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The Basics of a Fantasy Story.

by Alex J. Cobalt

The Basics of a Fantasy Story

The fantasy genre may be a vast, magical landscape, but there are always three core areas of any fantasy story that are key – worldbuilding, magic systems, and themes. If you’ve always wanted to try your hand at writing a fantasy story, these areas are a great place to begin your fantasy journey.


Worldbuilding is a core component of any good fantasy story. Whether your story is set on this world or another, fantasy has elements in it which take the reader beyond this reality into one of your own creation.

Broadly speaking worldbuilding should capture all the elements of setting. Think about it like the establishing shots of a movie – what world will you bring your reader into?

One good way to start worldbuilding is consider a few key questions:

  • Is your world set on Earth or another planet? How does that planet differ to Earth?

  • How does the world you are creating differ from the readers’ world? Why?

  • Are you going to explore a whole planet with your book, or stay with one region?

When you’re looking to start a fantasy story, begin with your world. Without a world that is real and solid, you risk the reader losing interest in the story.

Magic Systems

The reason I love the fantasy genre is the various ways authors can bring magic into their world. Whether it is magic that can level cities, or magic that is simply woven into the fabric of the environment; it’s a key component of any fantasy story.

When you’re creating a magic system, consider two key questions:

  • What do you intend your magic system to achieve in your story?

  • What is the cost of someone using the magic?

Let’s take each point in turn.

What do you intend to use your magic system for?

A high fantasy story with sweeping battles and magical fighters might need a much stronger, robust set of rules around the magic system to avoid accidental deus ex machina plot holes. Alternatively, if you’re writing a low fantasy story, the rules of your magic might be a little more nebulous – maybe you know certain people can cast spells, but you don’t set lots of limitations around how the spell works.

When you create your magic system, consider what you intend to use it for. If you’ve got a lot of high-stakes dramatic magic battles, then I’d suggest building a stronger, more defined framework around your magic. If you’re using it in the background of your story, but it’s really key to a particular in-world myth, then maybe you want to define your system clearly for that myth, but leave the rest up to the interpretation of the reader.

If you sketch out the key intentions for your magic system as you plan out your first draft, your magic system will then become an intrinsic component of your fantasy story.

What is the cost of using the magic?

When thinking about how you want your magic system to be used, consider what the “cost” of its use might be. If you think about it, everything in our world has some kind of cost. For example – if you use a mobile phone, your battery might run out. If you heat up some water and then turn off the power, it will eventually go cold.

Likewise with your magic system, consider what the impact is of its use. It could be a physical impact (e.g. feeling warmth) or something like a limitation (e.g. only certain people who meet certain requirements can use it). The important point here is that your magic system stays grounded in your world, so it stays realistic to the reader as they travel through your story, and so that magic isn’t always used as a “fix it all” power by your characters.


Unlike other genres fantasy tends to lean heavily on overarching themes to help define the overall pace, plot and outcome of the story. These kind of themes could be:

  • Human vs Nature

  • Good vs Evil

  • “The Chosen One”

Fantasy doesn’t ask you to have a particular theme (although if you research fantasy tropes you will find a number have become very common). However, there is an expectation fantasy readers that there will be a strong theme that will resonate throughout the story. I think the reason for this is the theme is the most relatable part of the story – you can have as much magic, monsters and mayhem as you want in your story, but it is your overarching theme that makes your reader really relate to your fantasy world.

Give it a go!

Fantasy is a great genre to write in. Every story has hundreds of possibilities, opportunities to research as much or as little as you want, and the chance to really stretch your imagination skills! Start off with the three areas I’ve talked about, and then see where your creativity takes you!

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