Suspense, Horror and Romance in Epic Fantasy

DEADLY CURIOSITIESby Gail Z. Martin

One of the things I love about writing epic fantasy is that within the genre, there is room for elements of other genres.  Like the old spaghetti sauce ad, “it’s in there.”    Part of it is the scope of epic fantasy, with its large scale, sweeping storylines and large cast of characters.  That creates a lot of opportunity for drawing on a variety of elements, because you’re working on a bigger canvas (and a larger page count) than many other genres permit.

I know that suspense has its own genre, but certainly any dramatic fiction requires more than a dollop of suspense to keep the reader turning pages.  If you want your readers to stick with you over the course of hundreds of pages, there has to be a strong “what’s going to happen next” sense, with tension at the end of every scene and every chapter.  I love when readers tell me that I kept them up late or made them run over their lunch hour because they couldn’t put the book down!

Maybe other genres can get by without a touch of horror, but it fits well inside epic fantasy.  We often write about brutal times and brutal people–warlords, kings, soldiers, mages and monsters.  There’s going to be bloodshed, and often, to illustrate just how bad it is or just how black someone’s heart is, the writing veers into the horrific to make a point.  Unlike a horror novel, an epic fantasy doesn’t stay mired in the horrific, nor does the protagonist remain helpless for long.  But we definitely touch on it, and can often use it to good purpose.

Epic romance also often lends itself to elements of romance.  Dynasties are at stake, and the men and women who produce the next set of rulers are going to have their loves and dalliances, their betrayals and unrequited affections.  It can up the stakes for a hero’s survival if someone is waiting for his or her return.  When people are thrown together under stressful situations for periods of time, romantic relationships are going to happen.  I find that a bit of romance can be a respite from all the battle action and grit, and after having that respite, the hardship seems even more difficult.

The next time you’re stewing up your next epic fantasy, add some spice with horror, suspense and romance.  It makes for a mighty tasty story!

Reign of Ash, book two in the Ascendant Kingdoms Saga launches in April, 2014 from Orbit Books.  My new urban fantasy, Deadly Curiosities, comes out in July, 2014 from Solaris Books. I bring out two series of ebook short stories with a new story every month for just .99 on Kindle, Kobo and Nook—check out the Jonmarc Vahanian Adventures or the Deadly Curiosities Adventures.

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