S is for scope and stakes

First, I’d like to apologize for being late with this post. S was supposed to be up on Saturday, but life’s been a bit rocky for me lately. I’ll try to get the rest of the posts up on time. Too close to the end to give up now. Now, on to the actual post:

The scope of a story is what makes it epic. It’s larger than life — in stakes, in distance, in time. (Or in the number of characters or books, but that’s not necessary.) As a friend of mine said on my “G is for good vs. evil” post (over on my LJ, which my blog cross-posts to), there are epic stories that are not fantasy (or SF), such as North and South by John Jakes.

Stakes are a good choice for increasing the size of a story. Is the kingdom going to plunge into darkness? How about all of the Northern Kingdoms? Can the Dark Lord be overthrown? Will magic be brought back to the world? Can magic be banished? Patrick Rothfuss, when talking about Kvothe, said that stakes don’t have to be life and death — there are worse things you can do to a character than kill him. (This was in a Writing Excuses podcast, recorded at Worldcon in Reno last year.)

For the Song of Ice and Fire series, George R. R. Martin has used both stakes and scope to keep people’s attention. He showed early on that no one’s safe — death, destruction, disgrace, and more can be meted out to anyone. Scope is there, too, as the series takes place over quite a geographical distance and with multiple characters — including ones that the reader doesn’t like at first but learns to sympathize with when they become point-of-view characters. Good vs. evil? Nothing so simplistic, but definitely epic.

What sort of stakes do you like best when you’re reading? How do you increase the scope of the stories you write? Or do you prefer more intimate looks into a few people’s lives?

This is a post for the Blogging from A to Z April Challenge. My theme is epic fantasy, and blog posts will cover authors, books, tropes, themes, or anything else I can think of to fill the alphabet. Check out some of the other bloggers participating or follow my blog by e-mail if you like what you’ve read.

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  1. I like the more intimate looks at lives who have something at stake to create tension in the story. I relate better to individuals or small groups better than epic scopes. Even in movies, while the effects and action can be great, I start getting confused if there are too many characters.

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    • If I need a cheat sheet to keep track of who’s who, the author’s definitely gone overboard (this is why I don’t read a lot of Russian literature, even though those are definitely focused on people’s lives). 🙂

      Thanks for the comment!

  2. omgosh! Yes! Totally agree with you on George R.R. Martin! The scope is huge, the stakes are intense with the uncertainty as to each character’s survival/well-being and yet there’s an intimacy as relationships are explored and how character moves/motives create that ripple effect through the story. Love it. 🙂

    • He seems to have created almost fanatical readers. 🙂 Actually, I’ll admit that I’ve only read the first part of the first book — about 150 or 160 pages. I found it too grim. I have enough friends who love it, though, that I’m considering trying again (because I have so much space in my TBR pile, right?).

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