My wife and I recently went back and watched the Lord of The Rings movies, and on my own I went back and watched The Hobbit(s) once we had finished the original trilogy (remember Hobbit was made after LOTR). It made me hyper aware of the epic scope that all Saga’s embody, and how powerful the world-building in those stories are. Other examples include: The Matrix, The Hunger Games, Game of Thrones, Star Wars, The Godfather, Harry Potter, Narnia, Indiana Jones, and Pirates of the Caribbean…
In this article, I want to breakdown what those movies have in common, what makes a story an epic saga, and how to think about those films as they relate to your writing.
To start, and to state the obvious I suppose, all of those films listed above are genre films: sci-fi fantasy at it’s best. But writing an epic, saga doesn’t have to be a genre story. Look at how many TV shows are epic stories with dozens of hours of story: Grey’s Anatomy, Friends, The Office… the list goes on.
So, if an epic-saga doesn’t have to be a genre story, what does it need to be considered epic? I think the single quality that all these shows, or movies have in common is an incredibly well thought out, intricate, beautiful WORLD, that the audience wants to live in and revisit over and over again.
And to be completely honest, I think world-building is often a part of my writing that is the weakest. I tend to focus on character and story, and often neglect how important the world/setting is for those characters and the plot to take place in. The world is a character in and of itself.
To go back to LOTR, the amount of time, detail, and consideration that went into the world of Middle-Earth is staggering. There are ages of history built into the fabric of the story that informs everything. Hundreds of years of history that Tolkien created for the dwarves, the elves, the hobbits and the humans. It’s more than just the maps and the geographical world building that he (and the other author/writers of the movies/shows listed above) created; it’s an intense commitment to the creation of an entire civilization and culture. And in every one of those examples above, the imagination the authors poured into the world building seeps through every facet of the film (or show). Not just in the set design, but literally in the way the characters talk, their dialect, their beliefs, everything…
Point being, how much time do you spend before you start outlining the plot of the movie and creating your characters – on creating a unique world that the reader will undoubtedly be sucked into? You do NOT need to write an epic, adventure, fantasy saga for this practice to help your story – and it’s worth considering the importance of a rich world no matter the format, genre, tone or style of your script.