The secret to writing a great fantasy novel is the laying of a firm foundation.
Writers of fantasy novels understand what fantasy is, fantasy is not something incredible. In fact, for a fantasy novel to work it must be believable. If your novel is not believable, you would sooner be writing a comedy.
To write a fantasy novel that works, your world, your characters and the intention, adventure or quest must all fit together. Long before to you get to write “once upon a time”, or “in a land far, far away”, you must create this time and place. The writer of a fantasy novel must know this place in as much detail as they know their real world.
In the creation of this fantasy place, the writer must pay careful attention to believable detail. Consider that if sun never rises in a fantasy place, the vegetation would not be vibrant and, well, unless there is some other element in the environment that should explain the impossible. If the land is barren, there is unlikely to be an adequate water source, unless somehow this source is polluted, stagnant and infertile. If the writer feels compelled to include a viable water source here, they must explain some force that makes it so.
If there are animals in this world, they must belong to this world. An arctic wolf is unlikely to fare well in a hot humid environment, but some cousin of the wolf that evolution has produced with a thin sleek skin will do nicely. Perhaps the writer really wants an arctic wolf, should attribute its presence to some magic or other force, but this force should also have a reason to belong.
After the environment has been set, or even in the creation of the environment, the characters should be given form. As important as it is that the characters have physical form, it is vital that they have personalities and human traits complete with fatal flaws. To properly develop the characters, they must have a history, direction and purpose. Although clearly defined in the writer’s notepad at the very beginning of developing the fantasy novel, these things should be revealed in the duration of the novel.
In developing the characters (this is still very much before the writing of the novel can commence) with their individual qualities, the writer should also examine how they interact with other characters and their environment, and their relationships to each other. These things will be revealed to the reader in the appropriate scenes in the finished fantasy novel. The writer of a fantasy novel should keep in mind, or learn to accept that his characters are real, and as such conflicts and tensions are often apparent even if not spoken out loud, these things can be represented in the way they relate to each other and situations.
All good fantasy novels must include a quest or an adventure and a reason with motivation. It is here that the fantasy novel explores humanity. The secret to writing a fantasy novel is knowing that the novel is a vehicle for understanding what life is. The writer should not say this to their reader, but do allow the reader to draw their own comparisons to the world they are reading the fantasy novel from.
Finally, the secret to writing a fantasy novel beyond creating the foundations are the same as they are for any other novel. A fantasy novel must have an interesting plot, and themes. Typically, fantasy novels should include the examination of good and evil, and, the quest to understand oneself, complete with challenges.
The history of the characters is an ideal backup story, so a good fantasy writer would have developed a thorough history for their characters. I do this myself. I create diaries and journals kept by my characters and refer to them in the character development. I do not write these into the novel but simply write them to know them and draw the characters development out from them.
It is important that the writer of a fantasy novel create their world and their characters from their own imagination. Writing your characters into someone else’s world is sure to prove a disappointment to the reader who will know this world from someone else’s novel. A fantasy novel is not an extension of someone else’s work; it is the creation of a new one.