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Epic Fantasy- Whats Necessary?
Posted: Tuesday, February 14, 2012 2:25 PM
I've wondered about this a lot... I considered my work an "epic" fantasy piece because it is from the point of view of a family, a group of characters that are all pretty close knit, but what they do and what they will go through eventually affects the whole world. And they will slowly spread and disperse across that world in their various pursuits... Is that all it takes to be considered an "epic" fantasy? I've had a few comments about needing a certain type of language. That you need flowing, archaic prose of some sort... but George Martin and others seem to use a ruddy, down to earth kind of prose that isn't necessarily wordy and high-brow and they would be considered epic fantasy wouldn't they? Just wondering
Alexandria Brim
Posted: Tuesday, February 14, 2012 10:30 PM
Joined: 10/20/2011
Posts: 353

I don't think that language is what makes an epic fantasy "epic." I take it the world your characters inhabit your own creation. If so, that's all you really need to consider your work epic fantasy. Whatever voice your story takes is dictated by you, not what others tell you. Do I tend to use more olden-sounding language in my story? Yes, but that's because it's the voice the story took--one country is more medieval in culture, another more Enlightenment period. But that's what works for me.

Each story is different--there are no set list of rules a writer must abide by.
Alexander Hollins
Posted: Wednesday, February 15, 2012 10:18 AM
Joined: 3/13/2011
Posts: 416

Yeah, no. Language does not the genre make. I for one consider the Shadowrun novels (the original trilogy that includes Never Deal with a Dragon) epic fantasy, as well as dragonlance and forgotten realms. Plain language there.

Epic fantasy means a high epic story, characters shaping and changing the world, and a full feel of EVERYTHING going on.

LeeAnna Holt
Posted: Wednesday, February 15, 2012 12:41 PM
Joined: 4/30/2011
Posts: 662

I have to back everyone up on this: language does not make an epic fantasy. In my work, for instance, I use plain language in my narration, but dialogue is where I have my fun and make my distinctions. Like Mr. Hollins said, epic fantasy is when characters change the entire world in which they live through some massive event that usually has many players. If your character end up split up and going off on their own to a myriad of different locations, then yes, it is epic. I debated this about mine too, but after some thought, I decided I had it right. It gets pretty epic.
Trey Adams
Posted: Sunday, February 19, 2012 12:09 AM
Joined: 12/22/2011
Posts: 6

I think the fact that the language doesn't matter has already been voice enough that I can skip that, but instead I'll list the "criteria" I've heard and seen most often for an epic fantasy.
1). The Hero/Heroine(s) need to be of national importance. Usually Royalty.
2).The events need to take place over a huge amount of land, not just one of two countries. Like in the Oddesy (forgive the misspelling) where the events took place over the whole known world at the time.
3). God(s) need to intervene at some point. Whether its to hinder the Hero/Heroine or to help them.
4)There must be a flaw to the Main Character. Having 5 wisdom teeth doesn't quite cut it either. It must be something that on a grand scale would hurt them. Being overly confident to the point they would intentionally march their soldiers into a battle impossible to win just to show their strength is something your looking for.

I did a bit of research on them recently since I was thinking of writing one myself and the one I've written out could make an argument for fulfilling the requirements, but you really have to give some credit and buff up a few details. I wish you luck in your pursuit of the Epic.

Colleen Lindsay
Posted: Tuesday, February 21, 2012 1:17 PM
Joined: 2/27/2011
Posts: 356

I think the main difference between traditional fantasy and epic fantasy is the scale of the story. For a story to truly be considered epic fantasy, the consequences of your characters' actions must be world-shattering: the rise or fall of kingdoms, conflict on a global scale.

Simply existing in a secondary world isn't enough to make it an epic fantasy.

And yes, I agree that language really doesn't matter. Richard K. Morgan's series that begins with THE STEEL REMAINS is written in a very contemporary tone; so is Ken Follett's PILLARS OF THE EARTH.

I do think that attention to language is important in that you don't want to be throwing in modern slang or phrases that will jar your reader out of the story. Ken Follett's PILLARS OF THE EARTH had a few random modern idioms scattered throughout the story, just enough that it kept throwing me out of the story as I read it.

Hope this helps!


Alexander Hollins
Posted: Wednesday, February 22, 2012 10:20 AM
Joined: 3/13/2011
Posts: 416

That is a good point, there isn't a "proper" language, but there is certainly an improper language.

Brian Lowe
Posted: Wednesday, February 29, 2012 9:22 PM
Joined: 1/31/2012
Posts: 16

I think the business about elevated language comes from a confusion of "epic" fantasy with "high" fantasy. Epic fantasy, as everyone seems to agree, is a matter of scope. High fantasy, is... fantasy using elevated language. It also may be epic, but not necessarily. I don't think you see much high fantasy any more, because nobody talks that way and reading it can be a bit of a slog.
Posted: Thursday, March 1, 2012 12:04 PM
Joined: 3/13/2011
Posts: 224

I agree with what Colleen said as a general rule. Here are a few of my own personal thoughts and additions though:

I find the defining point for epic fantasy has to be the scope, as Colleen mentioned. In this, the characters need to have their paws muddied from the world as a whole. Epic fantasy is the playground of Kings, Conquerors, Heroes, and Villains. It is also the story where the end-game will destroy the world of many people. It isn't epic, in my opinion, if the consequences are paid by only one person if there is failure. The hero dying, and that is it, for example, would have me put it in traditional fantasy.

If the hero dies and a kingdom falls because of it, then it becomes Epic. It changes the entire course of history in the world.

That said, I feel epic fantasy has to take place somewhere _other_ than Earth. Even if the Earth would be completely revolutionized by the change. I am a bit of a purist though. I like my Fantasy to be fantastic. Earth, even with the inclusion of magic, just doesn't have that epic, sweeping feel of it.

Just my opinion, though!
Posted: Thursday, March 8, 2012 1:47 PM
Joined: 12/1/2011
Posts: 35

As many have said before me, the scope of the story tends to be the primary requirement for "epic" fantasy.  Where I tend to differ in my definition is that I do not necessarily believe the "end of the world" theory.  I do think that the events of the story should involve the destinies of many nations and people, but ultimate destruction is not necessarily the end result if the "hero(es)" fail.  Death and destruction, nations falling, catastrophic events - all that can occur without the world coming to an end. 

But if the events do not involve people and nations spanning the world, then it does not feel epic to me.  When I define traditional fantasy, I tend to think of books like the early Shannara stories, where the events had far-reaching consequence but were mostly contained within a single questing group.

I also agree with RJ in terms of setting.  Now matter the complexity and scope, a fantasy set on a recognizable Earth lacks a certain "foreign" quality that epic fantasy requires.  We should feel like we are in a fully realized fantasy setting.  Jordan, Donaldson, and CS Lewis really epitomize that quality for me.  I know, the Narnia books have modern elements, but the actual world of Narnia fits into my definition of a fully realized fantasy world, and the events are certainly epic without the end-of-the-world caveat.

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