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What is Epic Fantasy? Two Competing Definitions

Pick one...



Okay...

So here is the thing, both of these definitions cannot be correct. One of them has to be the correct definition.

Also 300,000 words isn't really that "epic" of a wordcount in my opinion. The first "Game of Thrones" book by George R. R. Martin is almost that long and various other books in the series are 400,000 words or more. So a single book that is only 300,000 words isn't really that impressive.

3,000,000 words is definitely epic however. eg. The Wheel of Time series of books has a wordcount of over 4 million words.

However there is a flaw here.

The 2nd definition states that it is "any fantasy novel". Literally any. It could be a comedy, a rom-com fantasy, or even a musical... It doesn't provide any definition with respect to plot or subgenre.

The 1st definition however goes in the opposite direction. It is specifically talking about subgenre with respect to plot, setting, themes, etc.

But there is a distinction in the 1st definition. There is no wordcount requirement.

It could be an epic fantasy short story. 1,500 - 7,500 words.

Or an epic fantasy novelette. 7,500 - 17,500 words.

Or an epic fantasy novella. 17,500 - 40,000 words.

Note - See my previous post about short story, novelette and novella wordcounts.

Basically the point is that epic fantasy is a subgenre based on the story's themes, plot, etc. The total wordcount doesn't really matter.

This idea that epic fantasy has to be really long appears to be the result of the confusion. People are confusing the subgenre with the wordcount, as if wordcount actually matters to tell a good story.

Thus for me, the first definition is the correct one.

However, what is sad is when writers write a book and then call it "epic fantasy" without actually understanding the themes found in the subgenre.

Epic Fantasy often involves:

  • A great battle or battles between good and evil.
  • A long epic quest, like trying to destroy a powerful artifact in a volcano that is thousands of miles away.
  • Heroes that are often destined for great things.
  • Usually has a villain who is the main big bad. eg. Sauron, Voldemort, Darth Vader.
Thus if a story depicts an epic journey and battle, with a hero that is destined to defeat "the Dark Lord" or some similar villain, and manages to keep the story under 7,500 words... then it is epic fantasy.

Is it easier to depict the "epicness" of the journey and battle if you have more words? Yes, probably would be easier if you could write something longer. Writing an epic short story could be quite a challenge.

So if you are looking for a writing challenge and you enjoy epic fantasies, perhaps this is a writing challenge worth doing?

Why not write an epic fantasy short story and then leave a comment below with a link to it?

Myself, I am thinking of doing it, but making it a fable about a legendary warrior. After all, there is no rule saying a fable cannot be 7,500 words.

Some of my current fables are already quite long, with fables inside of fables.

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