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Don’t Be Afraid To Go Big; Just Be Careful How You Do It

There are a lot of Grand Epics in books, movies, and comics, the trick is to design them in such a way as to make them real to the reader. Believable enough within its own context to get the reader or viewer emotionally involved. Comic books have plenty of epic spectacle, but some of their scenes get rather ridiculous, just suddenly catapulting you to a point where the Great Bad Guy is now a god that walks with stars stuck between his toes, so the Good Guy has to power-up to a degree that he has no previous pretense for doing so to be on an even playing field, then start batting stars around at one another. Besides the obvious problems with this, there is nothing in this that will connect with the reader emotionally. For example, those stars they’re batting around with their feet? Can you feel the billions of people living on the worlds that orbit them as they burn from the battle? No, because that would involve a little effort. Then of course the whole thing with the set-up; was there ever any hint that Bad Guy and Good Guy were capable of something like this?

The best stories, be they comic book or movies, have a grounding in logic and reality; at least enough so the reader will buy the bit and become emotionally engaged. Marvel did a great job of this when translating their comic-book adventures onto the big screen, and that is why the Infinity Stones saga worked so great. But not everyone can do it correctly. For one thing, it takes a lot of effort to set things up. If you want the reader to feel the deaths of billions around those stars being kicked around then you’ve got to show those people and their lives, cut in a few scenes of their civilization being destroyed from the random flick of a god’s fingers. Maybe invest prior time into establishing some characters on a few of those worlds that you know are doomed to get wasted in this coming battle. “What?! They killed Fred at the flick of Bad Guy’s finger. I hate Bad Guy!”

Take some of the early Spielberg movies; a number of them started out grounded in modern suburban life, but by the end had come to a point that you would never have bought into if you’d seen it first (think Poltergeist or E.T.). To craft a grand story takes work, to craft an epic that will have people on their edge of their seats drinking in every detail takes even more effort, some more than others. Then there’s what I do.

It’s taken me a long time to get to the point where I don’t feel guilty tooting my own horn, so please bear with me, and it took a friend nudging me along a bit to take the final step.

So, some authors (be they for books, film, or comics) build a world; too many out there to name. Others build a galaxy, of which Star Wars is the obvious example. In the cases of all the better ones the background detail is explicit, the characters well developed so you become invested with them, and the believability factor rather high given the context of the story’s background. The greater the threat, the greater the build-up. No star-stepping gods coming out of nowhere, no silliness. For example, the TV series “Andromeda” spent a few seasons building up to the entrance of their world-ship, and Babylon 5 had a plot arc that spanned 5 seasons before they got to the point of entire worlds dying.

And then there’s Maldene, wherein I’ve built a Multiverse.; one that unfolds by degrees over several books. Yes, the story spans many worlds, alternate planes of existence, alternate realities. Yes, we see wars erupting across the Astral Planes between angels and demons, with unruly gods pitching in on both sides as stars die. But none of it happens right away. There are hundreds of characters I have scattered around for the express purpose of grounding events in a first-person point of view, and we see the after-effects of all these events and how they affect the people in the streets, adding to the drama. And yet, the first book is little more than a grand swords & sorcery story, but it lays the foundation for what is to come.

At the end of Maldene XII, for instance, there is– well, let’s just call it the grandest of battles and leave it at that for now. But I spent Books 9, 10, and 12 and about 200 characters leading up to it. A battle that literally threatens all reality, all stars, but the trick is to lay a firm foundation to make it feel oh so horribly real. And between those three books, just so you know, that’s about a million words of foundation. And yet, Maldene XII is itself the foundation for the grand finale’ at the end of Maldene XIII. That’s a lot of advance planning, let me tell you, because before I’d written down the first page of the first Maldene book, I already had book 13 planned out.

So, going epic is easy, but it takes some effort to make it believable, to make it feel, It takes planning, instilling a lot of detail into the background of your world (the more to make it seem like this could actually be a real place), and it takes a lot of up-close and real characters. The greater the epic you want, the more of all of these that you will need. So don’t be afraid, just be careful.

But then to go beyond epic… I took 15 years in my spare time planning out all the details of the world of Maldene and the ensuing plot, 8 years to finally write it, then about 5.2 million words in 13 books to spell out a type of story that we need a new word for (maybe I’ll make one up and add it to the Maldene dictionary). A daunting task by any measure, the trick is to take it a single step at a time… and have a lot of fun doing it.

So if you want to create your own grand story, in whatever medium, and you don’t mind spending a couple of decades of your life giving birth, don’t be afraid. Just remember to fuss over every detail, to paint on a very large canvas, and realize that you will be sacrificing your heart and soul into this project. It’s a lot to do, ah but the reward. To see the 10 year old kid shine out from behind the eyes of someone in their 40s and 50s, that is the reward.

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