My Struggle Writing an Epic Fantasy Novel: Intro and Influences
Part 1: Intro and Influences
When I first started as a writer I had no idea what sort of work load was waiting for me. I enjoyed writing and that was that. It wasn’t until I decided to write a fantasy novel that I began to realize how much work goes into these things. I’m not saying this to scare off new writers in the genre. In fact, the purpose of this five-part article is to help those who aren’t familiar with the process. When I first embarked on my journey to write an epic fantasy, I often found myself completely directionless and without any sort of guidelines to gauge my progress or the quality of what I was writing. But more than anything I wanted a mentor; someone I could talk to that was familiar with the process of writing a fantasy novel. I had (and still have) so many questions I want to ask a veteran of the genre. One day, I’m sure I’ll meet a published fantasy author and when I do, I hope I get a chance to sit down with him or her and really talk about the process. But until then I’m going to keep writing on my own.
So how does this relate to you? Well if you’ve ever tried to write a fantasy novel, or ever wanted to write a fantasy novel, then I’m offering up this article as a window into my own journey. I would have loved nothing more than to read about other fantasy novelists when I was first starting out and my hope is that someone feels the same way and finds this article helpful, if for nothing else than to confirm their struggles and relieve some of the doubts about direction and method.
What follows is my trial and error process from point A to point B with bits of advice sprinkled throughout. I can’t yet say that I’ve reached publication, but as I round the corner on the completion of the book, I feel that I have some genuinely good advice to give. My sincere hope is that another up-and-coming fantasy author reads this and realizes that they are not alone. This is a tough and long process but it is not insurmountable. You may doubt yourself, you may hate your book at times, but in the end it is all worth it. Don’t give up, no matter how long it takes.
There were a lot of great influences for me as a young writer, but none as much as Harry Potter: a magical world that was so immersive that I forgot I was reading.
There are many different influences that catapulted me into fantasy. I liked a lot of adventure and fantasy movies when I was a kid, but I didn’t really pinpoint the genre until I played the Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time for the Nintendo 64. Most gamers will recognize this name immediately as one of the high points in gaming history. That’s a bold claim, but few games have stood up to the epic fantasy quest that is the Ocarina of Time. My obsession with the game led to other games and movies like it, with a much broader awareness of fantasy emerging. Fantasy novels were not yet on my radar, but already I had dipped my feet into the pool of fan fiction, writing out a brief story that was intended to bridge the gap between the story in Ocarina of Time and the later release of Wind Waker. Here is a brief excerpt of that fan fiction:
“Demun Eires at your service. Please, do not be frightened by my appearance as I am fully aware of my resemblance to the defeated Ganondorf. But in answer to the question I am sure you are wondering, yes I am a Gerudo. Our male children are born far and few in between and I was unfortunate enough to be the next in line after the famed villain. But I assure you our demeanors are quite different. I seek only happiness and peace for all races of Hyrule; and this is why I seek out the boy hero. No doubt if he is alive he is a man grown by now and I sense an evil looming in the future that we cannot avoid, nor hope to destroy.”
“I have heard that you know of his fate, that after he emerged from the Temple of Time he sought you, and again before he embarked upon his quest from which he never returned.”
The queen looked away from the towering figure, reminded too much of the shadow that still plagued her dreams.
I wrote that brief and unfinished fan fiction before I started my fantasy novel, but just before that I started to discover the world of fantasy books. Prior to my junior year in high school, I wrote little and my favorite author was Paul Zindel (he wrote a number of gory teen books), but I wasn’t really a fan of fantasy books yet. I didn’t read during off hours and like most children and teenagers, I thought it was a waste of time. It was a ‘school thing’ and couldn’t possibly be as fun as playing a video game. It wasn’t until that third year of high school that I was introduced to Harry Potter. Originally I scoffed at the idea of reading the popular children’s book, but I agreed to give the first one a try as an exchange. I would read Harry Potter while they would read Anne Rice’s Vampire Chronicles, of which I was a fan at the time. (I got into the vampire chronicles in an independent reading class, so I still technically wasn’t reading at home.) I read the Sorcerer’s Stone over the course of an entire Saturday. I enjoyed the book but it wasn’t until I started reading the Chamber of Secrets that summer that I was hooked for life.
At this point, I still hadn’t figured out that I wanted to be a fantasy author, or that I liked fantasy novels. During the end of my senior year, I wrote my first fantasy short story, but other than that I had no idea what to do with it or where to go from there. However I knew that this story I had written was something I wanted to work more with. I felt that maybe one day it could be a book, or perhaps in a book of short stories (for the record, it was terrible). I didn’t realize where the story needed to go until I purchased and read Eragon by Christopher Paolini. I picked this book because it was new at the time and I wanted to find something I could enjoy, like Harry Potter. And it was the first book that I embarked on that no one else in my family was also reading. I was going into uncharted territory and I felt proud of myself for doing so. I was reading and learning things that other people in my family hadn’t. I enjoyed reading Eragon and it pointed out a major flaw in my short fantasy story: I had no journey.
Take a look to see how I did. Eternity's Reach is my first entry in the Sword of Eternity series, an epic fantasy with a bumbling working stiff who is entrusted with the world's most powerful weapon. I've often described it as "Dave Barry goes to Middle Earth".
Fantasy fans can argue up and down about what constitutes a fantasy, but I was new to the genre and I needed some sort of jump off point for how to expand my short story into a novel. So I decided that I would incorporate my own journey sequence where my main character would travel around the fantasy world he inhabited and see the sights. I then set aside a goal that I would write at least one page per day on this new budding novel, starting with this epic journey. And off I went. Day after day I wrote more between my college courses until I had something that was beginning to resemble a novel. And I also took off with my reading. The gates were open now and every fantasy novel ever written was fair game. I blazed through the likes of Terry Goodkind, Orson Scott Card, Terry Brooks, Dan Simmons, Terry Pratchett, J. R. R. Tolkien, and George R. R. Martin, just to name a few. My journey towards my own epic fantasy novel had officially begun.