Unleaded: Fuel for Writers is pleased to host Gail Z. Martin as our Guest Blogger for Friday, October 31st, 2014, as part of her Day of the Dead Series. And my apologies for being late in getting this up on the website!. Gail was kind enough to give us a truly “epic” post on writing epic fantasy (pun intended). Obviously, from the tone of the piece you can tell Gail really enjoys writing epic fantasy. There are some great tidbits of in here about what it takes to make fantastic epic world-spanning story and a little reminder of why so many of us love this specific genre.
Writing an Epic Fantasy Series
Big fat fantasy. Chihuahua killers. Bricks. Whatever you call them, epic fantasies are sprawling, complicated, richly detailed and, well, thick.
What does it take to create an epic fantasy world? How is the world building different from other types of fantasy. And how the heck do you keep a huge cast of characters and a plot that might span continents or generations straight?
Welcome to the world of epic fantasy. I fell in love with epic fantasy when I read Lord of the Rings, and then the Mary Stuart books about Merlin and Katherine Kurtz’s Deryni series. The size of the books were one of the drawing points. I liked the fact that the world in the books felt big enough to move around in, filled with surprises, with plenty to explore. Or, as I often explain on panels at conventions, urban fantasy lets you move in with a rollerbag suitcase. Epic fantasy lets you move in with a steamer trunk and stay a while.
Creating an epic fantasy world means that you, the author, get to move in before anyone else and find your way around. You decide the time period, the level of technology, the type of trade and commerce, the system of government—plenty of details that will ultimately affect your plot and characters. The world building in epic fantasy is more demanding because you’re usually creating the world from scratch. Sure, you may loosely base your story on a real-world war or dynasty, but by virtue of being epic fantasy and not alternative history, you get to make up how your world works.
World building for epic fantasy usually also involves magic. You get to set the rules for how your magical system works, who has magic and who doesn’t, and what the cost is for using magic. You might get to invent religions, gods and goddesses as well, and figure out what role these play for your characters and in how your world is set up. If there are supernatural creatures like elves, ghosts, vampires, shapeshifters, witches, or mages, it’s up to you to figure out where they live, what relationship they have with your characters, and what connection they have to your plot.
Epic books are “epic” because of their scope. These aren’t drawing room dramas. To be a true epic fantasy, the story usually involves a threat to one or more kingdoms, requires big magic and big battles, and has larger-than-life characters as its heroes and villains. Not only is this a challenge with the amount and detail of world building, but it also requires a lot of people to fill up that world. Epic fantasy tends to focus on an ensemble cast, where there is a main character and an inner circle of prominent secondary characters (think about The Fellowship of the Ring), and then there are the servants, inn keepers, soldiers, guards, and others who fill out the world and make it feel real and inhabited.
Most epic fantasy authors have some kind of system that works for them to keep it all straight. Some people compile huge binders full of history, character sheets and descriptions. Others develop lists to make sure names get spelled right and physical characteristics like hair and eye color don’t switch back and forth. There’s no wrong way to develop your system, so long as it works for you.
As for the plot, if you’re planning from the start for the story to span multiple books, start out by creating an outline for the major story arc, the one that will require several books to resolve. For example, in Lord of the Rings, destroying the One Ring was the major story arc. But each of the books had their own arc as well. The Fellowship of the Ring was about identifying the threat and deciding to destroy the ring, and then creating the small group charged with that task. The Two Towers focused on the dangers along the way, the breaking of the Fellowship and Frodo’s choice to head for Mordor with Sam, and the gathering of allies and enemies. The Return of the King was the story of the multiple fronts of the war against Sauron as well as Frodo’s journey into Mount Doom and the aftermath.
You have to know where your grand tale ultimately needs to end up in order to properly plan out the journey. Having a clear idea of the end result will help you find the natural segments to split the big story into several smaller portions, each with their own arc yet part of the whole. Unlike in urban fantasy, where a main character may have a series of stand-alone adventures that are often loosely linked together, multi-book epic fantasy series tend to tell a single main story that carries over from book to book. That’s why it’s so important to have the end of your story in mind before you start, so that you can lay the foundation, create foreshadowing and build toward a big denouement.
For me, writing epic fantasy is fun because it gives you the chance to mentally settle into a story and live there for a while. A big thick book will provide company for several night’s reading, while a shorter book might be finished in an evening. In a sense, epic fantasy is the reading equivalent of binge-watching a favorite series, because once you get into the story, you don’t have to leave for a long time!
My Days of the Dead blog tour runs through October 31 with never-before-seen cover art, brand new excerpts from upcoming books and recent short stories, interviews, guest blog posts, giveaways and more! Plus, I’ll be including extra excerpt links for stories and books by author friends of mine. And, a special 50% off discount from Double-Dragon ebooks! You’ve got to visit the participating sites to get the goodies, just like Trick or Treat! Details here: www. AscendantKingdoms.com
Trick or Treat: Enjoy an excerpt from The Summoner, Book One in my Chronicles of the Necromancer series here: http://www.ascendantkingdoms.com/books/chronicles-of-the-necromancer/the-summoner/the-summoner-chapter-one-2/
And a bonus excerpt from Bounty Hunter, one of my Jonmarc Vahanian Adventure short stories here: http://www.ascendantkingdoms.com/short-stories-and-more/the-jonmarc-vahanian-adventures/bounty-hunter/excerpt-from-bounty-hunter/
And a second bonus excerpt from The Cauldron by my friend Jean Rabe here: http://www.wattpad.com/story/21546241-the-cauldron-by-jean-rabe