1. LtFrankie
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    LtFrankie Member

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    Fantasy race civilizations

    Discussion in 'Plot Development' started by LtFrankie, Feb 24, 2010.

    So, how do most of you incorporate fantasy races into your setting? Do you take certain elements or tropes from other works? Try to avoid stereotypes as much as you can and reinvent the wheel? Just say, have them adopt (abeit stereotypical) norms of a real world ethnicity? IE: Scottish dwarves, Scandinavian elves?

    One thing that bugs me is that often, fantasy settings just have *one* elf, orc etc civilization, or if there's more than one, they have the exact same behavior and cultural norms as the other one. With elves, you sometimes just have them classify as a separate race like Dark Elf, Wood Elf, High Elf etc., but that's also kinda cliche now.
     
  2. B-Gas
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    B-Gas Contributing Member

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    Elf, dwarf, sidhe, half-demon- they are all people first. People. Give them an actual civilization, a culture, oddities (elves that eat for fuel rather than pleasure and are amazed by human extravagance when it comes to cooking, that sort of thing), and things that genuinely set them apart from humans. Then, imagine what their lives are actually like. Imagine setting the story with one of them as the default. Tolkein did this with his elves. That's why they're so mysterious and irritatingly knowledgeable- they live that long, they actually know that much. They also know to move slowly; most of them have gone through the process of learning that haste lays waste by the time they show up in his stories.

    Like I said, think through their culture as though they were the default race, rather than just being a backup for your human default. Also consider changing what humans are in the world. Tolkien, again, made his humans stupid, short-sighted and irrational as a whole, with rare wise humans showing up now and again.

    Lastly, make sure that the various "cultures" are not just speciesism in disguise. Think of how diverse humans are- Eskimos versus Texans, Englishmen versus Ethiopians, Chinese versus Maori. Make sure that this diversity gets at least a small part in all of the races in the story- Dwarves in the deep north should be vastly different from midland dwarves, who should be vastly different from the dwarves that never see sunlight- and the differences should be more than physical. Spiritual, cultural and psychological differences should show up everywhere. Someone who has never seen sunlight might be entranced by it, having made use of artificial light their whole life. Another person might fear it or loathe it and what it does to their pale skin. They might be from the same "clan."
     
  3. Jonesy
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    Jonesy Member

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    Don't create a race just for the sake of creating a race. You must ensure they have an important part in the novel, of which it makes more sense to have them play that part than humans.
     
  4. rory
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    rory Contributing Member

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    For realism, you'd want hundreds of different races to make the world believable. But there is no way you could introduce every single one thoughout the story. I simply allude to different races. Characters make remarks in passing that give the impression of an untold number of people and cultures that the reader knows nothing about. I know next to nothing about them either for that matter. Unless a main/supporting character belongs to one of the races they remain obscure, even unnamed. I just draw the dots, and then let the read connect and colour to their hearts content.
     
  5. Tall and Weird
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    Tall and Weird New Member

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    I agree with rory about alluding to other races and have a suggestion about how to include them. There are sayings in comtemporary times like 'as wise as an owl' and 'as stubborn as a mule' which simply reference a dominant trait of some animal and use it to identify a similar trait in someone they know.

    In a world with other races you could use sayings like 'as wise as an elf' or 'as stubborn as a dwarf'. These sayings could be used both positively and negatively depending on the speaker.

    B-Gas has a point but be wary of getting bogged down 'discovering' the cultures and history of your other races... it's happened to me. But having said that, every race is the sum of its parts and to represent a believable nonhuman, you need to know something of their history. A bit of a double edged sword there.

    In regards to your original point, check out Raymond E Feist's first series of Riftwar books - Magician, Darkness at Sethanon, and Silverthorn. (Although there might be another one...)

    He has a bundle of elven races in them. Some are good, some are bad, and others are just people on another side of a rift.

    At least, as far as I can remember he does anyway...
     
  6. Sielas
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    Sielas Member

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    Yep, plenty of elf cultures in the Riftwar saga (Magician, Silverthorn and Darkness at Sethanon) well worth a read. The Silmarillion also has different elf cultures and such.
     
  7. Anders Backlund
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    Anders Backlund Contributing Member

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    I actually don't use "races" other then humans very much, mostly because I find writing them convincingly to be work enough as it is.

    If I did decided to include a lot of non-humans, however, I think I would avoid the traditional ones - elves, dwarves, orcs, etc. Not that there is anything wrong with them, but I shy away from them for the same reason I don't think fantasy needs to imply a medieval quasi-European setting - I think it kinda misses the point about writing fantasy in the first place.

    Like a certain internet video-game critic put it: there's something weird about the fact that the phrase "standard fantasy setting" can be uttered without irony. I realize other people enjoy with recreating their own version of JRR Tolkien's Dungeons & Dragons, and I'm totally fine with that because if it wasn't popular it wouldn't have gotten standardized in the first place.

    But, well, that strikes me as a bit unimaginative when you have the opportunity to sit down and actually create a whole new world from scratch, which I always though was the fun part of writing fantasy.
     
  8. BBWalter
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    BBWalter Member

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    I have always shied from using the "traditional" fantasy races. Instead I like to create my own and use Earth cultures to help define them with twists and quirks - i.e. My "elves" become a Native American (or American Indian, depending on what cultural phrase you prefer) race with a dash of Indian culture and a pinch of Italian. LOL The nice thing about this method is that the cultures are already at your fingertips and are, possibly, familiar or completely exotic to your readers; each race will effect every reader differently, which is the goal, I think.

    Just my two cents!
    BB
     
  9. Silver Random
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    Silver Random Senior Member

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    I don't know about anyone else but I've always just made up my own fantasy races whenever I was writing something with them. And by that I don't just mean "my own brand of elves and dwarves", I mean completely newly invented races. Even when I wrote my first story aged 11-12, I used my own races alongside humans rather than the standard fantasy ones. I never understood why most people took fantasy to be your own interpretation (or complete recycling in some cases) of Tolkien's races, or mythology in general.
     
  10. Stormyyy
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    Stormyyy Member

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    I do the same. I make up a completley new race. It's much more exciting that way, and gives your story a bit of extra... flavour?
     
  11. BBWalter
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    BBWalter Member

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    It's the same here.

    As in, for instance, the race I called my "elves" for purposes of example are nothing like elves in characteristics. And the bad guys in that same particular story...? Well, I've certainly never seen anything like them in any fantasy book I've ever read, so that's why I went with them - completely unique to my story. (Although, I'm not saying that someone somewhere hasn't incorporated the same race in their fantasy works; I just have never read a fantasy story with a race like the Kijack I created before in it.) :)

    BB
     
  12. Enslaved
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    Enslaved New Member

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    How's that realistic? Do we have hundreds of different races in our world? One thing I never found believable in LOTR / D&D type worlds were the many different humanoid races living all next to each other. The most advanced race would always kill/ enslave all the others.
     
  13. B-Gas
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    B-Gas Contributing Member

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    It depends on the terms we're using. If by "race" you mean "species," then yes, it is unrealistic. However, if by "race" you mean "culture," then you're dead wrong. Each country on earth functions as something of a "race" in high-fantasy terms- most countries have multiple races. Exhibit A: New York, NY versus Pudgump, TX. You would never mistake a New Yorker for a hillbilly. That's about how much difference fantasy puts into its races.

    Besides, claiming that the advanced species would kill all of the others or enslave all of the others is incrtedibly simplistic. After all, America (highly advanced) hasn't yet enslaved or killed the Amazon bush-tribes (hunter-gatherers). Distance, time, and caring or utter lack of it can all be factors in this game, as can nature, climate, availible food and water sources, etc.

    Species or races should evolve as they did here on earth. Which means learning your history and your anthropology. Research!
     
  14. PJ.Paradox
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    PJ.Paradox Member

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    I never ever ever ever ever make a point to borrow from other (modern) people's fiction because it subtracts from the uniqueness of my own ideas, with that in mind real life folk lore is a good place to start. Obviously if you are an avid reader of stories involving the fantasy character types you will be writing about, you can't help but be influenced by other writers, but it is important to make sure that influence remains below your conscious radar unless the influence is to make an attempt to do something completely different. As soon as you model something in your own writing after someone else's you begin creating a glorified work of fan fiction.



    As for the other concern about only having one member of a given race in a story, I can't say that I've noticed this. There are of course situations wherein there is a character or two that differ from the native inhabitants of the land they are traveling in, but this is the nature of traveling adventure stories. In the next installment another character or two might be the odd person or persons out as they travel to a new location. Generally speaking, in fantasy novels trade Cities = More Diverse Population, Rural = Less Diversity. It's not so different from real life.

    Ultimately however, it's your story. Do what you want. Just make sure it makes sense. Keep in mind that culture conflict is a powerful plot device and in fantasy worlds people from different cultures tend to look a whole lot more different than those that come from different cultures in the real world.

    Also, I'm a little unclear if you are trying to write a fan fiction or something that is uniquely your own. If you are doing fan fic well... OK familiarize yourself with the source material... If you are trying to create something that is your own, put away the D&D books immediately and purge yourself of D&D terminology as soon as you possibly can. To do this, you might try reading a number of fantasy books by an author you've never tried before that is in no way connected to the series and/or worlds you are familiar with. With enough exposure to other worlds, it'll break your mind's tendency to cling to terms like "Wood Elf" etc.

    I could be wrong, but I suspect that you did not even intend to use D&D specific language in your original post. This observation isn't so much as a criticism as it is a "heads up, this is a habit you might not be aware of, that needs to be broken before you can create works that are truly your own."
     
  15. Eutheria
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    Eutheria Member

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    It may be important to keep in mind what role you want these races to play. Are they window dressing to enhance the atmosphere of the story? Do they possess a quality that serves as a plot device? Are they people-in-suits or are their minds alien?

    In some stories I've used various races as devices to better examine the human condition. In some cases this is through exaggeration, e.g. an industrious race to examine the consequences of being workaholic. In others the racial differences provide distance and perspective.

    One particular thing I like to keep in mind is metaphor. To us ARGUMENT IS WAR in which one defends against attacks, uses strategems to win, and can invite one's opponent to "fire away". However if we have a race that instead thinks ARGUMENT IS COURTSHIP things can be quite different. Instead of destroying their opponents' defense they might try to entice their partners to join them. This metaphor can be expanded to include things like flair for the benefit of the audience. Although it was science fiction, one of my favorite stories revolved around a race that did not know love but instead felt a herd instinct loyalty.
     
  16. jonathan hernandez13
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    jonathan hernandez13 Contributing Member Contributor

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    Treat them like real people and not like story tokens, develop them, whether they're new races or old traditional ones.

    Almost anyone can invent critters, a storyteller puts them in an environment and does things with them, memorable and marvelous things.

    I like traditional mythical and mythological creatures, not just because they're recognizable and famliar, but also because for nostalgic reasons they are part of our collective culture and almost as real as any real creature.



    I still think that Gnomes are real, I don't care what anybody says:rolleyes:
     
  17. betterletters
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    betterletters New Member

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    I agree with Jonesy. Only create races that explore different things you want your story to explore.
     

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