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How to write a thrilling fantasy novel (book writing tips for authors)

I’m my own worst enemy.

As a cover designer and book editor, I used to tell authors to get a simple blog and keep it updated, but this blog broke and I ignored it for two years. Even though I’ve published 25+ in the last 5 years (and sold nearly 100K copies), I’ve neglected this blog almost entirely.

I prefer to be writing, and this might resonate with you. Writing is instantly gratifying. It feels feel and easy to be creative. I’m a big fan of nanowrimo and getting out a messy rough draft, but I also spent 10 years getting a PhD in literature and another ten putting out writing tips and publishing content, that’s gotten millions of views.

And yet…

My actual fiction writing blog barely gets 50 visitors a day, something I hope to correct as I finally finish some series and see a big boost in income. Most of my sales will come from social media marketing and advertising, but invariably some authors will start checking out my website to see why I’m selling so well and come away scratching their heads.

The secret is, this isn’t my only blog.

I have several – too many to maintain – so many of them are crap. But the only I occasionally use, where I talk most about book writing, is creativindie. I put together a massive resource recently on how to write a book so you can start there. I even have a free summer camp writing program where you can get advanced writing tips that will make the process much easier.

How do you actually start writing a book?

I see this question all over, all the time, and it’s impossible to answer outside of a flippant meme. Most people will tell you, just start writing, do whatever is fun, don’t do it if it isn’t easy. But writing is only fun for awhile – so then the question is, how or why should I keep writing when it isn’t fun and easy any more, and that’s a much harder question to answer. I wrote a whole book about the magic of writing, but most people say it’s boring and prefer my very simple novel structure plotting template cheatsheets.

I’m a big fan of plotting.

So you know what happens next and don’t get stuck. But it’s something you have to learn. It’s a bit like training wheels, so you can practice safely and end up with a real, whole story, instead of a bunch of great scenes and characters that you have no idea what to do with.

Not everybody loves plotting, and that’s fine. But you’ll get stuck at some point, and knowing about story structure is the only way to get unstuck; apart from a “deus ex machina” – something ridiculous and unbelievable – with a neat but unsatisfying resolution.

You need to know what you’re writing and who you’re writing it for.

Many/most authors write for themselves; their enjoyment. They think it’s a selling feature that their book isn’t like any other, and they did no market research… it isn’t. That doesn’t mean it won’t sell. But readers get to decide what’s good or not, and nobody else. If you don’t know what they like or respond to, you can’t hope to hit it.

This is basic stuff, but a good story is about a series of events that forces a character to change. The 8point plot dot or 24-chapter structure outlines help construct a strong support for that eventual shift; it’s important to keep up the momentum.

But plotting isn’t everything; you can plot well and still write poorly. But intrigue, suspense, thrills… are also not about the words you choose or your writing capability. They are about the absence of information. Writing a good novel that readers keep reading is all about creating open story loops, by increasing unresolved weirdness, they keep reading to find out what is happening.

If you info-dump them to death in the first few pages, or nothing new/weird/unexplained is happening, they’ll probably get bored. Information management is a critical writing skill that almost nobody else talks about, and I’ve spent years trying to figure it out. Don’t worry, you can learn it in a one hour video, but it’d be easier to sign up for my writing course – which will save you thousands of dollars in developmental editing.

My writing process

Another author’s writing process isn’t always useful, but here’s mine: I look at pretty book covers until I see something I love enough to tell a story for it. I figure out the genre and audience and tropes, and read some bestsellers to get a feel. I use my plotting templates to kind of figure out the basic story.

Then I research the locations, ancient myths, and fill in the blanks with a lot of my personal experiences.

I’m very good at procrastinating, so I can’t really work unless I absolutely force myself – that means, I do nothing else until I write, or I write before I do anything else. There’s two parts of writing: drafting and revision.

  • I like to draft books on a bluetooth keyboard on my iphone, at a nice coffeeshop or on the couch. I do 20 minute sprints and can sometimes get around 3000 words in a few hours. That’s a pretty good day, but those are rare.
  • When I have those words, I past it into my Word doc on my desktop until it’s mostly fleshed out. I’ll always find new scenes I didn’t plan that need to be written.
  • Then I take that big, messy file and start editing.
  • I go through, 4 to 7 rounds.

I have a whole video about this process, but I start with the structure and story, then move on to character motivations to make their actions believable, then scene description and only then, proofreading. You can’t do everything all at once.

What no one tells you about writing

Writing a book is mostly revision, at least for me, but not for everyone.

When you first finish a rough draft, you probably aren’t really finished at all. You shouldn’t be asking for feedback. It’s like seeing a diamond in the mountain and asking people how to get it out. They might point to a thousand different reasons why your book sucks, but no one thing will solve all your problems.

Everything is a structure problem, not a “writing” problem.

You can write poorly and still write great books. The only thing that matters is if it holds their attention.

Creating a whole book is lonely, exhausting and draining. I feel tired all the time, but braindead after working on my book for awhile. But it’s also very rewarding, after you can finally see what you’ve built.

And you can learn it. But not from scanning a few online blog posts or writing tips. You need to learn it for real, which means a lot of study and a lot of practice. Or don’t, maybe you’re a gifted savant… if so, thanks for visiting my site and please leave some of your magic.

PS. I apologize for not actually answering the question in the title… but I’ve answered it in thousands of ways already over the past decade and it’s easier to point to some of my resources than always start over from scratch. It’s a very big topic. I’ll try to do better next time.