How to Write a Young Adult Fantasy Novel Like a Boss

There comes a time in every writer’s career when he/she must throw caution to the wind and offer the world a peek into his/her deepest imaginings.

This is where W.A.N.D. comes in. I had a blast writing this fantasy. Some of its pages and scenes are products of the dark haunted corners of my psyche, places where I would not normally venture. But I believe these ventures have resulted in some riveting scenes, and I wish to use my experience in writing this particular book (my eleventh or maybe twelfth) to help other, slightly less-experienced writers along their journey.

With some 50,000 books published each year (that’s only the traditionally published ones, mind), it is incredibly difficult to produce a novel novel. To do so means being bold, fearless in your endeavor.

You can’t just write another tale about a poor orphan farm boy who realizes he is heir to a great legacy stretching far beyond his humble origins (Star Wars, Harry Potter, Eragon, Lord of the Rings, Eye of the World, Sword of Shanarra, The Dragonbone Chair, to name but a few examples). You need to come up with something new.

Something new.

That’s a daunting task, when you consider the millions of books that have gone before. So how does a writer (in this case a fantasist) accomplish this task?

I can only show you my esoteric method. Perhaps you will be able to extract your own method from it.

For W.A.N.D. I wanted to answer a question I had about a fairly well-known fantasy series—perhaps you’ve heard of it—called Harry Potter: Did the wizards always have wands? If not, how did the first one come about?

This method of asking a question, especially concerning the origin of some famous object, is actually an established origin of many great tales. T.H. White’s Once and Future King answers the question: how did King Arthur become the man he became?

But I didn’t want to just recreate Rowling’s world. I wanted something slightly more mature and based more in the real world, so as to lend credibility and to distance the work from Harry Potter, since any clone of HP will inherently be inferior. You need to make your own thing.

(Side note: you have a lot of fun in W.A.N.D. but it is a different brand from the brilliant silliness found in HP, where you have things like socks that scream when they smell too much—a line that still cracks me up.)

So I set it in the Adirondacks. Upstate New York is a fantasists playground, with its multitude of settings and wildlife. I also used real-world branches of magic for my dorms: Voodoo, Wiccan, Necromancy, Shaman, Gypsy, Enochian. This blend of real-world mysticism with fantasy helps to blur the line between reality and fiction, and anytime you can do that it is conducive to helping your readers suspend disbelief.

Then I created a main character who is not miraculously brave and heroic like Harry, but someone who would belong more in a Song of Ice and Fire novel or the Broken Empire series. He (Nick) genuinely wants to help wizardkind protect itself from the hordes of mythics threatening to escape the Adirondack Preserve. So he agrees and struggles to forge the world’s first functioning wand. But there is a secondary drive to his actions; while studying methods of forging the device, he also seeks answers that everyone has been keeping from him. Who made me into a wizard? How am I connected to the Mythmage? Why can I forge a wand when no one else can?

His frustration with the adults, teachers and warlocks, grows and drives him to questionable actions. He still wants to destroy mythics, but he might just use the wand for his own purposes first.

Are you starting to see the path to writing a unique fantasy novel novel?

Be bold, make daring writing decisions. Don’t be afraid to go against current trends and popular tropes. You want your fantasy to stand out. A few examples of unique YA fantasy: A Million Junes, the Ingo series, and the Skinjacker series.

Further differences between W.A.N.D. and other similar YA fantasies:

  • The main character is aware of his unique nature from the beginning
  • He is not an orphan
  • He is already aware of the unique world of which he becomes a part
  • In place of vampires and werewolves, W.A.N.D. boasts glimmerlings and wraiths, shagas and bargs, and sensitive gnomes
  • Instead of a straight-up evil sorcerer trying to take over the world, W.A.N.D.’s sorcerer is on his own personal journey to satisfy his curiosity (about the Old One of the Forest)
  • Contrary to the commonly found ‘alternate dimension world that Muggles cannot see,’ I have all my wizards holed up with the monsters in the Adirondack Preserve, a familiar and real and yet still fantastical setting
  • Magic does not sprout from fingers
  • All magic comes at a price, and there is only so much a mage can do in the course of the day before he/she must sleep or consume vast quantities of carbohydrates

I hope and trust you have picked up something useful here that you can apply to your fantasy manuscript. Perhaps you would even like to check out W.A.N.D. to see some of these applications in action? If so, here is a link to it on Amazon. Keep writing, and God bless!


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