So You Want To Write YA High Fantasy?

Photo credit: Lisa Brewster on Flickr
So this is the first entry in a new series I'm starting here at Writability! Yay! If all goes well and you guys like what you see, I hope to cover many genres and categories, including ones I don't write, which should be interesting. I hope you all enjoy! :)
“So, high fantasy isn’t dead. If you say it is, you’re not looking in the right places. Perhaps the good stuff doesn’t get as much attention as it deserves, but it’s out there, changing perspectives and broadening imaginations, reminding us of what it is to be human, and daring girls who love nail polish and boys to dream of something more.” —Sarah J. Maas ("Is High Fantasy Dead? (Um, No.)")
What is it? 

Royalty, medievalism, magic, sword fights, evil wizards, elves, orcs, trolls, dragons and very little technology are a few of the elements you’ll see when reading high fantasy. In Young Adult, it often means princes and princesses, or young powerful people (whether highly skilled, gifted with magic or otherwise special), lots of action, great pacing and romances. What’s not to like?

Pros/Cons of Writing YA High Fantasy: 


  • You can do just about anything. Everything should fit in the world you create and make sense for your book, of course, but other than that, the sky’s the limit. Want a dragon made of fire? Go for it. A character who can control lightning? Write it and it’s yours. 

  • Medievalism is the bomb. Let’s face it, sword fights are often way more fun to watch than shootouts, royalty never gets boring to read or write about (to me) and that low-tech I mentioned before means you have to work around lack of technology obstacles, sometimes with magic, sometimes without. 

  • Young adults tend to have more independence. This varies, of course, but in medieval times, young adults were often viewed as mini-adults—they have way more responsibilities and pressure on their shoulders than teens today. And that makes for great book fodder. 


  • World building is tough. To me, this is kind of a pro, too, because world building can be insanely fun. But it can also be a massive headache. You’re building an entire world from nothing, and it can get complicated and exhausting, but it’s also pretty rewarding. 

  • A lot of it’s been done already. This to me is also in a way a pro—I’m starting to see a call for high fantasy based off non-western European cultures, which I think is fantastic (i.e.: The Girl of Fire and Thorns by Rae Carson, Shadow and Bone by Leigh Bardugo and Prophecy by Ellen Oh). There are so many cultures out there who each had their own medieval-like periods and mythologies that I think could be really interesting in high fantasy. So while it’s a tougher market because we’ve seen a lot of similar high fantasies, I think it also pushes us to try new things, which isn’t such a bad thing after all. 

  • It’s a tough market. Yeah, well, so is the rest of YA. If you love high fantasy, this shouldn’t deter you. 

Recommended Reading: 

Reading is important! Really. Whatever genre you’re writing in, you should be pretty well versed in what’s out there.

Note: I’ve read and enjoyed all of these except for the last one—but I’ve heard good things about Finnikin.
For more, check out this Goodreads list of YA Fantasy novels, which includes books that aren't High Fantasy, but Fantasy nonetheless, and this Goodreads list of High Fantasy novels, which includes books that aren't YA.

Helpful Links: 
Do you enjoy reading or writing YA High fantasy? Share your experience! Also, should I continue this series? Let me know what you think!

Twitter-sized bites: 
Thinking about writing YA High Fantasy? Writer @Ava_Jae shares some tips, recommendations and more. (Click to tweet
Do you write YA High Fantasy? Share your experience at @Ava_Jae's new So You Want to Write series! (Click to tweet)


Michelle4Laughs said...

High fantasy is the best! I just love creating all the little details of a world. It may be time consuming but so much fun to have total control over the rules of a world.

You've got to have a big picture of political system, religion, countries, language, ethnicity worked out, all the way down to the little stuff like what color and style of clothing and do they walk or have horses.

Farida Mestek said...

At least now I know what I'm writing! I've been wondering about that. Thank you for the tips!

Emma Adams said...

I love YA high fantasy! When I wrote mine, I found the hardest part was trying to get the information about the world into the narrative naturally without the dreaded infodump. Also, the writing style was hard to get into at first, attempting to write without using too many modern phrases but still make it readable. It was really rewarding, though!

Ava Jae said...

Yes! Great points, Michelle. World building is a lot of work and those details are important, but it's definitely a fun process. :)

Ava Jae said...

You're very welcome! :)

Ava Jae said...

Oh yes, getting world information in without info dumping is definitely a challenge with High fantasy, as is getting the voice of the manuscript (as you said, speaking with few modern phrases and references), but I agree—super rewarding. :)

Gabryelle K. said...

I love high fantasy. This post is really helpful, especially with Camp NaNoWriMo coming up. You should definitely continue this series.

Ava Jae said...

Glad to hear it! I think I will continue it. :) Good luck with Camp NaNo!

Tinnis said...

Loved this post and are looking forward for the next in the series! Would be really interesting if you did a post when you compared high fantasy in young adult, new adult and adult.
It's always so hard to place your novel in the corect age group.

Ava Jae said...

Wellllll I already wrote a post on the differences between YA & NA (or some of them, anyway). I didn't include adult because, quite frankly, I don't read enough adult to really be able to write about it (at least, not yet). At any rate, I think the main differences between the two categories are the same, regardless of genre, so maybe that post will help? :)

Glad you liked the post! I'm thinking I'll definitely continue this series. ^_^

Jeremy Feijten said...

I'm really excited for this new series! It seems very helpful, so I can't wait until you get to my preferred genres (Thriller, Children's MG, Fiction (How do you call the genre of novels as The Casual Vacancy and The Art of Racing in the Rain? Fiction seems too universal), and maybe even Romance). I'm well aware that those are not the ones you read a lot of, but I'm curious either way.

Ava Jae said...

Yay! I'm going to try to cover as many as I can, even the ones I don't read quite as often...though those will probably come after I cover the ones I know the most about. :)

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