Fantasy Writing Course

Empower Your Words Today

Imagination - Fantasy - Creativity

JRR Tolkien, on Fantasy

Fantasy is a natural human activity. It certainly does not destroy or even insult Reason; and it does not either blunt the appetite for, nor obscure the perception of, scientific verity. On the contrary. The keener and the clearer is the reason, the better fantasy will it make. If men were ever in a state in which they did not want to know or could not perceive truth (facts or evidence), then Fantasy would languish until they were cured. If they ever get into that state (it would not seem at all impossible), Fantasy will perish, and become Morbid Delusion.

For creative Fantasy is founded upon the hard recognition that things are so in the world as it appears under the sun; on a recognition of fact, but not a slavery to it. So upon logic was founded the nonsense that displays itself in the tales and rhymes of Lewis Carroll. If men really could not distinguish between frogs and men, fairy-stories about frog-kings would not have arisen.

Fantasy thus, too often, remains undeveloped; it is and has been used frivolously, or only half-seriously, or merely for decoration: it remains merely “fanciful.” Anyone inheriting the fantastic device of human language can say the green sun. Many can then imagine or picture it. But that is not enough—though it may already be a more potent thing than many a “thumbnail sketch” or “transcript of life” that receives literary praise.

To make a Secondary World inside which the green sun will be credible, commanding Secondary Belief, will probably require labour and thought, and will certainly demand a special skill, a kind of elvish craft. Few attempt such difficult tasks. But when they are attempted and in any degree accomplished then we have a rare achievement of Art: indeed narrative art, story-making in its primary and most potent mode. ~ JRR Tolkien

How to be More Creative:
Three Tips to Improve your Creative Writing

Sometimes the ideas just come to me. Other times I have to sweat and almost bleed to make ideas come. It's a mysterious process, but I hope I never find out exactly how it works. I like a mystery, as you may have noticed. ~JKRowling

1. Prepare your creative space in time

All writers should have a creative space they feel comfortable in.  A place with a fresh supply of air that will enable them to relax without external distractions like the TV, phone ringing, dogs barking etc.  Set aside time each day to sit in that creative space.

2. Have a specific list of creative works to accomplish

By focusing on a specific item or creative goal e.g. write chapter 1 of my book, you are more likely to accomplish it.  Get out the equipment you will need before you begin.  You should have a notebook and pen by your side.  If you are happier working on the computer then turn off the internet connection so that you spend less time browsing and more time working.  If you are stuck for a word or need to research something, make a note in your notebook to come back to it.  

3. Get into the flow or creative zone

Believe in yourself.  It doesn't matter if you write drivel to begin with.  Every writer started somewhere.  This is where you are now.  Keep writing...

Three Ingredients of Creativity

Teresa M. Amabile, a creativity expert, argues that being creative or creativity is not a quality of a person; rather, it is a quality of ideas, behaviours or products. According to her, there are 3 basic ingredients of creativity/ creative people:

Creative Domain-Relevant Skills

These skills are associated with expertise in a relevant field (e.g., artistic ability, technical ability, talent, etc.).   Artistic ability in writing would be knowing what sounds go together and the ability to tell a story.  It would also involve working hard to gain knowledge of words and grammar. 

Continue to hone your writing and observation skills so that when that flash of inspiration comes you will be ready for it just as JK Rowling was ready for Harry Potter.  ‘I wrote compulsively, all through my late teens into my early twenties, but I’d never really found the right thing…’ 

Transcript of JK Rowling talks to Oprah. 

JK Rowling was also a fast typist and developed her skills of observation through drawing.  JK Rowling had prepared herself to be creative… she was ready for that BIG magical story to find her.

When Elizabeth Gilbert, author of Eat, Pray, Love, talked about the subject of inspiration and being creative on TED, she stated, ‘the Romans called… that disembodied creative spirit a Genius, which is great because the Romans did not think that a Genius was a particularly clever person. They believed that a Genius was this sort of magical divine entity who was believed to literally live in the walls of an artist’s studio, kind of like Dobby, the house elf and who would come and sort of invisibly assist the artist with their work and would shape the outcome of that work…’

The definition of ‘genius’ changed over the centuries, giving the artist greater responsibility for their work.  However, Elizabeth Gilbert further reflected on the experience of inspiration as something uncanny and magical.  I particularly enjoyed her story about the musician Tom Waits whom she had the pleasure to interview.  ‘He’s speeding along and all of a sudden he hears this little fragment of melody as inspiration often comes, elusive and tantalizing… and he wants it.  It’s gorgeous and he longs for it, but he has no way to get it.  He has no piece of paper, he doesn’t have a pencil, he doesn’t have a tape-recorder… and instead of panicking… he did something completely novel.  He looked up at the sky and he said, “Excuse me.  Can you not see that I’m driving?  Do I look like I can write down a song right now?  If you really want to exist, come back at a more opportune moment when I can take care of you.  Otherwise, go and bother someone else today.  Go bother Leonard Cohen!” 

As funny as this anecdote is, it really illustrates the value of being ready and prepared for inspiration to strike.  Always carry a notebook around with you.  Always be ready to explore a creative idea.  It could be the next Harry Potter story!

For more help on this aspect of creativity go to Personal Development

Creativity Relevant Skills

These creative skills include a cognitive style or method of thinking oriented towards exploring new directions and approaches that can be used to generate new ideas, and a work style conducive to developing creative ideas.  In this course, I cover a variety of methods that will hopefully spark an idea that you might wish to explore and maybe even write about.

According to Levine, JK Rowling’s US Editor, ‘writers grow by pushing themselves to be more honest and revealing about themselves in their work. They grow by reading and turning outward, not by turning inward and becoming self-referential. The writer who says, "Oh, I only concentrate on my own writing--I don't read other people's books" is missing out on the opportunity to be exposed to new voices and approaches that help one grow.’

You can also turn outwards by taking up a hobby, learning something new, or even developing a sense of humour.  Perhaps, something that interests you will turn into a story idea that you can develop.  These are just some ways that you can be more creative.

I imagine that when JK Rowling was sitting, staring at the same bit of English countryside for forty minutes on that train journey back to London, instead of reflecting on her fruitless flat-hunting in Manchester, she probably asked herself where she would much rather like to live, or even where she would much rather like to journey to.  She may have even thought, if only I knew some magic, then I could get this train moving.  Before she knew it, Harry Potter popped into her mind; the wizard boy on the train, journeying to Hogwarts. 

The Creative Process

When JK Rowling first had the idea of Harry Potter, her mind went into overdrive as she questioned the concept of ‘boy doesn’t know he’s a wizard – goes to wizarding school.  Bang – bang – bang.  And then that was it!  It was like touch-paper.  And I was on this delayed train going from Manchester to London and my head was just flooding with: What’s at this wizard school?  There are four houses… there are ghosts… there are house-ghosts.  What do they teach?  What subjects do they learn?  Who are the teachers?’ 

Transcript of JK Rowling talks to Oprah.  

What do we learn from JK Rowling's creative process?  She took things that were well-known and easily memorable, i.e. a train journey and then a school.  Then, she gave them a twist; in this case a magical one.  Then she asked herself a whole lot of questions:  What?  Why?  Who?  When?  How?  She thoroughly explored her world before writing a single word.

Continued below...

Task Motivation

Recent evidence suggests that a genuine interest in a task for its own sake, rather than for achieving external rewards such as money, enhances creativity.  It is not hard to see the allure of escaping from a poverty-stricken existence into a world where you have a vault full of wizarding gold and where you are famous. 

Here is an article on motivation.

So, what would your ideal world be like?  Who would inhabit it?  What would make your world truly special?  If you can answer those questions, then your creativity is sure to blossom. 

In the preceding chapter, we learnt that although JK Rowling was very determined, she truly enjoyed writing.  If you haven’t yet developed a passion for language and storytelling, do try to cultivate that love by reading other books by great authors such as Jane Austen and JRR Tolkien. 

Creative Writing Exercises

"Write about what you know: your own interests, feelings, beliefs, friends, family and even pets will be your raw materials when you start writing."

Although the idea of Harry Potter came fully formed into her mind while on the train to London when she was 25, it is interesting to note that later on JK Rowling incorporated some of her life experiences into the Philosopher’s Stone and subsequent Harry Potter books.

  • She lived in Edinburgh and saw the castle every day—she could envision Hogwarts and Diagon Alley
  • She is a mother—she could imagine Lily Potter’s sacrifice
  • She knew the pain that death brings—this is a central theme in her book
  • She was an English teacher in a Portuguese school and spent a year in Paris whilst learning French—she could imagine the inner workings of Hogwarts and the Beaubatons school
  • She has a cousin who went to a boarding school—she wrote about life in a boarding school
  • She has an interest in astrology and alchemy—so she broadened her storytelling horizons to write about magic in general


JK Rowling likened her story idea to touch-paper which is a strip of paper impregnated with nitre used as a fuse for firing gunpowder, fireworks.  But the fire to set it alight was her own imagination, her own creative process. 
Notice, the first crucial point to the creative process – once JK Rowling had the idea, she brainstormed or researched whilst sitting on that delayed train.  There was nothing else for her to do but sit and muse.  
The second point is that she was in a relaxed state of mind, with a high motivation for mental escapism.  This relaxed state of mind is one that many creative people can effortlessly fall into.  They can switch off anxiety and just day-dream.  Scientists have learned that in order to have creative inspiration your brain has to generate big Alpha brain wave bursts.  How can you increase this type of brain wave activity?  Many people set aside time each day to meditate.  Certainly, gentle exercise like Yoga will help you get relaxed, but you might also want to muse on something specific.  Ask yourself a creative question, trust in your creative potential and let your imagination come up with the answers.