Writing Fantasy: Big Decisions

I hope you all enjoyed the mess of guest authors these past weeks: Michael R. Baker, Megan, A. M. Deese, Steven A. Guglich, R. E. Fisher, and Melody Greene.

Now it’s MY turn again!

This week, I want to talk about BIG DECISIONS while writing, and specifically while writing fantasy. To keep a bit of focus, I’ve picked three big decisions that I need to make when I write and how I deal with those decisions.

  1. Deciding races – all human or not?
  2. Physical world – does it look like Earth or not?
  3. Magic – Does everyone have the same magic or different magic?

These are probably the top three decisions that fantasy authors need to make that most other authors don’t. As a general rule, characters are human, things are set on Earth, and nobody has magic. (Yes, science fiction, come along for the ride here, just substitute technology for magic.)


One of my very favorite things about writing fantasy is coming up with unique races. Of course, I am influenced and get inspiration from others (because who doesn’t?) but the races are generally unique once they make it through to my worlds. I don’t often use fantasy character tropes like elves, wizards, gnomes, dwarves, etc. I may take inspiration from those races, but my races (as of now) are never those.

It is a big decision as to whether your characters will be human or nonhuman, and if they are nonhuman, what races they will be.

I prefer nonhuman races because I can add in such interesting cultural aspects that may not work with only humans. For example, in my current WIP, I have a race, the Travas, who are very small (think house-elf from Harry Potter). My MC is a Veru, who are very large (think elves from World of Warcraft). Their incredible size difference makes for very interesting interactions – each race trying to interact and live in a world that is clearly not designed for them. If everyone was human, this would be more difficult to carry out unless I had a colony of little people (which most people would probably mistake for hobbits or something anyway). Being clearly different races, I have the opportunity to bring in different cultures and methods that are due entirely to size.

Something that I think would be very interesting would be to slip in a nocturnal race and see how that could affect the rest of the world, especially if people travel widely. When one reaches the country of the nocturnal race, what does that do? How do they cope? And if this race were to be persecuted or forced to adapt to daytime living, what would that do? Maybe their eyes are overly sensitive to light, so it’s painful to be out in the day. There are a hundred ways to take this and why I LOVE nonhuman races.

This decision has obvious ramifications for the arc of the story and the character interactions, but neither decision is right, of course. The right decision is always the right decision for the story you want to tell.

Physical World

Does your world look an awful lot like Earth or is it wildly different with purple trees, a red sky, and humidity always at 100%? Does the sun rise in the north and set in the south? Is your world a cluster of worlds close to each other that revolve in a strange pattern that affects water and weather wildly?

In the same way as characters, there is no right answer here, only the right answer for your story. As much as I love the idea of some really wild planets, I mostly stick with decidedly Earth-like elements. Sure, I change the color of tree bark and leaves and make up names for animals, but for the most part, these things are the same as are on Earth.

I think that part of this is because the story forms as I write it. I know several writers who spend quite a lot of time worldbuilding BEFORE they write the story. I think if I were to do this, I would have more success in having really wild planets, but alas, my writing style needs a slightly more memorable landscape for me.

Because it’s so easy to forget what I’ve done in previous pages, I have created a world encyclopedia where I enter in animals and plants I’ve made up. I give the name, I describe it, and I liken it to its Earth equivalent so that I have a document to reference in the future. It’s awful having some up with something just to realize that you renamed it four chapters later AND changed it a bit. The encyclopedia is a fantastic thing to have.


I think this is probably both the easiest and hardest part.

Easiest because fantasy = magic, so knowing that magic will SOMEHOW be involved is the easy part.

Hard because magic is so darn complicated!

Do you want it explainable like in Harry Potter or WHY DON’T THE EAGLES JUST FLY FRODO AND THE RING TO MORDOR??? like in Lord of the Rings? Some worlds have magic as an integral part of their system, but for others, magic is illegal. Maybe magic is just part of who the characters are or maybe they need some kind of token or talisman to use the magic.

Decided what and how is super fun, but it can also be super annoying because of those moments when you’re writing and you realize that you need to include magic, but you’re not quite sure how the magic reacts in this particular situation. In any case, magic is a HUGE decision that needs to be made in your story.

In one of my stories, magic is simply a part of one’s self AS LONG AS someone passes it on. Think of it as someone with magic planting a seed of magic within another. Knowledge and use then build up the magic. However, since a massive war several thousand years back, magic is slowly declining and becoming more and more looked down upon.

The interesting part is that this decline of magic will FORCE societies to come up with solutions to problems that magic used to solve. A Veru ship captain can simply conjure the winds needed, but what about when a ship doesn’t have a captain with magic? How do they deal with the hardships that will create? Or even jobs as simple as street cleaning? These will all be issues that my characters will need to deal with and solve as the story moves forward, especially as those with magic are viewed with greater and greater suspicion.

In another story, I have yet to introduce magic, but I know it needs to be in there somewhere. I just have NO IDEA where. So I’m building a fantasy story, but I haven’t worked out the magic. What I know now is that the magic will need to be a more subtle form (I think) so that its absence isn’t missed and when it finally shows up, its presence doesn’t throw the whole story off.

Like I said, big decisions…



Do you have favorite examples of races, settings, or magics in your reading? I’d love to hear about it!

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2 thoughts on “Writing Fantasy: Big Decisions

  1. Hi Cari, You are right, huge decision.
    Race – I like to have human tendencies mixed in so that it is relatable to the reader but not limiting. Like, If I want the body to stretch further on occasion I think that the character would have to be build a little differently. I love the culture of the Travas and the relationship with the Veru, considering the interaction between characters would have taken some time.
    World – I am the same as you, I tend to stick with settings that I am familiar with on an earth-like plane.
    Magic – Magic is so handy and merits much discussion in my house. The kids being brought up in the marvel DC generation have a different perspective than me as I am more Janny Wurts, Robin Hobb, Ann Bishop (all fantastic authors) magic.
    Love the pic at the top btw 🙂


    1. And these are just THREE that need to be made!

      I’m going to get to reading for you TODAY! I’m caught up on other stuff and have some mental energy to spare, so I’m hoping to get through chapter 1 at naptime! Yay!


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