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Sword & Sorcery…

… is a difficult thing to write at the best of times.

I suppose to the uninitiated it seems like it’s just a case of writing an adventure story with a mage and a warrior in it.

And sometimes it is that simple.

However, when I started writing The Tower and The Eye, I wasn’t being massively serious about it. I’d hit a block after a period of writing Horror stories (and getting them published) about various creatures and TTATE began, simply as a way of getting back to my Fantasy roots. So I went back to basics and Sword & Sorcery is about as basic as you can get in Fantasy.

Still, they do require a certain amount of planning to pull off properly. The main elements of any S&S or Fantasy Story are:

The World

I like worldbuilding. Its one of the things that keeps me sane when I am immersed in Fantasy Realms.  So I always start with a map.

For example, this is the first version of The Land Far Away Map. The second version is much more different, due to the fact that the world evolved as I wrote the stories. The second version is also more detailed.

The thing about a map, is that it gives me the environment the characters live in and that is what shapes the characters themselves.

With TTATE, the map was more about figuring the relative positions of the Dungeons to the Overlord and the Overlord to the capitals of the countries. It was also a part of deciding what my characters were going to be like, but not a great deal.

There’s a lot more that goes into world building, but I’m not going into the aspects here, I’d take forever!


Most of the action in a Sword & Sorcery story occurs at various points on the story arc – the beginning of the journey, inside the dungeon and ends (usually with a climactic battle) with the party escaping.

This isn’t massively realistic and is where many of the criticisms of Fantasy come from. You never see characters in a S&S story taking baths or going to the toilet, because those bits are the boring bits that don’t make a good S&S story.

You also have to know a fair bit about weaponry. You can’t just say they are carrying swords and shields because there are so many different types for different jobs.

For example, take the Bastard Sword:

 Not for nothing is it known as the “Hand and a Half sword”. I’ve held a blade this big and you have to use both hands.

You cannot use a shield with a Bastard Sword and you are going to have significant muscles if you use one regularly.

You also cannot use it in a confined space because of its size, so a character that has one, will always have another smaller blade with them for close work or confined spaces.

Therefore, it goes without saying that only a well built, muscley character is going to use one.

A slightly built teenage girl is not going to be able to pick one up in a dungeon and use it. That same girl is not going to be able to pick up a longbow, string it and use it without any prior experience.

Sorry, but no.

And before you scream “But it’s fantasy, I can have whoever I like wielding whatever I like” at me, even in a Fantasy story, you need enough realism to make the reader feel comfortable.

Your characters have to be well planned and like the RPG Geek that I am, I actually rolled dice for the characters in the first book, The Tower and The Eye: A Beginning, because I wanted to make sure that my characters were well rounded and not massively clichéd.

I also rolled dice to make sure I had a random assortment of enemy blade fodder to hand. Just in case you were wondering where the scene in the Tower with the Overlord counting came from…


This is where the sorcery bit comes in. It’s also where most people who are new to the genre fall down when they are trying to write it. Magic has to have rules to guide it, or the story will get boring very quickly. It has to follow the rules that you lay out for it and that is where the type of magic and its wielder are shaped.

Mages / Sorcerors / Warlocks / Witches / Clerics – most people think that they all do the same thing.

Not so, dear Apprentice. 

Mages and Sorcerers are similar. They can be male or female and they use written spells, potions and objects to effect the spells. They have a limited supply of Mana (magical energy) that can only be replenished through food, sleep or potions. There is a number of different disciplines here that I won’t go into.

Don’t look at me like that – go research it, that’s what the Internet and Libraries are for.

Warlocks and Witches are the male / female names for those who rely on nature spirits and elementals to work their spells. They also tend to be strongest in a particular element and will usually work mostly with that – for example, a Fire Witch will be able to command Ifreets and Fire Sprites easily, but find working with Naiads and Water Sprites almost impossible.

Clerics can be male or female. They are blessed by a particular god / goddess and can draw mana from the deity.  However, they are limited by what their Deity can do.

For instance, Espilieth, the Elven Goddess of Healing and Magic is very powerful in her sphere.

Her Clerics are strong in healing spells, but weak in aggressive type spells.

The only kind of attack a cleric of Espilieth can do is a Holy Flame. It’s a defence spell mostly and really only affects the Undead.

Magic in S&S is not like the Force in Star Wars.

Star wars is  a completely different SF / Fantasy world and it conforms to its own rules. Watch the movies / read the books carefully and you’ll be able to figure out what they are.

And Finally…


S&S has guidelines about the characters and the make up of the party that is going to have the adventure.  Once you know them though,  you can work around them.

Character Guidelines:

  1. Your character must always have a flaw that balances out their strength. Eg: A big, buff swordsman may be terrified of spiders.
  2. Your character will always have it’s own vernacular and speech quirks based on where it has come from.
  3. Your characters must be fairly realistic. Going back to our slightly built teenage girl, she has to act like a teenager and not like a full grown woman. She will be innocent in some ways and worldly in others, depending on her upbringing.
  4. Characters usually have a morality rating – Good, Neutral and Evil. They will evince this through their actions. Making everyone Neutral is boring…
  5. They must interact with each other! They can’t just all get along like they’re on a Jolly Holiday; even if they’re all friendly, there will still be rivalry and racial insults when the action hots up.
This is only a small selection. If you really and truly want to plan your characters down to the smallest detail then you will need to create a character profile for each one. Something like this –

Characters name:
Race: (Including vampire, werewolf, demon, alien, demon etc, whatever your character is really)
Powers: (If any)
Aims: (Just what your characters main goals in life are)
Brief Bio:
Any other information that you think is relevant:

 – will do the job. However, most RPG Game books have extensive character profiling sheets in them.
Make Up of the Party
And no, I don’t mean their face paint…
This is another thing that has become clichéd, but it’s only because the usual party makeup is so practical.
You will have –
  • Hero / Heroine – the Leader of the Party.
  • The Magic User – pick a type from above. Make sure you stick to one that will suit where your party is going… unless you want to have them come unstuck as part of the story!
  • A Rogue – Rogues are people who are deft at getting locks undone and finding traps. Mages can do these things too, but it uses up too much Mana, so a Rogue is an essential.
  • A pure warrior – this can be your archetypical barbarian type or a lithe ninja style character.
A party of 10 is way too big to keep track of. A party of less than the basic four isn’t normally used, but you can combine the types and get it down to two. It just takes more thought in the planning stages.

There are other side characters, but they don’t require the detail that you main ones do.

* * *

So before you decide S&S is easy to write and have a go, make sure that you cover all the bases. The real trick is to do it without making it feel like a Tolkien rip off!

4 thoughts on “Sword & Sorcery…”

    1. I was trying to communicate a process that I do as naturally as breathing – most Fantasy / SF / Speculative Fiction writers do all this without even thinking about it.

      But yes it is complicated… when I wrote it out, I thought, no one is going to want to read this! or it’ll put people off writing Fantasy…

  1. Wow…you could have had an entire series of blog posts on this. My mind is reeling! And though I’m not writing Sword & Sorcery, I found a lot of what you said useful in my paranormal (the rules to magic, especially). I don’t need to draw a map because I’m using preexisting destinations–but I’m getting a ton of use out of Google Earth!

    1. The Magic Rules are just what I have picked up through reading fantasy and Roleplaying. You can twist them to adjust to your particular world or story – this is just what I use…

      Glad I’ve helped though!

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