Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Epic/High Fantasy

My favorite genre to read when I was in high school was Epic Fantasy. Dragonlance series, well 3 of the books because by the time I heard there was a 4th in that particular series I was already done and felt it finished well after book 3. I read 3 books in Robert Jordan's series (okay, maybe a slight trend but I do intend to finish the whole series at some point). I loved them. Epic fantasy rules in my opinion.

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What is Epic/High Fantasy? Why combine the two words?
Most consider them interchangeable and web searches to define them come up with pages that use one or the other first but refer to both as the same thing.
Epic/High Fantasy is a subgenre often set in invented or parallel worlds where the heroes have an adventure of epic proportions. Is often linked to sword and sorcery, though not all sword and sorcery is epic/high fantasy. There are usually different species along with humans that have enough humanity to them that they will work as a character, though an all human cast is possible. High fantasy can be in reference to the type of story, setting or the characters while Epic means the story is... Epic.

Don't often see first person in epic fantasy, at least not as often as some of the other subgenres like Urban Fantasy or Paranormal Romance. And it's possible to have more than 2 main characters, although they will all have different degrees of importance. While this may be offputting for some, it also allows for people to root for different characters and read about them for long enough sections of book to keep that interest (and not just the love triangle, which one will the MC pick type of rooting for a character).

Also, because the story lines are epic, books in this subgenre are often series. This is good and bad in a few different ways. Series are popular right now, maybe not epic fantasy but still, because people enjoy following the character they grow to love through more than one book. If the story is really epic then it would be one really long long book (even more so than they already are. Scary huh?). Series allows for reasonable page counts per book. But sometimes the series last a little too long. Even I'll admit 15 books in a single series is a bit much.

There can be problems with the genre. Too many books for a single series is one of them, which can lead to another problem. Formulaic writing. While having a template for novels can work for some veteran writers, it can be hard to keep an epic series going without falling into some type of pattern that some readers may not appreciate. Epic/high fantasy is a subgenre with a strong past making some believe that innovation is unnecessary because what works has already been determined. But there is still room for originality in new novels, which I hope occurs because when I'm not doing research reading in other subgenres I want to read new epic/high fantasy.

Instead of listing books to read for this genre (just look up epic or high fantasy in google, amazon or barnes and noble), I think it will be fun to post the "formula" that is used on a few different web sites to showcase how originality is needed even in epic/high fantasy. I got the so called formula from Will Kalif, posted on

"The formula for success:

Create a bunch of interesting non human characters like orcs, dragons, elves or dwarves of course your hero should be human or nearly human

Put them in a fantastical world filled with magic and secret places

Open up your novel with something exciting to get the reader hooked

Keep the action moving - insert a series of small obstacles that need to be overcome

foreshadow something really big that will happen (won't happen in this novel though -if it ever happens at all)

Come up with two big things that will happen and when they are resolved they cancel each other out so the plot hasn't advanced at all

Make a big lead up to the next novel (promise the moon)

Repeat steps 3-7 in the next novel

Before you follow this formula (Which is guaranteed to make you a wealthy and successful novelist in less than 30 days) why don’t you stop and think about why you want to write epic fantasy."

Notice how a couple of them are general writing rules (like start the novel with a hook and keep the action moving cause doing nothing for long books is boring)?  If not, you have now.

Now I'll admit something. Someone may wonder, if Epic/High fantasy is my favorite to read why am I not writing in it? I'm a little intimidated. I have an idea for a series (not 10 or more books, I promise) and it was one of the first ideas I've had for a novel. Started out historical fiction, so yeah, it has evolved but the story hasn't changed in the last five years. While I have the idea, I'm just not sure if my skills are up to par with writing an epic/high fantasy, though it is my goal to one day write a novel with elves and mages in it. Plus, I have all those other pesky novels that I've chosen to write first (though in some way the mutant series can be viewed as epic in the grande scope of it all). So, I hope to write epic/high fantasy in the future.

What about you? Do you read epic/high fantasy?
Anyone write it?


Kristie Cook said...

Nice info. I haven't read much in this genre, although Lord of the Rings is the epitome and I loved it. I guess even reading it is intimidating to me. They often a lot more brain cells than other fantasy subgenres because you have to understand the whole new world. Plus, like you said, they often take a commitment to get through all the books.

I'm deathly afraid to write it, too, because it is creating a whole new world. Which means everything from government to economy (what kind of money do they use?) to lifestyles. Lots of rules that once you set, you have to stick to. As I started the third book of my Soul Savers series, though, I realize I have to deal with a lot of that anyway. It's going to be a challenging but fun ride.

Good luck with yours!

Summer Ross said...

I'm not big fan of epics lol. fantasy yes, but not epic...

Ariana Richards said...

I loved Dragonlance books - the characters were awesome :-D

I think one thing that sets high fantasy apart from more modern iterations of fantasy is that the worlds are frequently a character unto themselves. Middle-Earth, for instance. So in order to write high fantasy, being a fantastic world-builder helps. It's not neccessary, I'm just saying...^_^

Dawn Embers said...

Kristie - Thanks. I never read Lord of the Rings. I just couldn't get into the Hobbit and didn't try the others. The first subgenre I've had to do worldbuilding in is Steampunk. I like the idea of not having it in this world because that is part of the fun in fantasy for me.

Summer Ross - I know a few people who aren't fans of it. For me, it's one of the better fantasy subgenres but then I don't care for the whole vampire paranormal types. Give me elves any day.

Arianna - They did have some great characters. The worlds can be very important to the story and it's just fun to have the different species and mixes to discuss issues like "human" rights.

J.C. Martin said...

Interesting article! I've read some Lord of the Rings and a bit of Harry Potter, though I'm not sure if the latter qualifies as Epic Fantasy. But I do enjoy playing RPG video games, and they are definitely Fantasy, and some of the storylines are Epic enough! I also have an idea for a Fantasy trilogy but other projects have priority at the moment. Just too scared to try a series as an unpublished writer. Probably too risky for any publisher/agent to take on!

Shame you missed my blogfest because of a busy day. Happy belated birthday anyway! :D

Dawn Embers said...

J.C. - I'm sad I missed the blogfest. Thanks for the belated wishes. I'm not sure about HP either but I've never read it. I'm unsure about a full on epic but most my other stories are series too even if not epic. Have a hard time keeping the story to one standalone.