Archive for Writing a fantasy novel

Do Research for Your Fantasy Novel

Posted in Writing with tags , , , , , , , , , on February 28, 2014 by Dawn Ross

Just because you’re writing a fantasy novel where everything is make-believe doesn’t mean you won’t have any research to do. There is more to a story than just the action and the dialog. There are certain things you will need to know in order to get your ideas across properly.

Aimee's Horses

For example, if your fantasy world takes in a medieval setting, you will probably need to know a little bit about horses. It might be a good idea to research the kind of trappings used. You wouldn’t want to get the use of a halter mixed up with the use of the bridle. You may also want to know that male horses were not generally used for riding unless they were war horses or gelded. And what is the difference in speed for a cantering horse versus a trotting horse? Even if you don’t have horses in your fantasy novel, you may have other animals that people used for transportation. Camels? Giant birds, perhaps? They need saddles and stirrups too.

A Writer's Complete Fantasy Reference

Knowing a little about horses is just a fraction of all the things you need to research for your fantasy novel. “The Writer’s Complete Fantasy Reference” can give you some ideas where to start. But it doesn’t give you everything. Think about what you might need to know about, and then put together a reference binder for your information. My reference binder includes the following:

Map of Ungal

Tab A – Maps and Charts
This tab has a map of my make-believe world, a family tree for the most notable characters, and a generic layout of a castle. The map is probably the most important for any fantasy novel because people are living in a world that doesn’t exist. You don’t want to mistakenly tell your readers that a particular town is to the south of a particular city in one chapter, but then state it is to the east in another. Mapping it out helps you keep things straight and provides your reader a visual reference.

Karl Urban - Eomer de Lord Of The Rings trilogy

Tab B: Character Descriptions
Every single character I mention in my novel is kept in this section of my reference. It helps me build a detailed description of my main characters and keep track of minor characters. This way I don’t accidentally state a character had brown hair in one section and sandy-blond in another. I also use this section to describe basic physical characteristics of different races of people.

And I’ve also put clothing descriptions under this tab. What did people wear? Did they wear pants, breaches, or leggings? What kind of cloth were clothes made of? What were the different styles of a woman’s dress or headdress? What about shoes? If you are writing about people of different races, they probably had different styles of clothing too. It’s best to decide this in advance before you start writing. It makes visualizing and describing your characters much easier.

saruman, gandalf, radagast blue wizard lord of the rings hobbit

Tab C: Magic and Religion
If people use magic or special skills in your fantasy novel, you need to make up a set of rules. Anything goes with magic, but if you don’t set rules then your reader will wonder why your character didn’t simply use magic to get out of trouble. Decide how magic works in your novel, who can use this magic, and what its limitations are.

Every culture has some form of worship. Do people worship at home with little shrines next to the hearth or does their king require human sacrifices? Is there a religious order or do people simply worship the gods of their ancestors? And let’s say you do have an organized religion. What is the head of this religion called? Is he the Father, the Pope, the Archbishop? Don’t forget to research the different kinds of religious garments. What is an amice, a cassock, a chasuble, for example?

Tab D: Place and People Names
So that I didn’t have to make up a name every time I introduced a new character or place, I made up names in advance. I also grouped these names into different styles. For example, the Menkharan’s have Egyptian-sounding names. The Outlanders have Nordic-sounding names. And the Miyashi have Oriental-sounding names. I got the ideas for names and places by searching through history books and changing them a bit to suit my own tastes.

Knight in Shining Armor

Tab E: Arms and Armor
Swords, knives, and bows and arrows were not the only weapons used by people in medieval times. There were halberds, lances, cudgels, spears, and more. And let’s not forget there are many different kinds of swords, knives, and bows. A sword could be short, it could require the use of two hands or one, it could have a curved blade like a scimitar, or perhaps long and thin one like a Samuri sword.

Armor is something else to think about. Most regular foot soldiers did not wear metal armor. Their armor was made of leather or thick wool. If one did have metal armor, it was generally just the helmet and a simple breastplate. The nobility could get fancy, though. Helmets could be plumed, egg-shaped bascinets, pot helms, and more. Different parts of armor have different names and these could all vary by region and style.

Also under this tab is information on siege engines, battle strategies, military ranks, and more.

Blue Fantasy Dragon

Tab F: Mythical Creatures
What are your dragons like? Are they wise creatures or simply vicious animals? Can they fly? Are there different kinds of dragons? What about made-up creatures? What are their qualities? It helps to know the details of your mythical creatures before you write your story. Make-believe creatures are going to require a lot more detail in description than a horse or a dog.

At the Heart of Winter, Nick Deligaris (2D)

Tab G: Miscellaneous
This tab covers a little bit of everything – business entities in a city, kinds of rock or materials used to build with, architectural terms, farming seasons and equipment, different kinds of foods, kinds of trees a forest might have, common medieval diseases and medicines, horses, medieval furniture, kind of money used, musical instruments, governmental structures from scribes to kings, law courts, taxes, travel means, board games and outdoor contests held, about hunting with dogs or falcons, seafaring terminology, different kinds of boats, titles of the nobility, marriage customs, etc.

As you can see, there is a lot more to think about when writing a fantasy novel than just the story. If you don’t organize it in advance, you may find yourself having to stop your flow of writing so you can figure something out. This can be disruptive, especially if you’re like me and can only write under certain motivating conditions.

Research can be boring, but knowing what you are talking about will keep your readers from being distracted by mistakes. Can you think of something you’ve read that could have used more research? Have you tried to write something only to find there were a lot of things you didn’t know anything about?

Invisible Ink – A Blog Worth Checking Out

Posted in Miscellaneous with tags , , , on September 15, 2012 by Dawn Ross

MC900437263 Dragon Eye

One day while perusing the net, I found this great blogger. The website is and it is called Invisible Ink. The blogger is Whitney Carter and she has put together a great fantasy blog. It’s so good, I’m envious.

The article that had first brought me to it was “WorldBuilding: How to Create a Currency“. You don’t think about things like this when you read a fantasy novel. But if you write one, it can be essential. How did people pay for things in your fantasy world? Did they use coin or did they barter? If they used coin, was it called money? The word money is a modern term, so it would probably be out of place in a fantasy novel. This blog post gives you an insight to the kinds of details that a writer needs to think about.

Once I read this article, I couldn’t help but to check out the rest of the blog to see if it had other insightful information. To my delight, it did! Check out the BattleCraft tab, for example. There are two great articles there. One is about archery and the other is about how swords were made. Both of these can be exceedingly helpful in writing a fantasy novel.

Another great tab to check out on this blog site is the WorldBuilding tab. This tab covers topics like Components of a Religion, How to Write Dragons, How to Write Taboos, and more.

Then there is the Author’s Scripts tab. This is where Whitney shares some of her writings. I enjoyed every single one of them. My favorite was the one called “Royce“. Within the first two paragraphs I was drawn in with the emotion of the character. I also liked “Strange Tracks“. This one is very short, less than 100 words. I liked it because it was written as a writing exercise. Write a story that says as much as possible in a creative way using only 100 words. What a great way to hone my own writing skills.

Whitney Carter is my hero! I haven’t been inspired to write much lately, but her blog Invisible Ink has helped reignite the spark. If you like to write, especially if you like to write fantasy, I encourage you to check it out.

Another writers blog worth checking out is I will write about this one next week.

Prophecy in Writing a Fantasy Novel

Posted in Writing with tags , , on April 28, 2012 by Dawn Ross

Roget's Super Thesaurus

In reading certain fantasy novels I find that prophecy often plays a big part. Take Terry Goodkind’s Sword of Truth novels for example. Even Robert Jordan’s novels play with prophecy. The prophecies in both these author’s work are twisted in that written prophecy doesn’t always mean what it says it means.

When I first started writing a fantasy novel, I knew I wanted to use prophecy. I had an idea to have a prophecy about a boy, also known as the Third Dragon, and everyone interpreted the prophecy differently and tried to manipulate it to their own ends. But to write something that sounded like a prophecy and played on words was a huge challenge for me. I’m not even sure I played it off.

If you are reading this, perhaps you want to know how to write prophecy for your fantasy novel. Well, I’m sorry to say that I don’t have the magical answer. I can tell you what I did and hope it helps you. You will need two things: a thesaurus and a rhyming dictionary. You can visit and or purchase them at our Amazon bookstore (Amazon a-store affiliate).

The first thing I did was write down what I meant to happen. Then I tried to think of ways to say the same thing but use words with a double-meanings or words which evoke a certain image.

Terry Goodkind’s prophecy regarding the Bringer of Death, for example, could have meant someone who kills. But in the Sword of Truth series, we learned that it also means someone who allows the spirits to enter the world of life. Spirits represent someone who is dead, so you see how the word death can have a different meaning.

Let me give you my example. Let’s say our hero will find a magical object to save his people by accidentally falling through a hole in the ground and into a cave. So, who is our hero? Does our hero go by a nickname or is he known for something he did? Perhaps he is a great warrior with an axe so he is known by some as the Axe-Master. What is the magical object? Is it an object that looks like an animal? Let’s say it is and it’s called the Jade Lion. What does it do? Perhaps it makes the person who holds it invisible. So maybe we can call it the invisible green lion.

Think about the cave or the hole. What are some other words you can think of which describe a cave? It’s dark, it has a hole, it’s cold, it may have cave-dwelling animals such as bats, etc.

Brainstorm. Jot down different ideas. And be sure to use the thesaurus. For example, I looked up hole and found gap, orifice, mouth, fissure, cavity, cleft, and more. The word mouth has double-meaning and could be perfect for our make-believe prophecy. I also used the thesaurus to look up the word accident and found the word misfortune. But our hero finding a magical object is a fortune. And what about the word fall. Using the thesaurus, I found many synonyms including the word descend.

After jotting down many ideas, here is what I came up with:

Fortune will be found in the Axe-Master’s descent into the shadowy mouth of the invisible green lion.

Sounds ominous, right? Hearing a prophecy like this, our hero might be intimidated. Perhaps his enemy has a lion rampant in a field of green on his crest and our hero thinks he has to go into his enemy’s castle dungeons in order to defeat him. It doesn’t cover the invisible part, but what else is our hero (and your reader) supposed to make of this prophecy? Keep your reader guessing. And when the truth is revealed that all your hero has to do is fall down a hole, your reader may think , “Aha! That is so clever.”

But wait, why a rhyming dictionary? Perhaps the prophecy is spoken as a poem. The prophecies in my fantasy novel were longer than this one sentence example so I wanted them to read like a poem. In writing a fantasy novel, you don’t have to have your prophecies rhyme if you don’t want them to… just a suggestion.

Perhaps next week I will show you some of the prophecies in my fantasy novels, “The Third Dragon” and “The Raven’s Fire”.

The Scottish Wars of Independence

Posted in Miscellaneous with tags , , on April 14, 2012 by Dawn Ross

Learning history is a fantastic source for writing a fantasy novel. But history doesn’t have to be boring. There are a lot of great non-fiction books out there which are very well-written and read almost like a novel. One of my favorite writers is Alison Weir. I also recently came across some great articles on HubPages. Check out one, “The Scottish Wars of Independence – Background“, by Hub writer, JKenny. It’s fascinating and informative but not stuffed with a bunch of boring details. If you are writing a fantasy novel, it can really get your creativity juices flowing.

You won’t be able to read just one of JKenny’s articles. He has lots of others. Check out his Hub Page at for articles on Robert the Bruce, John Balloil, Edward I, and so on.

Learning history is what most inspired me to write fantasy novels. I started with Ancient Egypt and worked my way around to ancient Mesopotamia, Greek, Shang, and so one. It was the Romans led me to Britannia, Charlemagne, and medieval times. Sometimes history can be dry, but not always. In non-fiction, you have real-life intrigue and drama, heroes and villains, war and peace. If you want to write a good fantasy novel, get ideas from history. Start by reading short articles such as the ones written by JKenny.

Using Religion in Writing a Fantasy Novel

Posted in Writing with tags , on January 21, 2012 by Dawn Ross

Have you ever noticed how almost every fantasy novel has some religious order or religious element in it? Is it because we consider religion as a form of fantasy? Greek Mythology, for example, is considered fantasy fiction today. But at one time, people actually worshiped the Greek Gods. Since magic and mysticism seem to derive from religion, it makes sense to add a religious element when writing a fantasy novel.

Religion is a Part of Every Culture
Whether one is atheist, Christian, or Muslim; American, Chinese, or Pacific Islander, religion is a part of our everyday lives. Even followers of the scientific theories are a form of religion. Even though a fantasy world is a make-believe world, it has to be believable. A world without religion of some kind, even a made-up kind, might not feel right to a reader.

Religion Creates Tension
Because of religion, we have had many very interesting events in history. Religion has caused wars like the Crusades, persecution like witch hunts or the Jewish Holocaust, dissention like the religious debate and split between Greek Orthodoxy and Latin Catholicism, fanatics like the Kamikaze or our modern terrorists. Using our own history as an example, we can use religion in writing a fantasy novel to create interesting characters and tension.

Religion Gives Hope
Religion doesn’t have to be all bad. While there are people in our own world who use religion as an excuse to do evil things, not all religious people are like that. Some people see religion as a way of restricting their lives while others see it as a way to make sure they do the right thing. And when certain religious people face hardship, it may be easier for them to get through it because of their faith. Religion can give hope to a character or mythical society. And religion can be a way for your character to lead a moral life. Religion does not always mean a church with priests, but it can.

Religion in Good vs. Evil
When writing a fantasy novel, your religion can either be good or evil. Even if your faith lies with Christianity, you have to admit that people have used the name of God to do things that are wrong. Is your character fighting against a corrupt religious institution? Or does his moral acts follow the ideals of his professed religion?

Is Your Fantasy Novel a Story or are You Sending a Message?
Be careful when writing a fantasy novel to not make your story a religious debate. Don’t let your personal beliefs interfere with the story you are trying to tell. Unless the intent of your fantasy novel is to create controversy, you don’t want to deviate from the plot or make someone put down your book in disgust because they don’t agree with your thoughts. No one likes to be force-fed someone else’s beliefs. When writing a fantasy novel, make sure the opinions regarding religion in your story are the opinions of your characters. Try to not to make your characters preach.

Almost every good fantasy novel has a religious element to it. Terry Goodkind’s “Sword of Truth” series shows different cultures with different religious practices. While the main character supports thinking for oneself, it can’t be denied that the spirit world is real. Brandon Sanderson’s “Mistborn” series shows a corrupted religion with the Lord Ruler and one of the characters studies all religions and supports them as an outlet for hope. Even George R. R. Martin’s “Song of Ice and Fire” series, which is mostly a story of politics and warfare, has elements of religion. Remember that Queen Cersei is taken prisoner by religious fanatics and Arya joined an organization of people who can change their faces. What will be the religion of people in your fantasy novel?

Reference Book Review – “The Element Encyclopedia of Magical Creatures”

Posted in Writing with tags , , , , on January 7, 2012 by Dawn Ross

The Element Encyclopedia of Magical Creatures: The Ultimate A-Z of Fantastic Beings From Myth and Magic

Need ideas for magical creatures in writing a fantasy novel? Or are you reading a fantasy novel or mythological story and don’t know what certain named magical creatures are? “The Element Encyclopedia of Magical Creatures” by John and Caitlin Matthews is a great reference book to use.

Mankind has been imagining magical creatures for millenniums. While today’s genre tends to stick with the most common dragons, elves, fairies, and vampires, perhaps you can spice up your fantasy novel with something a little more exotic. Going through the magical creatures in the “The Element Encyclopedia of Magical Creatures” gave me a bunch of great ideas.

I didn’t count the number of magical creatures referenced but there must be at least a thousand different ones. All the magical creatures you can imagine are listed from A-Z and range from the most obscure, such as kolowisis, to the most well-known, such as dragons. The magical creatures listed in “The Element Encyclopedia of Magical Creatures” are from various cultures such as Greek, Mesopotamian, Mayan, Islamic, Zuni, and more. Some descriptions of magical creatures listed in “The Element Encyclopedia of Magical Creatures” are as brief as two sentences while others are paragraphs or even pages long.

The magical creatures are listed A-Z. If you are just looking for ideas, you can simply browse the book. “The Element Encyclopedia of Magical Creatures” talks about which cultures the magical creatures are from, what the magical creatures were known for, and gives a brief written description of what the magical creatures looked like. In most cases, however, there are no pictures of these magical creatures so you have to use your imagination.

If you are not writing a fantasy novel, at the very least “The Element Encyclopedia of Magical Creatures” will help you will learn some interesting things about various magical creatures in mythology. But if you are writing a fantasy novel, going through “The Element Encyclopedia of Magical Creatures” can churn some ideas and help you get over a block in your story. Check out “The Element Encyclopedia of Magical Creatures” at our a-Store – Reference Guides to Writing a Fantasy Novel.

Furniture Used in the Middle Ages

Posted in Writing with tags , , on December 31, 2011 by Dawn Ross

The Time Traveler's Guide to Medieval England: A Handbook for Visitors to the Fourteenth Century

What sort of furniture did people use in the middle ages? What did they call the furniture? They probably didn’t have a love seat or a futon, but they had something similar. They probably didn’t have closets so what sort of furniture held their clothes? Here is a list of furniture used in the middle ages. This list came from various books which I researched when writing a fantasy novel.

-bed decor of the wealthy – “hung with black velvet with gold fringe”, “plain corded bedstead”, “elaborately carved”, “with more than one mattress”
-bed furnishings – mattress (of straw, feathers or down, wool), blankets (sheets, coverlets, blankets of fustian or wool), bolster (long cylindrical pillow), cushions instead of pillows, valance (fabric cover for a bed base)
-bedrooms of the wealthy might have had a bed, wardrobe or armoire, chair, writing desk, vanity, standing full-length mirror, benches, dining board, chests and trunks (could double as benches), coffers (chests made of cedar which contained linens and such), cupboards instead of dressers (no drawers)
-bed types – canopy, pallets (straw mats), barded bed (shallow wooden box standing on four short legs), flock bed (like a boarded bed but had a stack of chaff for the head), stump bed (bedstead with no valances or curtains), bed with a mattress on interwoven strips of leather that rested on four posts, trestle bed, trunkle bed (had wheels), field bed (portable folding bedstead), curtained bed
-dais table – grand table of fine wood and carvings used by the wealthy during social gatherings
-ottoman – low upholstered stool for the feet
-sitting furniture – chair, bench (most common amongst the middle and lower class), chest, trunk, stool
-studies of the wealthy had a desk and bookcases
-tables and chairs of the wealthy usually elaborately carved of dark wood such as walnut or mahogany
-tester of a bed is the canopy which suspended from the ceiling
-trestle table – a supporting framework consisting of a horizontal beam held up by a pair of splayed legs at each end

If writing a fantasy novel based on how people lived in the middle ages, you can’t use modern terminology. For more information on furniture used in the middle ages as well as other things about the middle ages check out our a-store “Guides to Writing a Fantasy Novel“. Some of the great books at this a-store include “The Time Traveler’s Guide to Medieval England” or “Life in Medieval Times“.