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Nov 2, 2020

How to Critique Someone’s Fantasy Story

By Pro-Critiquer Briana W.

Writing fantasy means vaulting over pitfalls unique to the genre. Let’s break down how you can best help your critique partner clear the gap! 

1) Character 

Fantasy characters are a diverse bunch, ranging from golden boy ghoul-hunters to megalomaniacs chasing ambition at any cost. Whatever their motivation, it should keep the reader flipping pages. As a critique partner, examine main characters to ensure they’re well-rounded. They should have strengths, flaws, and strong motivation propelling their actions.

Fantasy often relies on multiple points of view; each should be engaging enough that readers aren’t avoiding chapters when their least favorite character pops up. 

You can tell me you’ve never skipped a chapter in any A Song of Ice and Fire book. 

I just won’t believe you.  

2) Setting 

Laurie J. Marks’ Fire Logic has seven invented nouns and names in the book’s opening page. I snapped it shut, set it down, and had to talk myself into trying it again. (Turns out, I ended up enjoying it a lot.) Nothing is quite as off-putting as a story littered with tongue-tying jargon and apostrophes strewn about like they came pouring out of a saltshaker. 

Worldbuilding is one of the most appealing elements of fantasy. Help your critique partner get it right! With an outside eye, you have the advantage of discerning what information is relevant when. Advise your partner on distributing their worldbuilding so it’s a mix of fantastical and familiar. 

3) Plot 

Fantasy plots can be among the most intricate and far-reaching of any genre. If you’re an attentive reader and a story still loses you, your partner’s plotting might need some tender loving care. 

Have a dialogue with your partner about getting back to basics. Isolate the essentials of conflict: inciting incident, obstacles, climax, and resolution. If characters and events can be extracted without harm to the story, they’re nonessential. As a critique partner, you have enough distance from a project to differentiate ingredients from dressing. Is the causality in the storytelling clear? Have the stakes been sufficiently raised? Help your partner focus on these aspects, rather than the protagonist’s cousin’s friend’s love scandal. 

4) Prose 

Fantasy writers may gravitate to the style of classics they grew up reading; however, drawing too much from the well of what’s been done can make for generic and wordy writing. Modern-day fantasy excels on the backs of unique characters and their voices. 

The stoic hero is a classic archetype, but what makes them stoic? Is it a jaw locked against an outpouring of rage? Social anxiety? Are they distracted by nihilistic arguments with the god inside their head? Passion, fear, and humor are just a few emotions that strengthen a character’s voice. Helping your partner craft informed points of view will address the root of overwritten, purple prose. 

5) Reaction

After all the analytical stuff is done, don’t forget to approach the story as a reader. Your reactions matter! Which parts were interesting or boring? What dialogue made you grin or cringe? Which characters were most relatable? Your personal experience can be just as valuable as your critical breakdown. 


Briana W. knew she wanted to be an author since middle school. Her goal is to write gripping fantasy stories with LGBTQ+ representation. She received her joint BA in English and Creative Writing from the University of Winchester in England. She loves editing a variety of genres, especially fantasy and science fiction. Her specialties include critical theory, worldbuilding, interactive fiction, and LGBTQ+ sensitivity reading.   

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