Xlibris Writing Tips with Part 2 of The Sword and Sorcery Genre.
Another key element of Sword and Sorcery stories is the scale. The stakes tend to be smaller in scale while still being important and impactful to the characters and readers. Rarely is the feeling in such stories “if the protagonist fails, the world will end.” The conflict should feel very personal for the characters, thus it will feel more personal for the reader.
Common motivations in Sword and Sorcery stories include personal vengeance or self-interest. While such motivations can range from the sympathetic to the highly questionable, usually people get such motivations. And this is not always the case. In many David Gemmell novels, which often feature revenge or self-interest as well, protagonists are as often driven by love or a will to do the right thing.
This can also apply to villains and antagonists. While it is perfectly viable to have truly despicable villains out for themselves, it can make for a very compelling story to have an antagonist readers can empathize and understand.
Going hand-in-hand with the above advice regarding scale, the conflict of a Sword and Sorcery story doesn’t have to be a battle between good and evil. More often the source of conflict is a case of personal goals or emotions that are at cross purposes. Characters, both protagonists and antagonists, can be at odds due to personal vendettas, political or personal allegiances, or even simply due to the circumstance of both wanting the same object which cannot be shared.
In the novel Legend by David Gemmell, the protagonists have to hold out defending a city and thus their homeland from the armies of the Nadir, a powerful Mongol-like horde that has conquered all others who have stood before it. But the Khan, the leader of the Nadir, does not seek conquest for personal power, wealth, or glory, but to uplift his people from a life of savagery in the wastelands. Both sides have strong convictions behind their actions, relatable and human convictions, which provide both dramatic conflict and human emotion.
At the heart of the Sword and Sorcery Genre, moreso than the action or the sorcery, are the characters. Characters who are iconic and remembered despite oftentimes displaying less than admirable qualities. Characters who are at once larger than life, yet very human at the same time. Characters that are surprisingly complex.
Protagonists within the Sword and Sorcery genre tend to be a combination of positive and negative qualities, resulting in flawed and very human characters for the readers to follow. It should be noted that the flaws should not be allowed to overshadow the positive and likeable character traits, thus risking alienating readers. Interestingly the reverse works perfectly well with villains. Having your villain display likeable and respectable qualities gives your antagonist depth, but be careful of forgetting that this is the character meant to be opposed in your story. In worst case scenarios, readers may completely abhor the ‘hero’ and prefer the ‘villain’ much more.
There is great deal more to the Sword and Sorcery genre than one might expect upon first glance. For writers it can be a chance to grapple and explore a combination of action, the strange, and very human emotions and drives.
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By Ian Smith