How do fantasy writers create a fantasy world tangible for readers? It doesn't matter if you are writing Contemporary Fantasy, Epic or Heroic Fantasy, Historical Fantasy, Mythic Fantasy, Humorous Fantasy or Science Fantasy--every fantasy story must include the following:
Characters and Plot
Characters and plot are introduced through dialog and action. Although the fantasy genre earns its label through fantastic settins in otherworldly realms where magical ingredients factor in, without believable characters and an interesting plot you would not have a story. Characters must capture the readers interest and usher them into the magical realm--without the character and without the plot, no one will care about the world no matter how awesome.
Element of Surprise
Fantasy authors must hook the reader at the beginning of the story. Introduce information readers can identify with, something that actively gets them involved. Dialog and/or action introduces a character or characters involved in a situation that gives the reader enough to make them want more. Incorporating the element of the unknown can start here. Weave a thread of information about something that readers don't immediately understand. Make it interesting and the reader continues on the quest of discovery. Keep the quest interesting by leaving enough enticing breadcrubms to lead them through the story. For example, consider the opening paragraph of Donna Sundblad's Windwalker
"Fires burned in the bellies of small stone statues forming a circle within the Kiva. An orange glow warmed the chamber to the center of the gathering. In the back of the crowded cave, Awena sat against the wall resting her arm across her stomach. The baby kicked. Soon, her life with Cedrick would change. What kind of world would their child find? Cedrick's talk of fulfilled prophecies and the cycle of death scared her."
In this opening paragraph, readers can identify with having hope for an unborn child and the fear of death. What does it mean for these characters?
Don't bog down your first paragraphs with telling description. Instead, introduce descriptive elements as the story unfolds. This way they make an impact on the reader because they experience them rather than hear about them. Let the reader see the world through the character's eyes.
Learning From the Character's POV
A great fantasy world alone does not create a good story. It's a good start--a place for the story to evolve--but without interesting characters to bring the world to life, it will lie one-dementional among the unread pages of your manuscript. Use your characters to open up your new fantasy world to the reader's imagination. Let them see through the eyes of your characters. If trees can walk, let the reader experience it first hand through the character's viewpoint. Engage the reader and keep them reading--keep them walking in the character's shoes.