In this modern age where everything seems to be getting faster, smaller and more simplified, what is the future of the epic fantasy? Will a genre known for its length, survive in a culture raised on sound bytes and fast fiction?
In order to really understand the future of epic fantasy we need to understand exactly what it is.
Wikipedia lists epic fantasy as being synonymous with high fantasy:
High fantasy (also referred to as epic fantasy) is a sub-genre of fantasy fiction, defined either by its taking place in an imaginary world distinct from our own or by the epic stature of its characters, themes and plot.
A fair definition, although I think it a stretch to suggest any story set in an imaginary world could be an epic. I prefer the definition offered by our very own Jessy Montgomery:
Epic: This genre is as big as the name hints. It deals with the human journey, the creation of philosophy, and it really digs into the human condition. Everything from the main character to the villain to the armies are big. Typically hinges on some sort of world destruction. Think Lord of the Rings by J.R.R Tolkien.
But the experts aren’t all singing from the same song-sheet. Jeremy L.C. Jones wrote a great piece entitled: Something Greater: An Epic Discussion of Epic Fantasy, for Clarkesworld Magazine, where he invited 28 writers of epic fantasy (including Terry Brooks, Patrick Rothfuss and Brandon Sanderson) to comment on the genre. His very first question – ‘What is at the heart (or core) of Epic Fantasy?’ – got so many different responses, you can only conclude any definition is subjective.
Nevertheless the overall feeling was epic fantasy is about story on a grand scale; big themes, sweeping scope, a ‘wide lens view of the world‘ and something ‘you just feel … in your bones‘.
But as the traditional publishing model is being forced to adapt to the new digital age, writers of epic fantasy – known as much for the size of their word counts as the scope of their stories – need to be open to new ways of storytelling.
1. Consider the Serial.
Although I am a big fan of the door-stopper novel (the sheer weight of Patrick Rothfuss’s Name of the Wind gives me little shivers), the future may look quite different when it comes to how the story is delivered to readers.
This youtube generation, with a love of blogs, vlogs, tweets and social media – are more open than ever to the short-byte serial. Ironically this smaller serving approach could be a great option for the writer of epic fantasy. Instead of having to manufacture a story arc for each of the six books in your story – call them instalments release them regularly (at novella size?) and readers can follow until the story reaches its natural conclusion. It’s all about how frequently you make contact with your market (and saleable units).
2. Offer Individual Storylines.
This is a favourite (and lucrative) fall-back of romance novelists. Rather than tell all the stories at once, each family member gets their own book. Because the reader is already invested in the world, they can be very loyal to this kind of series. Which is great for generating income.
Epic fantasies often include multiple POV characters and storylines – so teasing these out could be a way of telling the big stories on a smaller scale. I’m not sure how well this will work in practice, because often it is the pulling together of these threads that mark a great epic tale – but the potential is there and worth investigating.
3. Go Cinematic.
Epic stories, make great movies (emphasis on the plural) – because of the scope, action and drama translate to a visual feast. So the writer of epic fantasy would do well to consider the film-makers art of story structure, to get a handle on delivery of big elements in a limited time frame.
I personally love watching movie directors (and their team) explain the techniques they use to bring their vision to life. Although a novel and a film have distinct differences, it doesn’t hurt to consider other techniques in an attempt to reach a wider audience (and to ensure your book could easily be adapted to film).
The trend seems to be moving towards reader interaction and experience. Artwork, short-films, book trailers, maps, photos, music, recipes – fiction writers are already using many of these to attract readers. I must admit as a writer, I find this a daunting leap out of my comfort zone; but it is important to understand how the market is evolving.
In my opinion there will always be a place for epic fantasy. The reason it has been around so long is because it speaks to a timeless human yearning for something greater than oneself.
I think K.V. Johansen sums it up beautifully:
‘Or maybe the real reason I write Epic Fantasy is that at the age of eight I read The Lord of the Rings multiple times, and it sank into my marrow and told, This is what Story means; this is what Language is; this is how words work magic.’
What do you think?
by Raewyn Hewitt