How to write fantasy fiction for children

The Snowbirds by Jim FitzsimmonsEver fancied writing fantasy fiction for children? In today’s guest post Jim Fitzsimmons, author of The Snowbirds, tells us why writing fantasy stories is really no different to any other kind of writing, “because there are certain elements which are common to every genre of fiction.”

Have the idea

First of all you have to have an idea, and this can come from anywhere, a chance remark, something which happens while you are out walking, an interesting news item, or even someone you know or meet. It is important that you keep your eyes and ears open.

You need to try and think of something that hasn’t been done before if you can. This is obviously proving more and more difficult, but you can sometimes get around it by taking a familiar theme and looking at it from a different angle. I find fairy stories and traditional folk tales from around the world are an immense source of inspiration.

My inspiration for The Snowbirds came from a holiday in Sweden where I visited an Ice Fair. On the final day when the sculptures were completed, candles were lit in each of them and that night the flickering flames seemed to bring the statues to life.

Develop your plot

For my novel I took the art of  ice sculpture, set it in Japan where there is a wonderful annual Ice Sculpture festival in Sapporo. I combined this with the character of Jack Frost and linked him to the Russian character of Grandfather Frost to create an adventure involving two ice sculptures that come to life.

For me it is very important that I work out the plot as much as I can, even before I start, because I personally need a strong framework to keep me focused. This doesn’t mean that you can’t deviate from it if you suddenly have a brainwave, but it saves a lot of wasted time sitting at the computer wondering what is going to happen next. Plus I always strive for a strong beginning, middle and ending.

Shoji, the protagonist of The Snowbirds by Jim Fitzsimmons

Shoji, the protagonist of The Snowbirds by Jim Fitzsimmons

Create your characters

It’s difficult to say which comes first, character or plot – it can be either or both. Of course, you need to decide where your story will take place. This can be an imaginary world, inhabited by weird and wonderful characters in which case you can let your imagination run riot, or you can set the story in a more realistic and down to earth place and let the magic unfold. This has the advantage of heightening the magical fantasy element by contrast.

When creating characters of any sort it is important to make them as realistic and interesting as you can. They must be believable in order for the readers to want to know what happens to them. A good idea is to write down as much as you can about each one. Not just what they are like in appearance, but also their likes and dislikes. You may not use all of this in your story but it will help you to identify more easily with your characters as your story unfolds.

The world of The Snowbirds by Jim Fitzsimmons

The world of The Snowbirds by Jim Fitzsimmons

Know your world

If you’re writing about dragons, fairies, witches or any other of the usual fantasy characters, you must be clear about the world you are writing about. This is why I tend to stick to magic happening in the real world.  It’s the one I know best and you can always add magic to it.

If you’re creating a total fantasy world you’ll need to make plenty of notes about the characters, where they live and their purpose. That’s why some fantasy books include a map of that world so that children can get a good idea of where things are in relation to each other, and if the characters set out on a quest, it can show the path of their journey.

Consider the age of your readers

When you start on your plot or storyline it is important that you think carefully about the sort of story you want to write and the audience you’re aiming for. It’s no good creating a really complicated plot with lots of twists and turns for very young children as most will find it hard to cope with.

Most plots are concerned with the characters having a problem and trying to find a way to solve it. In The Snowbirds the  problem for Jack Frost is deciding which of the two snowbirds carved by rivals Shoji and Orochi will make the best companion for his Grandfather Frost, and he devises a cunning plan to send them both on a journey to the North Pole, during which the true character of each snowbird is revealed as they react to various meetings and situations.

The basic formula for most stories is to decide:-

Who your story is about;
What happens to them;
Where it happens to them;
Why it happens;
How your characters respond.

The quest of The Snowbirds by Jim Fitzsimmons

Introduce conflict

Your plot can involve your characters embarking on a quest to find something, or they can be transported to a different world where they have to overcome an evil tyrant or monster. Or you can create a beautiful world where everything is wonderful only to have it destroyed by the arrival of someone or something.

In each of these situations there’s an element of conflict and drama to keep readers interested. Th conflict can be between your protagonist and other characters, with themselves or with their surroundings.

In The Snowbirds there’s conflict between Shoji and Orochi at the beginning when they’re rivals in the ice carving competition, and there is conflict between the two Snowbirds as they travel on their journey.

The major point of any story is how the conflicts are resolved.

Surprise your readers

Finally, try and think of the unexpected. A neat twist at the end of your story will really add to your readers’ enjoyment. I hope I achieved this with The Snowbirds but you’ll have to read the book to find out what it is.

It’s important also to remember that you’ll probably need to re-write your story several times. For me a great way of checking to see whether the story works is to read it out loud to a friend. You’ll find as you read it that some parts are great, but other parts might sound a bit clunky or laboured. I usually have a bright marker pen to underline those parts and I re-write them later.

Also try and read it to a group of children and gauge their response. You can tell immediately whether they are interested or not.

Above all don’t be afraid to get rid of any characters or situations that simply don’t work. In the end it will make for a far better tale.

Artwork from The Snowbirds by Jim Fitzsimmons

Author bio

Jim FitzsimmonsFormer primary school teacher Jim Fitzsimmons started writing educational books in 1987 for Scholastic – Bright Ideas Series. He subsequently co-wrote books for Hodder Headline Home Learning series, The Blueprints series for Nelson Thornes, and wrote other educational books for Ladybird, Folens, and Harper Collins.

Jim began writing children’s fantasy fiction about three years ago and decided to self publish using Troubador. He lives in the Northern Lake District near the Scottish Borders with two cocker spaniels named Casper and Fergus, and enjoys writing, and painting watercolours.