Writing An Epic Fantasy Series Is Not Easy

I dropped in on an interview by Franny (not sure if this is her real name) who runs the Mind Reader blog. I have visited a few times – she writes great book reviews. Franny interviewed Meredith Bond, author of Magic In The Storm, (full interview here) and opened with the following question:

“Why is almost every book published now part of a series? Have you noticed this? I don’t think I’ve seen one single stand-alone title (aside from anthologies) in over a year! Is this a good thing? Isn’t it good enough to find books by an author you like without the books having to be tied together in some way?”

Ms. Bond’s answer is thoughtful and worth reading, but she does claim, frivolously I hope, that we authors are “lazy bums.” I took exception to this. Writing a series of books in one world with many recurring characters demands that we show this world in different forms throughout the series. In fact, I draw my own world-building inspiration from nature and I hope I will never stop seeing new lands and areas of natural beauty. When we see a beautiful vista, it is a family joke to say in a breath-taking voice: Alagaesia, a tribute to the beautiful world that Christopher Paolini built.

imgresSimilarly, my characters do not stand still. They grow, and as they age, experience conflict and love from a different perspective, as do we all in the ‘real world’. Terry Brooks is a master of this with his Shannara series.

I would venture to suggest that the onus is even greater with recurring characters because we need to show significant depth in their development. Perhaps it is easier to create a new warrior, hero, heroine, villain etc., in each book, because you can keep them relatively shallow.

Next month, The First Decree, my second Wycaan Master novel, will be released by Tourmaline Books. Since the Xmas holiday break, I have been writing Book 4 (Book 3 is written but not edited) and am about 30,000 words in. My characters are older, wiser, have more to lose, and a greater sense of responsibility.

They are growing up and each developing into the unique, ever-changing individual that they are. I care about them too much. I would never let them languish and become stagnant. What kind of a father would I be (I am, however, in no rush for my real kids to grow up!)?

There are obvious and legitimate reasons to write a series. Every author wants to build a readership and why not create an ongoing relationship between readers and the characters they are rooting for?

Tery Goodkind wrote 12 books in the Sword of Truth series.

Tery Goodkind wrote 12 books in the Sword of Truth series.

I don’t mean to begin a feud with Ms. Bond because of one phrase in an otherwise excellent interview, but it struck a chord. I recently told a friend that I have written a book a year for the last seven years (I am published in two genres), and she responded by saying that it must be easy for me.

It is not. I work very hard at my craft, spend considerable time building the world of Odessiya, and worry about my characters and their destiny. I cry when a main character dies (I can even cry several times as I reread, and reread, and reread) and feel equally exhilarated when they succeed.

The story flows out of me but I put considerable time and effort into it. I wake up early and go to bed late, squeezing in a full-time job and hopefully trying to be an active parent and sharing husband.

When I finish writing a first draft I am exhausted mentally. But I’ll keep coming back for more, just as a marathon runner pushes themselves beyond their limit during a race, but knows s/he will be back running soon.

There is an incredible high when the words flow, exhilaration as a plot unfolds, and pure joy when someone says: “Hey. You’re an author, right? I read your books.

I wouldn’t have it any other way.

The First Decree-hi resolution


Alon Shalev writes social justice-themed novels and YA epic fantasy. He swears there is a connection. His latest books include: Unwanted Heroes and At The Walls Of Galbrieth. Alon tweets at @alonshalevsf and @elfwriter.

9 comments on “Writing An Epic Fantasy Series Is Not Easy

  1. It is partially because of the publishing world. I approached an agent with one large fantasy story in one volume and she said: “You know the fantasy genre is a trilogy game, right? Can you find a cutoff point for book One in this and send it to me?”

  2. I like books as a series, but I also don’t like filler. I think books should only be as long as the plot takes them, and then just end it. I’m not a fan of neverending series.

  3. Aria says:

    I completely agree with all of this. Just thinking about putting my own characters all in one book makes me feel like I can’t bring out who they really are, and how important they truly are to the overall story. It’s not a romance novel that focuses on a young woman who simply fights and breaks up with a long time lover. That could probably be finished in one book. Even for the second series I’m planning, which is decidedly shorter than the first one, I initially considered one book but felt that I needed at least a second one. One book just isn’t enough.

  4. B.J. Baye says:

    Awesome post. I’m just starting to outline what will be the first book in an epic series myself. I’m definitely not planning it because I’m lazy, (I am, at times, but not in my writing.) If I was lazy, I’d stick to one-off short stories, as they’re what comes easiest to me. I’m starting this series as it’s the kind of thing I like to read. As a reader, I love following characters as they grow, and deal with multiple challenges over their lives.

    I’ll probably be taking an Anne McCaffrey or the more recent Terry Goodkind approach, however, rather than a George R.R. Martin. (That is, story arcs that may go over multiple books, but they finish and new stories take their place as the characters’ lives continue, rather than a single story arc that seems like it may never end.) It depends on what feels right at the time, of course.

  5. I loved this post. It strikes a cord with me especially this:
    “There is an incredible high when the words flow, exhilaration as a plot unfolds, and pure joy when someone says: “Hey. You’re an author, right? I read your books.”

    I wouldn’t have it any other way.”

    Personally I think that there are so many new authors writing in a series because it makes good business sense. As more and more people invest in ereaders and more and more books become just a click away, it makes sense to hook the reader with a characters that grow over the course of more than one book. Look at writers like Lindsay Buroker with her EE series. I’m addicted! 🙂
    But then if the writing/characters are lacking this technique won’t work.

  6. […] Alon Shalev at Elf Writer claims that Writing An Epic Fantasy Series Is Not Easy. I couldn’t agree more. My current WIP isn’t even epic fantasy, but even a YA fantasy […]

  7. […] readers know I love writing full-length novels. The first draft can be up to 120,000 words long and after my editor has worked her magic, the […]

  8. Agreed, it is not easy. It is also a lot of fun. Rather than stand-alone vs series, I’m more into the idea of a shared setting.

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