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A Fantasy Fiction Writing Challenge to Rule Them All

For such a free-spirit genre, it might seem silly to apply a fantasy fiction writing challenge at all.

Why bother? What hurdles could possibly exist when working within a genre that actively encourages flights of fancy?

If you’re asking those questions, the fantasy fiction writing challenge below has the first of many answers we’ll be exploring.

Solidly set your world.

There are so many fantasy subgenres or subsets, that we’re going to give some of them their own entire weeks’ worth of Definitions, Writing Challenges and Rules. But here’s a challenge to rule them all...

Whether you’re working with a completely made-up world, a semi made-up world or the real world that you’re bending to “unscientific” principles, you need to make your setting seem natural. Readers aren’t going to automatically understand the “scientific” laws your characters operate in, so make them as clear as can be.

This applies to high fantasy and epic fantasy. It applies to urban fantasy and contemporary fantasy. It applies to paranormal fantasy too – regardless of whether people consider paranormal fantasy a fantasy subgenre or its own separate category.

This is an overarching fantasy fiction writing challenge. So listen up.

Fantasy deals with subject matter that most people aren’t experts on. It involves creatures that most humans have never knowingly dealt with. And it incorporates possibilities that the vast majority of mortals are perfectly justified in not expecting.

All of that can lead to a very unfamiliar and even inhospitable environment for mere people/human/mortal types to interact with. So it’s the fantasy fiction writer’s job to make readers feel welcome.

Jim Butcher, for one, does a great job of accepting this fantasy fiction writing challenge in his Dresden Files series. Set in modern-day Chicago – and therefore a solid shoe-in for the urban fantasy and contemporary fantasy subgenres – it follows the exploits of Harry Dresden, professional wizard-for-hire.

On the very first page of the very first book, Harry finds himself having to defend his job to a skeptical mailman who asks him if he does, “uh. Like parties, shows, stuff like that?” Without much more prompting, readers immediately want to jump to this poor, beleaguered professional wizard-for-hire’s defense, ready to believe whatever he says.

The (disputed fantasy) novel Dragonflight, the first book in the Dragonriders of Pern series, takes another great tact to drawing readers in. Anne McCaffrey lets them know right away that they’re not going to be mocked for their naivety on the subject matter. And there won’t be a test at the end of each chapter.

Instead, her narrator starts off by asking perfectly reasonable questions:

When is a legend legend? Why is a myth a myth? How old and disused must a fact be for it to be related to the category “Fairy-tale”? And why do certain facts remain incontrovertible while others lose their validity to assume a shabby, unstable character?

It’s an acknowledgement that readers are allowed to have questions. That it’s only logical to wonder such things. Therefore, it’s also only logical to explore those questions, allowing the narrator to establish the story's setting as captivatingly as if it was being shared around a campfire.

Authors like Anne McCaffrey and Jim Butcher make it look easy. But don’t be discouraged if it takes you several drafts to get your elements established engagingly.

There’s a reason why it’s not called a fantasy fiction writing piece of cake. With that said, it isn’t a fantasy fiction writing impossibility either.

It’s a fantasy fiction writing challenge – and one you’re more than capable of accepting.

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