Epic Fantasy: The Quest for a Resolution

The Lord of the Rings Movie Poster

Epic Fantasy has gained the reputation of being the genre where nothing can happen for long periods of time and it’s readership will carry on reading in the hope that something awesome will happen the next page or the next or the next.

The Lord of the Rings

Epic Fantasy has been around for ever since The Lord of the Rings were published in 1954-55 and can be considered the granddaddy of epic fantasy.  The genre of fantasy has no doubt been around for a while longer although the splitting of novels into genre is only a recent development.  The Lord of the Rings was to be the sequel for J.R.R. Tolkien’s first novel, The Hobbit which had been considered a children’s book.  The publishers had expected a novel in a similar vein with a length of approximately 80k words.  Instead it took more than twelve years before they received the novel which had been completed as an adult’s novel and was approximately 400k words long instead.  Due to publishing restrictions at the time, the novel couldn’t be published in a single volume but had to be split into three novels.

Ever since then it seems as though when any fantasy story is written, the immediate length is to plan for a trilogy.  In fact, everything came out in trilogies including movies like Star Wars.  It sometimes felt as though the resolution was delayed due to the fact that it had to be a trilogy and not a stand-alone novel.

But even the Lord of the Rings had nothing happening for a long time before anything really exciting started to happen.  After all, the novel starts with the preparations for Bilbo Baggins’ eleventy-first birthday and then carries on for a while after Bilbo has disappeared from the Shire and left Frodo his inheritance, the one ring.  Even after Gandalf sends the hobbits on their way, the going was pretty slow until they finally found Strider in the town of Bree.

The Wheel of Time

It would appear that the new standard for Epic Fantasy is The Wheel of Time series by Robert Jordan.  The series started with a bang with the Eye of the World.  Yes, things seemed to take a while for the first few hundred pages  but after the Trollocs (trolls with added oc) attacked the Two Rivers and the youths left with Moiraine it sped up and seemed to carry on going until you finally found yourself in Sheinar with the Sheinarans defending against an attack by the Trollocs.

I thought I had struck gold.  I’d started reading the series when the first eleven novels were out and people were waiting for the twelfth book to come out.  If the next eleven books were as good as the first novel, it was going to be awesome.  Originally, RJ had said he believed the series could be finished in six books and then it changed to nine novels and then it was twelve.  And then he passed away tragically and fans of the series were left to wonder whether the series would ever be finished.  Brandon Sanderson was picked by RJ’s widow to complete the series.  The estimate changed from twelve novels to fourteen novels with the final novel only set to be released in 2012, about 22 years after the Eye of the World came out.

If you’ve been following my blog, you’ll know my issues with the Wheel of Time and how I’m torn between abandoning it or to carry on reading and finish the series.  I’m currently busy with the tenth book and have almost finished it.  And do you know what’s happened?   Nothing of any great importance.  All the characters carry on from where they finished off at the end of book nine and it feels as though they’ll do the same in book eleven.

So what happened?  Why has the series become so bloated?  I believe the love of money has played a part in the series growing to such monstrous proportions that the story isn’t progressing any further.  The publisher saw the revenue stream generated by the novels and asked if it could be stretched just a little.  How about expanding on a story line here or there?

But it feels as though I’m so close to the end that I should just carry on.  I’ve basically read ten novels out of a probable fourteen (excluding the prequel) that it would be a waste of all the time I’d already sunk into the series not to see the end.

The Malazan Empire novels

Steven Erikson and Ian C Esselmount created a screenplay for a movie which had been turned down by all of the movie producers and so they turned to novels.  I believe the difference here, as stated before, is that Steven Erikson went with the proposal to complete ten novels in the series and as stated in a previous entry, the final entry in the series is coming out in March.  I honestly cannot comment on the full series and whether it drags or not as I’ve only finished the first novel but I’m hopeful that because the original plan had been for ten novels, the series won’t be dragged out.

The Way of Kings

The Stormlight Archive

The latest entry into the epic fantasy market is called The Stormlight Archive by Brandon Sanderson, RJ’s successor in completing the Wheel of Time.  I’ve almost finished the novel and can say that I’m thoroughly enjoying the story so far.  The plan is for ten novels and a part of me is hoping that the Stormlight Archives is not the successor to The Wheel of Time in dragging out a story for the longest possible time.  I’m hopeful that it won’t because according to what I’ve heard is that the Wheel of Time has picked up again after Brandon Sanderson has taken over.

The future

So where to from here?  Due to the publishing restrictions placed on new authors as discussed earlier it seems unlikely that a new author will be able to start a series.  The restriction of 100k words for a new author almost means that the epic fantasy genre is sealed off from any new authors until they can break into the publishing industry through maybe a subgenre of fantasy.


A question of how to proceed (or wrestling with inner demons)

I’m a member of a writing group for other people who are all busy with trying to break into the publishing world for Epic Fantasy and while it has been quiet for a while it’s been fun to be involved and get the feedback from other people who are of like mind.

I’m not quite sure of when the group slowed down but I seem to remember it slowing down toward the end of last year because everyone had some things they were busy with and had to divert their attention to these other tasks and in the mean time one of our members came back with the news from WorldCon (I think) that the publishing world is no longer accepting longer works from first time authors because it was too hard to sell these works.  The limit for first time Epic Fantasy is a maximum of 120,000 words.  That means that if the average for a published novel is 400 words per page – epic fantasy novels from first time authors would be a maximum of 300 pages.

That’s not very epic is it?

It was probably at this point when the group really got to be rather inactive as everyone tried to figure how this would impact our ambitions going forward.  There is no way we’re going to be able to break into the publishing world if we are all writing something which wouldn’t be accepted.

But I’ve been thinking.  Patrick Rothfuss managed to sell his novel and I’m not only mentioning The Name of the Wind (pictured left) either.  I’m talking about the whole Kingslayer trilogy, which was really one novel.  There is no way that it was less than 120,000 words.  The Name of the Wind, which is now really part 1 of 3 of the whole novel must be longer than 250,000 words all by itself.  And when did he break in?  I have to say that I’m guessing here, but it must have been 2007/8 and that means that the industry has changed so much in 3/4 years.

It means that if we want to break in, we’re going to have to change our direction for the first novel before we move onto our real calling as epic fantasy writers.  The real question is in which direction to go.  My epic fantasy has always been behind my horror or “supernatural thriller” writing.  As of this evening, I am now 45% of the way through the latest draft of Pecan Hill.   The good news for me is that Pecan Hill is only planned to 100,000 words so there is no chance that I’ll have to trim the novel to hit the limit mark.

The bad news is that I have been busy with Pecan Hill non-stop for 3/4 years.  It’s pretty demoralising to go through the same story again and again when I want to move on.  I believe I’ve gone through this before, but there is so much more to write for me.  But Pecan Hill won’t let me move on until it’s been perfected.  If I have to compare it to anything, I’d have to say that it’s like having a child.  I’d say I’d throw it into the trunk and move on but I’m not quite ready to kill this darling just yet.  It’s too big.

But Pecan Hill is one of the options of breaking into the publishing world I’ve been considering.

The options I’ve been thinking about for how to get into the publishing world is basically the following:

  1. Write a  series of short stories and get them published.  Getting the short stories published would be demonstrate my skill in being able to tell a story (or should that be show a story ;)) and therefore give me a proven track record so that when I do send in my epic fantasy I’ve proven I can sell;
  2. Take the world which I have created and write a YA novel.  The YA novel would come in under 120,000 words and do the same as the short story  – prove my ability to tell a story and sell;
  3. Finish Pecan Hill and get it published.  I’d have a full story that I wouldn’t have had to compromise on to bring the story in under the limit. It would do the same as the above; or
  4. Say screw it and still write the epic fantasy and try to sell it.

The problem with options 2 and 3 is that even if I’m able to sell it and break in, I’m left with another problem.  I’d have broken in but in the wrong genre and would be left with the same problem of breaking into epic fantasy.  Although if I write under a pseudonym, the publishing world might be able to overlook the fact I’m writing in two different genres.

Coincidentally I’m following possibility 1 and 3, although I am seriously thinking of trying out option 2 as well.  Option 4 just doesn’t seem to be an option.