20 Mistakes To Avoid In Fantasy Stories

– This is the second installment of an ongoing “20 Mistakes to Avoid in…(insert genre here)” series, which started with 20 Mistakes To Avoid in YA Romance. I’ve decided to continue this series, but written in a more concise fashion so that it’s a lighter read for you guys with all of the same main ideas and key points. I hope you enjoy this as much as the first, and if you have any requests for more articles in this series, leave them in the comments below!

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Being Impatient

Develop your story at a steady pace that makes sense for your plot and your characters. Don’t base the pacing of your story on other fantasy novels. This happens a lot in Fantasy, typically with political turmoil and development of relationships, with political systems being explained very slowly to a point where you forget important details, and romance being forced to develop too quickly, which makes it feel unrealistic and disingenuous.

Not Thinking Outside The Box

Your story doesn’t have to mirror the typical characteristics of fantasy. Explore ways to diversify your cast that aren’t just mimicking whatever series you just read. Create unique political systems that your characters struggle with. Make your characters’ traits contradictory, rather than assigning them an archetype.

Having Loose Rules For Your Magic System

Magic systems need hard lines and declared limitations. Magic systems without those things are boring to write and lazy-looking to critical readers. Magic shouldn’t be your characters’ all-powerful saving grace whenever you don’t feel like coming up with an actual method of clever escape from danger.

Unoriginally Using Common Creatures

Having dragons and fairies is completely okay in fantasy, but it will be hard to get away with including those things when you have put no unique spin on them that leaves a specific version of that character in your reader’s mind when they think of your story. 

Unoriginal “Chosen One” Plots

“Chosen One” plots are interesting and they’re inescapable, but like the use of universally popular fairytale creatures, you need to put a unique and stylistic twist on the original idea to make your story stand out in the reader’s memory.

Boring, Overused Settings

Forests are cool. Have a scene in a forest. But make it a forest that is unique to the world in your book, with characteristics specific to your story setting, and with purposeful details that add to the progression of the plot.

Self-Insert Main Characters

Don’t base characters on yourself. Add your quirks and behaviours to characters sparingly and with intention. If you have a quirk that happens to seem like something a character would do, sure, have them adopt it, but otherwise, separate your own image from the story. You’ll be too easy on your characters if you base them on yourself.

Slow Beginnings

Don’t start your story with an embarrassingly slow exposition. In fantasy, it’s valuable to take the advice of “starting in the middle of the action”. This doesn’t mean start in the middle of the plot, but don’t start weeks and weeks ahead of it either. Find a happy medium.

Too Many Characters

It’s great to juggle a bunch of characters in one story, but be realistic. Your reader needs to be able to keep up. The main thing you must do is recognize the difference between a main character, a secondary character, and a supporting character, and then develop them appropriately.

Info Dumping

Reveal information to your readers gradually and at appropriate points in your story, not in several huge paragraphs scattered throughout the story whenever you realize, “oh no, they need to know this, here’s the complete rundown in a massive paragraph, including lore”.

Boring, Underdeveloped Cast

On the other side of the point of too many characters, make sure that your main cast has the majority of your attention. Have a few fully developed characters, then several characters that are somewhat developed, but basically only explained to the point where they need be.

Lacking Plot Full Of Repetitive Action

Don’t include an action scene if it serves no purpose or is a complete retelling of an action scene that has already occurred. Develop your plot rather than include action because you think a fantasy novel needs 12 6-page action scenes that all read the exact same way with the exact same outcome.

Skimping On The Female Characters

Female characters should be developed as people, not “strong female relatable characters”. Don’t make a female character completely indifferent to men simply because you want the reader to know she doesn’t need one. Blandly put, a female character can have a happy relationship, a gentle demeanor, and not know how to hold a gun, and still demonstrate strength, resilience, and badassery. Strength comes in different forms. That’s all.

Not Diversifying The Cast

Make casts diverse. Don’t try to make up excuses for not having people of color or people of different sexualities in fantasy. If your book doesn’t include humans, fine, but otherwise, please do yourself a favor and be inclusive.

Unnecessarily Confusing The Reader

Try to state the details of your story in a way your readers can understand and carry into their reading experience. If you make up a language for your story, explain it simply. If the political system is completely unlike any your reader has seen, explain it. Of course, you should leave some room to connect the dots, but not all readers learn that stuff the same, or understand it fully from small traces of information.

Stupid Antagonists

Make smart, cunning, ambitious, and interesting antagonists with complicated emotions, realistic trauma, understandable points of view, and qualities the reader can empathize with.

Making Fantasy Worlds Paradise

Not every part of any world would be believably fantastical and perfect. Lack of roughness and hardship in your world will disconnect your reader, because nobody has experienced a utopia and they cannot empathize with it.

Not Making Magic Cost Anything

The best magical systems are the ones where magic comes with a price. That creates stakes, stakes create tension, and tension builds suspension and makes your story addictive to your reader. If magic doesn’t cost anything, your characters will use it all the time for everything for no reason and your story will probably be uninteresting.

Overdoing It

Fantasy worlds should be interesting and unique, but understandable to the reader. Don’t make your world or your plot so complex and out of the framework of fantasy or your reader will be confused the entire time. 

Ignoring Implications of World Elements

Everything that occurs will have consequences. Show those consequences. If a castle is blown to bits, the people in and around it will be affected. If one uses magic to kill someone, that someone’s family will be in mourning, people will find out, there will be investigation, etc. Consider the implications of the events in your story, as well as how world-building details will affect your characters’ conflict-resolution.

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