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Six Ingredients for Great Fantasy Novels

By Edited May 16, 2016 0 0

Not All Fantasy Novels Are Created the Same, But Most Share These Common Elements

Not All Fantasy Novels are Equal, But Most of Them Have These Elements

Witches, warlocks, magic, and spells are all parts of fantasy, but there are other aspects that are part of a good fantasy novel. Every best seller from the fantasy genre have similar ingredients. The details are never the same but the structure is similar.   A good fantasy novel requires a circumstantial hero who rises to the challenge presented, a villain that opposes the hero at every turn, and magic as part of the accepted norm.

The Hero

In a fantasy, the protagonist is a circumstance hero that has some sort of magical ability or affiliation. They are not an established hero, just someone who has a personal interest that is in danger of being destroyed.  In Harry Potter by JK Rowling, the hero is Harry Potter, in Coyote Dreams by C.E. Murphy it’s Joanne Walker, and in Cast in Secrets by Michelle Sagara its Kaylin. In each of these books, the heroes are unknown people who are forced into the role of a hero because of something that happened to them. The hero doesn’t have to have any experience or have preformed any courageous deed, they just have to step up in the time of need. Most of the time the hero is chosen by circumstance, by their love of the city or a personal involvement that is threatened by the danger. They are someone who doesn’t want the leadership role initially, but are forced into their role by life experiences.  For example, in Cast in Secrets, the main character, Kaylin, would like nothing better then to be left alone and not bothered. However, when Kaylin hears “One of our children is missing” (Sagara, 87), she sets aside her own wants to help because she couldn’t turn her back on a missing child. From there she was propelled into saving the world, not because she wanted to be a hero, but because she didn’t want to see an innocent life destroyed. Furthermore, the protagonist should have some sort of magical ability or connection to magic. Whether it is a power they have, like telepathy and shape shifting, or that they live in a magical land, a connection to the paranormal is crucial. This link is what separates fiction from fantasy and reality from illusion.

The Villain

A villain is a necessary role in a good fantasy book. This character doesn’t have to be a human; it could be an inanimate object, or a force of nature. It just has to have a goal that is opposite of what the protagonist wants. In most cases the antagonist is evil, but they don’t have to be; they could believe what they are doing is right, but have it oppose what the protagonist wants. For example, in the Lioness Rampant series, by Tamora Pierce, two countries are at war with each other. Each country believes that they should win the war, but because Alanna lives in Tortal, the other country is portrayed as the antagonist. The antagonist should also have a connection to the paranormal. They should have some sort of power that either rivals the abilities of the protagonist or are the opposite of them. This would insure that the hero did not have an easy time defeating them.

The Sidekick

A supporting cast is vital to a fantasy book in order to add depth to book, and to add further areas for plot development. If the only characters in the book were the protagonist and the antagonist, then there would only be one straight plot line. By only having two characters, the book would become tedious with problems from one person’s life. A supporting cast balances out both the hero and the villain, by providing a way for the villain to have some good on their side, and the hero to have some bad. Furthermore, a sidekick is important. A sidekick is under the classification of a supporting cast member, but they are closer to the hero and they have a role in the heroic act. They are important because they give support to the hero, and they provide them with help in defeating the antagonist. Hermione and Ron, from Harry Potter, are perfect examples of this role. They aren’t Voldemort’s target, but they participate in defeating him.

A Rose by any other NAME

In fantasy, the names of the characters are crucial to give the feeling of other worldliness  . Fantasy names tend to be ethereal and memorable. Some examples are Hermione, Thayet, Alanna, Dante, Jace, and Japhrimel. These types of names are not essential to a good fantasy book; they are just a good idea because it is easier to believe that a Hermione is performing acts of magic, then a Suzy.


Next, the people of the country need to have some sort of magical ability or quality about them. Whether it’s telekinesis, telepathy, or the ability to fly, this is the main feature that classifies the book as fantasy instead of fiction. Albeit, it doesn’t have to be the characters that have the magical qualities. It could be that there are talking animals. It could also be that there are mystical creatures, such as unicorns or griffins, or that the land it’s self is magical. There just needs to be a difference between the world we live in and the one in the book.

Story Structure

A good fantasy book also has a problem that the protagonist needs to resolve. The majority of the time, it is a quest that the hero has to perform, but it could also be a fight against an enemy or the retrieval of a dangerous object. Lord Voldemort attacking the school in JK Rowling’s book, and an insane man trying to destroy the world in Michelle Sagara’s book are examples of what the hero is fighting to resolve. Without the problem, the book would have no purpose and would go off on any tangent.  Furthermore, connected to the unresolved problem is the personal obstacle that the protagonist has to overcome, in order to solve the problem. The majority of the time, the personal obstacle is what led the protagonist to become the hero and to try to resolve the problem. For example, Harry Potter’s fight against Lord Voldemort started because Lord Voldemort murdered Harry’s parents. If he hadn’t massacred Harry’s parents, then Harry, more then likely, wouldn’t have been such a prominent role in Voldemort’s destruction. This would be because he didn’t have a personal reason to want to see Voldemort destroyed.

The heroic act is what leads to the climax. Sometimes the heroic act and the climax can be the same thing, but most of the times it sets up the situation that leads the hero to the climax. In Devil’s Right Hand, by Lilith Saintcrow, the heroic act is when Dante goes to save her lovers life, and therefore is led to the final showdown against the devil.

The climax of a fantasy book, is what the entire beginning and middle where leading to. The climax needs to be the spot in the book where the reader devours page after page wanting to find out what happens. It is the scene where the hero and the villain face off and the winner takes all. It’s the final battle in a war, the showdown between two wizards, or when the hero finally faces their greatest fear and comes out stronger. The climax also needs to have some spontaneity, but also be predictable. The reader should be able to guess things about it, and be correct, but they should also be surprised by little twists and turns.

The end of the book needs to be the resolution to the problem and of the personal obstacle the hero faces. It needs to answer questions that were posed throughout the story, but it also needs to leave the reader with some questions, so that if a sequel were to come out people would be interested in reading it. The end needs to leave the reader feeling like they should be able to whip out a wand and freeze a friend mid-sentence, or to read someone’s mind. It should leave the audience believing in magic and all that goes with it.



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