Others may bring enjoyment and be lauded for their greatness, but The Epic story always rises to the top of greatness when it comes to writing. It can take place in any genre, but it seems to find its greatest home in speculative works – particularly fantasy. Every Tolkien geek, like myself, longs to write one.
Which brings me to the question I’ve been asking myself lately. How does The Epic story line fit into all the wisdom we learn from books on the craft of writing?
Case in point. I mentioned a book entitled Hooked last week. Les Edgerton’s formula for hooking the reader is simple in concept. And it makes perfect sense.
1. Inciting Incident – No need for lengthy setup or backstory – Throw your hero/heroine right into their Initial Surface Problem.
2. Initial Surface Problem – Introduced by the Inciting Incident and hints at/leads to the Story-Worthy Problem,
3. Initial Surface Goal – The hero/heroine’s steps to resolve the Initial Surface Problem – usually ending in disaster or at best partial success – which creates a new problem and a new goal, which after more problems and goals eventually leads to the….
4. Story Worthy Problem – The real heart of the issue, both personally for the character and for the situation they’re in.
5. Story Worthy Goal – The final steps taken once the hero/heroine realizes the true problem.
6. Resolution – The hero/heroine succeeds or fails, thus being changed forever.
So here’s my question? How do you accomplish that when the first five chapters are written from the point of view of five different characters? I use multiple point of views, but I don’t switch this much. Yet the books that really grab me – The Epics – all do. And I’ve been having a hard time trying to fit these stories into any formula that craft coaches recommend.
For example, I’m currently reading Heir of Novron, the final book in Michael J. Sullivan’s Ryria Revelations. I can’t put it down. However, within the first seven chapters there are five major characters (4 protagonists and 1 antagonist) that get scenes from their point of view. While I’m already hooked from the first two books, I would totally be hooked if I picked up this one despite not being able to follow one character’s arc for very long.
My first thought was that I can apply the formula to each character. But that didn’t work. Robert Jordan liked to follow a specific character for a few chapters, then move to another for a few. Brandon Sanderson likes to take his characters in chunks, almost like each has their own mini-book within a book, and then it’s a sprint toward the end as all the character’s stories intertwine for an epic resolution. Although I wouldn’t recommend George Martin because of his questionable content, he swaps point of views every other chapter with no seeming pattern, yet rivets the reader.
Sadly, I don’t have a second thought yet. What is it about an epic story that makes us read late into the night even though it seems to break all the rules (which even Les Edgerton says is okay if you do it the right way)?
What’s the secret ingredient that makes Epic stories work?