How To Make Your Fantasy Novel Stand Out

It's been a while since I glared my green eyes at you, hasn't it? Currently, I'm neck-deep in highly classified S.H.I.E.L.D work (meh, book revisions) and gamma research (procrastinating from said revisions). Revisions turn me into the Other Guy all. the. time. It's quite exhausting.

But one of the things I'm working on, while I revise my book, is making my book stand out from others in its genre. This is important! I've been turning green trying to edit cliche weirdness. I know my greenness makes me a special snowflake, but people don't see ME when they're reading my book. They just see several hundred pages that they hope isn't like Every Other Book.

Try to avoid boring your reader. They get cranky.

Since I'm writing a high fantasy book, I'm going to zoom into that genre. Let's look at some things most fantasy books have. Also, don't forget Thor talked a bit about cultures on Monday! You should check out that post, if you haven't already.

Note: Just because high fantasy books use certain plot devices, doesn't mean they're "cliche". To BE a high fantasy book, you need certain things (but not necessarily all of them): as in, setting it in an ancient/medieval world, having magical creatures (dwarves, elves, dragons, etc.), supernatural or dark evil forces, good vs. evil, wars and battles, etc.

magical/unique creatures

Throne of Glass by Sarah J. Maas: elves, spirit demons
Rangers Apprentice by John Flanagan: wargals
The Door Within by Wayne Thomas Batson: dragons
Shadow and Bone by Leigh Bardugo: volcra
Lord of the Rings by JRR Tolkien: dragons, hobbits, elves, orcs
Seraphina by Rachel Hartman: dragons

How do these books make their magical/fantastical creatures different and unique?
- Tolkien created hobbits. He also created his own strand of villainous evil thingies: orcs. (Since he's one of the first fantasy writers, most of his stuff WAS extremely original when he invented it. There are a lot of rip-offs of his work these days.) Unique? Yes.

- John Flanagan created wargals. Hairy and mindless evil creatures that followed their dark lord. Unique? No. They're basically hairy versions of orcs.

- Rachel Hartman used ancient dragons. But instead of making them mindless fiery lizards, she made them shape-shifters. Unique? Yes. She put the ancient feelings and culture of dragons into slimy human form.

Using magical and unique creatures is awesome fun! You don't HAVE to think up your own creature, though. (But you can't steal other people's, as in, say, making your own version of Hobbits. They're Tolkien's.) The important part is to put a unique spin on whatever you use.

For example: Dragons are everywhere. How is your dragon different? Is it a mindless killing machine? Does it have a culture or needs? Why is it killing everyone? What does the dragon community hope to achieve?

weapons and wars

Throne of Glass by Sarah J. Maas: tournament to find a champion
Rangers Apprentice by John Flanagan: good vs. evil battle
Shadow and Bone by Leigh Bardugo: good vs. evil battle
Lord of the Rings by JRR Tolkien: hundreds of good vs. evil battles

How do these books make their wars and weapons different and unique?

- Tolkien set his battles in different places. Sometimes near rivers, sometimes on wide plains, sometimes in castles. This definitely shakes things up. He gave specific weapons to his people groups. Hobbits fought with short swords. Gondor had catapults. Elves had longbows. Orcs fought with scythes and clubs.

- Sarah J. Maas used lots of weapons throughout her tournament tests. She tried poisons and ropes and staffs and swords. In the end test, her main character used a metal-tipped staff to fight.

 - John Flanagan used longbows for his rangers. A lot of emphasis was put on how hard they needed to practise until they never missed a shot. ("Don't practise until you get it right. Practise until you can't get it wrong.") He also set his battles in different terrains: deserts, rocky outcrops, open plains, snowy mountains.

The first weapon that always comes to my mind is: sword. But there's so many more options! I google around (aaand Pinterest) to find lot of medieval type weapons. It's great fun shaping your people groups' cultures around their particular weapon. If you have people who live in mud huts, are they more likely to use longbows or scythes? Do you use battle-axes and spears? Don't just give everyone a sword and tell them to play nice with other kids! Expand.

setting and worlds

Throne of Glass by Sarah J. Maas: set in Adarlan, medieval
Rangers Apprentice by John Flanagan: set in Araluen, with medieval English cultural elements
Eragon by Christopher Paolini: set in AlagaĆ«sia, medieval culture
Shadow and Bone by Leigh Bardugo: set in Ravka, with Russian cultural elements
Finnikin of the Rock by Melina Marchetta: set in a Skulendore, with desert, medieval, and Indian cultural elements

- Melina Marchetta made her world huge! Like earth (if you live in earth, and you might not, so in that case forgive me for being so narrow in this post; I'm sure your planet is interesting too) there are lots of countries and cultures. Besides having the average medieval castles and problems, she used pirates and desert tribes and people who lived in tents (kind of Mongolian, really).
- John Flanagan did the same. He used Skandanavian and Asian influences for his different countries.
- Leigh Bardugo set hers completely in a Russian influenced world.

Medieval England is probably the norm. And there's nothing wrong with setting your world there! (I find the ones based off Asia or Russia or whatnot more interesting because I haven't read them as much.) If you want English culture, just think about how you could do it differently. Do they HAVE to live in castles? Do they have kings...or maybe there's a different ruling system? Are the villages poor? Do you have trade routes with other cultures? Do people ride horses, or maybe they plough their fields with dragons? (Good luck with that, by the way.)

Brainstorm what's "average" about your fantasy world and then see what you can do to spice it up! It might seem overwhelming, but, seriously, writing lists breaks everything down.

And don't worry about being cliche all the time! Pfft. You'll never be fully "original", because everything has probably been done before. It's up to you to do it differently.

what makes YOUR fantasy world stand out? which fantasy authors do you admire who have unique fantasy worlds?

-- Hulk



this is so whoa on any blog


  1. Thank you so much for this post! I recently started plotting a new YA Fantasy, with dragons, which I've never done before, and this post gave me some great ideas. I love this blog. :D

    1. Awe, thanks, Brett! I'm super glad it was helpful. ;)

  2. I think the most unique part of my new fantasy series is that it's set in an Alternate Universe. It's much like our world, but ot's set in 2014, but the culture is medieval. So it's several hundered years behind our world. I'm also using an Ogre instead of the usual fantasy creatures. There are a couple other things, but I won't let the cat out of the bag, so to speak, just yet;P

    1. Haha! Fair enough. I have a few weird flesh-eating creatures I'm keeping under wraps for now myself. lol One day they will strike the world and EAT IT ALL.

  3. Awesome break-down. I write fantasy too, (though I wouldn't call it "high fantasy") and I love that we can make things different and interesting in speculative fiction! Awesome post, Cait :)