The One Rule of Writing Fantasy

May 15, 2018



Writing fantasy is liberating, in every possible sense of the word. You can leave behind all the rules of real life, and build a world from scratch. You can write whatever and however you want to, without worrying if it makes sense for a middle-aged plumber to become a world-class secret agent overnight.


Because in your world, you make the rules, and anything is possible. Right?


Well, not really.


It’s true that fantasy allows writers to bend or even completely disregard the rules that bind our Earth. Fantasy stories are filled with creatures not found in real life, like fairies, ogres, centaurs and so much more. Humans can have surreal abilities, animals can talk, and really, anything is possible.


But these worlds need rules, just as our own does. Without them, even the most elaborate fantasy world is nothing more than a blob of play-dough: formless and lacking structure.


Rules are like a skeleton. They help a story take distinctive form and keep it throughout the journey.


Readers instinctively look for rules to help them guide through the story. I don’t know why that’s the case. Maybe us humans are inherently drawn to order over chaos, and need a solid underlying logic even in stories not bound by earthly rules.


This doesn’t mean you can’t invent your own rules. On the contrary: feel free to invent as many as you want. But make sure that they are consistent, and that they all adhere to the same logic.


For example, let’s take a look at my novel, The Bird Queen’s Book. In that story, wizards can travel through a portal to another dimension. But they need a specific tool for opening the portal. Without the tool, the portal becomes inaccessible, even for the most accomplished wizards. There’s no way around it.


Every fantasy story needs these inherent rules. Without them, stories lose their central guiding principles and can be easily blown away by skepticism.


You know the feeling when you’re reading a fantasy tale and you suddenly cringe with disbelief? It doesn’t come because the story features flying elephants. It’s because all of a sudden, those elephants can do something they were previously unable to.


The lack of underlying rules can create major plot holes for fantasy stories. Don’t let your story be swallowed by a plot hole: invent your rules and stick to them.


Don’t worry, you don’t need to spell out the rules in your story. It’s enough if you have them set out in your head, because that way, you instinctively adhere to them, and won’t write anything that contradicts your own guidelines.


So the one rule of writing fantasy: consistency. Devise your own set of rules, stick to them throughout, and shape your story around them. Your readers will thank you.


I'd like to thank T.L. Frances for the guest post. If you are a writer that is interested in a Guest Blog Post, or an Author Interview, please let me know. I'd like to schedule one of each per month. -Chris

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