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What You Need to Know Before Writing a Fantasy Fiction Novel

Updated on June 18, 2016
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Amber loves to read fairy tales and is always interested in personal development and self help.

The Beginnings of an Adventure
The Beginnings of an Adventure

Plot Structure

A Framework for Your Story

All novels, in some kind of way, follow this plot structure. The exposition is the beginning of the story where the characters and settings are established. The rising action is a series of events that challenges the protagonist, building suspension for the climax, which is the ultimate showdown between the protagonist and the antagonist. The falling action follows the climax, easing the reader into the resolution, where questions are (or are not) resolved.

Other names for the plot structure include Freytag's Pyramid, Three Act Structure, and the Narrative Arc.

the plot structure of a novel
the plot structure of a novel


Regardless of whether you deem yourself a plotter or a pantser, having an at least vague outline of your story plot will save you lots of headache when you edit your draft later on. Come up with a plot outline so that you can assess the timeline of your story as you write, and answer unanswered questions afterwards as the book evolves. Having a plot outline also gives you an idea of where your book is heading and the clues that you might want to include in the rising action that will turn into a plot twist or a huge revelation. One author that does this exceptionally well is Sarah J. Maas, a bestselling author who wrote the bestselling Throne of Glass young adult fantasy series and A Court of Thorns and Roses new adult fantasy series. Every part of her books is intricately thought out, and hints are scattered throughout the story. These clues eventually build up to a unexpected revelation which lead you to think back on the potential hints you picked up before the plot twist happened and sends you exclaiming about how "Now it all makes sense!"

The Hero's Journey

The Hero's Journey, or monomyth, is a concept introduced by Joseph Campbell in The Hero with a Thousand Faces (1949). It is a typical template utilized in a wide variety of fiction that involves a hero who embarks on an adventure, claims victory in a pivotal point of no return, and returns home a different person.

A hero ventures forth from the world of common day into a region of supernatural wonder: fabulous forces are there encountered and a decisive victory is won: the hero comes back from this mysterious adventure with the power to bestow boons on his fellow man.


Hero's Journey, or monomyth
Hero's Journey, or monomyth

The Hero's Journey consists of 17 stages that the hero has to go through. These 17 stages are broken down into 3 main acts:

  1. Departure/Separation
    The hero receives a call for adventure. He is reluctant at first, but later persuaded to go on an adventure by a mentor.
  2. Initiation
    The hero leaves the ordinary world and ventures into the unknown, where he will face trials and obstacles. He might have help along the way. He will then undergo the last and final trial, where he defeats the ultimate enemy and retrieve his reward.
  3. Return
    The hero returns to his own world with the reward with gained knowledge or power from his adventure.


Act
Stage
Description
I: Departure
The Call to Adventure
The hero receives a call to leave his mundane world to venture the unknown.
 
Refusal of the Call
The hero is reluctant to heed the call, often due to insecurity, fear, or a sense of duty.
 
Supernatural Aid
A magical helper is introduced once the hero directly or indirectly accepts the call.
 
Crossing the Threshold
The hero leaves the ordinary world to venture the unknown.
 
Belly of the Whale
The final separation between the hero's known world and self and will eventually undergo a metamorphosis.
II: Initiation
The Road of Trials
Trials that initiate the transformation, often presented in series of three. The hero fails either one of these trials.
 
The Meeting with the Goddess
The hero finds someone/something he loves.
 
Woman as Temptress
The hero faces temptations that challenges his persistence in the quest. The temptations are not restricted to only women.
 
Atonement with the Father
The hero must confront and be initiated by whatever holds the ultimate power in his or her life.
 
Apotheosis
A period of rest, peace and fulfillment before the hero returns.
 
The Ultimate Boon
The hero achieves the goal of the quest.
III: Return
Refusal of the Return
The hero is disinclined to return after achieving enlightenment in the other world.
 
The Magic Flight
The hero must protect the boon as he returns.
 
Rescue from Without
Assistance might be required to lead the hero back to the mundane world.
 
The Crossing of the Return Threshold
The trick in returning is to retain the wisdom gained on the quest, to integrate that wisdom into a human life, and then maybe figure out how to share the wisdom with the rest of the world.
 
Master of Two Worlds
The hero achieves a balance between the material and spiritual.
 
Freedom to Live
Mastery leads to freedom from the fear of death, which in turn is the freedom to live.

Know the Rules So You Can Break Them

Not all novels stick closely to the monomyth concept. Altering the process of different stages of the monomyth is acceptable. The monomyth is a template to help you come up with a plot that fits in the typical fantasy genre. However, the monomyth is not the formula the a perfect novel. It is merely a study of the common cycle and development of a fantasy novel.

A Court of Thorns and Roses Book Cover
A Court of Thorns and Roses Book Cover

A Case Study: A Court of Thorns and Roses

The book that we are going to be analyzing is A Court of Thorns and Roses by Sarah J. Maas.

*Spoilers Alert

A Court of Thorns and Roses, ACOTAR for short, is set in the fantasy realm of Prythian. The mortal world and the fae world is separated due to past conflicts. This is a Beauty-and-the-Beast-inspired novel, narrated from our protagonist, Feyre Archeron's point of view.

Here is a breakdown of the plot:


ACT 1: Departure

Stage
Analysis
The Call to Adventure
Feyre shoots down a fae, who was disguised as a deer. His friend, Tamlin, came to Feyre's hut to seek revenge. Feyre was expected to pay by being in Tamlin's possession for the rest of her life.
Refusal of the Call
Feyre despises faes, so she was reluctant to follow Tamlin.
Supernatural Aid
Instead of a supernatural aid, Feyre was driven by her priority to protect her family, so she leaves with Tamlin in return that her family remains safe and well.
Crossing the Threshold
Feyre was brought into the fae territory on Tamlin's horse.
Belly of the Whale
Feyre settles down at Tamlin's estate after realizing that Tamlin is high lord of the Spring Court.

ACT 2: Initiation

Stage
Analysis
The Road of Trials
Amarantha makes a bargain with Feyre: If she can complete three of her trials successfully, the courts will be freed. There is also an option to solve a riddle instead.
The Meeting with the Goddess
Feyre falls in love Tamlin, and despite being tortured at Under the Mountain, she was determined to save her lover.
Woman as Temptress
Feyre had been through so many hardships that at one point she thinks that she might die. Dying felt like an easier, and less painful choice. But her love for Tamlin keeps her going because she knows hope is lost if she dies.
Atonement with the Father
Feyre has an internal conflict with herself when one of the trials was to kill three faes, one of them being Tamlin, the one motivation that led her to accept the bargain with Amarantha.
Apotheosis
Feyre dies for a good few minutes after releasing the courts from Amarantha's curse.
The Ultimate Boon
Feyre receives magical help from all high lords of Prythian in gratitude to her saving their lands. Feyre was revived.

ACT 3: Return

Stage
Analysis
Refusal of the Return
Feyre becomes a fae, and she decides that it was best not to return to the mortal world where she no longer belongs.
The Magic Flight
At this point, Feyre is seen as a symbol of hope for the citizens of the Spring Court. She has to protect her image.
Rescue from Without
Since Feyre has decided to stay with Tamlin at a place she calls home, there is no need for her to return to her blasé lifestyle in the past.
Crossing the Return Threshold
Feyre returns to the Spring Court from Under the Mountain.
Master of Two Worlds
Feyre has grown as a person and now possesses the powers of all the seven high lords who shared a drop of their magic to revive her.
Freedom to Live
Feyre, having broken the curse, has the freedom to live with her beloved Tamlin.

Tips to Propel Your Protagonist Past the First Stage

  • Identify the major events and plot points of your book with the Plot Structure. This way you get a clear idea of how the story should unfold. What is the exposition? What causes the climax? How will the story be resolved? Write it down as a reference outline that you can consult whenever you're stuck with your book.
  • You need a great enough reason to propel your protagonist from Act 1 to Act 2, and so on. Get to know your characters well, and list down their strengths, weaknesses, fears, and hopes. The antagonist/enemy of the book has to, in some way, force the protagonist to enhance their strengths, break through his weaknesses, conquer his fears, and challenge his hopes. Is your protagonist independent to a fault? Put him in a state where teamwork is crucial for victory. Is your protagonist afraid of heights? Make one of the trials challenge his fear of heights.
  • Pinterest is a great tool for collecting inspiration. Coming up with a moodboard for your book will give you visual inspiration and help materialize world-building in your head, which will translate into your writing. My personal experience with using Pinterest in the process of writing has been amazing, because I can describe characters or places more colorfully when I see a tangible representation of my imagination.
  • Write your first draft like no one is ever going to see it. If it turns out like crap, you can always rewrite it when your ideas are developed and solidified in your first draft.

“You write your first draft with your heart, and you rewrite with your head.” -James Ellison, Finding Forrester: A Novel

An adventure as real as your imagination.
An adventure as real as your imagination.

Do It Now

Writing a novel is no easy feat. If you have an idea, jot it down, and come up with a plot outline for it, regardless of how much you like pantsing. Assuming you hate to plan your novel ahead as a hardcore pantser, I assure you that you will despise the deadly process of editing your one crap of a tangled draft. You don't have to plot out all the events of your book, but it is helpful to list down major events and unanswered clues that you must give answers to at the resolution phase.

If you have an idea for a book, it is important that you give yourself a deadline. If you have the rest of your life to write it, you'd never complete it. Try to squeeze a thousand words into your manuscript every day, but take a break when you have writer's block. (A plot outline will help smoothen out your train of thought when you are faced with a writer's block.)


TED-ED What Makes a Hero?

Any questions or opinions are welcome in the comments section. If you enjoyed this article, I would really appreciate it if you follow me for similar pieces! Thank you for reading. Happy writing!

© 2016 Amberlim

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