Worlds Unbound: Exploring the Essential Elements of Fantasy Fiction

fantasy elements

Fantasy is a genre that has immensely grown in popularity in the past century, so much so that fantasy and science fiction books reportedly generate almost 600 million in sales each year – and that is only in the USA.

But what makes fantasy so very bewitching? And which essential fantasy elements should you include in your writing if you want to craft a complex magical world?

Let’s jump right in.

The Allure of Fantasy Fiction

Before we get into the ins and outs of the perfect fantasy story, let’s quickly go over why fantasy is such a popular genre in the first place:

  • Fantasy allows us to escape into imaginary worlds and feel a sense of childlike wonder among the difficulties and responsibilities of adulthood
  • Fantasy is an excellent tool through which we can explore the complexities of our own political and societal structures while keeping things on an abstract level of thought
  • Fantasy stretches the limits of the imagination, portraying the impossible in a way that is credible and makes sense
  • Fantasy is great fun, plain and simple
RELATED READ: What Editors Look for in an Epic Fantasy

4 Vital Fantasy Elements

Crafting a compelling fantasy story isn’t just fun and games.

Sure, there’s plenty of that as well, but when it comes down to it, a fantasy narrative comprises multiple different elements, each of which brings its own set of difficulties…

1) Your World Setting

World-building is one of the most important – and most difficult, may I add – parts of fantasy writing.

And that’s because you’re creating a brand new society here. You aren’t just drawing a map or coming up with new kinds of animals – you’ve got to really dig deep into how this world works, how one thing affects ten different ones, and why your reader should trust you that you’ve got it all under control.

When crafting your world setting, explore each of these elements in depth:

  • Fauna and flora
  • Climate and weather
  • Urban planning and architecture
  • The rules and laws of the society
  • Traditions, customs, fashion
  • Politics
  • Economy and international relations
  • Agriculture
  • The daily life of an ordinary person living in your world
  • Myths and religion
  • Language
  • Values

Once you begin to go down the rabbit hole of each of the points above, you’ll soon realize that everything is interlinked. The state of the economy has an impact on the daily life of a regular citizen; a ruler’s religious beliefs influence the architecture; what a society values impacts how their societal structures function.

It’s all connected.

And you, the author, are in charge, which means you should know a great deal about… well, everything. 

In fact, most writers know more about their worlds than they ever divulge to the readers.

 2) Your Magic System

Of course, a proper fantasy narrative wouldn’t work without some kind of magic. From dragons to spells or supernatural powers, there are endless possibilities writers can choose from.

But proceed with caution – your magic system should make sense. As Oscar Wilde once said, “Man can believe the impossible, but man can never believe the improbable.”

Although we’re talking about magic here, it still has to be rooted in some form of logic, so remember to keep these considerations in mind:

  • Rules determine the parameters of how your magic works (Harry Potter has to use a wand in order to cast spells and Daenerys Targaryen likes to take baths in boiling water, therefore she can’t be scalded no matter what)
  • Limitations show that your magic isn’t without limits and that it takes skill to be able to navigate it properly (Harry has to learn how to cast spells, which takes a lot of time and hard work, while Daenerys has to look after and train her dragons)
  • Costs and dangers remind us that everything is built upon balance and that it is impossible for magic to only ever grant us the good things in life (wizards who dabble in the Dark Arts may lose their humanity and rulers who use their powers as a tool to subordinate others might cause a great deal of destruction)
  • Origins explain where your magic comes from – for example, it could dwell in special objects, manifest in humans by chance, or exist in certain plants

Remember: your magic system has to make sense, no matter how fantastical.

RELATED READ: Fantasy Genre: A Look into This Charming Genre’s History

3) Your Fantasy Characters

No narrative would be complete without its hero, and fantasy is no different. When creating your characters, don’t forget the most common archetypes used in fantasy fiction:

  • Hero (Harry Potter)
  • Rival (Malfoy)
  • Villain (Voldemort)
  • The hero’s sidekick or friend group (Hermione and Ron)
  • Mentor (Dumbledore)
  • Love interest (Cho and Ginny)
  • Jester/Comic relief (Fred and George)

Pro Tip: Your protagonist is the eye through which the reader gets to know the fantasy world. If the hero is new to the world and has its rules slowly explained to them, we are learning alongside our protagonist, but if they’re already integrated into the fabric of the magical society, you must be much more careful when revealing certain information.

In other words, try not to info-dump and naturally weave new information throughout the plot.

4) Your Fantasy Plot

While the fantasy genre’s requirements differ from, let’s say, literary fiction, certain elements remain the same no matter which genre you’re writing.

And that’s the plot.

It doesn’t matter if you’re telling the story of a sorceress, a geography teacher from Manchester, or a historical figure – they should all follow a narrative structure that consists of:

  • The status quo (introducing the protagonist’s world at the beginning of the book) and the catalyst (an event that changes the hero’s circumstances and forces them to go on a new journey)
  • Rising action (the part where the hero learns to navigate the new world and is faced with challenges)
  • Climax (a big battle or the point where everything comes to its natural peak)
  • Falling action (tying all loose ends)
  • Resolution (wrapping up)

This is only the 5-point dramatic arc, however. There are plenty of different narrative arcs out there, from the 8-sequence structure to the 15 beats described in Save the Cat! Writes a Novel.

Whatever narrative arc you choose to follow, the result ought to be the same: your hero goes on a new journey full of magic or fantastical elements, overcomes certain obstacles, learns some valuable lessons… and is never the same.


A successful fantasy story lies upon the same basic foundations as every other narrative: a well-organized plot and a set of well-developed characters who go through important changes as the story moves forward.

However, it includes the added elements of complex world-building and a good magic system, which makes the whole business of writing a novel much more complicated.

As a fantasy writer, I can honestly say I wouldn’t change it for the world, though.

After all, it is the complexities of building a brand-new world and playing around with different fantasy elements that make writing so incredibly fun.

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