It’s only been a couple of years that I’ve been back to reading books from this genre. Those couple of years have been a bumpy ride, to say the least. This past weekend several things crystallised for me; vague impressions and ideas have finally been through enough roadtesting to have a shape I can talk about.
I don’t write Fantasy stories; it’s not what I’m good at. But I know now how to best describe what I like and don’t like about the genre. And I realise that I’m unusual–many people who read Fantasy are the exact opposites of me and like what I dislike and actively seek out what I try to avoid. So these suggestions are more for the folks who want to write what I consider Modern Wave or Crossover fantasy–stuff like George RR Martin, Daniel Abraham, David Anthony Durham.
1. Start basic
Readers need something relatable to pique their interests. I’m sure that to some folks starting out with a duel between Prionaster Wizards using Magefyre seems really cool. And if you’ve invented this world those terms mean something to you already. So it doesn’t seem as utterly foreign and repellant. But your average reader is a first-time tourist to the world you’ve built. Walk them into it. Show them around, give them a good taste of the familiar. Once they’re anchored to your world they’re more likely to follow your world for the thousands of pages these sagas usually take.
2. Tease the reader
People who are reading fantasy DO want something unique. It helps to throw out tiny tidbits of your worldbuilding at first. Casually at first so they don’t start rolling their eyes. Don’t know what I mean? Go back and read the first Chapter (“Bran”) of Game Of Thrones. It’s mostly guys on horses. But Bran does ponder Old Nan’s tales of creatures Beyond The Wall. And the reader starts to think “hey! I bet something cool will happen!” But if these books had started with Mance Rayder and skinchangers I doubt I’d have stuck around.
3. Be Better At Describing Things
Frankly, most fantasy writers could use some help here. The most glaring examples are Daniel Abraham’s otherwise-excellent _The Dragon’s Path_ and Brandon Sanderson’s profoundly terrible _The Way Of Kings_. In _Dragon’s Path_ Abraham invented a world that has 12 different races. Unfortunately many of them are never described in detail. We know they have “doglike ears” or the dreaded carapace. (Seriously…I wish fantasy writers had never heard the word “carapace”. It gets so overused and tossed off, when “insect-like outer shell” is actually a creepier, more intriguing description.) The thing about which readers were most curious–those races and their differences–was a gaping hole.
In _The Way Of Kings_ Sanderson bothers to invent a world where elements and emotions have corresponding fairy-like entities called “—spren”. (lightspren, fearspren, etc.) He’s put together this universe in which he would like readers to be immersed and then describes Fearspren as “gobs of purple goo.” That’s something I’d see from a junior high creative writing workshop–not anything I’d look for in a professional fantasy novel. How about “shifting orbs of indigo, flowing together and reforming like mercury”?
4. Go easy on the religion until folks know you better.
A lot of fantasy writers seem to enjoy writing elaborate religious systems that are either completely unlike anything on our Earth or obviously satirical versions of the better known Earthly faiths. I admit that I’m really intrigued by this if it’s handled well (Martin’s use of The Seven as his world’s Catholicism and The Old Ways as Westeros’ Druidist belief system). But it can be handled so badly and too early in that it makes the book untenable.
Again, these are just things I’ve noticed as an avid reader. Feel free to ignore them, but just know that if you do I’ll most likely return your book to Amazon pretty quickly.