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Crafting An Epic – Part One

February 26th, 2013 Leave a comment Go to comments
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There are big projects, and there are big projects. In the start of a new series of posts, I’ll be taking a look at what it takes to create your own epic. Let’s step beyond novels, and into the realms of epic fiction!

A Game of Thrones

You knew it was coming! Mentioning epics requires a reference to A Song Of Ice And Fire. It is the law!

A while back, I wrote a series of posts detailing my experiences in writing serialised fiction. Well, it’s time for another ongoing exploration folks!


Well, I’ve danced around this issue for quite a long time. Not as part of my usual procrastination technique, but my “latest” project (I use the speech marks because this is now over two years old) – working title The Veteran – has been very daunting, due to its size. 

I honestly thought about abandoning it, because it was almost too big. Like staring into the sun, I couldn’t look at it all at once. 

Not one to give up on a challenge though, I decided to dive right in, head first, so let’s explore some of the things I’ve been doing differently writing (much) longer fiction. 


Does the scale of an epic work make you do this? Don’t think you’re the only one! Image courtesy of Bob Semk on Flicker.

Time for Something Completely Different.

It has been a somewhat humbling experience, if I’m honest. As any regulars will know, I’m much more of the chaotic raw yin to Matt’s more calm, organised yang. And that’s kinda worked for me on several of my projects (especially the shorter ones) because, well, as ‘big’ as some of my other projects have been, they have all been fairly contained. Not too many characters, not too many locations, and all of that stuff I’ve been able to keep in my head. This project, on t’other hand, I have come to realise is just too big for me to get away with that. Large grand Space Opera with four (just count them!) major plot strands. FOUR! 

Obviously I can’t just improvise the whole thing when I have four different plot strands that only loosely interconnect (at least for the first half of the book). Taking into account also at least seven major locations separated by light years, and at my last tally, almost forty significant speaking roles, well, how did I ever think I’d be able to just wing it? 

While none of this is particularly new to writing (especially the organisers like Matt), to someone like me, who isn’t used to a great deal of note making, I thought it’d be good to get back to the nuts and bolts, and explore these things from an outsider’s perspective. 

  • A Glossary – This is of course dependent upon the type of project. It is more necessary, I feel, for those of us writing sci-fi or fantasy, where you’re going to have a lot of new or different concepts, terms, technologies to keep track of. Not just that, but characters too. As I said above, I have several major locations, and each of them have their own character set. Even in the different sections I’ve done (I separated the four plots into different documents to start with) I’ve noticed discrepancies with certain things. With lots and lots of characters, I’ve had to make a list of who is where, their roles, and how they relate to others. Matt’s Character Sheet has been helpful in that. It has also resulted in me abusing my Name Bank.
  • Outline – This is a tricky one for me. While it is necessary to know where your story is going (especially one this large) my natural ‘wing it’ instincts have been battling against it. And one of the reasons is because you need flexibility. I recently started writing down the last of my four plots, and while initially it was going to be the one that took up less page time, in writing it, I’d created another character (and indeed a set of characters) who I could really get behind. I know you should be able to get behind all of your characters, but – much like my opening salvo – here was a character who became far more interesting to me than I had initially envisioned.

    In doing so, I found I wanted to spend more time with the character, it opened up more possibilities and – just as a thought exercise – I tried to imagine how this character would react when placed in the presence of some of the characters from the other plot strands. Because it’s all well and good creating a character and what they’re like, but it is far more telling to determine how they respond to other characters.

    So while an outline is trés important in crafting your work, you can’t have it be too rigid. Because without room to manoeuvre, there isn’t space for all that beautiful organic chaos to take place.

  • Word Count – That all important word count. I’ve been fretting about this since I started, and my prologue alone was spiralling towards the 30,000 word mark. Obviously, it became a biggy for me. I’m a bit of a word machine when it comes to my writing, and it is always in the back of my mind. Of course you should keep things snappy, always keep it moving forward, always have momentum, but as this project got bigger and bigger, I realised I could just roll with it in this case. Give it space, let it breathe, give chaos a chance to slip in. But don’t let it get flabby. I’ll admit, there isn’t much that happens ‘on page’ in the opening chapters, a lot of the action is behind the scenes, which is why clarity of character is so much more important.

Aaaaand here’s the other obligatory reference. Couldn’t very well leave Frodo and his ring out could I?


When I first started this (when it was a much smaller project) I did improvise a lot of it, but as it’s grown, I’ve had to throw a lot more focus on the characters, because I don’t have that snappy urgency I’ve had in my other work. In Wasp Whisperer, my main character is always up against it. There is a finite time limit, and so many obstacles – that’s what generates the conflict. It’s all fast and in the open. In this project, it’s all simmering behind the scenes, it’s slow burn, so the characters are (hopefully) interesting and complex (and damaged) enough to maintain reader interest. 

Well, that’s my foundation, anyway. Over the coming weeks (and probably months) I’ll be exploring further successes, barriers, blocks and thoughts about the process of writing much longer fiction. But for now..

Over to you:
Have you (or are you currently) undertaken a much larger piece of work? Something outside of your usual remit? What are the challenges you’ve faced in switching up your process, and how have you overcome them? As ever, lay your comments out below.

  • http://getmewriting.com Matt Roberts

    Thanks for the post Craig! I look forward to the next one.

    40 speaking roles? My word, I am aghast! I would certainly find keeping all that in my head absolutely impossible.

    As you know, I am freewheeling it a bit more these days, but for such a large project I don’t know where my planning would end. It boggles the mind.

    • Craig

      It is incredibly daunting. My next post is going to be looking at the pros and cons of that. The main thing, as I mentioned above (and this is another danger) the fact that this is really straining my name bank. I have a lot of incidental characters who I am having to find names for, just to flesh them out a little, and to provide background for the main characters, but of course you dont want to flesh them out too much, because if you do, you may be tempted to make their roles bigger, and them ZAM! You’ve got another significant speaking role, and another ten pages or so added to the over all piece.

      • http://getmewriting.com Matt Roberts

        You could always keep them for spin-off novellas and short stories

        • Craig

          Spin offs!? Isn’t this project big enough already? I’ve already got a prequel novella sketched out (though we all know when I say ‘novella’ I could be stretching the word count of that quite a bit)

          • http://getmewriting.com Matt Roberts

            Ha! Sure, but if you sideline them to other work, you can at least get your novel done.