I recently finished Heir of Novron, the final two books of the Ryria Revelations by Michael J. Sullivan. I can honestly say this is one of the best books I’ve read – particularly the final book.
I won’t give any spoilers, but there’s only a few books that have tugged on my emotions at the end like this one did. Every character was in honest-to-goodness danger of dying, and the stakes going into the climax couldn’t have been higher. Many times the final showdown of a book is a bit of a letdown. Not so here. Sullivan is brilliant at the end, showing why his books are so popular.
Having concluded the series, a lingering question stuck with me. How does Sullivan, like other successful epic fantasy writers, pull it off? I’d shared the last two weeks how I’ve been working through plot and structure concepts for a long time and finally found an answer that works for me in Les Edgerton’s model (from his book Hooked). But I still haven’t found an answer as to how this works with multiple PoV characters (a staple of epic fantasy).
I don’t think there’s one answer to that question, but I do think I’ve discovered an answer.
Les Edgerton mentions that no system is perfect and rules are made to be broken. But here’s the kicker. If you break a rule, then one of the other facets of your writing has to be so incredibly good that it makes up for the broken rule.
In this case, characterization.
James Scott Bell’s plotting system mentions that you must have a strong lead character. I daresay, every good epic fantasy story has multiple strong lead characters. Those strong lead characters make up for the fact that you’re not following just one of them in a linear fashion through the story.
So how do you have great characters? I concluded over the last few days that Sullivan’s ability to craft characters that suck you right into his story comes from knowing those characters inside and out. This takes work. It takes time. You have to sit down and ask the necessary questions. Where does this character come from? What do they want? Why do they want that?
It’s easy to write about a bunch of people. But if I want my characters to stand out and grab readers, I need to know them thoroughly. They need to have layers. They need to have secrets. They need to be real enough to touch. Otherwise, all my characters will sound the same. If you want to write an epic story, you need to do some epic work 🙂
Which means I need to stop writing this post and go ask some questions to a few of my characters.
But before I go, can I recommend something? If you’ve never read Michael J. Sullivan’s stuff, go get it right now. You won’t be disappointed.