I’ve been asked before what I thought was the most important thing every writer should possess, and I’ve given various answers. Those answers have ranged from the practical (a laptop) to the more-or-less nonsensical (a “thick skin”), but I’ve been thinking about that question a bit more lately and I think I may have stumbled upon the one thing every writer absolutely must have, and that is intellectual curiosity.

Regardless of the genre of fiction you’re writing, in order to craft compelling prose you have to be able to retain and process information. A fiction writer truly has to be a jack-of-all-trades. You have to know a little bit about, well . . . everything. You never know where your fiction is going to lead you, and just guessing, or making it up as you go along, simply isn’t going to be good enough.

With fantasy, in particular, you might think, Hey, I’m making up the entire world from scratch, what do I need to research?

The answer to that is lots of things, and there’s no way for me to give you a complete list. But here are some examples from my own writing…

Read the rest in…

Editor and author Philip Athans offers hands on advice for authors of fantasy, science fiction, horror, and fiction in general in this collection of 58 revised and expanded essays from the first five years of his long-running weekly blog, Fantasy Author’s Handbook.


—Philip Athans


Follow me on Twitter @PhilAthans

Link up with me on LinkedIn

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Find me at PublishersMarketplace

Or contact me for editing, coaching, ghostwriting, and more at Athans & Associates Creative Consulting.


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, (https://fantasyhandbook.wordpress.com/) is updated every Tuesday, and you can follow him on Twitter @PhilAthans.
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  1. When you wrote, “I know it can make being around me irritating sometimes, especially my obscure references that no one but me seems to understand, let alone find hilarious,” I felt kinship with you. That has been my lot in life, too. I conduct training seminars and often toss quotes and odd facts into my instruction. I’m always curious to see whose eyes will light up in recognition. Alas, very few people realize what I’m doing. They must lead some very boring lives!

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  5. thepencilneck says:

    I’m a glutton for learning. I loved being in college when I was younger. Recently, I’ve become addicted to things like Coursera, The Great Courses, and Udemy. I’m creating an entire series based in an alternate Republican Rome because I’ve taken so many courses on Roman and Mediterranean history at this point. 🙂

    I took a class on Roman Architecture where I got to design a Roman city.

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