For three years I’ve had an enormous idea in my head. Those writers out there probably know the kind I’m talking about. It’s a huge plot that seems beyond my capacity to do well. I want to give it justice.
I want to write something epic. I’m not just talking ‘epic fantasy’. I mean an epic story. One that is larger than life, that keeps you reading around the clock . Any genre can have that epic quality, although fantasy seems to do it best.
They say when the student is ready, the master will appear. I just finished reading Jessica Shirvington’s Embrace series, having no idea that they would fit my idea of ‘epic’. Having lost sleep because of the intensity of that series, I started comparing it to The Lord of the Rings and The Deed of Paksennarion. This is what I’ve discovered.
1) Scope: Epic stories have larger than life evil. When the good characters come up against the evil in battle, a win seems impossible. The reader is eagerly devouring pages to figure out how the characters will not only survive, but defeat evil.
2) Suffering: Epic novels break the reader’s heart. The heroes lose loved ones. They suffer horrendous losses. Authors build up close connections only so that they can be torn apart. They build up the dreams of a character only to destroy them. Only after the characters are in the deepest pit of despair does the author let them crawl back out, dirty, worn, and so frail that a win seems unlikely.
3) Detail: The back story is built up, sometimes across several novels until a larger-than-life final outcome finishes the series. There is an interweaving of supporting characters that give the series a ‘grand’ feel. Along with the ‘big evil’, there are the ‘little evils’ and good characters that make mistakes. The setting is detailed. The characters are well-considered.
4) Plot: The story, although plotted to be grand, doesn’t ‘feel’ like it is. Build the ‘win’ into the story early on. If a character has a power that will ultimately defeat the evil, it needs to be seen early in the novels. Otherwise, it comes off as a cheat.
Often a powerful character will ‘help’: Gandalf in Lord of the Rings, Gird in The Deed of Paksennarion, the Angel Maker in the Embrace series. If a powerful character will help, they should be a mentor from the beginning. There should be a cost to that help. If an author pulls out an “I WIN” card after every battle and it doesn’t take anything away from the hero, the story won’t come across as epic. It will be ‘just another’ story.
5) The characters feel ‘real’. When a character falls, it makes sense. They make mistakes, but the mistakes aren’t the silly kind that remind a reader that an author is ‘manipulating their emotional strings’. (That is my one criticism of the Embrace series. The first book felt a bit forced when Violet ‘runs to Phoenix’. For her to be THAT bothered by a logical lie fell flat. That said, I aspire to write a series with as much emotional power as this one.)
I’m sure there are more, but to me, those are the truly important elements to an epic novel.
I’m fortunate to have a strong local writer’s group. After talking to them a few weeks back, I was issued a challenge to get going. By the next writer’s group, I’m going to have the first pages to my epic series complete. I’ve decided to allow this to be a slow process, not to rush, but to test my writing boundaries and truly make it larger than life. Hopefully in a few years, I’ll be able to share the outcome!