“Get inside their head” is about getting to know the audience you’re writing for. Once a month, I interview one avid reader of a particular genre, asking questions every author wants to know, or should know about writing for their audience through the eyes of one ideal potential reader.
Today’s discussion is about Epic Fantasy. And my interviewee is twenty-four year old blogger, author, and avid reader, Dakota Lopez:
Dakota is the founder and editor of Geekritique, a blog dedicated to reviewing genre works in book, movie, and tv forms. The blog also hosts a number of editorials and recommendations for geeky things across the board. Dakota is also in the process of writing his first fantasy novel, which you can read more about at TalesFromAtelinor.wordpress.
Thanks again Dakota for joining us on this feature interview about what readers are looking for in an epic fantasy genre.
Thanks for having me.
First of all: How long have you been an avid reader of the epic fantasy genre?
My inclination is to just say “oh gosh, forever.” But that would probably be a lie. Although I’ve always liked the fantasy genre.
What drew you to epic fantasy?
I’d have to say that personality has a lot to do with it. I read a lot of different stuff. I love science fiction and science fantasy as well. Usually fantasy is a much more nostalgic genre, where SciFi is hopeful. I tend to lean more on nostalgia, as a fault in my personality.
What is the first epic fantasy novel you’ve ever read?
I attribute Tolkien’s works as being the earliest form of inspiration for me. I’ll say The Fellowship of the Ring was probably my first, although I’m in need of a LotR reread as I read those at far too young an age to fully grasp their weight.
How many epic fantasy novels have you read in total?
What are your three favorite epic fantasy novels?
Again, nostalgia factor. In no particular order:
The Kingkiller Chronicle, by Patrick Rothfuss – This extremely popular trilogy follows the life story of young Kvothe, and is the story of how he became the greatest legend of all time in just a few short years. The third book is notoriously long awaited, as Rothfuss is such a perfectionist he rewrites his book some 80+ times before he feels comfortable with it. The first book, The Name of the Wind, has seen global acclaim.
The Stormlight Archive, by Brandon Sanderson – This planned ten book series has only actually released its first two novels, but they’re huge. The second book alone sits at 400,000 words. Sanderson is the master of worldbuilding and magic systems. This series sees a cast of characters realize they’re something far more than they ever dreamed, as an evil unlike the world has ever seen looms forth. It’s essentially the most perfect superhero origin story of any epic fantasy series I’ve ever read.
The Farseer Trilogy, by Robin Hobb – Perhaps the most heart-wrenchingly beautiful fantasy epic I’ve read of late, the Farseer Trilogy is part of Hobb’s much larger Realm of the Elderlings series. It follows young FitzChivalry Farseer as he grows up living the terrible life of a lesser heir to the throne. It doesn’t sound terrible, but the worth of nobility is put to the test in this book. I cried for this kid. I stressed for these characters like I have for none other in any book ever.
What was it about your #1 favorite book that stuck out to you the most?
The series I’ve found nearly perfect would be The Stormlight Archive, by Brandon Sanderson, as mentioned above. In its incredible length, not once is there an uninteresting, or dull moment. Sanderson’s ability to redefine what it means to visit a fantasy series is undeniably impressive, placing you in a world so alien and yet so real. The series, which begins with The Way of Kings, delivers on all accounts.
Which characters in this book really spoke to you?
It’s been almost two years since I’ve read it now, but I remember each character so very vividly. Kaladin, the highlighted of the four main POV characters in the first Stormlight Archive book, is excellent, for starters. The son of a wealthy Doctor, he enlists into the war when his younger brother is drafted, so that he can protect him. He isn’t capable of protecting him, and he as a character breaks. He is sent to be a slave. One day a spren, a fairylike creature, begins communicating with him – something that never happens to humans – and he begins developing odd abilities.
Another character, perhaps my favorite, is Dalinar Kholin. Brother to the fallen King, and advisor to the reigning heir, he begins to see visions that the voidbringers are returning. He must make sense of these visions before the kingdom and the world is destroyed.
Why did they speak to you personally?
Dalinar is a very rational being. He doesn’t take things entirely at face value, and he is an excellent father and mentor figure. But most of all it’s his understanding of honor that puts him at the very top for me. That, and the fact that he’s just so cool.
What made these characters so memorable?
Generally speaking, the greatest characters are all very human. They have flaws. They have a growth arc. They are relatable, hatable, and often very lovable. I need to be able to understand these characters to get behind them.
In your opinion, what generally makes for a memorable character?
To find him or herself, the character must be given a good arc, situations in which they are put to their limits, and other characters to play off them in convincing ways.
Is there a character type you feel is overdone in the fantasy genre?
The orphan boy who struggles to move foreword in life, who then suddenly realizes he’s the chosen one, or is whisked away to become the greatest hero or most powerful person of all. Nearly all modern fantasy relies on this trope. And yes, we’ve gotten some of the absolute best characters from it. But it’s easy. And it’s not the only character type there is. Don’t assume you need to opt for this formula. There are plenty of others out there.
Lots of really great points you bring up, Dakota. But how about when you’re shopping around for a new book to read…
Where do you typically go to find a new epic fantasy novel to read?
There’s nothing like word of mouth. Especially when it comes to social media. The greater the writer and reader circle is talking about a certain read online, the quicker it’ll find its way onto my to-read list.
What are the top three to five things you look for in your next surefire read?
1. A good cover is an easy way to intrigue me.
2. If the first few pages are good, I’m all for it.
3. Books that have some critical acclaim, so that I know that quality will be present.
4. Some semblance of worldbuilding is a must.
5. Magic systems, or power systems should be present but not limitless.
Are you more influenced to read a book that your friends suggest? Or do you like to go out on a limb and try a completely new book?
Sometimes I see a book on Goodreads or Twitter that none of my friends have read or reviewed. And yeah, sometimes I’ll have to go out on a limb and try it for myself. I know my friends generally have good taste, so books they recommend I usually get around to reading.
What would instantly turn you away from reading a book?
Poor writing. Repetitive phrases. Grammatical errors. Absurd metaphors. Using words incorrectly. Or trying too hard with a Victorian speech pattern. It’s just messy.
What sort of book covers stand out to you when you’re shopping around? Any examples to share with us?
Something that is imaginative. Generally a good painting. Dark, atmospheric, beautiful. A.M. Dellamonica’s ‘Child of a Hidden Sea‘ is a great example of a cover that totally grabs your attention.
What sort of cover art makes you cringe?
Minimalism, to the point of it not being creative at all. Or when it’s an actual photograph of someone superimposed on the cover, taken from some stock generic library. That’s a big turn off. But I usually read them regardless, if the story is well recommended.
Fair enough! Now for some personal taste questions:
Do you like epic fantasy novels that air on the side of mystery? Or do you prefer a gritty action/adventure?
I go into stories hoping for adventure. But that’s not to say there can’t be mystery thrown in. Action is not a must, but when executed correctly, it really moves the book along.
Do you prefer stories with more whimsical and intriguing settings? Or do you prefer settings that are similar to the world we live in? Or perhaps you like futuristic settings?
My gut reaction would be to say whimsical and intriguing. The more imaginative, the better it is. Then again, most fantasy novels take a very Germanic/feudal European tone, and this works just fine. Because it’s a world we can relate to. So I guess both are fine, but extra points if you can incorporate your worldbuilding into your story.
What is your biggest pet peeve when it comes to reading a new story or book?
My biggest peeve as a reader is a main character who is clearly angsty for the sake of it. Further, I appreciate when a novel doesn’t rely on strong language to make dialogue feel genuine. Generally speaking, if your characters have to curse every other line to make them seem realistic, they’d be unbelievable without them. Easy way to make a hollow character seem tough. And that bugs me.
Has there ever been a book that you flat-out hated? If so, what was the ‘final straw’ for you when reading that book?
Flat out hated? Yes. If I can’t find the time to finish the book, or am trudging through it slowly, it’s better to just stop reading it. If I’m not entertained by the halfway point, it’s not worth my time.
Thank you Dakota, you’ve been really patient with my many questions! But I have just two more questions for you that should greatly help my fellow writers out there:
What, to you, is the formula for a great epic fantasy novel?
There is no set in stone formula that makes for a great epic fantasy novel. I’ve read so many excellent books that take so many different formulas and mash them together, or spread them apart. Simply put: have a compelling narrative, make your characters relatable. Write a good story.
And do you have any final tips or pointers for my fellow writers looking to create the next great epic fantasy novel?
Know your market. Read books by your peers and learn what is relevant in this day and age. The epic fantasy genre has evolved so much. It’s imperative you know what’s going on in your community.
Second, it’s important that writers understand what makes epic fantasy “epic”. There are many sub-genres of fantasy (grimdark, high fantasy, sword & sorcery, etc.) and generally speaking the best fantasy writers out there blur the line of where one sub-genre ends and another begins. Epic fantasy takes its name from epic poems of old, and generally speaking epic fantasy novels tend to be far longer than the average novel (as in 200,000+ words). Epic fantasy also strives to distance itself from your typical earth setting. Epic fantasy usually isn’t YA (or young adult), as it’s meant for a more mature reading level.
Finally, keep in mind that word count isn’t everything. You can create an epic fantasy that’s less than 100,000 words, and still make it speak to the reader. But don’t let anyone tell you it’s too long (unless it’s over 300,000 words, because it’s very rare publishers will want to spend that much producing your book).
Thanks so much Dakota! Your insights have greatly helped us writers get a peek into the mind of our audience. Thank you so much for your time.
Thank you so much for considering me for your piece. I hope this helped!
Have you read the first article in this series?
Kate I. Foley is only 15 years old but she’s already a
published author and popular blogger in her niche. She’s also an avid reader and
fan of the fantasy genre.
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