30 March 2009

The "Whys" of Epic Fantasy

I love well-written epic fantasy novels. For me, one element that makes a good fantasy novel is a world that is so real I want to know the "whys" of it. I feel rewarded when a get a tidbit of juicy information that explains or puts a new twist on the unique aspects of the world. I want to get to the end of the novel to find out answers to the big questions about the world that have been plaguing the characters (and the reader) from the outset of the story. And, importantly, I like the world so much that I want to come back and visit after I've finished the book.

Creating this sense of world is one of the most important--and challenging--aspects of a fantasy writer's craft. (Perhaps less so for some types of urban fantasy, but that's for another post someday). How do authors do it? I don't know all of the tricks, but here's a few things I noticed:

1) Characters care about the world they live in and want to understand it better;
2) The history of the world plays a role in the present and is revealed in a gradual, logical manner;
3) The world is multi-dimensional, rather than divided into "good" and "evil";
4) Distinct cultures, classes, nationalities, races, religions, and/or loyalties are presented and the intersection of these presents conflict; and
5) Many aspects of the world are not as simple as they first seem.

I'm sure there are others that I'm missing . . . please post them in the comments.


lesleylsmith said...

Wow...the "whys" of setting. I'd never explicitly considered that before. Of course, the quintessential epic fantasy is Tolkien's The Lord of the Rings and supposedly he developed a whole mythology for it.

ssas said...

I find this interesting. I focus on groups nearly the way I approach individual characters: What do they want? What are their motivations? And I find it easier to make groups (classes, nationalities, etc) multi-dimensional than a single character. Maybe it's because there's often more than one character representing that group. Epic fantasy is fun because it often has a cast of thousands. :)