CHAPTER 1 ERRATA & ADDITIONAL MATERIAL: The Guide to Writing Fantasy and Science Fiction

Is there such a thing as a perfect book? If there is, I haven’t read one, let alone written one. One of the things I’d hoped to accomplish with this blog was not just to promote the book but to supplement it with additional material. This wouldn’t be much of a blog about the writing and publishing process if I just let the printed book speak for itself, so here we go, a chapter at a time, digging in to correct mistakes, struggle over inconsistencies, patch in missing information, and resurrect edited text.

The Guide to Writing Fantasy and Science Fiction


Thank you, author and critic Paul Witcover.

For more on what I see as the fantasy/horror disconnect, see this post: HORROR ISN’T FANTASY. THERE, I SAID IT.

Chapter 1: What is Fantasy?

My trusty editor cut this bit out of the text on page 3: “One of the cool things about being asked to write a book like this is that I get to impose my definitions on the world. Drunk with that power, I’ll maintain that . . .”

I may have been overstating that drunk with power bit—I may have been drunk, but I have no power. Anyway I think it’s only fair to admit that I’m not the sole authority on this slippery subject. Still, I had to frame the conversation somehow. I’m not the sort to go toe-to-toe with people over subtle distinctions, so we can still be friends even if you think The Lord of the Rings is High Fantasy. I have lots of friends who are patently wrong about stuff.

Maybe a note here on style, which I tried desperately to make sure was consistently applied throughout. Book titles are set in italics (i.e. The Fellowship of the Ring) while series titles are set in roman (The Lord of the Rings), even in places, like that, where a convincing case can be made that The Lord of the Rings is really one book sold in three separate parts. It also got tricky with things like Star Wars, which was the title of the original movie, but then they kinda changed that to A New Hope (but not for old purists such as me) and sometimes Star Wars is a line of novels, like Forgotten Realms, in which there are several series. At Wizards of the Coast we tried to set line names in small caps, but that’s tough because some venues, like this blog, don’t allow for small caps. . . . I’m still in search of an exact science, and this is definitely not one of them. Ugh. Anyway, no excuses—any mistakes or inconsistencies are my fault.

The copy editor challenged me on the word worldbuilding, which I’ve been using for years, but couldn’t quite point to an authoritative source, so it ended up being split in two. For what it’s worth, I still prefer worldbuilding.

At the end of the paragraph on Sword & Sorcery I originally wrote: “there’s the bad guy, when he’s decapitated, the story will be over.” But I guess they thought that was too specific.

Boy, do I wish I had more space to get deeper into the difference between Dark Fantasy and Horror. I will try to set aside a Tuesday blog post for that. The lines are so fine as to be invisible in all but the broadest realizations of each genre, and it’s definitely worthy of lots more study than I managed in the book.

In retrospect, maybe not And on and on as a separate sentence. And another Phil vs. Copy editor moment: that should be best-selling. Cringe.

Also cut from this chapter was a bunch more stuff on crossing and mixing genres that became this post: CROSS & MIX GENRES.

An awful lot of extra material was cut from the book, including a series of sidebars I called “Example World.” I go back and forth about that cut, but in the end I cut them because I really thought they needed a lot of work, and time and space just wouldn’t allow for it. But what the heck, I’ll go ahead and paste them here, as is, in the interest of full disclosure:

Welcome to Example World

Well, that’s what we’ll call it for now, anyway.

As we go, in these handy sidebars, I’ll give some examples of what I’m talking about, building a fantasy world, and a story, as we go.

For now I’ll make the decision that my example world will be a High Fantasy setting. This way we can put effort into the worldbuilding, not spare the action, and leave ourselves open to sequels aplenty to keep us writing happily into our twilight years.

See how this was cut before the copy editor got hold of it? WORLDBUILDING!

There was another sidebar after the whole part on crossing and mixing genres:

Example World: A Little Science Never Hurt Anyone

For our example world, let’s go with a mix of fantasy and science fiction. Still, we want it to be primarily fantasy, so let’s shoot for a ratio of, say, one part science to nine parts fantasy. There won’t be robots or high-tech starships, but I’d like to see fantasy characters who travel in something like, but not exactly like, airplanes, rather than on horseback or astride dragons. And maybe they could have some more enlightened ideas about the world around them than they would in a strictly medieval setting, so that the magic elements have some kind of context for contemporary readers.

If we have a character who’s a wizard, another character who’s something of a scientist who questions the wizard’s view of the universe and the power he draws from it, would be a great way to get into the details of the magic system as our scientist tries to explain it—even if he ultimately fails. We can explore questions of faith vs. evidence, tease around the edge of the famous Arthur C. Clarke quote: “Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic.”

At this point I’m just thinking about what might sound interesting, what might be worth building on, what style/sub-genre of fantasy matches with the way I tell stories.

Even just now I resisted the temptation to rewrite the sentence that begins: “If we have a character who’s a wizard, another character who’s something of a scientist . . .” to: “Having a character who’s a wizard, another character who’s something of a scientist . . .” That’s what I mean by their needing lots of help—even in the case of wonky sentence structure. This is the difference between raw text and edited text. One of the differences, anyway.

I think that covers Chapter 1, but I’d love to hear comments on my sub-genre definitions, especially stuff I missed. Have at it!

—Philip Athans

About Philip Athans

Philip Athans is the New York Times best-selling author of Annihilation and a dozen other books including The Guide to Writing Fantasy and Science Fiction, and Writing Monsters. His blog, Fantasy Author’s Handbook, ( is updated every Tuesday, and you can follow him on Twitter @PhilAthans.
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4 Responses to CHAPTER 1 ERRATA & ADDITIONAL MATERIAL: The Guide to Writing Fantasy and Science Fiction

  1. I prefer hyphenating the term “world-building” as so.

  2. Very cool of you, this idea to share the errata. I’m all for worldbuilding though I see the spelling prompt is not.

  3. Agonyzer says:

    I’m good either way. Every game and genre editor seems to have his/her own take; I like to stay flexible.

  4. daksh says:

    thanks for sharing

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