I am thinking about writing a work on fantasy fiction (casually, mostly for my own entertainment). Would the style of a memoir be suitable?

More specifically, the writing would be the personal account of a fictional character on his experiences of the past.

The fantasy part would be this: the world is like the one we have, up until 2015, when magic "invaded" it. A bunch of people died and an apocalypse started, the narrator struggles to survive in the post-apocalyptic, magical world. The memoir is written after everything got better.

My question is, is there any obvious problem with this style for a fantasy fiction novel? For example, would there be many situations where it would be natural for the character to talk about things involving magic but the reader may not know enough background for the conversation to make sense? Also, would the fact that the writing is a memoir suggest to the reader that no matter how intense things get, the narrator will survive, and thus removing the tension and excitement? If so, is there any way to achieve those effects in this style?


3 Answers 3


Writing a memoir style fantasy story could work well, if you follow a few guidelines.

  1. Write it as though the main character intends to explain the magic to someone who doesn't understand it. For instance, someone born in the new peaceful age who wasn't around for the introduction of the magic and therefore might require an explanation.

  2. Create suspense. You mentioned that this could be difficult due to the fact that the protagonist clearly survives. However, you can use the death of his friends and family as well as some disability he gained from his experiences which is not mentioned at the beginning. One other option could simply be shocking scenarios (Strange creatures, Genocide, etc)

Remember that you can mention something and explain it later. Hope that helps.

  • If my answer can be at all improved or something isn't clear, then by all means ask.
    – Ferus Olin
    Commented May 26, 2016 at 22:19

It can work, and quite well. The Ciaphas Cain series (Warhammer 40k) does this to a degree.

From the wiki stub:

The novels are presented as Cain's personal and often rambling notes. After his death, a third party edited them into a more coherent form, interspersed them with footnotes or snippets of other accounts where Cain's first-person (and self-centered) perspective does not provide sufficient context, and made them available for use by the Holy Inquisition. This editor is revealed over the course of the first account to be Inquisitor Amberley Vail of the Ordo Xenos, Cain's long-time collaborator and herself a prominent figure in the accounts

Having the knowledge that the main protagonist lives isn't the only way to provide tension. How do they survive? What do they lose? Who do they lose? all form a part of the story.

It's like in the Hobbit and Lord of the Rings - you know that Bilbo and Frodo survive, that it is "their story" that they are telling. It doesn't make it any less captivating.

It also, I find, allows you to have a much more interesting perspective - how much does the main characters' opinions of themselves differ from the perception of others (something the Cain books do quite well - he sees himself as a coward, largely lazy and a hero only by circumstance - albeit one happy to claim the 'benefits' that come with it - as opposed to being viewed as a brave, heroic figure willing to do everything possible to ensure victory by nearly everyone else).


This style has been used in fantasy novels and series before to a extent. Mostly written by either a third party or as a really older version of the main or side characters.

Some of the best examples of this are -

  • The Chronicles of Master Li and Number Ten Ox by Barry Hughart (They are written from Number Ten Ox's POV at he records the adventures at some later and undated point in time)

  • Duncton Chronicles by William Horwood (Points of the story are written by a scribe recalling the events)

  • A Natural History of Dragons ((Memoir by Lady Trent) by Marie Brennan (Written from the POV of Lady Trent)

So it is a well used style if only to a degree...

As long as the writing is good then matter of keeping the interest of your readers isn't an issue (when going into a series it is a for gone collusion that the main guys will be with you until the last book (except if the series is GoT))

As for talking bout magic... Have the character explain himself, like one does when talking things out to make sense to oneself. This is his recording of events... have him say "Little did I know so and so worked like so at the time but if I had so and so event would not have happened" or something like that.

  • Anyone who mentions Barry Hughart's fantasies deserves all the kudos they can get. Pity there were only three. His intention was a sequence of eight books. Being dead slows down the best of writers. Excellent choice of examples. I have the first Lady Trent novel on Mount Waiting To be Read.
    – a4android
    Commented Sep 26, 2020 at 1:42

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service and acknowledge you have read our privacy policy.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.