Fantasy writers: discover your new world as your readers do

Last week, someone I follow posted a link to a guest post by Kristen Kieffer on her top 5 tips for fantasy writing. Being a fantasy writer, I was curious about her take on the writing. I was then surprised to learn that she hadn’t even finished editing her first fantasy novel, which was also her very first novel ever, at the time of posting.

Unfortunately, her inexperience was obvious with her first piece of advice:

Pre-writing is essential. No matter what type of fantasy you write, pre-writing your novel is crucial.” She goes on to recommend that fantasy writers pre-write every element of their new fantasy world, prior to writing draft 1 of their novel.

This advice is like telling all drivers that they should stop and count to 20 each time they get to stop sign.

Kieffer proves this point with tip #2: “Less is more.” Here, she tells us she wasted a full year on world-building that she later realized she didn’t need to do. So, why did she just say its crucial to pre-write all elements of a new world prior to draft 1?

When I wrote Into the Darkness, I didn’t pre-write at all. I knew all I needed to about my world when I sat down to write. It’s called Cathell. It’s a dark and dangerous place, filled with mercenaries, thieves, sorcerers, heroes, and gods both good and evil. At no time did I encounter a plot hole, as Kieffer suggests will occur when there’s no pre-writing before draft 1.

Pre-writing information on Cathell’s different kingdoms, political structures, or even all of the races inhabiting Cathell would have been a waste of my time. The blanks I needed to fill in about Cathell were filled in as I wrote the book.

Now, this is not to say I never wrote anything down while writing Into the Darkness, because I did. I stopped when I needed to and wrote down information about the geography and various cities, the hierarchy of gods, and character backstories. I filled an entire notebook with this stuff, but I did it all while I was writing draft 1.

Now, my advice. When you decide you want to write a fantasy novel, consider using this method:

  1. Start with an image in your mind. That image should be of your main character, and it tells you what she or he looks like.
  2. Pull back a little so that more of the landscape around your character is visible. What is this place called, and what does it look like?
  3. Now, why is the character there?

If you have those pieces in your mind, you’re ready to go. If you’re like me, you’ll start writing immediately. But, maybe you’re an outliner. No problem. Start outlining. Just don’t suck up your valuable time and energy with pre-writing things you don’t need right now to develop your characters or your plot/sub-plots.

Plan less. Write more. Enjoy the sparks of inspiration as they come.