How to Write a Fantasy Short Story

It’s important to know the essential elements of how to write a fantasy short story if it’s a genre that you aim to work within. Whether you have an idea already or if you’ve read one you like and want to try creating one yourself, this blog will outline the key points to take into consideration.

Understand that you’re not writing a fantasy epic

While most famous examples of fantasy literature from recent years include dense tomes of 500+ pages with multiple books in the series, a short story, unsurprisingly, demands brevity.

While you can take inspiration from your favourite series, whether that’s A Song of Ice and Fire or Discworld, short stories require a different approach to storytelling.

A German fairytale castle surrounded by mist with mountains in the background

Don’t condense an epic story into a shorter form

Trying to recreate the breadth and depth of an epic fantasy series in terms of the scale of its worldbuilding and plotlines will only end in failure. Knowing how to write a fantasy short story is a skill that’s different to novel writing, although there are still elements of fantasy that you’ll need to familiarise yourself with. 

Stick to one core idea

The best way to keep a short story from becoming too long and unravelling into countless different threads that leave you wanting to convert it into a novel is by picking one key idea and sticking with it.

Decide what the topic will be and dive deep into it. But as you plan or write, always have in your mind how each scene or even paragraph builds into that one topic. This idea could be an aspect of your character, a particular metaphor, or a distinct theme.

Choose a theme

Your theme should be related to the one core idea. It should inform every aspect of your story, from the backstories and decisions of characters, to the setting and aspects of the worldbuilding that you focus on. 

Importantly, the plot itself should be built around this theme, and the way you conclude must tie into what you want to say about it.

Know how to worldbuild

Magical, awe-inspiring, unique worlds are characteristic of the fantasy genre, and with fantasy short stories you still need to know how to do effective worldbuilding. This can be even more difficult when you have a smaller word count to work with.

With no room for a prologue, you need to establish the details of your world as your story develops. Don’t info-dump at the beginning. This is sloppy and makes for poor story-telling. Details should arise naturally when necessary.

Moreover, what you describe is as important as what you leave unsaid. Giving the reader glimpses of a fantastical world is enough for them to fill in the gaps or wonder about what else could be going in the background of the story, how the characters got where they are, or what the history of a certain location is. 

Stories can be set in our own world

Don’t forget, just because you’re writing a fantasy short story doesn’t mean it needs to be set in a completely fantasy world. Often there might simply be fantastical or supernatural elements within our ordinary world, or a magical group of people living alongside us (like in Harry Potter).

This doesn’t mean that worldbuilding isn’t important. Arguably, using our known world gives a useful jumping off point to bring the reader into a new unknown.

Focus on the characters

Like any story, characters are key to making it interesting. No matter how fascinating your worldbuilding might seem to you, readers won’t care unless the characters are worth caring about.

Again, it’s important to remember the limitations of the short story format. Having a large cast of characters will become unwieldy and, without the room to develop them all, they’re unlikely to have much depth.

So, focus on a smaller group of characters. Even just two or three works well to tell a compelling story, and in some cases you might just have a sole protagonist, depending on what story you’re telling.

Be familiar with the standard methods of storytelling

Knowing how to write a fantasy short story is, at the end of the day, just like knowing how to write any story. Finding out how to improve your writing skills, as well as understanding the fundamentals of storytelling, will help you craft your own tale.

This can even be as simple as understanding the fundamentals: how to write a strong beginning, middle, and end. Most important is the conflict of your story. This is what drives the plot forward and directs how your characters act.

The beginning, crucially, needs to have a hook to get the reader immediately interested and promise them that the rest of the story will be worth reading. For the ending, it’s common with short stories to have a final twist, although this isn’t necessary. Your conclusion should at least be satisfying in how it ties together your core idea, theme, and characters.

Know the difference between fantasy and magical realism

If you’re interested in writing fantasy short stories, it’s important to know the difference between fantasy and magical realism.

Fantasy is seen by some as an umbrella term for any story with fantastical or magical elements. Magical realism is more a genre or style that works in magical, mystical, or supernatural aspects into an otherwise realistic setting.

Franz Kafka’s Metamorphosis is a prime example of a magical realist short story. The central metamorphosis is certainly an instance of something seemingly magical, but the rest of the story is based in a more mundane, familial setting with a heavier focus on realism.

Read examples of fantasy short stories

The best way to find out how to write fantasy short stories is by reading them. This will allow you to get familiarised with how the genre can be worked effectively into a shorter format, while also setting out potential templates you can use for your own storytelling.

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Fantasy short story examples

There are many fantasy short stories you can discover online, from tales hundreds of years old to more contemporary pieces of fiction. Here are a few examples:

  • Hans Christian Andersen – ‘The Snow Queen’
  • Jorge Luis Borges – ‘The Circular Ruins’
  • Andrzej Sapkowski – The Last Wish
  • Ursula K. Le Guin – ‘The Ones Who Walk Away from Omelas’
  • Angela Carter – most stories in ‘The Bloody Chamber’

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