I read Stephen King’s memoir, On Writing, after completing my first draft of Pangaea: Unsettled Land. When likening the writing process to archaeology, he wrote, “Stories are relics, part of an undiscovered pre-existing world. The writer’s job is to use the tools in his or her toolbox to get as much of each one out of the ground intact as possible.” I completely understood this to be true. When beginning to write a story, you already have an idea. Now, you just need to uncover all of the elements that make it work.
Know Your Idea
Forcing things like magic and ancient lore into your story isn’t going to work if they weren’t at the core of your idea to begin with. If they are, then you can go places. When I began writing Pangaea in 2009, I started with this core storyline: ‘three friends go on a quest to find a rare magical artifact that would make a huge impact on their world’. I also had the idea of a maniacal antagonist who had gone mad after being in a dungeon for so long. If you read the book, then you know right away what has changed and what hasn’t. None of this is groundbreaking stuff, and in fact could very easily be cliché. What makes fantasy unique are the things only you can bring to it.
Focus On The Story
First, I would strongly suggest an outline – not necessarily for plot in the beginning, but for your characters. This website showcasing the snowflake method is a great source. It helped kick-start me towards completion after multiple start-and-stops over the years. It’s a great way to uncover more about your characters and the world around them. Once you know their motives and barriers, things like the ancient mythology of the land, the world/character’s histories, and a timeline will begin to fall into place. That’s because you’ll have the mindset that “A needs to happen in order for B to happen”. Again, this is not about forcing things into place. It’s about naturally discovering what it is about the world that makes your characters behave the way they do. If you can’t prevent the love interest’s death without changing your story a great deal, it’s probably supposed to happen.
Be cautious! Just because you know the timeline and all of the mythology and history, does not mean your reader needs it. They only need what’s absolutely necessary to the development of the character and the furthering of that story. Otherwise, you could make the mistake of info-dumping and bogging down your story with needless details.
Once you have a firm grasp on all of the details, you can decide on whether plot outlining is best or if you want to get straight into writing. In both cases, don’t be rigid. Allow for some unforeseen changes.
Go With The Flow
When you begin writing, you’re going to learn even more about the world you’ve created and the characters. Things are going to change. Initial ideas are going to seem way overblown, and some of the minor ones will need to be brought to the limelight. This sense of discovery is the fun part! I remember wanting to end my novel with a bang by having Pangaea separate from one super-continent into the world as we know it now. This does not happen. My ending is much simpler and has more impact now because I paid attention to the path of the characters. By not remaining inflexible, I brought the far-fetched (and horrid) idea back down to Earth.
Time For Some RER: Revising, Editing, and Rewriting
It’s so important to edit your work. This is a must for writers in general. However, when creating a fantasy world, it’s highly important to look not just at the grammar and story, but at all of the world-building elements. Look at the government, society, technology, and magic. What works? What doesn’t? Here’s an example of my editing:
My book involves a mixture of old and new technologies, so I had a scene where my characters are flying somewhere on a plane. My editor let me know to make my world a bit more distinct by paying attention to the structures and names of certain technology. I changed the structure of planes into a stingray-like airship called a supertrop. Phones are all called comms, cars are called wheelers, etc. These changes helped distinguish my world from the one we live in today and added even more of that fantasy allure.
This also highlights the importance of an editor. Don’t expect to publish anything that’s been self-edited. Leave that version for beta readers. After accepting or refusing suggestions from them, have a professional with a focus on your genre look over your work and let you know what needs to change. This especially helped me understand what fantasy readers expect and to meet those expectations without compromising my own ideas.
Follow these steps and you can soon have readers escape to a world of your own!
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