I’ve got a strange love-hate thing going on with epic fantasy, guys. In some ways, it was my first love. High tales of chosen one heroes and grandiose adventure-taking is what spawned my love of reading in the first place. Things like Record of Lodoss War, the Wheel of Time, Final Fantasy games and the like. Despite the genre’s numerous downfalls, it’s the thing that I still want to write again someday, even if I’m a bit burned out on epic fantasy as a whole for the moment.

So, in preparation for that day of passionate reunion, of once again walking the fields of Middle Earth or a loving rip-off of it, here are some of the best tips I can give you on how to write the most amazing, generic epic fantasy of all time.

Note: And for the record, none of this is serious. It’s so hard to tell over the intertubes, sometimes.


1. The Pros Use Prologues

Your book starts with Chapter 1? Um, that’s just like every book EVER, buddy. Here’s a tip: start it with a prologue. The further removed it is from the story in years, the better, and no fewer than 500 years. It should star the Big Bad, someone making a prophecy or the Big Bad making a prophecy. Or it could be overly mysterious and have nothing to do with the book. It’s OK to save that reveal for book 14.

2. Where Are We?

The start of this truly epic yarn really needs to leap off the page and grab me in an Alien facehugger kind of way. And nothing fills you up with tiny parasitic joy embryos like pages and pages of setting. At the start of Chapter 1, forget your main character for the time being. That’s too micro for what you’re trying to do.

Tell me about the land. The countryside. The birds in the air, or whatever your world’s closest approximation happens to be, like flying hippos. The more mundane, the better. Over a few overwrought paragraphs, narrow it down to the main character’s home town, which will of course be in the middle of nowhere. But this is a new place, so give us a while to get our bearings. A long while if you’ve got the chops.

3. The Main Squeeze

Your hero, tall, fair and handsome, should have all the personality of a slug. Sure, he can mope around about whatever menial chores he has to do around his flying hippo farm, and have a desire for adventure, but anything else is distracting from YOUR WORLD, and that’s the key here. If he’s not an orphan already, he’d better be soon, or I’m out of your story like that.

In terms of flaws, he should be a little rash and not the most powerful being on the planet — yet. But don’t worry, he’ll be there within a few pages of his inevitable training.

4. Infodump Me Like One of Your Westeros Girls

Now we get to the meat. If I’m not hearing the meaning of life, the universe and everything in between when it comes to the history of your world, we’ve got ourselves a ticket to Snoozeville. This is best delivered by some crazy old crone in Rand al Skywalker’s home town who is clinically insane but still right about all the cooky shit. If not an old crone, feel free to drop it in dialogue while the main squeeze is doing some of his boring chores, or getting ready for the harvest festival, or thinking about the hometown girl who he’ll ultimately forget about when he meets Magic Breasts, the woman of his dreams.

If you’ve really got the epic skills, you can just give it to us in huge paragraphs at random, but make it seamless. If the main character is looking at a plant for instance, tell us how that plant affects the economy, and while we’re on the subject of the economy, here’s how your money system works, the secretary of treasury’s likes and dislikes, and how something fishy is going on in the government that may or may not have anything to do with that strange comet in the sky that some people say is related to this 5000 year old prophecy.

See? And you thought this was hard.

5. Get with the Times

Please, please, please make your fantasy close to medieval times and technology. People need something to root them into your world, and it totally makes sense that this different set of people with MAGIC and four suns and nine moons would have a civilization thousands of years older than ours and not have moved past the dark ages. And come on, we need castles and armor and stuff.

Everyone should also be vaguely European, and preferably British-lite, so your vernacular should reflect that as well. If you think it breaks the suspension of disbelief to have them calling each other “bloody tossers” all the time, just take that lingo and replace it with your own. “Gorey dinglefarts” works just as well, and that slang gives the appearance of a world fleshed out with extra jiggly love handles.

And while we’re on that subject, show your writing prowess with a bit more infodumping here — people swear about deities all the time. “By the Soul Monger’s swollen spleen!” and “The Dark Fairy’s right testicle!” can work double duty for you here.

6. Going on a Misadventure

If the next 475 pages don’t read like a travel guide to Middle Earth then I don’t know where you expect to hold your audience. Show me townships, villages, cities, mountains, bogs, holds, keeps, keeps in bogs, cities on mountains and anything else that will bore Rand Skywalker to tears. Make him suffer with blisters and horses that never need to sleep and eat and an endless supply of money while he stays in inns (every single one of which you MUST describe). He should meet Magic Breasts and Warrior Guy and Mentor Face somewhere along the way, one of which will ultimately betray him.

7. The Magic Rulebook

Even though pretty much every character you introduce past a certain point of the book will be able to use more magic than Gandalf, people in your world should generally doubt that it exists at all, despite OVERWHELMING EVIDENCE to the contrary. When magic ultimately makes its totally unexpected appearance, you’d better teach me about that business. I’m serious. Give me charts, graphs, rules, the magical periodic table of elements, I don’t care, I’d just better believe that your magic has some hardcore rules, or I’m out. If your magic doesn’t make sense, then there’s no way it’s like actual magic, and therefore is a ruse, and you are a liar.

Teach the main character and the reader every last detail about this magic system you’ve created, and be sure to give us the exceptions to the rules and the theoretical whatsits that Rand Skywalker will ultimately demolish because he’s the Supreme Butthole Reborn.

8. Multiple POVs

This is more of a note for the future, but feel free to ditch your main character from time to time, for several chapters or even whole books (as long as he’s in the prologue or epilogue or thought about or seen on a wanted poster occasionally). The more characters in your story, the better.

I need to see POVs from the main squeeze, Magic Breasts, Magic Breasts’ rival, her rival’s rival, the Big Bad, the Big Bad’s not at all threatening errand boy, the main squeeze’s horse and some rich lord in a faraway land whose actions kick off a seven book subplot that may or may not be resolved by series end. Because hey, you have to leave your self somewhere to go in case this whole Big Bad thing fizzles out.


And there you have it. This won’t take you through a whole book, but I’ve seriously done a lot of the legwork for you. Who knows, maybe we’ll have more of these in the future.

What are some of your favorite epic fantasy tropes, writing cliches and general pitfalls that you love, hate, and love to hate?

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