So You Want To / Write a High Fantasy
! The adventures on an epic scale of good and evil in imaginary worlds, filled with magic, dragons, and no more than medieval tech! Where the young person finds the MacGuffin
and defeats the Evil Overlord
and saves the world!
You may want to also read Write a Heroic Fantasy
— the lines between that subgenre and this one are not set in stone.
- Setting - A world other than ours. It may have a nominal connection with present day Earth, such as being our remote past or future, but this plays no role in the plot. Mythopoeia is often put into play to define the very metaphysics of the world. Nevertheless it often resembles medieval Europe.
- Scale - Epic. Power politics, wars, the death of nations, gods walking the earth, and the real threat of The End of the World as We Know It—which is why the genre is also known as epic fantasy.
- The Big Bad is the Evil Overlord and really, really, really bad. He tends to be not so much a man as a personification of some evil and destructive force.
- Winning by sheer brute force is more typical of Heroic Fantasy. The MacGuffin or some such piece of magic is commonly needed, though usually a fair amount of sneaking is needed.
- Functional Magic
- Farm Boy saves the day! But the danger is that it can be too contrived. The innocent young hero has many virtues, but you have to make convincing reasons why he happens to be the one to do it.
- Secret Legacy. The Farm Boy often turns out to have Royal Blood and be the sole heir to the throne. Making it plausible that someone who's never been off the farm for his childhood can actually rule a kingdom is rather difficult.
- The MacGuffin and the Plot Coupons. High Fantasy is notorious for having these work as Plot Devices. Disguise them well if you use them.
- Because Destiny Says So. Too many writers use a prophecy as a substitute for Character Development.
- Making Races of Hats. All too often fantasy setting have all dwarves be gold-obsessed drunkards, all elves be stuck up snobs, and all
Hobbits halflings be child-like or tricksters, and such. While Tolkien did show there were different kinds of people in each race in the manual, others have copied these designs to the point where they have become cliche. Nowhere in nature is there an entire race of stuck up snobs (well, maybe cats). This is easily avoided if you are making races from scratch, but if you are using mythical races, showing races aren't all clones of one person (that is, unless they are all clones of one person) is a good idea.
- On the same note, making a race Always Chaotic Evil. Orcs and other "cannon fodder" races are always shown as violent barbarians, willing to kill/rape/eat any other creatures they come across. However, this trope has essentially become discredited, for as the trope entry says...
"even in the most toxic culture, someone
will choose decency
- One also must be careful of invoking unfortunate real-life racial imagery when deciding to go for an Always Chaotic Evil angle for an entire race of people; the other part of the discrediting noted above stems from the fact that in recent times there has been substantial criticism of seminal works like Lord of the Rings from a civil rights perspective. All things considered, this is territory you likely want to avoid, so stay conscious of it.
- Because Destiny Says So is the commonest reason why the Farm Boy has to succeed. Developing other reasons can work. Perhaps the littlest wizard has to do the job because all the more powerful ones were massacred.
- Perhaps being a hero helps pays the bills in your fantasy universe? It could be an interesting way to explore the moralities of the people who maintain such an occupation.
- Morals. Black and White Morality is common. But shades of gray among the heroes and lower ranking villains often works. (Lighting up the Evil Overlord generally moves you out of the genre entirely.)
- Try incorporating an interesting spin on the common fantasy races. If your works has elves then why not make them a little more alien? One-Gender Race wouldn't hurt.
- To add to the above example try tackling the downside of elves being eternally beautiful; such as drawing a lot of unwanted attention.
- How about a story where a character wants to become an evil overlord? In doing so the character becomes a Noble Demon who is up against an evil overlord that is a Complete Monster.
- To step further outside the Black and White Morality try having the group in your fantasy setting consist of a Ragtag Bunch of Misfits. The kind of fantasy characters that nobody expects to root for but we do in the long run.
Suggested Themes and Aesops
- Revolt! the Orcs and/or Beastmen are bloody sick of being herded off to die in their thousands, and it's time for a change! Who is this upstart champion of the downtrodden and musclebound? None other than your main character!
- War! An Evil Overlord bent on world domination is razing every kingdom in his wake. The heroes must unite the ever-bickering races of the world to stand against him!
Set Designer / Location Scout
- Functional magic items work well
- Swords with some sort of plot significance are staples of this genre, usually imbued with magical power.
- Tunics and cloaks are common, mainly because they were worn in medieval Europe.
- Wizards sometimes wear pointy and/or raggedy hats. These sometimes have plot significance.