SF/F Genre Glossary

This is a continuation of the Science Fiction / Fantasy Genre Glossary Project posts. For the complete genre index click here.

The Axe by Charles Keegan
The Axe – Charles Keegan

What is Sword and Sorcery?

A subgenre of fantasy characterized by action driven plot and warrior protagonists. These protagonists must pit physical strength against danger.

Common Characteristics

  • Protagonists are societal outsiders. For example, barbarians or outcasts.
  • Though a protagonist may perform heroic deeds it is not without personal reward.  For example, treasure, women, or survival.
  • Free will. Destiny is controlled by the protagonist. He/she has no help from higher powers, and must face dangers using his/her own strength.
  • Strength is often pitted against magic.

Perhaps two of the most famous archetypes of this genre are Conan the Barbarian and Kull the Conqueror

Further Reading:

The Demarcation of Sword and Sorcery

Is there more to be said? Feel free to add some comments or your own thoughts on the definition.

Sword and sorcery tells the tales of men who are free from all

constraint. Their stature and skill mean they are free from the tyranny

of other men. Their birth and raising free them from the morals and

mores of society, and the lack of higher powers unbinds them from any

concept of fate. Thus the heroes of sword and sorcery become the true

representatives of free-will, and through their stories, readers are

able to imagine the capabilities and the triumphs of men who are

completely free to chart their own destiny.



So, I’m writing a novel. I’ve hit 78000 words, which is about 60% of my first draft. It’s been exhausting, it’s been exhilarating, and I’ve discovered my mind doesn’t work the way I expected.

At first outlining seemed like a very sensible thing. It was the way I’d always gone about writing academic papers. It would make the writing go faster, right?

I dug through my files and found an old novel outline. It was fleshed out chapter by chapter, scene by scene. I also had a folder full of character notes, settings, names, and family charts to go with it. It was a perfectly decent story, but I never got farther than the first 6 chapters. The actual writing process became so boring I couldn’t stand to finish the story.

So 78k words later, what worked this time? I discovered I’m a hybrid plotter-panster. I need an outline that lists key scenes and the climax of the novel. I need a direction to write in, but I also I need enough room to let my imagination run freely.

I also realized I don’t need to write linearly. When I’ve hit a wall, I’ve tried moving on to other scenes that I knew had to be written. From those points I could progress logically backwards. If you’ve never tried working backwards from the end of your novel, you should try it. It’s a mental workout.

Writing fast also works for me. I’ve been writing at a pace of roughly 1000 words a day. The result is a first-draft-in-progress that is a complete mess. It’s full of inconsistencies, gaps, and “insert name” placeholders. It’s taken all of my willpower to stop from going back to rewrite.

But, this fear of bad writing is the main reason that my previous novel writing attempts were unsuccessful. I have a folder stuffed full of novel beginnings that lack an ending. How many times have you re-written that first chapter of yours? hmm?

I’ve never gotten anywhere near this far along in a novel in the past, and I know that I can finish this one.

I feel that this first draft is the basic shape I need before I can add in the details. I’m looking forward to the edits and the polishing. I’ve always used this method when working with paint or clay, why wouldn’t it also apply to the way I write? Why didn’t I realize this a long time ago?

I’m still learning how the creative parts of my brain work.

Have you discovered something that surprised you while you were writing?