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So you want to improve your fiction writing skills? You may have come to the right place, maybe not. Here I will share with you the best advice I have received. But be warned, I have not released a fantasy novel, yet. For reference, it is March 2022 and my first fantasy novel is close, read my blurb. So, if you are here to develop yourself in the craft of writing fiction, expecting detailed editing and grammatical skills advice then you’re in the wrong place, I am not an editor. However, if you’re looking for tips and advice about how to actually write better, then this is the article for you.
Initially, I aimed this article at fantasy authors and the fantasy genre, however, most of these tips are just as relevant for all fiction and non-fiction authors. These tips will get you writing better fiction and better fantasy, as well as better characters, worlds etc in no time. Whether it is novel writing, short stories, or just for fun these tips will help. Work through each and take what you need.
The article is split into two distinct categories. 1: Fantasy author tips to make you a better fantasy author, in this section we will look at world-building, the craft, the ingredients of good fantasy. 2: In this section we will look at things that will make you more productive, allowing you to get that epic fantasy novel out of your head and onto paper.
Section One: Best Fantasy Author Tips.
1: Read Lots Of Fantasy Novels.
Everything we as humans do is built upon the shoulders of giants. Make sure you take time from writing to make time for reading. Grab your favourite author be it Robert Anton Wilson, Dan Simmons, George RR Martin, Stephen King, Neil Gaiman, Robb Wallace (had to through that in) and get reading. Read it with your author’s hat on, take note of how they write, how they express ideas, emotions, actions, dialogue, POV plot twists, world-building etc. If you are looking for some fresh new fantasy authors check out my Fantasy Author Interviews for some inspiration.
2: Know Your Audience, Know Your Market.
Who are you writing for? What do they expect? As a reader of fantasy, you know that there are a lot of different topics and categories to explore in the infinite sea of Fantasy available for consumption. All modern-day platforms where your potential audience will find your book is based on Keywords and SEO (search engine optimisation) so understanding your audience and what they will potentially search for gives you a better chance of targeting them if you understand what they are searching for and expecting. From a writing perspective, it gives you the chance to dive into the themes and ideas that are most accepted and expected within the genre or sub-genre. Knowing your audience and what they expect lets you tailor your novel towards the best and most open audience for it.
Saying that you can go the other route and attempt to write a big bold piece that crosses multiple genres, but even if you do that you will still need to know the audience you are targeting and of how you will market to them.
When researching categories, topics, keywords etc for Amazon, the number one search engine for authors, I use Publisher Rocket. Find out more about Publisher Rocket with my article. As an author is publisher rocket worth it?
3: Start Small, Dream Big. Know Your World.
World building, magical systems, characters, languages, races, governments, politics, timelines, technology, ethics, spirituality, animals, foods, customs, weather, light, etc. Make sure you know everything and anything about your world, a lot of this information will not be in your book directly but the more you know about your world and its inhabitants, the easier it will be for you to describe it to your readers. Start small with the key information relevant to your world be it a map and some lists and over time drill down and get granular, expand, expand, expand.
I created a Trello board ( I love Trello) and used these boards to build my characters and my worlds.
4: Learn Your Craft.
Take time to learn your craft including how to structure stories, plots, narratives, grammar, editing techniques, character building, world building, research etc. There are many great online resources available and there are many fantastic books and courses (check out Udemy, YouTube, Amazon) to teach you the ropes. Make continuous learning a part of your author’s journey and you will not regret it.
5: Make An Image Board.
Building on 3, define everything and create an image board for each. For example write down your character’s name, personality, skin type, hair type, distinguishing features, height etc then get googling. I would recommend learning the basics of photo manipulation in software like Affinity Photo or Photoshop (lots of free options available online). Then crudely construct your characters, your landscapes, your weather, your… you can then label these characters with their inner worlds, magical systems, language ticks, thought processes, emotions, fears etc.
A lot of authors use Pinterest to create boards, or groups of images for a scene, character, town, events etc. Then use this visual reference when they write. Give it a try, the visual aid may help you place the details your readers will love.
6: Make A Plan.
There are many ways to plan out your story and for me, many different plans are required at different stages. I create a plan, albeit a loose plan for the overall story. For each chapter I write some bullet points like a press release and make sure I cover them all within the chapter but most important for me is I make sure I am free to just go where ever the characters are taking me.
However, when it comes to editing, cutting the deadwood, making sure that everything fits, that everything foreshadowed etc is met. Then creating a plan within a workable and malleable system like Trello has been crucial to me organising and sorting through 150K words and keeping me on top of the ideas, stories, plots etc throughout. Trello is free and has a nifty mobile app. For more author software ideas check out Best software for Indie Authors.
JK famously drew her own spreadsheet for the Harry Potter stories.
7: Choose A POV.
As an award-winning filmmaker with a degree in film making, I have been trained to think and visualise like a cinematographer. However, this can create head-hopping. Cutting from one POV to another in rapid fashion, as they do in films. However, a reader needs to be engrossed in a POV to take the most from it. This was one of the key takeaways my developmental editor identified and once I was made aware of it I saw it. Choose a POV and make sure that everything is seen and experienced from that perspective, this allows us as writers to do what no filmmaker can, we can see the film from the POV of the main character, not just through his eyes but through their senses, with their thoughts and inner dialogue, this is how a story should be told. Pick a POV and don’t head hop like you are a filmmaker, well unless that is what you’re going for, then go for it.
8: Keep A Record Of Unique Spellings For Uniformity.
After creating so many unique names for characters, places, rituals, festivals, technology, magic, locations, races etc I started to use variations and eventually pepper the book with varying spellings of each. This is why I created a word doc with the master spelling for each word as a reference point. This was extremely handy in the first round of editing.
9: Use A Voice Reader To Hear It Out Loud.
When you reread something for the one-hundredth time (or the one-thousandths time) your brain will not actually read it, it will just fill it in, it knows what you want to say and it will just gloss over it. But, if you use a voice reader to read the page aloud you will hear your errors come to life. It is also cool to hear your made-up names and places be read out loud. Read my article Text to speech as an editing aid.
Section 2: Becoming A Productive Author.
1: Writer’s Block Is A Myth.
Electricians, factory workers, restaurant workers, etc do not get electrician block, or factory worker block, cooking block. Yet creatives like to chant “it has been slow, I have Writer’s block.” No, you have lazyitus. Why is this attitude so prevalent? Because creative endeavours are often seen as something that we do in our spare time, something that is done to relax or done when we are passionate and ready to channel our inner creativity from some deeper part of our unconscious mind. However, when this passion dries up, or the stress levels get too high we creative types like to use the age-old excuse, “writer’s block” which in truth is just an excuse for our lack of routine, commitment and dedication.
When you become a professional writer or just a dedicated writer, if that is your goal, note that there is no publishing house in the land that would accept such hogwash. You have a deadline, write it. If you want to be better at writing fiction, leading to multiple epic fantasy novels? Then leave the notion of writer’s block at the door and embrace it as an excuse non-writers use to procrastinate whilst telling their friends they are writing. Push through and get it done. This is real life, it takes hard work and dedication to bring fictional charters to life.
2: Writing Routine.
Whatever your craft, it will always get better if you work at it. The more time you spend working on your craft, the more you will learn about it. As you learn more about your craft, you will be able to write better. By setting aside a certain amount of time every day to write, you force yourself to focus on your craft. You will then be forced to delve deeper into your writing. Put your writing first! Possibly put it second, after family and work commitments. The key here is to make the commitment to yourself and force your writing output and creative ideas to explore.
Schedule a time.
Commit to writing for an hour a day at a set time and make that a routine, just like going to work, going to the gym, eating an evening meal or going to an evening class. Set a time, mark it in your diary and make it happen every day.
Sprints are a great way to get your writing time in. The idea is you set duration and a word count target and you go at it hard. Gamification, for some this system works. Check out my sprint journal
Only 5 minutes.
One of my friends who is a scriptwriter uses this technique. He tricks himself into longer writing sessions by telling himself he is only committing to five minutes. He is just sitting down to read through or edit the last bit written etc. But once you start, you don’t stop at the five-minute mark, the hardest part is starting, so trick your self. Commit to five minutes and see where it takes you.
Smash your mobile and turn off the internet.
A bit extreme but take extra effort to eliminate the distractions. Be it your phone, the internet, your wife, children dogs, etc. You’re in control, this is your writing time.
Form a habit with a writing uniform.
I have just put this in to highlight my cool author and writing T shirts. However, most work environments use this technique, when you put on your McDonalds uniform you know you’re under their rules and you’re ready to work. So maybe getting a cool “This is my writing T shirt” maybe is a good idea 🙂
Take inspiration from everywhere, including your own life experience, your reading, what you’re watching and listening to, family, friends, documentaries etc. Inspiration comes easily when you are open to it. You don’t need to be a genius to write well. All you need is the desire to learn and the inspiration will come. Take time to observe, to watch, to listen and the world will open up. Stay curious.
4: Use All Of Your Senses.
When I was at university I signed up to host an hour of radio each week, it was here that I realised that I had to describe everything I was talking about. Evoking all of my senses to compensate for the absence of visual aids to portray that thing in words. Remember that your world has smell, touch, sound, taste as well as visual descriptions. Draw your reader in and immerse them in sensory delight.
5. Write About Your Strengths.
If you’re good at writing action scenes, write those! If you’re good with dialogue, then stick to that. You should have some kind of skill set, but if you find yourself struggling with any particular aspect of writing, try looking online for advice. There are plenty of forums dedicated to helping writers improve their craft. Writing about your strengths is a great place to start, however, do not procrastinate on your weaknesses, over time you must make every aspect of fiction writing a strength.
6. Keep Going, Never Back Down, Never Give In, Never Quit On Yourself.
When are enough words enough? You might think you’ve written enough when you hit page 100, but there’s no such thing as too much material. Evidently, everything you write is not going to make the final novel, but snippets can be saved for later projects and become the seeds for future books.
7: Make It Fun.
If it stops becoming fun, make it fun. Writing an epic fantasy novel should be fun, when a creative project is fun, it flows. So if the creative juices have stopped flowing then switch it up. Take a tangent on what you are writing and say to yourself. If there were no limits at this junction, how would I make this scene exciting? How would I bring the fun back into it? And remember not everything you write is going to make the final edit, so just write, have fun, you never know it may just give you the spark you need to keep writing.
Everyone’s writing process must have an editing process. Editing for most creatives is hard. Two main forms of editing for authors that I can recommend are.
A: Developmental Edit.
This looks at your story, dialogue, characters, action, POV etc and assesses how you could make the novel as a whole better. I done my research, paid a lot of money and sent my debut Epic Novel off, two months later I received a document that would change multiple aspects of my story and take me into a four month editing journey, where I can honestly say, I learnt so much. And hopefully through this process my story has been made stronger.
B: Line Edit.
You have a killer fantasy novel and you are ready to send your manuscript to an agent or direct to a POD publishing outlet like Amazon. However, before you do make sure the spelling, grammar and formatting etc are up to par. Having your work rejected because no care has been taken in its presentation is a fatal flaw. I can say this has happened to me, I learnt the hard way.
9: Accept Feedback.
Yes, when you get your feedback about the story, about the presentation, characters, story arc, formatting, grammar etc accept it. You do not have to accept it all but take on board what people are saying. If they are a professional and you have paid for their service then learn from their expertise and experience. If it was your friends etc then they have your best intentions at heart and are trying to assist you to make it better. Take some time and let the feedback sink in, and appraise it externally, do not allow the hard work and emotion put into your novel to get in the way of accepting the feedback. They are criticising your ideas, they are not criticising you.
10: Finish It.
Self-explanatory. Don’t move onto another ten projects without finishing the first one. Stick to it and get it done. Set out the schedule, set the goal and finish it.
If you have a killer novel, I suppose we all think we have, actually, having confidence in your story is one of the most important factors in a successful marketing campaign. If you do not believe in it, no one else will. Make sure you have an online presence, social media, a brand, email newsletter. How will this make you a better writer? Blurbs, social posts, and segments about your book i.e sales copy needs as much attention as your book. These pieces of content are short, concise and will make you sum up, inspire and sell your work like never before. My marketing book Smartphone Smart Marketing has all the tools you need to step up your marketing efforts and get you ready for the big time and all you need is your phone.
Writing is just a skill and anyone can make progress if they are willing to invest the time and effort to learn, practice, fail and keep going. I am a testament to this.
I hope you have enjoyed this article, if so please think about giving it a share to help others and feel free to sign up for my newsletter and browse my books.
FAQ Novel Writing.
How can I improve my writing?
Practice makes perfect.
How do you write a good scene in a fantasy novel?
Learn the rules and apply them, then practice, practice, practice.
What makes a good fantasy novel?
No one has the secret sauce, but if you try, you may write the next great fantasy novel. You have to be in it to win it.
How are novels written?
One word at a time.
Why are large fantasy novels so hard to write?
It is not, stop making excuses.
How do you make every chapter interesting?
Impossible, just do your best.
Thanks for reading.