The goal in any fictional, fantasy writing is to create an unreally real experience for the reader. Think of the stories that really stuck with you, the characters that are closest to your heart. Now think of the things that made those characters, those stories really stand apart from the rest.
For most of you, the biggest thing will be the connection. You feel a tie to the character, to the situation, and you feel their ups and downs more distinctly.
Think of a modern-day patriot, shipped off to do a tour in Iraq. Despite the abundance of commercial jobs he could get, most of them easier and better paying, this soldier has chosen to put his life on the line to protect his country. These are the men who fight and die, not because they have to, not because they want to, but because they believe it is the right thing to do.
In a fantasy setting, you can have the same thing: a soldier, a man who could be doing numerous other things, but chooses to serve his country or his people, chooses to put his life on the line for something important to him. The difference lies in that, overlying that identical feeling of patriotism or heroism, this man uses a powerful sword to fend off a horde of monsters, while in the back lines there are casters providing cover fire.
That, in essence is what makes fiction, what makes fantasy: realistic feelings, reactions, and choices in a world or situation that is not so realistic.
The intent is to make a story feel real so that the reader is drawn into the world, and in truly great examples, to make the reader wonder, could it be? Achieving this unreally real experience requires a blending of the right characters, an immersive world, and a strong yet fluid plot.
People are flawed and yet, throughout time, there have always been those who, big or small, have fought past those flaws, overcome their weaknesses, persevered through adversity, and led on through trials. People are not perfect, and they don’t have to be to make the right choices. Your characters should show this, show realistic faults, feel pain and pressure. How do they react? Are they swept along or do they struggle onward? Your characters have to relate to your readers, remind them of things they’ve felt or struggled through themselves, make them think of people they’ve known, hated, or cared about. Your characters should be people, rather than paragons of all things good or avatars of everything that is evil.
Our own world is filled with history, with laws of morality and laws of science, culture that fills libraries and spreads across many countries. Every world, even one of your own creation, should be filled with similar depth, with history, rules, laws, physics, people, and places, and if anyone should know these things it’s you, the author. Whether or not things would make sense here in our world, in your world new rules apply. Staying consistent to such rules will make your world come alive in a way that pulls the reader in as they seek to understand, to know and to predict.
Flow is one of the most often-overlooked and yet very important aspects of writing. Fluidity, cohesiveness, constancy. Characters should be moving forward always as they pass through your world, whether emotionally, physically, or spiritually. The plot of your world need not always be so straightforward as seeking the holy artifact at the bottom of the catacombs, nor should the ultimate goal supersede all other needs and events. Life is chaotic and the only certainty in any goal is that you will have to detour many times and you may never travel to your original destination. Even knowing that, your travels through life, through adversity, are always connected by a single thread, always a part of the same whole. It should be the same in your writing, where the plot is always there, always significant, and yet not always at the forefront. Side stories need to always move the plot forward even as they give readers a break from it.
Blend the real with the unreal.