. You aren’t sure how to approach the dialogue or what the characters may think or feel in reacting to something that important.
I find the most effective way to learn how to best script critical moments is to take a break from the normal perspective or time from which you normally write. If you tend to write about what Hanna thinks and feels, switch it up. Try writing from both Kylie and Lilith’s individual perspectives, and this will help you learn how you want to approach the situation, and how the characters will react.
This is actually a superb way to establish character voice, too. If you wrote about how Kylie sees the situation, you’ll be able to, in the future, keep her opinions distinct and singular, because you’re furthering her character by writing from her perspective.
This method tremendously helped me in one such situation of my writing. I was writing the death scene of a sprite early in one of my books, and was kind of wondering, what made the sprite feel this way? Why did he give up information? What motivates him? (Why, oh why, did he correct the main character’s language error with his dying breaths?)
I took a break from the main character’s perspective, and instead wrote from the sprite’s, and it helped me understand how to best tackle the situation. I wrote about what he thought of the main character, and going back to the main character’s perspective, she wondered about him and his words empowered her.
Writing from another place in time will also help you learn to script critical moments. Go back to something big in a character’s past. Write about what happened, why it happened, and how the character reacted/what they did.
This has before helped me. I was once thinking about how I wanted one of my character’s moments to feel and what she thought, to carry her perspective effectively throughout the series. So I went back to a major decision she made in her past, and wrote about how that changed her and why she did it, and what she was thinking, feeling, and surrounded by while doing it.
Writing from another perspective or time will help you in scripting critical moments and how character voice carries through, and how the characters respond to these situations.
Method #2: Describing and Writing About the World
This method will help with worldbuilding. I know that there are many of you writers out there who struggle to accurately describe the surroundings and world of your characters, and so this technique will help you to get a sense for worldbuilding, describing things, and when to slip descriptions in.
Picture a place in fantasy world in your head. Do you know what it looks like? Can you clearly see it in your mind? Good.
Set a chunk of time and a few pages aside, and perhaps get some music, too.
Now, for a certain amount of time - whatever you pick, half an hour, an hour, three hours - write about what you see in your head - but don’t add any characters to it. Don’t write about any people at all. Try to even avoid using personification of the scene too much. Just write about the world for however long you picked.
For example, say you were writing about an ancient castle with a fountain outside of it. You might want to make your writing look something like this:
The waters of the ancient fountain shimmered, glided, cascaded down into the crystalline pool. Colour dappled on the surface, reflecting the early morning’s sunlight. Vines encircled the beautiful stone statuette, the grey girl who forever sang harmonies of bubbling water. Her delicate hands were posed ever-so-perfectly, a little stone bird sitting atop one.
The castle behind her was long forgotten. Covered with vines, it had become an olden secret, and nobody yearned to traverse its yellow-carpeted halls anymore. It was simply a whisper on the breath of Mother Earth.
You see how, if you write about your worlds often enough, you’ll be able to achieve amazing description - even without characters. Your reader will be able to clearly picture what you are talking about - I call this method of writing ‘word-painting’, or ‘painting with words’.
Now, we’ll talk about how you can put descriptive detail into your story without disturbing the flow, and instead constructing the world that your characters live in. Learning how to describe things properly is extremely important, especially for fantasy.
Your reader already knows about the normal, real-life, day-to-day world - they live in it, so it’s easier for them to imagine it in realistic fiction or similar genres. Because they don’t live in a fantasy world (but probably wish they do), you’ll need to properly learn how to describe the settings and characters so that your reader can picture them well.
Say you were reading a fantasy book where a character had just woken up from unconsciousness in battle.
Would you be able to read it if there was zero description of the surroundings of the character? No. Because then, you, as the reader, are confused as to where the heck this character is. In this case, there’s not enough description for the reader to have the maximum experience.
Would you also be able to read it if the description of the character’s surroundings went on and on and on for an entire page? Of course not! Because then, there’s too much description, and it interrupts the story.
I’ve read books where this happens; they use way too much description. And when they finally cut back to the character, I can’t remember what’s going on because I just read a whole page of description and don’t know what the character’s doing. You do not want this to happen. Ever. It’s really confusing for the reader, and in such books, I have to literally flip back to where the character was last seen in order to understand what they’re doing now.
Thankfully, you can avoid both of these problems. Here are some instances it’s appropriate to put description:
- a character wakes up in new surroundings
- a character enters new surroundings (such as a building, forest, etc.)
- a character talks about their surroundings/an object
- a character receives an object
- a character looks around
- a character meets new people
- there is a pause in dialogue (only use this if it’s relevant, for example, if they were
talking about the building they are in)
When you are adding description, as I briefly mentioned before, do not go on and on for a page and a half about how green the leaves on the trees are and how perfectly the blades of grass grow. By doing this, you’re pretty much yelling to the reader, “HEY! Look at the descriptions that are overly used and distracting you from the characters’ journey!”
As a rule of thumb, keep the descriptions about one to five sentences long. The reader shouldn’t overtly notice that you’re desperately trying to describe the area, or a character, or an object. Keep them as short as or shorter than this paragraph. That way, your reader will subtly get a vision of what the world looks like in their minds - and hardly even noticing it along the way. This is one of the most important things about fantasy writing.
For example, I’ll use a piece of my own writing. (Apologies that this is a bit long.)
Bren awoke some time later to an unfamiliar, much cooler environment. “She’s awake,” a new voice said. Bren looked up to see a boy with thick, curly red hair and strangely piercing-blue eyes looking at her.
“Hi,” she said weakly.
“Try not to talk too much if you don’t feel good. You probably feel sick, since you’re sunburned.” The boy said. He had a pleasing voice, one that made you happy to hear it. Bren could tell he was from Southern Ther’ea by his accent - a country boy.
“Okay,” Bren said agreeably. Instead, she looked around.
She was able to place that she was inside the caravan she’d seen on the road, on one of five long, comfortable, bench-like seats with patterned cushions. The two other girls that had given her water were also there, the one with buns in her hair staring intently at Bren, the other, daring-looking one driving. The auburn-haired boy was sitting on another bench-seat in front of her own, but was turned facing Bren.
The inside of the caravan was quite homey, with cupboards and knit banners and various trinkets spread everywhere, and - Bren noticed happily - a tabletop covered entirely with maps and atlases. “You like the caravan?” The boy asked, and Bren nodded. “Good.” The boy said, and cleared his throat. “I’m Ripley, by the way. Ripley Kuiper. But you can just call me Rip.”
“Bren,” she offered quietly, and stared at the patchwork blanket that covered her.
“Bren? That your name?” Ripley said, displaying his country nature.
“Yes.” Bren answered. She stared at her hands and arms, but didn’t see the familiar wide cyan sleeves or fingerless gloves. Instead, there was a pale grey shirt with thin sleeves reaching almost, but not quite, to her elbows.
You can see that, since Bren has woken up, I took time to describe her surroundings and the nearby people, but spread it out over a little bit. The reason I used longer description here was because Bren had just woken up, and there was also break in dialogue, so it would be okay to do a little bit of a longer description in that instance.
To learn about worldbuilding, take some time to first write solely about the world. And then, once you’ve mastered the art of description, use your talents accordingly to describe the world your characters traverse.
Method #3: Thinking On History
This third method is about making your fantasy book into something more real. Yes, that’s right, folks - it’s time for a history lesson. (Spare me your groans.) But stick around! If you really want your book to stand out to readers as much as possible, you’ll want to do this. Just so you know, this method will take a bit of time to complete, so set aside anywhere from a week to a month to however long it takes you in order to get it done. But if you use this method, you will not regret it, I promise.
Your writing, I’m sure, is already great. But you can make it greater! (Yes, no matter how good you think you are, there is always room for growth and learning.)
I’ll give you the gist of this method, plain and simple. Set aside some time. I would suggest, at first, a week and a half to two or three weeks, but for some it may take longer.
Over the first bit of time, really think hard about your fantasy world. What is it like in the present day, the era your characters live in? What kind of civilization is there? Are they technologically advanced, or do they live in huts in the desert? Write down some ideas you might get about how you want it to be.
After thinking on what your world is like, step it up a little over the next bit of time. Think about what shaped your world to become the way it has. Has there been war? Betrayal? Bad royals? Think about how that affected your world, and write down some things you come up with. (Trust me, you will get ideas.)
The next step - set aside a bit more time than before for this - think about what the government and society is like. (This is not as boring as it sounds. Don’t roll your eyes at me.) Think about it: is your society full of anarchists? Have there been rebellions? Have there been major events taken place because of this? Do you have a royal family, or elected officials? (If a royal family, think about the generations of rulers and what they did for your world. Were there betrayals, etc.?)
Finally, think about how all of these things come into play together. What shaped your world? Why are things the way they are? How do things work there?
Once you’ve done this, I guarantee you will have a good start on what you want the history of your world to look like. Maybe it’ll even inspire you to write a few history books, as I will.
The reason why this is important is that it gives your world depth. Would you rather read about a world where nothing is explained about how things came to be that way or how or why things work? Or would you rather read a book by an author whose world pulls readers in, and gradually reveals its own past?
You can be that author. Your fantasy book will stand out to readers if it has an in-depth history. It will pull readers in, and they’ll yearn to know more about it. And that’s why this is so important.
In conclusion, I hope that these techniques - of writing from a different perspective, properly describing things, and using history to create depth - will help you to become a better writer and make your fantasy book stand out amongst others. Let me know in the comments: which technique was your favourite? Have you seen any books/movies/etc that used any of these techniques? Now that you’ve been equipped with these techniques, get out there and use ‘em!
-- Grace King-Matchett