Why Writing Fantasy Novels Is NOT Advisable for New Writers

Fantasy books have long held a place in the hearts of readers and writers alike. With their expansive worlds, intricate plots, and magical elements, they offer a canvas limited only by the imagination. Fantasy captivates both readers and writers because of its limitless possibilities. It allows for the creation of entirely new worlds, filled with creatures, magic, and rules that defy the constraints of reality. This freedom is incredibly appealing to new writers, who often have abundant creative ideas they wish to explore, and when breaking the ice on writing books, it seems to be the most forgiving. Fantasy has a rich history of beloved series and authors, from J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings to J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter. (Discussion of Rowling is not an endorsement of her or her stances, and is solely for discussions about her work and trajectory.) The success and popularity of these works can make fantasy seem like a promising genre to start in, offering both creative satisfaction and potential commercial success.

So it’s no wonder that many new writers are drawn to this genre, eager to create their own epic tales of adventure and heroism. However, while the allure of crafting a fantasy novel is strong, there are several reasons why it might not be the best starting point for aspiring authors. This topic is actually why I decided to start writing posts about writing.  I’ve seen many, many, maaaaaaany writers over the years start with fantasy, believing it will be the easiest since it’s fantasy and they can make it all up. Then they struggle with making it make sense, are eviscerated by beta readers, and destroyed in their comments, then blame themselves. It’s heartbreaking to watch once, but watching it time and time again and saying nothing starts to feel irresponsible.  Fantasy is a fun genre, but like comedic acting, is deceptively difficult, and so is really not the place to wet one’s toes.

Another reason fantasy is so attractive, a reason that starts to uncover the challenges, is the depth and complexity it allows. Writers can delve into themes of good versus evil, heroism, and the human condition, all set against the backdrop of an imaginative and often visually stunning world. This complexity can be intellectually stimulating and rewarding, pushing writers to think deeply about their characters and plot. The prospect of creating a saga that spans multiple books and captures the hearts of readers worldwide is undeniably enticing.  But what happens when there are no boundaries at all?

Despite these appealing aspects, there are significant challenges that come with writing fantasy novels, especially for new writers. Here are ten reasons why embarking on a fantasy novel as your first writing project might not be advisable, and why, contrary to popular misconception, you can not do anything you want just because it’s fantasy.


1. Overwhelming World-Building

One of the most daunting aspects of writing a fantasy novel is the extensive world-building required. Creating a believable and immersive world involves more than just a map and a few unique creatures. Writers must consider the rules of magic, the political systems, the cultures, languages, and histories of their worlds. This level of detail is not only time-consuming but can also be overwhelming for new writers who are still developing their basic storytelling skills. The complexity of world-building can lead to inconsistencies and gaps in the narrative, which can frustrate readers and detract from the overall story.

New writers might find themselves getting lost in the minutiae of world-building, neglecting the development of their plot and characters. The temptation to over-explain every aspect of the world can also lead to excessive exposition, slowing down the story and making it less engaging. Balancing detailed world-building with a compelling narrative is a skill that often comes with experience, making fantasy a challenging genre for beginners.


2. High Expectations for Originality

The fantasy genre is crowded with iconic works and well-trodden tropes. From dragons and wizards to chosen ones and epic quests, many elements of fantasy literature are deeply ingrained in the genre. As a result, there is a high expectation for originality. Readers and critics alike look for fresh takes and unique twists on familiar themes. For new writers, this pressure to be original can be daunting and stifling.

Creating a fantasy story that stands out from the crowd requires a deep understanding of the genre’s conventions and a creative approach to subverting them. This level of sophistication is often challenging for new writers who are still learning the basics of storytelling. The fear of inadvertently replicating existing works can also hinder creativity, making it harder to develop a unique voice and perspective.

In a challenging catch-22, there are limits to how creative one can get.  You can have your werewolves turn into wolves any time any moonlight directly touches them rather than just on the full moon, due to the lack of choice and moonlight that define werewolves, but if they can turn at will, like Stephenie Meyer’s version of them in Twilight, which makes then lycanthropes, or willful shapeshifters (it is established in Twilight that, while the tribespeople don’t get to choose whether or not they have the ability they do have the choice about when to shift, or if they even shift at all), readers start to struggle with immersion, and hate-fan groups crop up.  Some writers welcome this hate since it can make a lot of money, but when you pour your heart into it, this sort of hate can be devastating.

How creative to be, and where to hold back, is a fine line.


3. Complex Plot Structures

Fantasy novels often feature complex, multi-layered plots with numerous subplots, characters, and settings. Managing such complexity requires careful planning and organization, skills that new writers may not yet have fully developed. Crafting a coherent and engaging plot that weaves together multiple storylines without confusing the reader is a significant challenge.

New writers might struggle with pacing, ensuring that all plot threads are given adequate attention and resolve satisfactorily. Inexperienced authors may also find it difficult to maintain a balance between action, character development, and world-building. The risk of creating a convoluted or disjointed narrative is high, which can lead to reader frustration and disengagement.  Adding in the world-building that must be maintained is an additional challenge that a new reader doesn’t need to worry about just yet.


4. Developing a Large Cast of Characters

Fantasy stories often feature a large cast of characters, each with their own backgrounds, motivations, and arcs. Developing and maintaining distinct, well-rounded characters can be particularly challenging for new writers, especially once you start to add in supernatural elements and how this will affect different relationships and families. As can happen quite easily, different groups staying together and shunning partnering outside of their designated group runs a high risk of being seen as allegorical for racism, which can open a lot more issues outside of the fantasy world.  The Harry Potter franchise.

It’s easy to fall into the trap of creating stereotypical or one-dimensional characters, which can make the story feel shallow and unengaging.

Managing character arcs over the course of a lengthy novel, or even a series, requires a deep understanding of character development and continuity. New writers might struggle to keep track of their characters’ journeys, leading to inconsistencies and plot holes. Balancing the development of multiple characters while advancing the plot and building the world adds another layer of complexity that can be overwhelming for beginners.


5. Balancing World-Building and Storytelling

One of the key challenges in writing fantasy is striking the right balance between world-building and storytelling. While a richly detailed world can enhance a story, it should never overshadow the plot and characters. New writers often get caught up in their world-building, dedicating excessive time and pages to describing their world at the expense of the narrative.

Effective fantasy storytelling requires integrating world-building seamlessly into the plot, and the important word there is seamlessly. Information about the world should be revealed through the characters’ actions and experiences, rather than through lengthy exposition. Achieving this balance is a nuanced skill that takes time to develop. New writers may find it difficult to know how much detail to include and when to focus on advancing the story.


6. Mastery of Language and Style

Fantasy novels often employ a distinctive language and style to create an immersive reading experience. This can include archaic or invented languages, unique dialects, and poetic or elaborate prose. Mastering this style requires a strong command of language and a sophisticated writing technique, which can be challenging for new writers.

The risk of falling into cliché or overly florid language is high. New writers might struggle to find their voice and maintain consistency in their writing style. Creating invented languages or dialects requires a deep understanding of linguistics, which can be a daunting task for beginners. Developing a unique and engaging style that enhances the fantasy world without becoming cumbersome is a delicate balance to achieve. It is not as simple as tossing random words together. The basis of all languages starts with common root words, which, for western languages, tends to come from Latin. This includes English, with is a Germanic language, Italian, which is a romantic language, and all other western languages (I have not studied eastern languages).  This helps us understand new words, even words not from our own native languages.  When rely on this so much that we notice when words in another language that look similar to our own have a very different meaning, and they’re known as false friends.  When a language is made up in a book, the key to sounding real instead of looking like gibberish is that expected conventions still need to be followed.

This follows through in naming conventions as well, but here, it can be trickier.  If you try to write a fantasy set in the distance past or distance future, and you call your characters Kevin and Brittany, you risk sounding too contemporary, but if you make up names that are too difficult to remember, then the reader will get confused.  This is a delicate balance to strike.


7. Research and Mythological Knowledge

Many fantasy stories draw on mythological, historical, and cultural references to build their worlds and plots. Incorporating these elements effectively requires extensive research and knowledge. New writers might underestimate the amount of research needed to create a believable and engaging fantasy world.  You can’t just do something just because it’s fantasy.  Readers will only suspect disbelief and only disregard established conventions so much.

Lack of research can lead to inaccuracies or inconsistencies that can detract from the story. One such example that I recently read about was a story in which the Greek god, Zeus, upset his wife and shocked everyone by having one affair with one human one time. Now, Zeus is well-known for having sex with anything that stays still long enough. This severe departure from his established character was not lamp-shaded as humans having had it wrong, or Zeus trying to lead the world into thinking he strayed—no, the writer said it simply fit her story better for this god to have been the faithful sort, and she wanted him to have the power and status of Zeus. Other writers in this writing group tried to tell her that the character she was creating was so far from Zeus that he wasn’t Zeus, but she hand-waved it with the story is fantasy and she can do what she wants. Sure, legally you can, but will readers accept that?

Readers of fantasy often have a deep appreciation for the genre’s roots in mythology and history, and they can be discerning about the authenticity and coherence of the world. New writers may find it challenging to weave mythological and historical elements into their stories in a way that feels natural and enriching. Established lore can only be stretched so much before it’s so disconnected that readers won’t want to engage anymore.


8. Maintaining Reader Engagement

Keeping readers engaged over the course of a long fantasy novel, or even a series, is a significant challenge. Fantasy readers expect a certain level of excitement, adventure, and intrigue. New writers might struggle to maintain the momentum of their story, resulting in slow or dragging sections that can lose readers’ interest.

Crafting engaging and dynamic scenes, maintaining a steady pace, and building suspense are skills that come with experience. New writers might find it difficult to balance these elements, leading to a story that feels uneven or lacks tension. Keeping readers invested in the characters and plot throughout the twists and turns of a fantasy narrative requires careful planning and execution. While this is true in any story, fantasy tends to have more adventure than other genres, and the longer the story goes on, the bigger the climax. Even the master, J.R.R. Tolkien, fell prey to the challenges of keeping momentum going, and then finding a way out. Even most fans of The Lord of the Rings, myself included, will admit that Aragorn’s ghost army saving Gondor was a deus ex machina move to get Tolkien out of the corner into which he’d written himself. But just maintaining that level of reader-engagement, just getting to that point, takes tremendous skill that the new writer shouldn’t hope to have just yet.

And prior to her well-earned cancelling, J.K. Rowling noticeably started to struggle with keeping her stories fresh.  She is often touted as a case of a new writer who struck gold with her first book. But she herself admits that she’d been writing from a very young age, and wasn’t a new writer. She was writing books she had no intention of trying to get published.  Yet she still struggled to keep momentum through the last few books.

For a new writer, trying to maintain this through a single book is often exceptionally difficult, and it’s discouraging when the type of story you love so much becomes a drag so early on.


9. High Word Count and Length

Fantasy novels are often lengthy, with complex plots and extensive world-building requiring a higher word count. Writing a long novel is a considerable undertaking for any writer, but it can be particularly challenging for new writers. Maintaining coherence, pacing, and quality over a long manuscript requires endurance and discipline.

New writers might find themselves overwhelmed by the sheer volume of writing required. The risk of burnout is high, and maintaining motivation over the course of writing a lengthy novel can be difficult. Editing and revising a long manuscript is a daunting task, requiring a critical eye and attention to detail. The high word count and length of fantasy novels add another layer of difficulty for new writers.

While you may see the acceptably higher word count (typically up to about 120,000 words) as more room to write, this isn’t exactly the case.  This count is for world-building, not padding.  A story still needs to be tight.  It both needs to expand with the world-building while being just as tight as any other genre.  This harkens back to the first few points—you have a larger cast, more world-building, more to create, and you both have more space, but don’t.  It’s a tricky paradox.  More doesn’t necessarily happen, but that extra space can’t feel like padding either.  That extra space…

Need I say it?


10. Commercial and Publishing Challenges

Though writers really should treat their first manuscripts as practice, many, if not most, aim for publication with their very first ones. The commercial and publishing challenges associated with fantasy novels can be significant. The fantasy genre is highly competitive, with many established authors and series dominating the market. Breaking into this genre as a new writer requires not only a high-quality manuscript but also a strong understanding of the market and effective marketing strategies. Yes, publishers absolutely do expect writers to do a lot of the promotional legwork. It’s an outright fallacy that they’ll cover it all for you, or even very much of it, unless you’re already established. Author Alexa Donne has spoken in several of her videos about how fortunate she was to get any marketing budget, and content creator and author Lindsay Ellis, who was severely bullied for a comment she made that non-fans took out of context to harass her, wanted to leave social media for a while, but was required by her publisher to maintain a social media presence for marketing (this video by FoxAkimbo nicely summarizes that debacle).

In addition to an expectation that new writers will already have a handle on the market and marketing, the higher allowable word-count is a double-edged sword.  Higher word count means more pages, and more pages means more cost to print.  That 80 cents might not seem like much, but over 10,000 print books, that’s $8,000, not to mention shipping, and that 80 cents for every copy that doesn’t sell has to be covered by the cost of the copies that do sell, and if your books don’t make back their costs, you’re toast.  Publishers know this.  Agents know this.  The financial risk is greater.  So sew writers tend to struggle to find a literary agent or publisher willing to take a chance on a debut fantasy manuscript, and that challenge is greater when it’s your first book that you’ve poured your heart and soul into.

Self-publishing is an option, and for many, is a better option, though it requires a considerable investment of time and money in editing, cover design, and promotion.  A later post will cover pros and cons of different publishing route.


Overall, while the fantasy genre offers immense creative freedom and the potential for rich, complex storytelling, it also presents significant challenges for new writers. The demands of extensive world-building, complex plot structures, large casts of characters, and high expectations for originality can be overwhelming. Additionally, mastering the language and style of fantasy, conducting necessary research, and maintaining reader engagement over a long manuscript require skills that are often developed with experience.

I strongly suggest that new writers start with a genre that allows them to hone their storytelling skills without the added complexities of fantasy. Starting with a different kind of story doesn’t mean you’re only allowed to write that one kind. It doesn’t mean you should even aim to for publication. No one expects their first dozen or few dozen paintings or musical compositions to land in galleries or to even see the light of day. You may start with the typical vase next to some fruit though you want to paint portraits, or by composing third species contrapuntal when your end goal is jazz for film scores. Trying to start at the end is a fantastic way to end up discouraged and think you can’t do it when the real problem is that you were fed the belief that you need to start at the end and skip all the learning you should be doing to get there.

So start easier and give yourself every chance to succeed. That fantasy story in your heart isn’t going anywhere. It’ll be there waiting for when your skills are ready to tell it with the justice it deserves.  Should you still be planning on running full steam ahead with fantasy as your first piece, my post next week will be some insight on how to give yourself the best chance possible.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

search previous next tag category expand menu location phone mail time cart zoom edit close