A Little Less Epic

It has occurred to me that choosing to write epic fantasy for my first book (and a potential trilogy at that), wasn’t the smartest choice I’ve ever made.  It didn’t help when I was reading through George R. R. Martin’s website (of Game of Thrones fame) and he remarked:

Given the realities of today’s market in science fiction and fantasy, I would also suggest that any aspiring writer begin with short stories. These days, I meet far too many young writers who try to start off with a novel right off, or a trilogy, or even a nine-book series. That’s like starting in at rock climbing by tackling Mt. Everest.

Now I know he wasn’t speaking to me personally, after all by no stretch of the imagination am I young any more.  And I do know of other authors, Patrick Rothfuss being my latest and favourite example, who have struck gold with their first novels.  But writing epic fantasy does, at times feel like you’re scrabbling up some unforgiving rock-face, or at best like you’re trying to eat an elephant.

One of the reasons I like fantasy is – you get to make the whole thing up.  If you want people to ride horses and wield swords and fight for truth and justice, well they can.  The thing is you really do have to create a whole world in your head and it has to be consistent.

I have no problem visualising my fantasy realm – Gaelladorn. It has some great places like the Reach, which is elevated and craggy, somewhat like the Scottish Highlands, or the great sheep stations in the South Island of New Zealand.  Or the capital city Tamar, with its winding cobbled streets, and the newly built Sanctuary, of honey-coloured stone dominating the skyline.   It’s great as far as setting, it plays like a small movie through my mind as I write.  The problem comes, for me, with the political structure.

I hoped I wouldn’t have to give too much detail about how legal system in my story works. I’d rather focus on the characters.  But about a third of the way through the novel I’m starting to think one of my main premises isn’t going to work.  Or it certainly doesn’t work, for me, in its present form.  The question is (and please feel free to wade in): Is it is logical that the King wouldn’t have a direct role in managing his troops?  When Marcus, shifts from being a General to being King, he is told (by the Overseer – a religious office that sits above the Kings) to create a distance between himself and the military.  Technically the soldiers fight for the whole realm, not just one kingdom, so possibly it could be seen as him having too much influence.  But would a King really have to sit back and rule while the others are out fighting?  King Arthur didn’t.

I suspect I will have to tone down the ultimatum and create tension with his continued involvement with the military.  It also means I will have to go back and rewrite an earlier scene that I quite liked.  Frustrated?  You have no idea.

I was growled at the other day for saying something I’d taken to writing group wasn’t very good.  “You are too hard on yourself!” they protested.  (They being the aforementioned writing group).  So just in case you think I am struggling with self-doubt and shooting myself in the foot I would like to point out:  I am enjoying this journey immensely.  I love that I am a writer and I get to nut out all the details.  Sometimes I crash and burn, and other times I fly.  It makes for an interesting journey!

It also seems everyone has an idea about how you should go about becoming a writer.  Bless George R. R. Martin, I suspect every Tom, Dick and Harry who has ever picked up a pen is asking for his advice.  Martin had a long and varied writing career, before he wrote his bestsellers.  It worked for him, so I respect his opinion. Although it doesn’t mean that’s how my journey will be.

But for me, I write where my heart is.  And as much as I’d love the variety to work on other projects, this is what I’m loving and feeling.  Sometimes I wish it wasn’t so big.  Because then I might be able to get it done sooner and be able to share it with you.

Do you ever have days where you feel like you’ve bitten off more than you can chew? Have you had any troubling issues with world-building – or tips to share? Or do you have any views on the King versus General issues I’m having? I’d love to hear from you.


8 thoughts on “A Little Less Epic

  1. Raewyn I really love your blog. Your posts are honest and insightful. They give a great glimpse into the world you are creating while also making people think about different aspects of their writing.
    I too struggle with the political aspects of my worlds creation. I have created a fantasy world where the men and women live seperately and I want the differences and the details to be really portray the differences in the genders. Sounds easy, but i’m finding it can be quite difficult.
    I have often felt exactly like I have dived straight into the deep end and I am splashing around, almost drowning, trying to find my way to the surface and the edge of the water. I don’t get too much time these days to dedicate to my writing and it suffers because of this I think.
    I would suggest though that if the details aren’t coming as easliy as you’d like, to try and deviate and write some short stories that could side-line your novel. They may fill in some details that may never make it to the final cut, but it may just make some of the details clearer – political aspects, even characters… It has been something that has worked for me 🙂 Alison

    1. Thanks Alison, that’s really kind of you. I’m so glad you’re getting something out of the blog. Writing can be such a solitary pursuit, and I am loving getting to know others who are in the same boat.

      I understand what you’re saying about time too. It’s really hard to find the time to really give some thought into how the whole world hangs together. I find not only do I need time to work on a scene, but also to let the big picture sit and marinate. (As opposed to procrastinate…)

      I’m finding I don’t really have any desire to write ‘different’ short stories at the moment, but writing around the novel would (probably) keep me on track. Thanks for the tip.

  2. Wow I so can’t wait to ready this …. legal systems 101 revisited. I like the sound of the tension about the king’s involvement – quite common I think as isn’t King Arthur the exception to the idea that Kings should be protected. Think there are some interesting examples in the OT too!!! When David chose not to fight?? So glad you are enjoying the process and hoping to have time to stop by and read the back blogs soon
    lots of love Jo

    1. Hello my friend! If I remember correctly you did Legal System at Canterbury, while the rest of us in Auckland were with JE… Perhaps that’s why I’m struggling with this part of the plot. Oh well, I’ll stick with old habits and will make it up as I go.

      You’re right about the OT (it’s sounds very cool when written like that… like the OC?). King David got into some serious trouble when he should have been out with his troops. Marcus on the other hand (who is no King David by the way) will get in trouble being too involved with his. I think maybe Marcus is more like King Saul?

  3. Such a great post. I’m also in the process of writing an epic fantasy trilogy and sometimes I wonder if I’ll actually manage to write it all and to get it published… I do agree with you on GRR Martin’s comment: what has worked for one author won’t necessarily be true for another and some writers do get published for the first time with a long fantasy book. As for the world-building, given my background (political sciences) I really enjoy creating political systems and religions, etc. I think that you’re right in thinking that a king has to be involved in the military, but once again, it’s YOUR world and YOUR rules, in fantasy we get to do whatever we like… I’d say go for what creates conflict and an interesting plot. Happy writing!

    1. Thanks, I totally understand about the long haul. Especially with a trilogy where you are dealing with 3 big story arcs, and always have to keep the ultimate ending in mind. Sometimes I think my head is going to burst. I do have to give some serious thought to how my rulers are going to function without burying them in bureaucracy though. I’ll keep the conflict element in mind.

  4. I started off writing a monster doorstopper, but an editor I met told me to do short stories. I did, and absolutely fell in love. I’ve found they’re helpful because I use them to worldbuild and hash out events in the history of my novel, as well as giving readers a light introduction into the world. I was opposed to writing short stories at first, but now I’m definitely glad I did.

  5. Thanks Brandon – I’ve been encouraged to do the same thing, but have always balked because of how long it takes me to develop backstory. However like you, I’ve recently been introduced to the idea of using them to explore elements of worldbuilding and also to flesh out backstory.

    I love the term monster doorstopper… I think it’s definitely applying to the one I’m writing now!

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