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Most did, but some had scheduling conflicts or felt strongly that they did not write Epic Fantasy and should not, therefore, participate.

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Not every participant answered every question. Some answered more expansively than others. I did not cut anyone's responses significantly, but I did arrange them for flow and impact. And now Yes, the participants cover the expected topics, and they go in unexpected directions as well.


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Their lives matter. This is the very opposite of most people's real lives, and one of the major reasons, I think, why Epic Fantasy has such enduring appeal. Jones: It's about a character discovering a world along with the reader. Epic Fantasy is all about the sense of wonder that comes from exploring. We get to enter crumbled-down castles and sea caves, ride across deserts baked as hard as glass, and build campfires against unknowable forces. Epic Fantasy is a world not bound by earthly limitations, and characters trying to keep themselves and their loved ones safe within it.

Terry Brooks: An element of magic without which the story fails to work. That's the short answer. Really, there are so many different kinds of fantasies that the elements necessary to make them complete vary widely.

Shannara is Epic Fantasy in the Tolkien tradition, requiring a quest, a little band of heroes, a penultimate confrontation between good and evil and the aforesaid element of magic which makes the whole thing work. But, you know what? While I know I am labeled a fantasy writer, that's not how I think of myself.

I think of myself as an adventure story writer. Jemisin: The epic. Every culture has these tales in some form, and the need to hear them is embedded in our species, I think.

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So naturally, even though we now write them down and have folded and spindled the epic forms into a new structure, we still crave the old thrill. Trudi Canavan: Bigness. Whether it be size of the world, the length of the tale or the number of books—or combinations of these. But not ideas.

A book can have big ideas, but not be "epic" fantasy. Unfortunately, the label "epic" seems to be applied to a lot of fantasy that doesn't really qualify, and that's a bit unfair to both true Epic Fantasy and fantasy that is not epic, just as it grates when anyone describes all fantasy as "quest" fantasy. Fantasy is a very broad and varied genre, and lumping it all under one type is never satisfactory. Elizabeth Bear: Well, that's kind of a can of worms, isn't it?

There are a lot of different answers, and a lot of different arguments. Fantasy's detractors often try to argue that it's in some way a morally inferior kind of literature: it's "not real," "escapist," "consolatory," "backwards looking," "monarchist," "made up. But I would argue that at its finest, fantasy is the exact opposite of those things.

Fantasy can serve as a kind of hyper-reality, a social allegory. It is uniquely capable of compressing the scope of human experience into a narrative—and I think that's what can make it epic, or give it that epic feel. It can illuminate good and bad, motive and desire. Michael A Stackpole: Short question that requires a long answer.

A quest is usually one critical component; but I think having events which will reshape the world is also critical. Imagine the world before and after Prometheus gave man fire. The changes need to be that earth-shattering or epoch-breaking. Lord of the Rings certainly does that; and I think other good Epic Fantasy does it as well.

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If that is not what is happening, then the challenges and threats don't seem as real or have as much gravity. Dynamic pressures and efforts are what make for great stories. Peter Orullian: I often feel as though a novel's "epicness" is defined by the reader's experience, and certainly by the definition any given reader may use to categorize a given book.

One could argue that the intimate examination of a single character battling personal demons—whether evil with a capital "E" or, say, addiction—could prove an epic tale.

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But in terms of answering your question, that way lies madness, since then it's all then subjective. For me, some things must exist for a fantasy novel to feel epic. And at least some of them would apply to epic storytelling in any genre. I think first of the stakes in the novel, which ties closely to the scale of the story. If my stakes are missing my morning cartoons because I've got to weed the garden, it ain't epic.


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Failure of my character to answer the story question has to have consequences that impact others besides the character himself. Could be, too, that my character fails. But there has to be risk on a broad scale. Yes, it's compelling to read about the risk of a single life, but for me that's a different genre of fantasy. I'd also say that there has to be a strong family element. The example that leaps to mind is George R. Martin's A Song of Ice and Fire. But it can be equally said of something like The Godfather. Often, what you find is that the interplay of characters who share some familial relationship proves a microcosm of what is being acted out on the "big stage" in the book, even as those same characters are the ones who trod that "big stage.

And sometimes, your character, himself, is the sacrificial lamb.