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Thursday, August 30, 2012

Plotting Another Book In An Epic Fantasy Series

Writing epic fantasy sagas is a little different than writing your average thriller (if there is such a thing). Plotting out 4+ books is a very large task.

When I set out to write a five book YA epic fantasy series I had absolutely no idea just what the work entailed. I had never written a full-scale novel before, let alone a series. Sure I had read a lot of series, but writing one, well that was a different story. But hey, it couldn't be that difficult, could it?

Three books into my series and about to embark on writing the fourth, I can tell you I have learned so much. I feel like the enlightened student who originally told his master he knew it all, only to be humbled many years later. I have the utmost respect for any author who manages to write an epic series. So, why is it so difficult you ask? Surely you just write some stuff, and then some more stuff. And so on. Oh, if only...

The thing about an epic series is that it needs to have a message that gets delivered over the course of a number of books. Also, each book needs to tell a story and be a part of the whole. Writing a story that is perhaps 750,000 words in length, as opposed to a standard (?) 250,000 word trilogy, is a huge challenge.

I started out with a (naively) straightforward overall plot that involved a journey and a battle. That ought to be enough to carry five books! Yeah, right. Not even one book really, even though I had jotted down several plot-lines that would be revealed in later books. I eventually got through with the first book and thought, wow, amazing. Actually, it was pretty amazing. I had managed to write a 125,000 word novel - not too shabby.

Book two was an interesting challenge as all of a sudden I had to flesh my characters out and decide a little more where things were going. Book two became a difficult book to write. Whereas I had written book one in three months, book two took me nearly two years! But eventually it was done and I was very happy with the result. During the writing of book two, a lot of the over-arching concepts of the epic series started to become clearer to me.

So, onto book three. I took a gap of nearly six years before writing the third book in the series, concentrating on completing some other writing projects and generally fulfilling several other activities. When I came to plot book three I had a renewed vigor and a much better understanding of what was required of me. I completed book three within a three month period and then let it sit and rest for a year before I came back to re-edit it. The maturity of my writing and plot ideas hit me anew. I really was very pleased with the end result.

And so onto book four. I am currently plotting out the fourth book in the series, ready to start writing in a couple of weeks time. I started by looking back at my original plan for the series, but there were so few of the original ideas I could take that I have had to more or less start from scratch. At least I now know where the series is going. My five book epic fantasy series now has a message and a journey. I know what I want to achieve and almost know how to achieve it. The series has taken on a direction I never originally imagined, but that isn't important as the series is stronger for it. What is more, the writing of the series has made me a better author. I plan to write the last two books in the series back to back - I'm already excited to finish it and move onto my next large project.

So, that's about it for my ramble today. Plotting an epic fantasy series is a very difficult thing and I'll be the first person to admit it. Keeping all the characters in check and consistent, moving the story along, keeping the action flowing, stopping the story-line from getting too confusing. These are all considerations. But the biggest consideration of all is just what am I trying to achieve? If I manage that then I will be a happy man. And so far I am smiling all over my face.


  1. Just out of curiosity, did you find that you regretted any character definitions from the earlier books when you moved into the later books? (personality traits, character bios, choices characters made that don't fit with where you want to take them later, killing one you wish you hadn't?)

    I'm plotting book 2 in my second epic fantasy and am hesitant to "set in stone" the tale told in book one for reasons such as these.

  2. My major characters - no. A few minor characters, I changed a couple of things on a re-edit several years later. Just little things that were inconsistencies.

    But all my major characters, once you write them you have to stick with them - flaws and all!

    Good luck.

    1. Thanks for the answer! I killed a character in the climax of book 1 after much debate. I had a plot line & character arc all planned for him in book 2, but his death served a purpose in book 1. I guess I'm not still totally sold that I made the correct choice in book 1.