Writing Fantasy is Dangerous, But Don’t Be Afraid

For as long as Marian Allen can remember, she’s loved telling and being told stories. She enjoys connecting and reconnecting with people, meeting new friends and keeping in touch with the friends she already has.

Her writing reflects this love of network. No one exists in total isolation, but in a web of connections to family, friends, colleagues, self at former stages of maturity, perceptions and self-images. Most of her work is fantasy, science fiction and/or mystery, though she writes horror, humor, romance, mainstream or anything else that suits the story and character.

Professionally, she’s a member of Southern Indiana Writers, Writing and Promotion (WRaP), and Green River Writers.

Here’s what Marian says about fantasy:

Writing fantasy is a dangerous game. Here are some pitfalls and some comments on them:

1. Being discouraged by great fantasy

Tolkein. Personally, I think Tolkein over-wrote. I totally do not need to know the details of every flower growing on the mountain. I do not need to know dwarvish runes and low elven and high elven. But there’s no doubt that Tolkein set the bar on fantasy world-building and epic-scale plotting. Relax: nobody expects you to be Tolkein.

2. Being discouraged by lousy fantasy

Tolkein wannabes. Yes, the world has more than enough of them. So build a world out of your own life, your own dreams, your own passions, your own gathered materials, and use the voices from inside your own head to tell the story.

3. Thinking “tolkeinesque” is the only kind of fantasy there is

There’s a rich genre called Urban Fantasy, which takes place in the current day or near future in large cities. Neil Gaiman, Laura Bickle, Jim Butcher, Roger Zelazny and Wen Spencer all created very different fantasy, and they’re only a handful of examples. If you count vampires as fantasy, you add everything from Fred Saberhagen’s Dracula series to the Twilight franchise. Terry Pratchett has built his own world, with his own afterlife and cosmology and set of gods and attendant religions. Create! Enjoy!

4. Getting lost in research

Whether you need to know how heavy a two-handed broadsword is or how to cook over an open fire or which subway line in New York City goes to The Cloisters or how seahorses reproduce or how ancient Phoenicians built their houses, there’s so much cool stuff in reality to mine for fantasy, it’s easy to spend all your time exploring. Eventually, you have to pick some materials and go with them. Eventually, you have to say, “I’m using this. That other shiny trail is one I’ll follow for another story.”

5. Going twee

Twee is a British expression, meaning “too precious to live.” Whether you’re writing an elegant lady or a dainty fairy or a pert sprite, it takes a delicate touch to communicate such characters without sounding like a Victorian lady novelist writing for people with a high glucose tolerance.

6. Committing homicide

I’ve run this danger, when I’ve been told, “Oh, you write fantasy! Must be nice, to just write whatever you want, and never have to research.”

So why write fantasy? Because it’s fun. I love the research. I love coming up with different societies and the characters who would live in them–or different characters and the societies which would be interesting and challenging places for them. I love talking story with my writer pals at the Southern Indiana Writers Group and especially The Awesome D.

I hope my love and enthusiasm shows in my work.


When elderly priest of Micah, “Aunt” Libby, goes on a Final Wandering, she’s accosted and then befriended by an amphibious mugger. The area known as The Eel is infested with worse than minor criminals–it’s under the thumbs of a coalition of greedy, brutal priests. Aunt Libby is a frail barrier to stand between peace and violence, and the worst violence may not come from her enemies…but from her friends.

EEL’S REVERENCE is available from OmniLit and at Amazon’s Kindle store.
Visit Marian’s web site for more on writing and her books.


Anyone who leaves a comment at one of my blog tour stops AND mentions EEL’S REVERENCE will be entered. Anyone who buys the book and posts a review anywhere and includes the link to the review as a comment to any of those posts will be entered five times. All entries will be numbered and the winning numbers will be chosen by random number generator. Only one prize per entrant. First winner gets first choice of prize.


  • Free copy of EEL’S REVERENCE or FORCE OF HABIT, my upcoming sf/farce. (2 separate prizes-1 of each)
  • Free softback copy of SWORD AND SORCERESS XXIII, with my story “Undivided” in it.
  • Free softback copy of DYING IN A WINTER WONDERLAND, with my story “Team Player” in it.
  • Your name in the story I’m going to write to promote FORCE OF HABIT.
Published in: on September 9, 2010 at 6:00 am  Comments (15)  
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15 CommentsLeave a comment

  1. […] day three of my blog book tour, I’m visiting Heidi M. Thomas, Author, Editor, Writing Teacher, talking about the dangers of writing fantasy. Homicide is one of […]

    • Thank you for being a guest on my blog, Marian. I hope you’ve assuaged some of the fears of writing (and reading) fantasy!

  2. Marian, these are fabulous! Naturally #6 is my favorite, but this is a great education. Like Alex has done for science fiction, you’ve opened my eyes and made me want to read at least one fantasy novel before I die…and I think I’ll start with yours!

    I did think fantasy was mostly “twee” and Tolkien. (Writers spending too much time creating the world, not enough with characters and action.) Thanks for the wake-up call!

  3. I am looking forward to reading EEL’S REVERENCE, Marian. And I am now following you Heidi. As a fantasy author myself, I know how research is necessary to enhance a quality read.
    N. R. Williams, fantasy author

  4. Now that I woke up a little, of course I am already following Heidi and she is my most excellent editor.
    N. R. Williams, fantasy author

    • Thank you, Nancy. What a nice thing to say!

  5. These dangers can apply to writing mysteries and thrillers, too. Especially the one about getting lost in research. You know, like the best undetectable poison for murder, or how to fire a Beretta and whether it has a safety…


    • It’s important to know the details, i.e. the Beretta etc. and that’s part of the fun of the writing life–learning new things! But I agree, you can procrastinate very well by continuing to research. πŸ™‚

  6. Thanks for hosting me, Heidi. And thanks to all for the great comments! I’m glad I could take the fear out of fantasy for you. I sort of specialize in fantasy with a twist. I said I planned to read my unicorn story at a reading, and everybody’s faces went blank. They went blank a different way when they heard the story. They had never thought of a unicorn as a sexual predator. Now, they always will. ~~evil grin~~

  7. Always enjoy reading what you write, Marian. I’m not a fan of fantasy, but who knows, I might become one.
    I must confess I envy your Southern Indiana Writers Group pals. They sound so cool!

    Mary Montague Sikes

  8. I don’t read fantasy, but I may have to start. Missed you at the meeting last night and I loved your Eel’s Reverence bookmarks. Great book cover, too.

  9. You’ve inspired me! Maybe I will venture into fantasy one of these days. All good points and can apply to other genres as well. Love the cover!

  10. Heidi, I’m going to follow you, too!

    Marian, I am so looking forward to reading EEL’S REVERENCE, and almost can’t wait to get through all of these blog entries in order to go and read it…

    I love all the tips you’re throwing in about writing, and I am anxious to get to the next one! Soon…

  11. Fantasy and Science Fiction can go lots of times and places besides Middle Earth or a mad scientist’s lab. Not too long ago, I read Red Planet Noir by D. B. Grady. It’s a hard-boiled private eye novel set mostly on and around Mars. It rocks!

  12. ho-hum… I wrote fantasy for many years without doing any research! πŸ˜‰ But I guess I’m more original and more “real” now that I’ve done some historical and geographical research… πŸ™‚
    Oh, and I never read Tolkien… πŸ˜€

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