Whether you’re writing a short story, ghostwriting or have a freelancing assignment within the fantasy genre, at some point you’re going to come face-to-face with that age-old question: “Has this been written before?”
In my opinion, there is no other genre that has been saturated with conventional themes and standardized characters than fantasy. Lord of the Rings may have set the bar in modern times, but fantasy has been around since ancient times. Legends, epic poems, and heroic tales written to herald the greatness of kings have sprung up from the central idea of what fantasy is all about – the hero’s quest.
With the success of Lord of the Rings, many authors attempt to pay tribute to the work (either intentionally or unintentionally) by using its setting as a starting point. So what does a “fresh” fantasy setting entail?
If you think about what the standard conventions are in fantasy, much of the setting turns into its own “convention.” Dark forests, high mountains, scorching deserts and small villages are often expected in fantasy, and are so common that they can’t be ignored. Instead of trying to twist these elements into something compelling, the way to creating something “fresh” is to either build your setting around the races you plan on including, or to flesh out your setting around the mythology or gods after you decide the theme and mood of your story.
Another piece to your setting is the mood you are trying to convey. Think about how powerful certain landmarks can be like ancient temples, rushing waterfalls, underground caverns and rolling meadows. These items can fuel your setting details to enhance or create your mood and make it unique depending upon how you describe these elements. A meadow filled with spring flowers offers your readers a much different picture than a dead landscape scattered with dry leaves.
If you’re still concerned that your setting is not unique enough, remember that the story – your story – is like a gorgeous tapestry filled with thousands of threads. And just like any other story, the way you describe your setting can make all the difference.