Guest Post: Gail Z. Martin – Writing an Epic #Fantasy Series

Gail Z MartinUnleaded: 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

 


Question of the Day: Are you a Planner or a Pantser? How did you discover this? #writing

Simple enough:  Are you a planner or a pantser?  Or a little of both?  When or how? Tell us a little more about it.

The question comes up often enough that sometimes we can’t help but roll our eyes. But understanding your own process and what works for you and how it works is probably one of those key lessons that most writers end up learning the hard way.

So…which are you?  How did you come to the realization? How would you help someone else “figure it out?” Do you just “know?”  If it is a bit of both, how do you know which to use when?  Is it all just a matter of trial and error?

For inspiration/explanation, I’ve included the descriptions/info from NaNoWriMo.org’s Prep pages.

 

 NaNoWriMoplanner_badge

You believe in rigorous preparation.

You’ll spend the months before November carefully fleshing out characters, building worlds, and plotting your story.

On November 1, you’ll have an outline—or at least lots of helpful notes

NaNoWriMopantsher_badge

You believe in hardcore spontaneity.

You’ll spend the months before November stocking up on inspiration and mayyybe a vague idea or two (if you’re ambitious).

On November 1, you’ll have a blank document and your imagination

 

So, tell us who you are. Are you a planner or a pantser?


National Novel Writing Month is Almost Upon Us (#NaNoWriMo)

Are you ready?

National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo), either you love it or you hate it.  NaNoWriMo is an annual creative writing challenge. It challenges participants to write 50,000 words of a new novel from November 1 until the deadline at 11:59PM on November 30. So approximately 1,667 words per day. The goal of NaNoWriMo is to get people writing and keep them motivated throughout the process.  It turns what is a lonely “some day” project to a social, fun, and interactive activity.  Several NaNo novels have been edited and published. Several NaNo novels are awful but the key concept of shared creative mutually-supportive fun is one that almost everyone who participates enjoys.

According to Wikipedia:

Since 2006, roughly 100 NaNoWriMo novels have been published via traditional publishing houses. Many more have been published by smaller presses or self-published. Some notable titles include:

  • Water for Elephants by Sara Gruen, published by Algonquin Books of Chapel Hill
  • The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern, published by Doubleday
  • Persistence of Memory by Amelia Atwater-Rhodes, published by Delacorte Press
  • Fangirl by Rainbow Rowell, published by St. Martin’s Press
  • Anna and the French Kiss by Stephanie Perkins, published by Dutton Juvenile
  • The Darwin Elevator by Jason M. Hough, published by Del Ray Books

A pretty impressive list.

So far, the vast majority of the Cat Vacuuming Society Writing Group of Northern Virginia (say that fast 3 times) will be participating in some way.  No, not all of us can or will complete a novel, but the idea of committing the month to rededicating ourselves to writing, and using the enthusiasm of NaNoWriMo as a boost is too tempting to ignore.

Rather than just troll the Internet, I decided to go straight to the source – the NaNoWriMo website.  Below is their collection of lovely short articles for Preparing for NaNo Success.  They’re a quick read and should get everyone off to a great start.

Preparing for NaNo Success

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Characters and World-Building

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Plot and Conflict

 

So…let’s do this!  Good luck, everyone.

NaNoWriMoParticipant-2014-Web-Banner


Video Saturday – More Khaled Hosseini (On #character, female pov, and using real events)

After earlier this month, I promised a couple more videos from author Khaled Hosseini, author of The Kite Runner , A Thousand Splendid Suns and most recently And the Mountains Echoed.  This week’s videos are more specific to writing.

ON BECOMING A WRITER

 

ON MAKING CHARACTER AND EVENT CHOICES

 

ON USING REAL PEOPLE AND EVENTS

 

ON WRITING FROM THE FEMALE POINT OF VIEW

 

 

 


Video Saturday – Becoming a #Writer: The Story of Khaled Hosseini

KhaledHossein-Elena-Seibert-228x300The Story of Khaled Hosseini. Special thanks to HECTV-St. Louis for this video.

The Kite Runner made him famous and changed his life. A Thousand Splendid Suns and his most recent book And the Mountains Echoed solidified his place among some of the most well-respected authors.

In this one on one conversation, Hosseini tells us why he avoids Hollywood endings in his novels, how he often “takes things” from people for his writing and what advice he would offer aspiring novelists.

Plus, learn about his childhood and writing inspirations. This is an in-depth, captivating interview that will have you laughing at the author’s poignant stories. Plus, hear how he answers some of his biggest fans’ questions.”

My comments are that he really is a captivating and humble man and a great interview. Actually, it was awesome enough I think you’ll find a couple of other videos of him showing up next week! Stay tuned!


Video Saturday (not quite) – Writing Advice, or more truthfully #Writing Infographic

Now THIS is a Writer’s Retreat I’d love to explore!

Writers Restreat Graphic

And once again this amazing image is brought to you by Grant Snider. (Why is it I love his stuff so much? Oh yeah, he’s brilliantly talented!)

 


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