Friday, 28 February 2014

Why Does Epic Fantasy Have A Unique Sound (Or If GoT Characters were Aussies)

Love it or hate it, if you’ve ever read epic fantasy you know that it's different. Not just in the subject matter, but in the language that is used. Epic fantasy tends to the more ornate, perhaps the more old-fashioned.

Why is that?

I’ve heard it said that fantasy allows writers to be sloppy, to use adjectives and adverbs to excess in ways that isn’t tolerated in other genres. To some extent that is true, but that’s not the reason. Even among excellent writers of fantasy, like Brent Weeks and Brandon Sanderson, there is a certain feel to epic fantasy prose.

I’ve never written anything that isn’t epic fantasy, and this is why. I don’t know that I could let go of the epic 
fantasy style. I know that other genres are different, but I don’t know how to create them. Possibly because I’ve been immersed in the epic fantasy style for so long, or perhaps just because I’m so in love with it.

But still, why is epic fantasy this way?

A thought struck me last night, that when fantasy is filmed, like Lord of the Rings and Game of Thrones, great care is taken with the accents of the characters. Why? I think because it’s a critical part of the world-building. It just wouldn’t feel right if the characters sounded like Americans or, perhaps even more laughable, Aussies. How could you possibly immerse yourself in this world that is other, that is elsewhere, and suspend disbelief, if Eddard Stark sounds like your neighbour?

I think that’s part of the answer to epic fantasy prose. The language is different because the world is different, and it ought to feel different.

The other part, I think, and a problem that doesn’t exist in visual representations of the genre, is that so much of what is seen in an epic fantasy world is other. The creatures, the magic, the people, the clothing, the weapons, the buildings – everything – we see none of this in our day to day lives.

While other genres can rely heavily on the fact that the reader knows intimately what an iPhone looks like, and therefore need not describe it in evocative, so much of what is present in epic fantasy is drawn either from the pages of an unfamiliar history or the imagination of the writer. Creating a vivid setting, a world in which the reader can feel present, requires more description. The subject matter of that description is often so fantastical or unfamiliar that the prose needs to be different in order to convey the feel of it.

The prose of epic fantasy is different so that we can be transported to a different realm of existence, in which the sheer flights of fantasy produced by one person's imagination are painted entirely with words.

If the characters in Game of Thrones were Aussies:

Eddard Stark: Hey Bob, how’s it garn?

Robert Baratheon: She’ll be right, mate.

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Marina Fin said...

Most of the Starks in GoT seem to sound Scottish, or maybe like Yorkshiremen (I'm not great at picking accents!). So how is it for people from those places watching? Does it sound as commonplace and "unmagical" as "How's it garn, Bob?" would for us?

We just binged on Season 3, and I couldn't help noticing the odd differences in accents between, say, Rob Stark and his mother, as if they came from completely different countries. But I agree, standard American accents would sound odd.

I, too, have been thinking about that epic fantasy "diction" in writing lately. I'm about to start writing the second volume in a modern urban fantasy trilogy. It's in first person, very conversational. I find it a struggle not to lapse into "epic" style when I'm writing -- that seems to come more naturally to me. I'm already looking ahead to the end of this trilogy and feeling some relief at the thought of going back to a more "epic" story so I can stop fighting my natural instincts.

Ciara Ballintyne said...

I think they are probably based on British accents, but are not the same as British accents. I have Scottish relatives, and the Starks don't really sound Scottish to me - similar but not the same. I think we are more aware of differences from our own accents than others are - like Aussies and New Zealanders sound the same to others, but we know the difference. Same as how we confuse Canadians and Americans, but to them the differences are OBVIOUS.

I did read somewhere about how they settled on the accents for Lord of the Rings, and I seem to recall quite a bit of thought went into developing them. That said, I think the accents often draw from British inspiration because we so often unconsciously associate medieval type stuff with Britain or, at least, Europe.

I feel your pain trying to write away from the epic style! I think I would have to concentrate very hard to write differently. Part of it is that if you spend enough time writing epic fantasy that style becomes part of your own authorial voice.

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