An attempt at an epic fantasy short story

Most regulars here know that I generally don’t read fantasy. George R. R. Martin has been the big exception. While my experience with science fiction is somewhat extensive, my experience with fantasy is below average. That said, I had this idea for a story that would fit well into an epic fantasy setting. But I wondered to myself: is it even possible to write epic fantasy as a short story?

Before you jump in with a myriad of examples proving that it is possible, remember that my experience here is limited. That said, I suspected that it was possible because I could think of at least one story I had read that fit the criteria: Resa Nelson‘s “The Dragonslayer’s Sword” which appeared in the November 1992 Science Fiction Age. I really enjoyed that story. I also remembered that I’d read Christie Yant‘s “The Magician and the Maid and Other Stories” which appeared in Way of the Wizard. I really liked that one as well. That convinced me that it could be done.

Last night I set about doing it. And to my surprise, I wrote over 2,100 words. I don’t think this story will be particularly long. It might hit 4,000 words, but I’d be surprised if it went more than 5,000. And part of the trouble in writing an epic fantasy short story is that the word “epic” is kind of deceiving. As a writer, it makes you think “long”, but as a reader, you recognize it is a description of genre, not length.

To my surprise, the writing I did on the story last night was much easier than the writing I do on a typical science fiction story. That is not to say that writing epic fantasy is easy. It is quite possible that my story will end up being nothing more than a cliche of what every newbie writer attempting epic fantasy ends up producing. But, there were noticeable differences in the storytelling that made it seem easier. For one thing, I didn’t have to worry about the science in the story. I wasn’t scribbling calculations and altering the details of the story based on the results. Nor does the plot hinge in some way on the science in the story. Of course, in fantasy, the story and the world must still be self-consistent within their framework, but that seemed to come naturally to me.

I think the story I’ve chosen to tell is unique to epic fantasy, but I often think the same thing about science fiction, only to see my unique idea in print 65 years ago. And I recognize that there are certain expectations in any genre, and while I think I understand those expectations, I’m working pretty hard to make the story stand out from what I think of as typical epic fantasy.

The thing is, I don’t have the “protocol” for fantasy, as John Stevens might say. And I may be breaking some rules. But I have to say that at the moment, I’m having a blast.

And I know, I said just a few days ago that I needed to buckle down and focus on the science fiction novella that I’m working on. But some ideas just won’t be contained. They ripen unexpectedly and if you don’t plug them, you’ll lose the fruit.

Besides, it’s very possible that I’ll be done with the draft this weekend and can then return to the other work I had going on. If nothing else, the writing takes me outside my typical comfort zone, and the experience could be useful in the future.

9 thoughts on “An attempt at an epic fantasy short story

  1. The thing is, I don’t have the “protocol” for fantasy, as John Stevens might say. And I may be breaking some rules. But I have to say that at the moment, I’m having a blast.

    But that’s more than okay. While understanding the genre is important if you are going to write fantasy after fantasy, I’m curious what you will come up with…

  2. I don’t believe there is a protocol for fantasy. That’s why it’s fantasy. I’ve read where SF authors try to write fantasy, and you know what, it usually ends up being quite different from the traditional milquetoast fantasy.

    I’ll be interested to see how this pans out!

  3. It’ll actually be interesting to see the kind of story you write, given that you don’t know all the fantasy cliches. Sometimes people from outside of a genre can give a unique perspective. Do you plan on posting the story anywhere when you’re done?

  4. Jesse, no not posting, but submitting. If the story doesn’t sell anywhere then maybe I’ll consider putting it up. But if it doesn’t sell anywhere, it may be a sign that it just isn’t very good. We’ll see…

  5. Thanks! I think what I’ll do is–if the story doesn’t sell–write a post about it and tell people that if they want to read it, leave a comment and I’ll email a copy. Of course, if it sells, you’ll be able to see it when it appears. 🙂

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