Writing Fantasy for a Young Adult Crowd


Young Adult fiction is teeming with fantasy books these days. There are faeries, dragons, dystopian death games, magical schools, etc.(I’m keeping werewolves and vamps out of here because while it is a kind of fantasy, I’d rather dump them with paranormal books). So it’s no surprise that many aspiring authors are trying their hand at the genre. I have two fantasy novels in the works myself. It’s fun to be able to create a world and maybe a class of people and the amazing things they can do!

So what makes for a good fantasy novel? Here are some of the thoughts I’ve come up with from reading many and working on my own stuff:

– Worldbuilding should be spread throughout the novel.  Front loaded worldbuilding will most likely bore and turn off a younger reader. As you come up to places and plot points, take the time to go into some detail about their significance in your world. Not every little thing needs to be explained. Unless they are history buffs, your younger readers are not going to be interested in ten pages worth of every war and struggle for power your world has gone through in the last century.

– If you’re creating a race of people, it’s important to let the reader know a bit about them, how they fit in with other races, what makes them different, etc. but again you don’t need to give an incredibly in depth description of their history. Just add what is important to the story.  If they’re a people repressed who are rising up, explain that and who’s been holding them down but if the plot doesn’t have anything to do with their mining habits, leave it out!

– Keep things pronounceable! As an adult, I cannot stand to see town and character names that are long, complicated and/or consisting of several apostrophes and heavy in either consonants or vowels but not both. I can’t imagine a younger reader enjoying it anymore, especially if they are struggling readers. Also, please don’t throw in a bunch of y’s into every name. One on occasion is fine, but keep it to a minimum. Let’s make a vow. I will not name my characters: Chryldghaugh, Askelevere or Shy’gar’ak. While those names did come from this site, it can also help you find some easier, more acceptable ones as well. Besides, you’ll be so busy trying to work the plot out that you won’t want to have to look back and remind yourself how all those crazy names are spelled!

-Let’s talk battle scenes. Every good fantasy story seems to have some big physical confrontation or battle scene woven into the story (if not the climax itself). Do yourself a favor and get up and workout some of the moves you want your character to do. If you’re swinging swords, use a wrapping paper tube. Make note of how your body moves when you swing it. Do you twist at the waist or the hips? If it’s a big sword (and don’t forget to research the MANY kinds of swords and make sure it’s something your character would be able to physically hold and swing!) keep in mind how close the character has to be and how many times you think they can swing a heavy thing without getting tired.  If it’s a magical battle, remember your character’s limits. Perhaps they need a recharging period or have to speak the spell out loud. Battle details are good if they flow and let the reader picture what’s happening without getting confused or bored. You can keep describing the gore to a minimum though. Go ahead and decapitate someone, but you probably don’t have to explain too much about bones sticking out and blood spray covering for X amount of feet.

-Imagination is a great thing and the fantasy genre allows you to really run wild *BUT* it still has to be believable. Yes your readers will know that elves, dragons, fae and magic wands aren’t real, but so long as they’re used in a way the reader can understand, they will believe it within the confines of your story. Remember though, readers are savvy. If your character has a power to control water and they find themselves in danger in a desert and suddenly they have the power to control the wind, your reader is going to cry foul and see it as a cop out. Keep it consistent. Don’t keep adding new powers just to suit your needs. There are ways around it. New characters, an escape route, etc. A sudden violent electrical storm coming out of a crystal blue sky throwing down lightning to hurt the bad guy is not so believable.

-Another very important aspect is keeping your characters human. Sure they might have pointy ears, magical powers, green skin or live in the ocean, but they still need to have human traits your reader can relate to. Make them sympathetic, misunderstood, jealous, in love. Make sure your reader can understand their actions and reactions. Make your reader come to love or hate them.

-Last thing I’m going to stress is to try to be original. Yes there are familiar themes and while it’s not wrong to use them, please don’t try to re-write Lord of the Rings with mermaids or Harry Potter staring a young dragon who doesn’t seem to fit in on his mountain. People have read those stories and will know right away that is what you’re trying to do.

Fantasy is an incredibly broad spectrum and I know I’ve only touched on a couple things here, but even following these few tips will help keep your readers interested and turning pages.

Some great MG/YA fantasy stuff to check out:

The Scorpio Races –  Maggie Stiefvater

Gregor the Overlander – Susan Collins

Graceling series – Kristin Cashore

The Maze Runner series – James Dashner

Here are some other pages on the topic for you to read:




6 responses »

  1. All terrific advice. Especially the one about letting things happen naturally–not inserting a new power just to get out of a situation. Readers absolutely know that! Also a good idea about not explaining so much history or characters’ backstory. It’s important to see how those things affect characters, but you can show more of that in dialogue than showing it by going on for pages!

    • One of the reasons I’m not a big Tolkien fan is because he gives soooo much world history and right up front that I can’t or don’t want to plow through it to get to the real plot. Guy Gavril Kay does a much better job at working it in along the way.

      That one article did mention that character driven stories seem to do better than idea driven ones. I think the younger crowd isn’t as into dissecting for hidden meaning and just want to enjoy the story.

      • Idea-driven stories are my none and only way to go, both as a writer and a reader. None of your propaganda will ever be able to change my taste and trick me into appreciating character-driven drivel. Those subintelligent people who don’t like idea-driven literature may stick to reading the usual character-driven junk that floods the book shelves and TV.

  2. Interesting distinction between fantasy and paranormal. I’ve been wondering what to call my upcoming work since it has magic, elves, dwarfs, dragons and such, plus the women have special powers. Paranormal or fantasy? Or paranormal/fantasy romance?

    • I would definitely dub it fantasy. To me, paranormal is vampires, werewolves, angels, demons, zombies and dead type things 😛

      hehe I think pretty much anything with elves and dragons is dubbed fantasy even if they’re zombie versions! hah

  3. Pingback: How to write a fantasy novel | J. Keller Ford

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