Partridge India Writing Tips| Sword and Sorcery Fantasy
There are many genres under the umbrella of Fantasy, and every year authors come up with either new genres, new interpretations of genres, or combinations of genres. In this article, Partridge India Writing Tips will discuss a genre that at times appears to be little discussed at the best of times and denigrated at the worst. We are talking about the genre known as Sword and Sorcery Fantasy. Over the decades, the characters and figures of the Sword and Sorcery genre have been treated as both cultural icons and yet often expected to being no more than literary popcorn.
The term “Sword and Sorcery,” originates from the author Michael Moorcock when, in a published letter to a magazine in 1961, he demanded a proper name for the manner of fantasy and adventure story by the likes of Robert E. Howard.
Robert E. Howard (1906-1936) was a writer of what was then called ‘pulp fiction,’ who created the character of Conan the Barbarian, all the stories featuring said Barbarian, and many others. Using such characters as Conan and such settings as Conan’s Hyperborea, Robert E. Howard played an integral part in establishing the entire genre now recognized as Sword and Sorcery.
The trends for characters, settings, and storytelling set by Robert E. Howard would be continued in Michael Moorcock, David Gemmell, Joe Abercrombie, Steven Eriksson, and Scott Lynch. While it can be easy to discount Sword and Sorcery as literary popcorn, to do such would be to discount the power of the genre to capture humanity, human nature, and human emotion. Done right, Sword and Sorcery can evoke very real emotions in between, and even during, action-packed battles with evil sorcerers.
The ‘Sword’ aspect of the name refers to the action and combat that are an integral part of the genre. Fighting, battle, and action are key to Sword and Sorcery, going all the way back to the Conan the Barbarian stories. Almost as a rule, the central protagonist is very martially skilled by the standards of the setting.
Interestingly your characters, not even your main character, have to use a sword as weapon. The weapons and technology of your setting could be medieval, bronze age, or even muskets, rifles, and pistols. It is just as possible to write a Sword and Sorcery story with a sword-wielding barbarian as it is with a pistol-twirling gunslinger.
Stories of this genre should also be action driven, not simply having swordfights for the sake of it. Action scenes should always have a point and purpose. Sword and Sorcery stories should also be fast paced and dynamic.
…and the Sorcery
Sorcery of course refers to the more magical and fantastical elements of the genre. While magic plays an integral part, much like in many other Fantasy genres, magic in Sword and Sorcery stories tends to be depicted as strange, dangerous, and unnerving and thus best to be avoided all together. Often in such stories magic demands a high price- usually blood and human sacrifice, and usually twisting the sorcerer either physically or mentally- and can at times backfire.
This trend also applies to magic weapons. Druss, a prominent and recurring character throughout the novels of David Gemmell, at certain points wields the magic axe Snaga. A deadly weapon, Snaga contained a powerful and bloodthirsty demon that would try influence its wielder with its thirst for blood and death.
Thus magic in Sword and Sorcery stories is often used by villains and antagonistic forces.
Partridge India Writing Tips will continue The Sword and Sorcery Genre in Part 2.