Jill Williamson is a chocolate loving, daydreaming, creator of kingdoms. She writes weird books in lots of weird genres like fantasy (Blood of Kings and Kinsman Chronicles), science fiction (Replication), and dystopian (The Safe Lands trilogy). She's currently writing a post-apocalyptic book with all of you called THIRST in conjunction with the #WeWriteBooks series.
Find Jill on Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, or on her author website, where you can read THIRST. You can also try two of her fantasy novels for free here and here.
First of all... The contest.
The Go Teen Writers #WeWriteBooks contest is open for submissions between now and Wednesday, September 28th OR until we receive 300 entries.
Click here to read the full rules and find out how to enter.
Click here to read the full rules and find out how to enter.
THIS CONTEST IS NOW CLOSED.
What Makes Epic Fantasy Epic?
According to the Online Etymology Dictionary, the word “epic” stems from the Greek “epos,” which meant a “word; a tale, story; promise; prophecy, proverb; poetry in heroic verse.” And from 1706, as a noun it referred to an epic poem or “a long narrative told on a grand scale of time and place, featuring a larger-than-life protagonist and heroic actions.”
Epics were a type of poetry that often dealt with action and grandeur of traditional or historical interest. Most focused on the deeds of a specific hero. Epic poetry was recited aloud, to entertain an audience with the exploits of the hero and the nation that hero represented. It’s not so much about the individual as it was about how the heroic traits of that individual reflected national pride.
Epic fantasy, therefore, is not simply about a hero and his quest. That type of a story often falls under the subgenre of heroic fantasy. Epic fantasy is about more than one person. It’s about a world, the people in it, and a conflict that is rising up to forever change that world.
One of the most famous epic fantasies is the Lord of the Rings trilogy. That story is not just about Frodo’s quest. It goes much deeper than that and is quite complex. Here is a list of elements that I believe every epic fantasy should have.
1. Incredible Worldbuilding
10 Must Haves in Any Epic Fantasy
An intriguing world that’s different from our own. Worldbuilding is a huge part of epic fantasy. The world should feel so real that it is like a character. I wanted my Five Realms to be different from anything else I’d written, so I made it a desert land with a high elevation. All freshwater is underground and frequent earthquakes have created dangerous cracks and fissures throughout the land. I also spent a lot of time developing five different nations, a complicated history between them, and a magic that is a major source of strife.
2. A Map
Most epic fantasy stories have an incredible map in the front of the book that readers will continue to flip back to as they read. Here is my map of the Five Realms from The Kinsman Chronicles. I love drawing maps. And with this one, I really worked hard to try and make the map look old school by purposely drawing the proportions off for my cliffs and to include the most interesting elements of my world. I think if you click on it, you can zoom in.
3. Massive Scope
In epic fantasy, the storyworld is big and the story takes place all over that epic map. Take the Lord of the Rings, for example. The story doesn’t take place in Hobbitton alone. The characters move all over Middle Earth. A massive scope also means a lot of pages and/or a lot of books to tell that massive story.
4. Massive Stakes
The story cannot be simple. And while it might involve a quest or revenge or a chase, the stakes have to be bigger than one person’s life. In epic fantasy, the world is at stake. Often this involves a great evil sweeping through the land or an invading kingdom. Epic fantasy usually involves some politics and some ruling characters be they kings, emperors, senators. The point is, the world as the characters know it is at stake. Their way of life is being threatened.
5. A Complex Plot and Subplots
There is a lot going on in an epic fantasy. I’m talking soap opera complexity here. Yes, there should be one major plot that is threatening the world, but that should also involve many characters and their individual storylines.
6. A Large Cast
To go with that complex plot, an epic fantasy needs a large cast of deep characters that the reader can root for. This often means many points of view, but not always. The point is, readers should grow to love many of the characters, as is often the case with the Lord of the Rings.
Oh yes. There should be magic in an epic fantasy novel. And if at all possible it should be intricately woven into the plot somehow. There have been epic fantasy novels without magic, but I can't think of one at the moment. If you can, share in the comments.
8. A Showdown
An epic fantasy usually ends with an epic battle or a major showdown between two or more characters. The entire book often leads to this clash of morals. And oftentimes, the hero doesn’t go it alone. One or more side characters come in to help in the main battle or a side battle.
9. The Feel of History
An epic fantasy should, in the same way epic poetry once did, feel like the telling of a major part of history for that storyworld. This is a story of history. Of when a threat came upon the world and a group of individuals fought back and defeated that threat. Someday a hundred years in the future from the time of the story, kids will be learning about these stories at school and there might even be a museum of sorts where people come to see the weapons of those great heroes who saved the land.
10. Breaks the Mold
Epic fantasy should attempt to break the mold in some way. For years Tolkien was the mold and everyone copied him. People still do. But part of writing epic fantasy is to try and do something different. Something no other author has tried. It’s a chance for an author to take a risk—just like the heroes he or she creates.
I tried to do that with The Kinsman Chronicles. I wanted to write a true epic fantasy in which a world was ending. It was a plot I felt hadn't been done before. A "Battlestar Galactica at Sea," if you will, and how those survivors moved on and eventually began again.
Have you ever read epic fantasy? If so, what are some of your favorites? Share in the comments.
Also, if you're building your own storyworld and need some inspiration, the Kindle version of my book Storyworld First is on a .99 sale until this Sunday night, September 25. If you haven't grabbed your copy yet, now is a great chance to save. Click here to see the book on Amazon.com.