Things I’ve learned about writing Epic Fantasy..

Quote picture thingy! Okay, that’s not what this post is about, but I’m including one anyway. As some of you know, I currently have an Epic Fantasy book in the works, and let me tell you, it is a bear. I’m not an organized person, and I don’t do much planning before I write. Usually I think of things as I go along, then have to go and change all of the stuff I wrote in the beginning to make everything match up. This method does not work well for Epic Fantasy. I’ve learned A LOT about what not to do, so I’m going to share my list to save all of you other writers out there a load of agony and frustration.

1) Timeline. This is something I learned quite recently: make a gosh darn timeline. I am currently going back over a 75K book because I made a timeline error and now I have to change everything to match it. Basically, if I had made a timeline of general historic events in my made-up world, I would have saved myself roughly eight hours of work. MAKE A TIMELINE.

2) Character Sheets. This is something I actually did…but I just didn’t do it good enough. I took big ol’ pieces of paper and made a sheet for each character with things like appearance, background, motive, and heck, I even gave them astrological signs with a list of personality traits. You know what? It wasn’t good enough. The thing to do is make these character sheets, then add to them constantly. Have them near you whenever you’re writing so that each time you add an interesting fact to your book, you can write it down.

3) Make a Map. Most Epic Fantasy books include at least a little bit of travel. Mine includes A LOT of travel. Make a map as you go along. You may think that a city could be 30 miles (or whatever distance measurement your world uses) or so East from that enchanted forest, but I’ve got news for you. It can’t. Now you’ve put a city in the middle of a lake. You drowned 400 people. Good job.

4) Religion. I’m not saying make up an entire religion, but you’d be surprised how much religion comes into day to day speech. Go to Hell. Thank Heavens. May the horned one take you. In the name of all that is holy….You’ll find that religion comes into things a lot, especially if your character is really scared, or really pissed off. Even if they’re not religious at all, they still might want to tell someone to go to Hell, or Hades, or some other torturous underworld. I found myself struggling to have people curse at each other in a consistent manner.

5) Speaking of Curse Words… I highly suggest making up some slang, or if you’ve got more of a medieval fantasy going on, look up common slang and curses from that time period. Having a list of terms that people can use when someone is being: silly, mean, cranky, drunk, ditzy, arrogant, and so on will save you a lot of google interruptions as you try to make up terms as you write them.

And that’s it. That’s absolutely everything you need to know to write Epic Fantasy….or not. I’m sure I’ll add 20 more things to this list before the book is done. These are just the mistakes I made so far. Learn from my mistakes and the bald patch on my head where this book made me pull out all of my hair.

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41 thoughts on “Things I’ve learned about writing Epic Fantasy..

  1. LOL this could very easily be applied to me writing my paranormal series…Oh the things I should have done differently but I’m living and I’m learning 🙂

      1. One of my PA started them for me but I’ve yet to really look them over…I’ve messed up eye color a few times LOL…I’m writing the fourth book in my series too and I always have to go back and search my other books for stuff because I can’t remember if I gave them a middle name or what age they are supposed to be lol

  2. Three words: Worldbuilding, worldbuilding, worldbuilding.

    (The difficulty can be getting bogged down in worldbuilding, because that part’s often just plain fun)

    Not that I’m trying to plug most of my main blog or anything . . . 😉

  3. I’m fond of making a general outline to start, then at the end of each chapter, filling in the details and highlighting key words and phrases. It becomes a reference tool so that a green Buick in Ch. 3 doesn’t become a blue Honda in Ch. 14. It also helps in subsequent drafts.
    Of course there’s only one way: what works for each writer.

  4. I actually started making world profiles for various world’s that I write in, too keep all of their details together. ^-^

    Also, when making up curses always remember to say them out loud a couple of times to see how they sound. I have a lot of ‘Great Magician!”s that I have to go back and change cause I realized how ridiculous they sounded. 😄

  5. hello saracroethle its dennis the vizsla dog hay that is a grayt list!!! dada espeshly liked the wun abowt mayking a map becuz he mayd a map for his latest buk like a long time ago and now he kant find it so wen he went bak to finish it up he had to wurk frum wot he reememberd the map lukking like and sinse that was like twenny yeerz ago he had a bit of a hard time of it!!! i am not shoor why he didnt just draw a noo wun!!! ha ha ok bye

  6. When I was writing my fantasy book, I didn’t bother with a map and was kinda pissed off later on. I got to be vague about how far things were because the specifics weren’t important, but a map still would have been really helpful for my first round of editing. Wound up with one around the third round to fix shit.

  7. Sara,
    Great advice! The Character bio’s are very important. I actually had to write short stories for all of mine. It helped to define them as people and give dimension. Do you have a writer’s network? I am working on building mine. I would love to ask some questions about YA and could share what I have learned while writing EF.

      1. I’ve heard good and bad about them. To avoid the bad, I am trying to veer away from ones that involve sharing work and getting style critiques. More like 5-10 writers that function as a knowledge pool. Keep in touch and let me know if you’re interested.

  8. I understand that when Lawrence Watt-Evans first laid out the background for his Ethshar novels (_The Misenchanted Sword_, which despite the name isn’t a comedy, though it has comic moments) he sat down and in the early state of inspiration wrote out a huge list of words that sounded sufficiently Ethsharian. And even in his latest work he’s drawn from unused names on that list so that they all sound like they belong, and all enjoy that thematic unity, even decades later.

    1. I’ve never read any of his stuff, so I’ll have to look into it! I attempted to do the same thing, but I didn’t make my list long enough and had to take some long pauses to flesh it out ;/

  9. Ha! This is a FANTASTIC list and I’d love to see another if you ever get around to making one. 🙂 As a regular writer of fantasy stories, I’ve definitely run into these problems… too sparse character sheets, non-existent religion, a map that makes no sense whatsoever. It definitely takes much more work than I thought it would when I decided I wanted to write fantasy, but for the most part when I’m not getting myself confused it is lots of fun. One thing I hadn’t yet thought of doing that you mentioned was a timeline! Great idea. I don’t know why it hasn’t occurred to me to do this yet, but I have a feeling it will make things go a lot smoother, and that’s exactly what I need in this process. So thanks for the tips and reminders! And how’s the writing of your epic fantasy going? How far into it are you so far?

    1. Thank you! I only recently thought to do a timeline, and I’m finding SO many inaccuracies, so I’m really glad I did it. The writing is going great, but of course it’s taking much longer than expected (I had hoped to publish in the end of January). As it is, the book is pretty much done, I’m just doing readthroughs to make sure everything is consistent, and adding a few small things here and there :).

  10. As anyone who knows me (or reads my blog) will tell you, I don’t do outlines…ever. This makes me an awful lot like you I think. My stories come out as they come out, and half the time at least, I have no more idea where they’re going than anyone else does. So I really want to thank you for all these great tips. The character sheets sound awesome, really, and I’ve never tried it. The map thing I do, not because I drown anyone, but putting volcanoes in the middle of your lake causes a lot of unnecessary sputtering (no matter how I measured it, that’s where it ended up). Since I write mainly Christian Fantasy, the religion thing works itself out, and I share your views on how to handle cussing. So thanks again for the tips, but you still aren’t getting an outline (but I do follow your blog). 🙂

  11. I found an old fashioned index card box worked well, with cards for insults, flora and fauna, gods, etc
    This time I’m using Scrivener … I’ll let you know if their system works as well.

      1. Giant bits of paper probably has much to recommend it 🙂
        I like Scrivener. They do a very civilised trial period. The only trouble is that I used to do alot of writing on my tablet, and that’s just a little bit harder to synchronise.

  12. I know with my novel Horizon, I didn’t do this and it’s science fiction. Now, I’m reading back through it saying ” well Damn why didn’t I make an outline of this. Lol My mistake is never publish till you’re absolutely ready. I have readers who enjoy it but I constantly get bored with it. With that being said make sure the story is ready to be written and interests you.

    I do the same exact outline you do now because the epic fantasy I’m writing is so I’m depth and personal. it is definitely easier to keep up with work when you have maps, timelines, and character notes. It also saves a ton of time on reeling back through chapters. Wish I would’ve read this post before I started Horizon but learning is in a writer’s blood.

    I know this is getting long but quick question. If you’re planning on writing a trilogy or series, do you have all your books outlined from the beginning of the first book to the end of the last book, or do you outline each book after you’ve written the one before it?

    1. The current book I’m working on is actually the first book I’ve ever made an outline for, and that was only after I’d written a good portion of it. I tend to do very little planning for my other books, and usually don’t even come up with the premise of the next book in the series until months after I’ve published the previous one. That being said, I’m doing my best to at least have a vague idea where the next book will go in the new series. There are just too many things going on that need to be accounted for. I guess what I’m trying to say is that the need for an outline differs from book to book, and series to series :).

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