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Writing in Epic Proportions

Discussion in 'Writing Discussions' started by TheokinsJ, May 29, 2013.

  1. TheokinsJ

    TheokinsJ Troubadour

    I know the saying "Quality over quantity" is usually used a lot in life and I know that is still true for writing- but lately I've been noticing a trend that fantasy and sci-fi books seem to be getting bigger. Maybe it's just the author's I read and the books I look at, but with George RR. Martin's 'A song of Ice and Fire' being thousands of manuscript pages per volume, and Brandon Sanderson's 'A way of Kings' and 'Mistborn' being similar in size, is 'writing big' the new thing in fantasy? Looking at Tolkien's work, Narnia (I know it was intended for children- but you get what I'm saying) and many fantasy trilogies and sagas written a while back, they all seemed to be small and compact, not dragged out or overly huge. What is it about 'big books' that people like?
  2. teacup

    teacup Auror

    Well I guess with big books it could simply be that there's more to read. The size of the book doesn't matter much to me, though I do admit that larger books catch my attention more on the bookshelves in stores, but that could just be because they're big :p

    The largest books I've read are ASOIAF and the later books in the Inheritance cycle, and both could have been a lot shorter. With Inheritence there was a lot of stuff going on that made no impact to the story line and were just unnecessary I think.
    I love ASOIAF but some are just needlessly long. For example, in A Feast For Crows not much actually happens. It seemed that the majority was Brienne walking around. This whole book would have been better shortened down and integrated into A Dance With Dragons rather than being split geographically in my opinion.

    My opinion is that if it needs to be long, make it long, if it doesn't need to be then don't. Things can be slow paced, but they shouldn't be intentionally dragged out I don't think.
    TheokinsJ likes this.
  3. Ireth

    Ireth Myth Weaver

    *glances at her copy of LOTR* That thing's 1178 pages long including the appendices and index. Hardly what I'd call "small and compact".
  4. RedAndy

    RedAndy Dreamer

    I agree, and it's something I've particularly noticed recently (i.e. last 5-10 years) in films. Lots of good films that could have been great if they'd not been dragged out. Films can get away with being long if they're gripping throughout, but so many nowadays just seem to be have been lengthened for the sake of it. I remember going to see the most recent Superman film (back in 2006, which was longer ago than I thought) and coming out thinking it could have been at least 30 minutes shorter.
  5. Mythopoet

    Mythopoet Auror

    *agrees with Ireth*

    There's nothing small and compact about LOTR. It's the very definition of epic. And writing big is certainly nothing new. I think the stereotypical long, drawn out series first began getting published in the 70s. (Not that long stories were by any means uncommon before then, but I think that's when they first started being purposely written overlong to cash in on the success of series.) I mean, how many Shannara books are there now? That trend continued with the Wheel of Time (the quintessential drawn out series) and Sword of Truth and others like it. But readers eat that stuff up so publishers have generally used series as the default fantasy model.

    Personally, since I read fantasy so that I can immerse myself in another world, I like long series as long as the series continues to be supported by good storytelling. I'm always a little sad that there isn't more to read in the worlds of Middle-earth or Amber and I would totally love another Harry Potter type series. As long as an author can keep it going without sacrificing quality I'm there. But I think the key is not to draw out ONE long story (like in the Wheel of Time) but to explore multiple stories in the same world. Instead of dragging out Protagonist A's story, why not start a different series to explore Supporting Character B's story? Or start over with completely new characters in a different part of the world. That's what makes the Discworld books so successful, I think. There are currently 39 books in Discworld and they are almost universally awesome because they are each a new story. Also, I've noticed that serials are starting to make a comeback with the digital revolution and I say huzzah! I love the old serial short stories from the earlier days of the fantasy genre like Conan the Cimmerian and Fafhrd and the Grey Mouser. I hope that type of storytelling will go through a big renaissance.

    As a side note, I really hate the phrase "quality over quantity". Not because it's untrue (quality is more important than quantity) but because it seems to set up a false dichotomy in many people's minds. They begin to assume that quality and quantity are mutually exclusive. They're not. You can absolutely produce quality AND quantity. Just ask Isaac Asimov.
    TheokinsJ likes this.
  6. Svrtnsse

    Svrtnsse Staff Article Team

    I read something similar about TV series a while ago; about how crappy low-budget series with bad acting and stupid script could remain popular year after year. After a while it's not so much about the story, but about the characters in it, you just get used to them in some way - kind of like your friends on facebook that you never speak to but who's status updates you read anyway.

    It may very well be something similar applies to long fantasy series.


    Another thing is the setting. When a story takes place in the real world it's a setting you're familiar with and every other book that takes place in the real world is set in the same setting. That's not the case with fantasy. No other story will take place in that world (obvious exceptions mentioned in previous posts) and when you're done with the book you leave that world behind, perhaps forever.
  7. Ophiucha

    Ophiucha Auror

    I think the best epics are the ones that have a clear end point. A Song of Ice and Fire has the sort of core story surrounding the game of thrones; many characters come and go, and each character has their own arc, each book has its own plot, but there is an endgame: who will be on the throne? That's enough to structure the series and keep people interested, even though some of the books are less interesting than others, you still get attached enough to the characters that you want to see who wins. Harry Potter is a series that benefited from a very clear structure, with each book being a school year and knowing ahead of time that there were seven years of Hogwarts. The end goal - the ultimate and true defeat of Voldemort - wasn't immediately apparent, at least not for a while, but the books nonetheless had a definite structure. Seven books, seven years of Harry's life.

    Series like Wheel of Time rely more on sequel baiting, in my opinion. The first book is almost always very self-contained, but the last few chapters raise a question that must be answered in book two. And the last few chapters of book two raise a question that must be answered in book three. Repeat ad nauseum. They're not necessarily bad, but these are often the series that have distinct dips in quality after a few books. Often these rely more on the audiences becoming attached to the characters, as well. That's not to say people aren't attached to the Starks and Harry and Frodo, but that the more continuous story each has can keep people reading even if they're not necessarily in love with Tyrion Lannister or Daenerys.

    Fantasy has always been a bit thicker than other mainstream genres, though, so I don't think it's a 'new thing', just sort of a common side-effect of our genre's origins (literal epics, like Gilgamesh and the Viking sagas) and our tendency to worldbuild excessively. There are plenty of great short fantasy works, plenty of great long non-fantasy works, and people will read all sorts. I wouldn't worry about conforming to a trend, or purposely defying it if you're the sort, at least not before you've finished writing your story. Write your story and let it be as long or as short as it needs to be.
  8. skip.knox

    skip.knox toujours gai, archie Moderator

    One factor not yet mentioned is the economics of the publishing industry. Traditional publishing houses love selling success, so they go both to established authors and to series. They even encourage writers to consider multi-volume works.

    On the self-pub side, there's increasing advice about offering multi-volume works as a marketing strategy. You give away Volume 1, acquire an audience, then sell subsequent volumes.

    So there are some real economic advantages for the epic, even beyond the natural tendencies and precedents within this genre.
  9. danr62

    danr62 Sage

    I think Wheel of Time does a good job of setting up The Last Battle as an endpoint for the series.
  10. Nameback

    Nameback Troubadour

    Total word-count of LOTR triology: 473,000
    Word-count for Storm of Swords alone: 424,000

    I dunno. By modern standards of authors like Martin, Erikson, Sanderson, etc, LOTR looks rather compact indeed. Each book is less than 200,000 words.

    I mean, if we're comparing entire series, it gets even more egregious:

    LOTR: 473,000
    ASOIAF: 1,770,000 (so far)
    Wheel of Time: 3,304,000
    Malazan Book of the Fallen: 3,325,000 (holy shit Erikson writes fast)

    I mean, LOTR is 1/7th as long as Wheel of Time or the Malazan books. That's a huge difference.
  11. A. E. Lowan

    A. E. Lowan Forum Mom Leadership

    I think it's a phenomenon that crosses genres, to an extent. One of my favorite authors has a book coming out in September. It hit the publisher last month at over 800 manuscript pages! Now, it's technically paranormal romance, though her world and meta story are so complex that the romance plots are really only incidental to the series. I'm tempted to just call them urban fantasy with strong romance. I think they said she has nearly 4 whole books worth of words packed into that one manuscript. That being said, I've never seen her stuff drag or wished she'd get to the point.

    On the other hand, Jean Auel used to write absolutely huge books when I was a kid. But, her books dragged endlessly, as she stuffed in page after page of descriptions of savannah grasses. I kid you not. Grass.

    So, I don't think the rise of page counts in fantasy is necessarily a bad thing, as long as the pages are packed with good story telling. But, can we spare the grass, people? Gimme more sword fights and smoochies!
  12. Chessie

    Chessie Guest

    GOT was "grass" to me...sorry people. A couple somewhat exciting things happened towards the middle of the book which pushed me towards the end, but really, not my style of story/book. I don't mind reading a 1000 pages so long as they are packed with excitement and things that MATTER. And yes, smoochies, I love smoochies. Perhaps its just me but these days I'm finding it difficult to get with some of the books coming out. They are so repetitive in story and difficult to get into. Anyway...
  13. MaccosBridgman

    MaccosBridgman Dreamer

    I have also noticed this and love and planning to use it in my own writing :p I think the reason for this is just that people love detail and whats better than an epic battle scene and so many characters you fall in love with and then die? I think its in the name come on EPIC! As well sometimes writers have so much information (like me :L) they want their readers to know as much as they know.
  14. A. E. Lowan

    A. E. Lowan Forum Mom Leadership

    On one hand... I know what you mean.

    On the other hand... grass.
  15. ArthurWalterson

    ArthurWalterson Dreamer

    It does seem that fantasy books have been getting longer.
    I like them that way because it allows more time to build up the world. But of course they take longer to read. It also seems that longer books are typically written towards "adult" audiences while shorter ones target younger people.
  16. HabeasCorpus

    HabeasCorpus Minstrel

    Paid. By. The. Word.

    Longer = M04R M0N33
  17. shangrila

    shangrila Inkling

    Mainly it's a "get you hooked" kind of thing. It's the same reason you see more sequels and remakes in movies these days; if they have a "name" or an established reputation, it's easier to sell them. I personally tend to buy entire series, for example, so if there was only one book they wouldn't get as much money from me.

    That said, I think it's stupid. I read 1100 pages of Sanderson's latest book and pretty much ended up back where I'd freaking started. The Malazan books, in my opinion, became so self indulgent by the end they were almost unreadable. I wanted to read about the characters, the people I cared about, not have a bunch of lore thrown at my face just because you'd bothered to create it. The Dark Tower series drags on for god only knows why and I could go on, but I won't.

    Honestly, I find it much more enjoyable to read a stand alone story or a trilogy, something that I know will have a definitive ending. If you can't wrap your story up in 3 books, personally I think you're doing something wrong.
  18. A. E. Lowan

    A. E. Lowan Forum Mom Leadership

    I wouldn't go that far. Personally, we have 12 books in our multi-generational urban fantasy saga currently in outline form. We may shoot out to 15. And, no grass.
  19. The Dark One

    The Dark One Archmage

    LOTR may be shorter than a lot of fantasy series but for my money it remains unparalleled in terms of tight storytelling. So many fantasy series read like unedited first drafts to me, so I am extremely selective in my reading these days.

    Of course, at this point I have to admit that I've read LOTR 60 times. That is not an exaggeration.
  20. MFreako

    MFreako Troubadour

    If I recall correctly, LOTR wasn't originally penned as a trilogy. It was one single work, split into three titles due to publisher demands.

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