Five Lessons J.R.R. Tolkien Taught Me about Fantasy Writing

Paige FarnworthAuthor: Paige Farnworth



Anyone who knows me knows that J.R.R. Tolkien rocks my socks off. Author living or dead I’d most like to meet? Tolkien. Man whose writing I’d be most likely to tattoo on my body? Tolkien. Who cries almost every time she reads or watches The Lord of the Rings? This girl. Who keeps more than one copy of The Hobbit above her bed? This girl. Who is unashamedly likely to name her future children after Tolkien and his work? This girl. To state it simply: I admire the man, his life, and the written work he has produced.

Tolkien has taught me many things over the years. His writing has taught me wonderful things about life, faith, hope, and friendship. As a writer and a lover of all things fantasy, it is no surprise that I look to Tolkien for fantasy inspiration in my own writing.

If you have ever tried to write fantasy, you know the beautiful, fun, and challenging task that it is. You have wonderful creative freedom, but sometimes writing fantasy can be a bit overwhelming. When I feel this way or when I’m starting a new writing project, I look to good ol’ Tolkien to gain some inspiration. So, without further ado, here are five basic lessons J.R.R. Tolkien has taught me about fantasy writing.

1. The possibilities are endless!  

You want to make up your own world? Go for it. Write your own language? Sure. Write in a way that makes the impossible possible? Do it. Create whatever fantastical scenario you want. You are not limited to our reality. You don’t have to be totally original all the time either. Borrow events or characters from history, personal experience, and dreams to give you some inspiration. Don’t be intimidated. Don’t be a copy of someone else.  It’s YOUR world. Do what you will with it.

2. It’s all in the details

With such fantastic possibilities and new worlds to create and explore, details are a must. When you let the reader know about the little things, the big things will make more sense and hold more meaning.  Make the little things the big things.

Along with this, it is important to keep in mind that detailed writing requires patience. Don’t rush your writing. Don’t limit yourself. If you’ve had an idea of a fantasy story on your mind for a while now, don’t give up on it just because you can’t get it done. Keep working on it. As Tolkien has showed us, great art takes time.

3. Poetry is power

Nobody rocks the balance of poetry and prose quite like my man Tolkien. Not only are some of his most famous quotes from his works of poetry in the Lord of the Rings, but he has stated that writing poetry often led him to great prose. Poetry can be an inspiration for your fantasy writing, and including some in your writing might just take your work to the next level as well!

4. We get by with a little help from our friends

C.S. Lewis, anyone? The friendship between J.R.R. Tolkien and C.S. Lewis is one I am incredibly jealous of. I mean, how cool were they? C.S. Lewis had Tolkien’s back and encouraged him in his writing. He urged him to do better and write and rewrite until he wrote great things, not just good things. Having a friend to not only constantly encourage you to not give up, but to give you constructive criticism will ensure that your writing will flourish.

5. Satisfaction not guaranteed

A writer of any genre will be critical of their work. Maybe overly so. It is not uncommon to hear a writer insist that “it’s just not done/ready yet” or to feel unsatisfied with their finished project.  Even Tolkien looked back on The Lord of the Rings in this manner. You may look back and think “I could have done ________ better”, “Why did I write that?”, “It still needs______”, or “I wish I could have included everything I originally intended to”.  Our writing is our baby, and although it is good for us to nurture it for a long time, it is also important to see if it can stand on its own. It’s okay to let go. It’s okay to not think of it as your best work. Your writing may still speak volumes to someone else. So share it.

Go forth, my creative fantasy writers, and write to your little heart’s content. And whenever you’re in need of some inspiration, pick up the great fantasy works of J.R.R. Tolkien.