Creating a fantasy world is tough, and writing good prose to realise that world requires more than mere imagination. You need a mastery of language to breathe life into your world and the stories it contains. To help you with your writing, let us look at literary devices, tricks, and tips that will enhance your writing flow and sentence structure, captivating readers with the magic of your words.
The Cadence of Language
Imagine your prose as a symphony, each sentence a note in a grand composition. In order to create a good, natural flow, you should pay attention to the cadence of your language. Experiment with varied sentence lengths, alternating between short, punchy phrases and longer, more intricate ones. This dynamic and human rhythm will keep your readers engaged and make the story flow better.
You can also use punctuation strategically. Use commas for a gentle pause, dashes for sudden shifts, and ellipses for an air of mystery. These can apply to both general prose and dialogue. The interplay of these elements will further engage the reader. It is recommended not to overdo the use of any of these elements, of course, unless you do so with a clear purpose and understand the impact it may have on the potential reader. Once you have practised writing for some time, you could look at using punctuation in new or interesting ways, like Cormac Mccarthy, who is well known for abandoning much of it. Just ensure you understand the rules of grammar before you decide to change them.
Pacing is the heartbeat of your story. Mastering the ebb and flow of your narrative can heighten suspense, emphasize pivotal moments, and allow readers to savor quieter, introspective scenes. Use words like instruments. They have rhythms and beats, various sounds and colours. It is recommended to look at the larger story beats first, then chapter by chapter, and then within those chapters look at the paragraphs and how they flow. Balancing action with introspection and dialogue ensures that readers are interested from the first page to the last.
In addition to controlling the pacing of your narrative, consider utilising strategic chapter breaks. Each chapter's conclusion should leave readers yearning for more, creating a natural propulsion through your fantasy world. You can use cliffhangers or scene breaks to effectively "hook" the reader. As with most writing rules, just don't overdo it unless you are trying to make a point or play with tropes.
Fantasy writing thrives on vivid imagery. You have the power to transport your readers into the enchanting landscapes of your imagination by painting with words. Use descriptive language that appeals to the senses, creating a sensory experience for your audience. Immerse them in the sights, sounds, smells, tastes, and textures of your fantastical world, allowing them to feel the magic within every word. Pro-tip: check out pulp fantasy like Robert E Howard's Conan stories to see how they do this. They really were the best at creating fresh, magical atmospheres with minimal word use. For something a bit longer, try Titus Groan by Mervyn Peake. Here is one example of his incredible writing:
This tower, patched unevenly with black ivy, arose like a mutilated finger from among the fists of knuckled masonry and pointed blasphemously at heaven. At night the owls made of it an echoing throat; by day it stood voiceless and cast its long shadow.
There is so much imagery in those few sentences.
When crafting imagery, also think about the cultural nuances within your fantasy world. Describe elements that resonate with your world's lore and mythology, making the imagery not just visually striking but culturally rich and immersive. The caveat is not to fall into just telling the reader about all your worldbuilding. Delve a bit deeper, and use the character's perspective to colour how they see the world. This leads to my next point.
Show, Don't Tell
One of the golden rules of storytelling, 'Show, don't tell,' is especially crucial in the realm of fantasy. It can be difficult to get your head around at first. Basically, instead of explicitly stating facts, let your readers discover the nuances of your world through actions, dialogue, and descriptive details. This not only engages your audience on a deeper level but also allows them to form their own connections with the story and characters. To master the art of showing, delve into the psychology of your characters. Convey emotions through their actions and reactions, allowing readers to empathize with their struggles and triumphs on a visceral level.
To help you understand this concept, here are two examples:
Telling: John was angry.
Showing: John slammed his fist on the bloodstained altar, his jaw clenched, a vein throbbing in his neck. He glared at the assassin. "You'll pay for that," he growled through gritted teeth.
Telling: The forest was eerie.
Showing: The dense fog hung low among the gnarled branches, muffling all sound except the occasional rustle of leaves. Shadows and light danced deceptively over everything, and every step forward felt like a child's stumbling fall into the unknown.
Dialogue is the heartbeat of character interaction. Write conversations that reflect the uniqueness of each character, incorporating their distinct voice, quirks, and perspectives. Include little personal actions to distinguish them, or maybe they have odd habits of intonation, skipping words, or laughing. Use dialogue adverbs like harshly, angrily, happily, sneeringly, lovingly, etc as little as possible. Instead, let the rhythm and content of the conversation convey the emotions and intentions of your characters. Dialogue is vitally important to the great majority of characters, so keep working on it.
Again, consider the cultural and linguistic nuances of your fantasy world when developing character dialogue. Integrate unique idioms, colloquialisms, or linguistic peculiarities that add authenticity and depth to the speech patterns of different characters or groups within your story. As always, be creative!
Repetition, when used purposefully, can be a potent literary device. Repeating certain words, phrases, or motifs can emphasize key themes, emotions, or concepts within your narrative. It creates a rhythmic pattern that can resonate with readers, and perhaps add a layer of enchantment to your prose. As always, be careful how you use this tool. The use of repetition should enhance rather than detract from your writing.
Experiment with thematic variations of repetition. Use recurring motifs or symbols to underscore the evolving nature of your characters and the unfolding narrative, creating a sense of continuity and resonance throughout your fantasy world. You can mirror some scenes in the same way to show a change of perspective or shift in personal goals.
Another example of repetition can be seen in the rule of three. The rule of three is an old principle in storytelling. Whether it's a series of events, character traits, or descriptive elements, grouping things in threes adds a natural rhythm to your writing and can also create symbolism or deeper meanings.
Just as a well-built castle requires a solid foundation, your sentences need sturdy structures. As mentioned above, you should vary sentence structures to avoid monotony. Combine short, declarative sentences with more complex ones to create a dynamic reading experience. Experiment with sentence types, incorporating questions, exclamations, and imperatives to infuse energy into your prose. In addition to structural variety, consider the strategic placement of information within sentences. Front-load or back-load sentences with crucial details to create a deliberate pacing that aligns with the narrative's ebb and flow, guiding readers through your fantastical world with purpose.
Alliteration and Assonance
Language, when crafted with a touch of alliteration and assonance, can become more lyrical and interesting. Experiment with the repetition of consonant sounds at the beginning of words (alliteration) and vowel sounds within words (assonance). This not only adds a musical quality to your prose but also creates a subtle connection between words, enhancing the overall aesthetic. For example: "Silken shadows shrouded the serene cityscape as the moon's luminance lingered."
Naturally, you should use these sparingly, as you can easily stumble into what is called "purple prose". Purple prose is writing which is so overly ornate and eye-rollingly descriptive that it draws the reader out of the story. Avoid at all costs.
Metaphors and Similes
Use metaphors and similes to breathe life into your fantasy world. These literary devices allow you to draw imaginative comparisons, making the unfamiliar familiar. For instance, "The castle stood like a solitary sentinel, its turrets reaching towards the sky like grasping fingers, as if trying to pluck secrets from the very stars themselves." (Yes, I stole a little from Mervyn Peake there).
Consider the thematic resonance of metaphors and similes within your fantasy world. Align these comparisons with the cultural or magical elements of your narrative, creating internal or symbolic connections that deepen the layers of meaning.
Create intrigue by juxtaposing contrasting elements within your narrative. Whether it's characters, settings, or themes, this technique can add complexity to your storytelling. Picture a bustling market square nestled in the heart of a desolate wasteland, a juxtaposition that fuels both visual and emotional impact, showing survival in harsh environments, a place to rest despite the atmosphere around it.
You can also explore cultural clashes or magical conflicts within your fantasy world via juxtaposition. Integrate opposing elements that mirror the dualities inherent in your narrative, providing readers with a richer understanding of the complexities and tensions within your fantastical realms.
The magic doesn't end with the first draft. In fact, many authors say that editing is where the real writing begins. Editing is the process that transforms your rough manuscript into a polished gem. Pay meticulous attention to each word, sentence, and paragraph. Trim unnecessary elements, refine awkward phrasing, and fine-tune the pacing. Enlist the help of beta-readers to gain fresh perspectives, and be willing to embrace constructive criticism as a catalyst for improvement.
Consider employing different editing passes to address specific aspects of your manuscript, from overall structure and pacing to the nuances of character development and dialogue. Approach the editing process with a discerning eye, seeking not only grammatical perfection but also the preservation and enhancement of your unique narrative voice.
You should set out, in writing, a few things to focus on for each editing pass. The first is usually more general, looking at the wider story beats, chapter and scene placement, and overall themes and arcs. You can then get into chapter-by-chapter edits, and from there into paragraphs and sentences. The final, final, FINAL editing pass should always be a grammar and spelling check. If possible, get someone else to do this as well, since we often miss our own mistakes.
I believe this is a good little summary of some of the tools and techniques you can use when writing. And this is not a definitive list. Do some research into writing techniques, read books about writing, and keep learning. As always, not everything will apply to your story and style.Be aware of your choices and how you use these devices. Try different things. Be clever, be creative, and most of all, have fun!
For more tips on writing, check out my post: Some Tips on Writing