An epic poem is a long narrative centering around a single hero, presenting his or her adventures within a suitably heroic framework. An epic hero is usually a person of great strength, wit or skill whose adventures usually contribute to the development of a particular race or nation.
STEP 1: Write a brief statement of the poem's purpose before you begin recounting the story - say, to detail your dog Champ's heroic crusade against backyard birds - followed by an invocation of the Muse.
STEP 2: Give a short, general outline of the action of the poem in the statement of the poem's purpose.
STEP 3: Invoke the Muse next by first praising her, then by asking her to aid you in the writing of your poem. The Muse of epic poetry was Calliope, but you can also invoke Thalia (Muse of comedy) or Melpomene (Muse of tragedy).
STEP 4: Choose a particularly heroic event in the hero's life at which to start. This will be the main action of your poem.
STEP 5: Begin the narrative by employing "in medias res" or "framework" narrative. Literally meaning "into the midst of things," this is a poetic convention in which the narrative begins in the middle of the main action and earlier events are retold through flashbacks. The past actions thus form a framework centering around the main action.
STEP 6: Confront your hero with dangerous monsters and other incredible adventures. Include vivid and explicit descriptions of warfare (particularly weapons and combat).
STEP 7: Use the supernatural to get your protagonist out of tough situations. If your hero or heroine is in a no-win situation, simply send in a god or goddess to help out at the last moment.
Tips & Warnings
Read a few epic poems, such as the "Aeneid" or the "Iliad," before writing your own.
In the story about Champ the dog, you would begin your narrative at the middle of Champ's life - in the midst of her crusade against birds - and then, in flashbacks, recall her formative years as a puppy.
Be prepared to devote a great deal of time to writing your epic poem.
A epic poem example
Hiawatha's Departure from The Song of Hiawatha
Henry Wadsworth Longfellow
By the shore of Gitchie Gumee,
By the shining Big-Sea-Water,
At the doorway of his wigwam,
In the pleasant Summer morning,
Hiawatha stood and waited.
All the air was full of freshness,
All the earth was bright and joyous,
And before him through the sunshine,
Westward toward the neighboring forest
Passed in golden swarms the Ahmo,
Passed the bees, the honey-makers,
Burning, singing in the sunshine.
Bright above him shown the heavens,
Level spread the lake before him;
From its bosom leaped the sturgeon,
Aparkling, flashing in the sunshine;
On its margin the great forest
Stood reflected in the water,
Every tree-top had its shadow,
Motionless beneath the water.
From the brow of Hiawatha
Gone was every trace of sorrow,
As the fog from off the water,
And the mist from off the meadow.
With a smile of joy and triumph,
With a look of exultation,
As of one who in a vision
Sees what is to be, but is not,
Stood and waited Hiawatha.
An example of an Epic Poem.
A long narrative POEM in elevated STYLE, presenting characters of high position in a series of adventures which form an organic whole through their relation to a central figure of heroic proportions and through their development of EPISODES important to the history of a nation or race. The origin of epics is a matter of great scholarly dispute. According to one theory, the first epics took shape from the scattered work of various unknown poets, and through accretion these early EPISODES were gradually molded into a unified whole and an ordered sequence. Though held vigorously by some, this theory has generally given place to one which holds that the materials of the epic may have accumulated in this fashion but that the epic poem itself is the product of a single genius who gives it STRUCTURE and expression. Epics without certain authorship are called FOLK EPICS, whether the scholar believes in a folk or a single authorship theory of origins, however.
Epics, both FOLK and ART EPICS, share a group of common characteristics:
the HERO is a figure of imposing stature, of national or international importance, and of great historical or legendary significance;
the SETTING is vast in scope, covering great nations, the world, or the universe;
the action consists of deeds of great valor or requiring superhuman courage;
supernatural forcesgods, angels, and demons--interest themselves in the action and intervene from time to time;
a STYLE Of sustained elevation and grand simplicity is used; and
the epic poet recounts the deeds of his heroes with objectivity.
To these general characteristics (some of which are omitted from particular epics), should be added a list of common devices or CONVENTIONS employed by most epic poets:
the poet opens by stating his theme,
invokes a Muse to inspire and instruct him,
and opens his narrative in medias resin the middle of thingsgiving the necessary exposition in later portions of the epic;
he includes CATALOGS of warriors, ships, armies;
he gives extended formal speeches by the main characters;
and he makes frequent use of the EPIC SIMILE.
An elaborated comparison, the epic simile differs from an ordinary SIMILE in being more involved, more ornate, and a conscious imitation of the Homeric manner. The secondary object or VEHICLE is developed into an independent aesthetic object, an IMAGE which for the moment excludes the primary object or TENOR with which it is compared. I attach here a brief set of introductory lecture notes on the epic simile (in .pdf format). The following epic simile is from Paradise Lost:
Angel Forms, who lay entranced
Thick as autumnal leaves that strow the brooks
In Vallombrosa, where the Etrurian shades
High over-arched embower; or scattered sedge
Afloat, when with fierce winds Orion armed
Hath vexed the Red-Sea coast, whose waves o'erthrew
Busiris and his Memphian chivalry,
While with perfidious hatred they pursued
The sojourners of Goshen, who beheld
From the safe shore their floating carcases
And broken chariot-wheels.