As a fantasy writer, I spend my time immersed in things I’ve made up. There are certainly real-world reference points that are useful, but all of them need to be filtered through a screen of does it work in a fantasy world? There are obvious things that do—swords, language, history, etc. But, for everything else, we need imagination. I flatter myself that any failures I have as a writer are mitigated by my imagination. Below, I’ll try to walk you through five ways to massage yours into shape.
5 Ways To Develop Your Writing Imagination for Fantasy Fiction
1. Start small
Don’t beat yourself up marveling at the complexity of the worlds created by other writers. Start with a single character, a single town/area, or—my personal favorite—a monster. Develop that one thing in detail, until it feels alive. As you do this, hundreds of other little threads will appear, like a spider’s web, with your single creation in the middle. How does your character interact with others? What trade is your town known for? Is your monster a nuisance or a serious threat? You can do this forever—focusing on single elements until the webs become concentric circles.
2. Don’t be afraid of real-world history
We have thousands of years of rich, complicated, beautiful, and brutal interactions to draw upon. Some are well-known, some are fringe, and some are bizarrely obscure. Finding real-world parallels to stories you want to tell is a great way to add color and nuance to your writing. Find a historical period, the lesser-known the better, and make yourself an expert on it. Medieval Europe is an obvious one, but try looking beyond this to a place whose history is seldom told. Find a place your character, your town, or your monster would feel at home and borrow. History, legend, and myth are your friends, do not be afraid of them.
3. Weird and strange things are good
Who says magic isn’t real? Who says non-human creatures don’t exist? If they fit within your spider’s web, use them. If you find humans boring, invent a new species. If you think magic is too powerful, redefine it. This is the point where you start to test your imagination, but it’s also the point where things truly come alive. Come up with something strange that could never happen in the real world, and develop it. Make it as weird and otherworldly as you like. Remember this is your imagination, so you can always scale it back. The weird and wonderful makes your creation special.
4. Find a story
With enough spider’s webs, the potential crossover points will become numerous. A defined character visits a defined place; two developed characters meet; a monster hunts near a well-defined town. These are your stories. You’ll find that your imagination begins to run wild. You’ll start and restart a few times—find things you dislike and discard them—but you’ll get better each time. Not every idea has to go somewhere, but they’ll all teach you something. The more you immerse yourself in your spider’s web, the more you’ll understand it and the more it will grow. Eventually, a story will blossom enough to become a plot.
5. Revel in it
I can’t stress this enough. In my humble opinion, for a fantasy writer, there is simply nothing better than coming up with a cool idea. Fantasy literature is escapism, and the writer should be able to escape just as much as the reader. Own your creations; become attached to them. The more you care about the things you write, the deeper your characters and the richer your world. This is where your work becomes personal, and this is where—if I’ve been slightly helpful—your imagination will take over.