Guest post: ‘Writing fantasy’ by Vonnie Winslow Crist

I’m delighted to bring you this guest blog post, today by the multi-talented YA / adult fantasy author / illustrator, poet, and non-fiction writer Vonnie Winslow Crist (

‘Writing fantasy’

Good fantasy writing demands the same standards of grammar, story or verse structure, characterization, dialog, and proper word usage as any other form of writing. Fantastical stories have characters, settings, and plots. Fantasy poems still have a tone (the writer’s feelings), mood (how the reader feels), and theme (the larger idea the writer wants you to remember). And fantasy literature uses the same writing devices: alliteration, metaphor, simile, personification, sensory language (imagery), onomatopoeia, etc. as mainstream literature.

But fantasy writing needs more:

1- Magic. In fantasy writing, there needs to be something magical, miraculous, or mysterious. It can be an item or person with special powers. It can be a mystical place or an incantation that transforms the mundane into the extraordinary. It can be a potion, a carpet that soars through the air, an angel, or a wishing well that grants wishes. Whatever it is, there needs to be the feeling of drifting beyond our day-to-day world.

2- World-building. A fantasy writer needs to build a believable world for their audience to inhabit for the duration of the reading experience. When constructing this world, the writer must decide on language, clothing, food, weapons, plants, animals, landscape, characters, modes of transportation and communication, employment, housing, religion, family structure, etc. If the world is quite complicated, drawing a map can be helpful, too. The clearer the writer’s vision, the easier it will be for readers to “suspend their disbelief” and enter the universe of the story (or play or poem). But remember, be selective which details you include in your piece of writing. The reader doesn’t need all of this information – only the writer needs to know everything!

3- Rules. Fantasy worlds must have specific rules, and the writer must adhere to those rules. For example: in mainstream work, gravity and breathable oxygen are part of the accepted world, so we don’t usually have characters floating off the earth or using special breathing apparatus to convert a toxic atmosphere. A fantasy story could have different rules, but it must have rules just the same. Everything does not go! A note here about magic: Magic or use of magical items should have rules – what works and what doesn’t. And consequences – there should be a price for using or encountering magic.

4- Imagination. Fantasy literature requires a lively imagination and excellent storytelling abilities if readers are to accept the strange worlds created by the writer. Think how quickly Frank Baum drops us into Oz, C.S. Lewis walks us though a wardrobe, J.R.R. Tolkien has us cheering for Bilbo Baggins, and Poe drapes us with the gloom of Usher. One of the tasks of the fantasy writer is to not only imagine what comes next, but what comes after that, and after that. To paraphrase an oft-repeated introduction from the Star Trek series, we are challenged to “write where no one has dared write before.” Or at the very least, come up with a new way of looking at the oft-viewed.

5- Characters the reader can identify with. This is trickier for a writer when the protagonist of a story is a werewolf, fairy, or unicorn. But as long as readers can recognize a part of themselves in fantasy characters, they will come along for the story. No matter how alien the characters, by including familiar emotions a writer can weave a successful tale about vampires, halflings, or dragon-slayers living in a fantastical world. Your characters need to have complicated relationships with others, be neither all good nor all evil, and have flaws, weaknesses, dreams, and goals. In short, fantasy characters should be just like you and me.

Things that go bump in the night, talking animals, and fairy godmothers of childhood tales and nursery rhymes, prepare us to not only read and accept magical worlds, but to create them. If you focus on writing well, adding a pinch of magic, building a believable world, having consistent rules on that world, stretching your imagination, and creating characters your readers can identify with – you’ll be a successful fantasy writer.

Here are a few sites I’ve found useful. For markets: and and for anthologies For lots of information about writing fantasy:

I loved that, thank you Vonnie!

Vonnie Winslow Crist, BS Art & Education, MS Professional Writing from Towson University, is a columnist for Harford’s Heart Magazine, an illustrator for The Vegetarian Journal, the editor of The Gunpowder Review, and a contributor to Faerie Magazine. A firm believer that the world around us is filled with miracles and magic, she has had a life-long interest in reading, writing, folklore, myths, legends, fairy tales, and art. Her fantasy, science-fiction, and dark fantasy have been published in Canada, Australia, Finland, Italy, Spain, the United Kingdom, and the USA. In her latest book, The Greener Forest, she draws from the world around her where still sees angels in the trees, trolls under bridges, pillywiggins in her garden, and goblins of all sorts in the shadows. Please do go visit her website:

If you would like to write a writing-related guest post for my blog then feel free to email me at with an outline of what you would like to write about. If it’s writing-related then it’s highly likely I’d email back and say “yes please” (while quietly bouncing up and down in my seat with joy!).

16 thoughts on “Guest post: ‘Writing fantasy’ by Vonnie Winslow Crist

  1. Tia Bach says:

    Great post. I tinker with fantasy, and I’ll definitely be bookmarking this page. And I love Morgen’s blog! I’m a fellow MWA-er and happy to support. (Plus happy to support Morgen. She featured me in an author interview recently and guest posted on my blog).


  2. vonniewinslowcrist says:

    Tia, Yvonne, & Sherry — I’m glad you enjoyed the post. I agree with Sherry, all fiction writers need to know their world & its rules. I agree with Yvonne, characters become even more important when the world of a story is not the familiar one we live in day-to-day. And I agree with Tia, Morgen’s blog is wonderful – filled with lots of good information for writers. So Thanks, Morgen, for hosting a great blog and for allowing me to be a part of it.


  3. NMB says:

    Dear Vonnie, This being a genre I’ve studied the mechanics of and enjoyed for many years, I found your post to be an informative, concise look at the high points while giving enough detail about the craft of fantasy writing. You include the most fundamental principles in an approachable fashion. Well done.


  4. Faith Van Horne says:

    So much of what defines fantasy is the world building. The trick is to create a compelling world without a lot of disconnected info dumps. Every cool creature and environmental aspect should be worked into the story. Tricky business.


  5. vonniewinslowcrist says:

    Patricia, Ron, and NMB – thanks for your comments & I’m glad you found some useful information. Faith, I agree it’s important to avoid info dumps.I think the writer needs to know everything about her world, and the reader only needs to know what’s absolutely essential for clarity & moving the story forward. But if a writer builds a fascinating enough world, she can revisit it with another story or book, and reveal a few more of its details.


  6. Heidi Ruby Miller says:

    “multi-talented YA / adult fantasy author / illustrator, poet, and non-fiction writer Vonnie Winslow Crist”

    Is there anything you can’t do, Vonnie? 😉

    Wonderful post. I write mostly SF, but venture into Fantasy with short stories at times, so this was quite useful.

    Thank you for bringing Vonnie to us, Morgen!



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