The Basics of Writing Fantastical Fiction 


In science fiction, fantasy, and the supernatural, the art of integrating fantastical elements into a narrative’s plot is both a challenge and a delight for writers. The key lies in achieving a balance between the extraordinary and the plausible, creating a universe where the impossible coexists seamlessly with the logical, even the familiar. I’d like to take you through the basics of writing fantastical fiction. There’s a lot more to know, but I hope this gets new writers in the right headspace.

Understanding Fantastical Elements


Fantastical elements are the bedrock of genres such as science fiction, fantasy, and supernatural fiction. These can range from advanced technological innovations and alien species to magical systems and mythical creatures. What sets them apart is their departure from the real and the everyday, so they offer an escape from the familiar to the unusual. Speculative fiction writers explore ideas beyond the constraints of everyday reality with stories that challenge our perception of the possible.


Establishing Rules and Boundaries

The first step in integrating fantastical elements is to establish the rules and boundaries of your world. This is true whether you’re writing a short story or a novel. In science fiction, these rules might be based on scientific principles and theories, as seen in Arthur C. Clarke’s rigorous approach to space travel. Fantasy worlds, such as J.R.R. Tolkien’s Middle-earth, rely on a well-defined magic system. For supernatural stories, the parameters of ghostly or otherworldly interactions must be clear, as evidenced in Neil Gaiman’s “The Graveyard Book.” This framework not only guides the narrative but also gives the reader a set of expectations about how the world operates.

Consistency is Key

Once the rules are set, consistency becomes paramount. Inconsistent application of fantastical elements can jolt the reader out of the story. George R.R. Martin’s “A Song of Ice and Fire” series maintains meticulous consistency in its portrayal of dragons and magic, enhancing the believability of Westeros and beyond.


Integration with Plot and Characters

Ideally, the fantastical elements should be integral to the plot and character development. However, your world needs to seem like it doesn’t exist just for your main characters, and I encourage you to remember that whatever the world, people love a good character-driven story. Still, the fantastical elements work best if the story wouldn’t be the same, or even wouldn’t work at all, without them.

In Isaac Asimov’s “Foundation” series, psychohistory is not just a futuristic concept; it drives the entire plot. Similarly, in “Harry Potter,” the magical elements are central to Harry’s growth and the story’s progression. These elements should evolve alongside the characters, influencing their decisions and shaping their journeys.


a Reflection of Reality

Speculative fiction often reflects real world issues back at us, letting us see them afresh. Ursula K. Le Guin’s “The Left Hand of Darkness” uses an alien society to explore gender and sexuality. The dystopian elements in Margaret Atwood’s “The Handmaid’s Tale” offer commentary on political and religious extremism. Through these fantastical mirrors, authors can address complex social and ethical issues in a way that feels distant yet deeply relevant.

Balancing the Familiar with the Unfamiliar

While fantastical elements introduce the unfamiliar, they should be balanced with familiar emotions and experiences. In “Star Wars,” amidst space battles and the Force, the story remains grounded in familiar themes of friendship, betrayal, and the struggle between good and evil. This balance helps readers connect with the story on an emotional level, making the fantastical elements more impactful.


Subverting Expectations

Occasionally, subverting the typical tropes of fantasy and science fiction can create impactful narratives. Philip Pullman’s “His Dark Materials” series challenges established norms of the fantasy genre, offering a fresh perspective. This approach not only keeps the genre evolving but also engages readers who are looking for something new and unexpected.


Final Thoughts

The integration of fantastical elements in plot development requires a balance between imagination and structure, the extraordinary and the plausible. When executed skillfully, these elements can transport readers to new worlds, offer fresh perspectives on our own, and remind us of the endless possibilities of storytelling. In the hands of a skilled writer, they doors to new ideas and experiences, challenging us to dream bigger and bolder.

“Science fiction frees you to go anyplace and examine anything.” ~ Octavia E. Butler