Welcome to my latest weekly series–“How (Not) to Write,” where I’ll tell all you need to know to write a terrible novel in all sorts of styles and genres! Sometimes I’ll look at specific authors, other times like now I’ll stick with something broad.
So, are you captivated by the lands of elves and dwarves or dire wolves? Do you want to be the next great fantasy author? Here are ten steps to writing a perfectly terrible epic fantasy novel. Allons-y!
1. Read. Every great writer needs to be a great reader as well, right? And for writing great fantasy, there’s no reason not to go straight to the master himself! You need to live, eat, and breath J. R. R. Tolkein. Watch the movies (even the old cartoons from the ’70s) and read the books over and over until you know them inside and out. Yeah, there are a lot of fantasy novels out there, but this is the only one that really matters. This is the essence of fantasy itself!
2. Create your world. This part’s easy, super easy. The ideal fantasy world is made up of humans, elves, dwarves and orcs, though you can also throw in goblins, dragons or fairies if you want to be creative. You’ll need a wizard or two and one kingdom per species. Draw a map if you want.
3. Map it out. Every great fantasy masterpiece centers on the struggles between good and evil. Orcs and goblins and their dark masters need to be the embodiment of evil, while elves and dwarves are good. Humans should be mostly good with some evil–because hey, we want readers to relate to it.
4. Know your main character. The ideal main character should be a model version of yourself. Give him humble (or even tragic) beginnings and a newness to all of this that the readers can relate. Because everyone needs a flaw, make his something that will work with the story–stubbornness or a refusal to look up to evil authorities, even when he probably should. If your main character is a woman, she should be a tomboy. Make her stupidly awesome with weapons (or with one weapon of choice) or give her magical powers. Anything to elevate her above the common woman! She needs to be spirited, rebellious, and unwilling to conform!
5. Control your style. You want to keep this sounding as realistic as possible, right? Whenever you see an area where you can embellish your writing, do it! Slip in an odd archaism or Shakespearian terminology. It will give you the extra punch you need.
6. Control your length. You can’t have good fantasy that’s under 400 pages long. That doesn’t exist. Do whatever you need to in order to spread things out correctly. This is best done by embellishing your descriptions and style wherever possible. If you’ve got it, flaunt it! Explain everything possible to your readers so that no one gets lost in the action.
7. Don’t think too hard. Especially about magic. It might not make sense that your wizard can kill a man with his blast and magnify his own spells exponentially, but shivers at the sight of an army of orcs–but who cares? Just give him what he needs for that point in the story.
8. Keep it under control. You already have a clear-cut struggle between good and evil going on here. Don’t take anyone by surprise. You know how it needs to end (with good winning, of course), so you should do everything in your power as writer to make it happen. Your characters are nothing more than words on a screen–don’t be afraid to manipulate them into acting against their personalities. I’m sure you can think of reasons for that. Anything’s possible, right?
9. Deus Ex Machina. All hope is never lost, though it’s fine if you want to scare your readers from time to time. Just make sure that you never feel as if you’ve written characters into a hole so deep they can’t climb out. Pull something out of thin air and provide for them! The readers will thank-you for not killing more than one or two along the way.
10. When popularity strikes… relax. If your book tops the New York Times Bestsellers list, congratulations! You should probably write more fantasy to keep people excited about you and to make more money, but don’t sweat it. At this point, your fans will buy any piece of junk you typed up, regardless of quality. You can write the same book over and over again and simply change the names of the characters and the wording of events! It’s so easy to be a famous writer.
Congrats, if you follow the instructions above, you are well on your way to writing a horrible epic fantasy novel! Share your thoughts below in the comments. I look forward to hearing from you!