1. ChaosReigns
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    ChaosReigns Be Still and Know Contributor

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    Epic Fantasy and the Creatures Involved

    Discussion in 'Fantasy' started by ChaosReigns, May 26, 2014.

    Well, i know its a bit late in the day me asking this (as im 170k words into the sodding storyline)

    Do any of you think that there are certain races and creatures that are overdone in the Epic Fantasy genre, and if so, why is that?

    For me, Dragons are overdone as there seems to be a fair few novels that have them (And yes i know that there are novels that dont, i can think of one at least, possibly more that dont) because they seem to be played and portrayed in similar ways the whole time. either as the bad guy (s) like in The Hobbit/LOTR or tied in with the good guys (Saphira in The Inheritance Cycle)

    in part this is research for my current novel (so i can keep this in a decent, non overcooked creature manner) and for a new novel (where i will require such creatures to play a heavy part in the novel)
     
  2. Kaidonni
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    Kaidonni Member

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    Races and creatures become over-done due to their popularity; one person has great success, then everyone else wants to get a piece of the action. Soon enough, the market becomes over-saturated with that type of story, and then the publishers and agents put it into a tall tower for a good few years until someone else comes along and gives it the magic kiss of life, until it has been all but forgotten and will feel fresh and different again.

    Any race or creature can become over-done, and it is only because the audience can only enjoy so much of a particular concept for so long before it becomes too familiar. Familiary breeds contempt, and distance engenders fondness - that's why genres and particular stories go through cycles; people may be sick to death of vampires and zombies now, but in years' time, they'll be fed up with something else and vampires and zombies will be that 'something different'.

    Another issue is in the roots of the modern fantasy genre - Tolkien wasn't copying his sources, he was researching them and understanding them, then he was making something all his own from his knowledge and understanding. Now, I don't mean to give offense by this, but it is the right of any and every individual to take offense if they so choose - a lot of people learn by copying, and that means a lot of people will copy the fundamentals of successful races, creatures, etc without understanding where they came from, who originally dreamt them up, and very importantly, why. This means we'll end up with a lot of poor fantasy; not terrible or bad, but poor - poor in the sense that we really have seen it all before, it's basically what someone else made a major success, just given a fresh paint job.

    I won't say try to re-invent the wheel because we can push too hard for originality - certain races and creatures work so well because they resonate in certain deep cultural ways. You can try too hard and lose what makes them work so well (your version may work eventually, but it might take a few thousand years - or longer). We can't be too hard on people for copying what works - it works for a very good reason. However, we can engender an interest in finding out the origins of races and creatures so we can make a better attempt at putting our own spin on them, or inspiring entirely new races and creatures that resonate with our readers just as well.
     
    Last edited: May 30, 2014
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  3. thirdwind
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    thirdwind Contributing Member Contest Administrator Reviewer Contributor

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    Orcs and elves are fairly common.

    You see a lot of the same stuff being used because of how much influence Tolkien has had on the genre. Many of the fantasy writers who came after him borrowed heavily from his work. That's why I find it refreshing to see fantasy that does something new.
     
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  4. A.M.P.
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    A.M.P. People Buy My Books for the Bio Photo Supporter Contributor

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    I have been told a certain book made an interesting use of dragons in a fantasy setting.
    Never read it yet and I can't find it on Google.
    But I remember a quote from the author going something like this: "Don't laugh, but listen to this: metal dragons!"

    I think Elves and orcs are overdone (Although, I found the elves from the Nightrunner series rather interesting) but it does depend why you use them and how. As a fantasy reader, I'm down for anything so long as it feels real and interesting.

    However, what's overdone is the epic journeys across the whole dang continent as they fend off some pure evil from an age long ago and they find an unlikely group of friends and a magical relic of pure good to defeat the bad guy... Can't fantasy be about a poor tailor boy that has to enchant and hem the robes of powerful wizards as he struggles in a society that refuses to let him rise in social status and he has to grow up as he decides between power, friends, and family?

    I think when people think of fantasy, they think of epic tales, rather than fantastical universes where the mundane happens.
     
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  5. Burlbird
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    Burlbird Contributing Member Contributor

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    @A.M.P. that would just be "rags to riches" with a spellbook :)

    Creatures? You know that a creature is "over-done" when it effectively stops being special in any way and starts being threated as just another RPG stock-character. The fact is, if you as the writer are bored by the creature, the reader is not going to feel much enthusiasm about it... Make the bloody thing interesting again, make it fresh, exciting, part of the adventure, part of the world... just don't rape the old concepts by some senseless "originality"...
     
  6. sylvertech
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    sylvertech Active Member

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    Almost "all" races have been overdone.

    A quick walk through Tvtropes would prove that.

    However, these cliches are not bad. (Excellent article)

    The linked article speaks of cliches in general, but races specifically produce a certain cultural resonance.

    e.g. Vampires have been used over and over again because there is something psychologically relevant to humans in them.
    It's all symbolic and metaphoric and whatever.

    Like the linked article says -- you should read it btw -- it all depends on what effect you want to inflict unto your readers.

    Re-using old cliches will draw away attention from the specifics of the race and onto the subject you are dealing with. It'll provide a good way to discuss some taboos and moral messages without much camouflage. A quick and dirty solution.

    However, new speculative xenobiology will usually end up having the race information itself as a topic (else the lack thereof would be considered a purposeful literary experiment) .
    Whereas if you'd used an old trope/cliche, it would be considered a purposeful attempt to recreate and subvert the old foundation, and tons of cliche subverting happens in Pterry's Discworld.

    The choice between Familiar and New races has drastic implications on the story. A message can be conveyed using either, but "Old vs New" is a subtle yet deeply psychological issue.

    For example.
    Race:
    Dragons. Message: Pollution is bad.

    1. You can use dragons in a modern urban story in which they were found to be affected by environment changes and become extinct/sick due to the atmospheric pollution, which is why there are no dragons present in the modern world.
    A protagonist would be an archaeologist/time traveler/whatever.

    2. You can use dragons in a fantasy setting to show how chaotic magic use is polluting the world and is killing all the wonderful non-sentient dragons.
    A non-dragon protagonist trying to resist this would be the equivalent of a hippie deciding to stop using magic (real life: cars and technology) and use normal powers (real life: bicycles and paper mail).

    3. You can have the dragons themselves be the major sentient race and have them pollute the atmosphere with their fire/smoke/magic/whatever.
    And a dragon/non-dragon protagonist tries to reason with them/kill them all/join them/brood.

    4. You can have dragons trying to stop the pollution from happening by hunting mages. And mages might not know what is happening and would think all the dragons have gone insane. And a war starts.
    A non-dragon protagonist would travel/find clues until he learns why the dragons have gone mad.

    These multiple examples all used the same old race in different ways.
    And they all have the potential to be wonderful stories.

    A different race would need different conditions, especially if they can not fly. Or can't breath fire. Or are not capable of battling. All of which dragons can do.

    Example on a new race.
    Consider a new race called "Laeria" (Anagram of "aerial" -- pertaining to flight).
    They are genetic mutants created by humans and which have parts of bird DNA.
    They are a bit taller than humans, have a lighter frame, and have long arms which are part of large wings.

    They can fly, and they will be affected by air pollution.

    But do you really want to introduce the issue of genetic mutation into the pollution plot?
    If the novel is not part of a series and you have other things going on, you might not life that.

    Furthermore, they have [1]limited potential to pollute the air themselves, and are [2]definitely weaker at fighting back than humans, and since they can't breath fire then you won't have the [3]irony of "we wanted to stop pollution but using fire for war made it worse".


    tl;dr Using a race is more about whether it is cliched or fresh. Think about where the race is directing your story, and if what you imagine doesn't suit your vision, adjust accordingly.

    Edit. Just For Fun: The Story Without Cliches.
     
    Last edited: Jun 1, 2014
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  7. ChaosReigns
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    ChaosReigns Be Still and Know Contributor

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    Thank you all for the input, it has helped me get an idea of where i should be going and what i should be doing with these kinds of creatures, i knew in some aspects what i was doing, but i didnt want to get any further down the line and find myself stuck in the same old stereotypes that have been used for aeons.

    @sylvertech thank you for those links, the articles certainly are enlightening!

    @A.M.P. i shall leave you this, which was written by a fellow writer who i was talking to, about a couple of elves in my current project:

    If i were an elf and might be gay
    Id be sure to tell you, but not today
    Clarity is not anything i might say
    That's the trouble when you deal with the fey...

    it made me chuckle to say the least...
     
  8. NanashiNoProfile
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    NanashiNoProfile Member

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    I definitely think that specific races and creatures are overdone. For my own writing I decided to make some up myself after starting off with Redcaps and then getting annoyed about how generic they were. While I think that my new ideas are cool, there is also the problem that some readers may not want new monsters. The new creations might come off as a bit stupid... Well, I hope mine don't. I think making something up is more exciting for a writer, if it is done well though.

    I also think that using real animals that a character isn't aware of can be used to good effect. What they see as some demonic being is just say, a monkey to you or I. I've used whales, walruses and petrels in my story so far.

    However, a reason as to why I think creatures are overdone lies in the sole reason that I want to read about something new! I think generic dragons, orcs, elves, goblins, faeries just seem to show a lack of imagination. It is easy to add them to a story because people know what they are. Yeah, pretty much everything has been written one way or another some might say, but there is a lot to be said for an author with an active imagination.

    Case in point, I really enjoyed the Trollocs and Myrddraal of Robert Jordan's Wheel of Time (even if the series did drag on a bit), because they weren't the standard green-skinned orcs that I expected would show up in a fantasy novel. With an antagonistic race of creatures in a fantasy book, I want to feel out of my depth, unknowing as to how these things are going act and react. IMO that makes it scarier and more compelling. If a goblin crops up, I can be pretty sure about what will follow.
     
  9. PensiveQuill
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    PensiveQuill Contributing Member

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    Well, even Tolkein's fantasy races weren't new when he wrote about them. LOTR is so amazingly popular because it draw heavily on folklore and wakes up our subconscious in a very special way. It's almost like we are remembering, rather than encountering the characters, races and species. And then of course if the story has that kind of familiarity to you (but you can't quite put your finger on why) then its also very believable.
     
  10. AsherianCommand
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    AsherianCommand Active Member

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    Dragons are done to death.
    Elves are kind of pointless
    AS are dwarves.

    But I don't really complain about that. Its not that bad.

    I love certain things that are used. When ever I see a dragon, I celebrate. But whenever I hear about a manticore or something in a celtic and anglo saxon world. I die inside.
     
  11. Domino355
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    Domino355 Contributing Member

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    Since dragon's were mentioned quite alot, anyone notice that dragons are mainly used in their european versions and very rarely you see eastern dragons? The only examples I can think of are the dragons from Dragonball, Mushu from Mulan and the dragons in Avatar
     
  12. AsherianCommand
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    AsherianCommand Active Member

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    Because in most cultures dragons are seen as good and wise. (Far Eastern Cultures)

    Its funny how many cultures have dragons.

    But yeah. I rarely see barghests, kelpies or anything like that.
     

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