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Books on Writing Fantasy

There are lots of books about writing out there, waiting to be read by future authors. Books on characters, books on plot, books on writing a novel in X amount of days. And of course all of this information can be used when writing fantasy novels, but wouldn’t it be nice to read a book specifically about writing fantasy?

How about five of them? Here are a handful of wonderful books about writing in the fantasy genre.

Wonderbook (cover)Wonderbook: The Illustrated Guide to Creating Imaginative Fiction by Jeff Vandermeer

Nominated for both a Hugo and World Fantasy Award, Wonderbook uses images to enhance the ideas normally discussed in books on craft. As the introduction states: “Wonderbook functions as a general guide to the art and craft of fiction first and foremost, but it is also meant to be a kind of cabinet of curiosities that stimulates your imagination.” While a writer of any genre would find this book useful, many of the examples it draws from come from speculative fiction, and many of the authors interviewed write in that genre as well. There are also lots of exercises and questions meant to make you think about the writing process. This interaction with the reader is its strength, and I wish more writing books were like this, rather than pages of instruction.

Now Write! Science Fiction, Fantasy, and Horror edited by Laurie Lamson

Writing exercises aren’t for everyone, but for those who want a book of exercises specifically for the speculative genre, this is it. There are exercises for story development and inspiration, but also worldbuilding, creating monsters, and looking at theme through the lens of fantasy fiction. And each exercise comes with an introductory essay from the creator, and are just as valuable as the exercises themselves.

How to Write Science Fiction and Fantasy (cover)How to Write Science Fiction and Fantasy by Orson Scott Card

The title pretty much says it all on this one. This is the oldest book on this list, but still has much to offer. It starts by discussing what speculative fiction is, and then goes into worldbuilding and characters. It also offers tips on actually writing in the genre, such as being careful with your metaphors since in fantasy they could be taken literally. The last section is about publishing, and although outdated, is still an interesting read. The best parts are the examples Card gives from his own efforts to create stories, and from the classes he taught. Many of the examples are science fiction, but most of the information here can easily be applied to fantasy as well. This book offers a good, solid base of writing information from which to build from.

Writers Workshop of Science Fiction and Fantasy edited by Michael Knost

This is the second book on this list with essays by multiple authors, because why learn from just one writer if you can learn from many? These essays cover everything from alternate history, beginnings-middles-endings, prequels, as well as round table discussions with editors of both short stories and novels. The discussions and essays in here go beyond the usual advice you find in writing books about characters and plots, digging deeper into things like non-human character emotion, and just how alien (or fantastical) should our aliens be. Thirty-seven writers contributed to this book, so there’s something for everyone in here.

Rhetorics of Fantasy (cover)Rhetorics of Fantasy by Farah Mendlesohn

I hesitated to include this one, because it’s not really a book on writing fantasy, but instead a book about fantasy writing. It’s also more of an academic book, and not something you’d find on the shelves of Barnes and Noble. But one of the best ways to learn how to write fantasy (or anything) is to read a lot of it, and this book really takes a deep look into how fantasy worlds are constructed, and the language and writing used to do so. In the introduction, Mendlesohn states that “…a fantasy succeeds when the literary techniques employed are most appropriate to the reader expectations of that category of fantasy.” This book looks at the different types of writing used in each kind of fantasy, but then examines why that writing works, drawing from hundreds of examples. If nothing else, this book will grow your reading list, as the bibliography is twelve pages. It’s a dense read, but there’s so much excellent information that it’s worth it. I’d also recommend it to anyone who is just interested in fantasy in general.

This isn’t meant to be an extensive list, and I’m sure I left off someone’s favorite book on writing fantasy. Nor should a fantasy writer read only books specifically about writing fantasy. Like most writing books say, try to read a little bit of everything.

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4 Comments

  1. Cori Dyson says:

    Excellent concise but thorough review of some of the books available on fantasy writing. Our desire to write in the fantasy genre may outpace our knowledge in the beginning and these books can bring our ability up to par with our interest. Thanks for putting this together for other aspiring authors–very helpful!

  2. Connor says:

    Again, like Rhetorics of Fantasy, more academic but still very fascinating on the subject are The Cambridge Companion to Science Fiction and The Cambridge Companion to Fantasy

  3. […] latest post at Fantasy Faction is up here. I did a quick review of five of my favorite books on writing […]

  4. Hey thanks for the mention, Shambralyn. I agree the intro essays are just as valuable as the exercises in the whole Now Write! series, including Now Write! Science Fiction, Fantasy, and Horror. Happy Halloween – time to write something scary!

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