1. throughthepeephole
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    throughthepeephole Member

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    Fantasy races.

    Discussion in 'Character Development' started by throughthepeephole, Oct 31, 2010.

    I am a huge fantasy and Lord of the Rings fan. I would like to write a fantasy novel of my own which includes fictional races such as Elves, Orcs and Goblins. The problem I am having is how to make them 'my own'. Such as the problem many writers have with vampires, I am unsure of what I could do to these races or how I could portray them so that they are in keeping with their basic characteristics, yet still 'unique' to me and my story. Any advice would be greatly appreciated :)
     
  2. thalorin19
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    thalorin19 Member

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    Personally, I would just stray away completely from Elves, Orcs, Goblins, etc.

    Unless you are really intent on wanting these kind of races in your stories, you would have to make them standout in some way I guess so you wouldn't be thrown on the train full of other fantasy authors who have mirrored Tolkein's Elves and Orcs.

    Do something different with them. Don't have the Elves be immortal, peace mongering, extremely intellectual BUT powerful beings that - live in a enchanted forest.

    This is kind of a crap example, due to the title that's stamped on it. But with the original Warcraft games, they potrayed Orcs as civilized beings who are very likeable, not the typical savages.

    Or you could go the route of creating your own species for your story. Writing a fantasy novel myself, I am having alot more fun creating different species with different cultures, politics, and etc. If you write about Elves and Orcs, you are going to feel a natural constrain to potray them in a certain way due to how you have seen them potrayed in the same way multiple times, which I think is what happens to most authors.
     
  3. afrodite7
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    afrodite7 Senior Member

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    -depends on how you do it.my novel has elves vampires,witches and nephil.but they're aliens.if you use with whats already out it can either attract or push people away.the trick is to make yours in a way that captivate people.give them their own way of life.
    -exaple:you can have orcs that are blue instead of green and maybe not as bad looking as they usualy are.they can be piece loving orcs and only go to war when needed and can be some hyper advanced society.


    -and still,you can keep the sameness people are use to.but unlike a lot of stories ,make it much more personal so they can see through the eyes of the characters.explain the roles of the races and it doesn't have to be medeival !it can be victorian or even futuristic.
     
  4. kcsguniverse
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    kcsguniverse New Member

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    Make them evil.
     
  5. ojduffelworth
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    ojduffelworth Contributing Member

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    I think you make them ‘your own’ by giving them unique personalities and attributes—just as you would do with a human character. It is the personality of a character that will captivate the reader, regardless of whether or not she is an Elve or Goblin, so I don’t think you need to get so hung up on attempting to invent new species. Whatever you invent will probably end up ‘with the basic characteristics’ of a fictional species that is already in existence, if so, just call it by that pre-existing name. A character that seems like a vampire but called something different will confuse and annoy your reader. I don’t see what the problem is, that you allude to, regarding many writers and vampires. What is the problem with calling a vampire a vampire, if that is what it is? The problem will only arise if you try to call a vampire by another name.

    As a side note, be careful not to confuse race and species. Simplistically, races can interbreed, species cannot. If you identify your Elves, Goblins and vampires as different races in your book, some readers will be wondering what singular species they belong to, and why they haven’t breed in bloodsucking-Goblin-Elves instead of retaining their distinct attributes.

    On further thought, I suppose vampires are human! But transformed somehow by dark forces. See, I’ve caught myself out! As traditionally portrayed, vampires and humans belong to the same species and the difference between them is nothing to do with race, but all to do with to metaphysical transformation. You can have that in fiction, but not in real life! Fictional licence can cause much scope for confusion, which highlights my point that it is important to think trough the nature of your Elves, goblins, vampires and whatnot, and straighten out their race, species and metaphysically modifications—if only to keep your manuscript technically correct.
     
  6. HeinleinFan
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    HeinleinFan Banned

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    There are many things you can do to make elves, goblins, orcs and other fantasy races different and original -- just as there are tons of things you can do when you make up a human culture.

    Some of the following questions might help, or give you an idea or plotbunny.

    How do they live?
    Do they live as bands of hunter-gatherers, farming communities (which means they've discovered agriculture), village-bound societies (so they might travel between villages for specific goods and services), or something bigger like people in a city?

    What rituals, rites, and customs do they have? How do they greet each other? How do they work (on their own, as families, in businesses, in guilds)?

    What do they consider important for their youth to know, and how do they educate their kids (in a temple, at home, via a traveling minstrel-historian, apprenticeships, a military training system)? Do they live in extended families, or in open marriages, or do the mothers have to raise the kids alone because the fathers have no social obligations to the children? What happens to orphans -- left out for the wolves like in Sparta, taken to a nunnery, sold as slaves, adopted or fostered by an extended family that volunteers or is voted the job?

    What are their laws like? Is it a crime to kill someone who raped you several years ago? Is it okay to kill someone in a knife fight, but not with poison? Is rape a non-crime, a serious crime, or something you'd pay a fine for if you were convicted? Is the justice system "fair," or is there a double-standard depending on whether the perpetrator (or the victim) is rich or poor, male or female, young or old, from a respected family or an orphan's child with no ancestors?

    How are insults dealt with? Is slander a crime? Can you make up lies about someone freely? What if you court the wrong person, like a poor farmer who "dares" to send flowers to a wealthy merchant's daughter?

    How does the law interact with other forces, like religion, or warfare, or plague times? Is it a crime to steal bread to feed your family if the baker you stole it from is wealthy? During war, is it okay to kill enemies, but wrong to desecrate the corpse / steal from the bodies? What tactics during war are "honorable" and which are "dishonorable? What about using guns or arquebuses, or explosives, or fighting from behind trees and stone walls, or setting traps? Is it okay to assassinate the leaders of an enemy army in order to prevent a battle from going well?

    How do they regard other races? Do they live together in the same area, same city, same town, same family? Has one race ever ruled directly over another, or tried to domesticate them (what if dogs were intelligent!) or taken them for slaves (or sex slaves, ugh).

    What stereotypes exist between races? Elves can't hold their liquor, a goblin-made blade never breaks, goblin men are thrifty but goblin women are best at haggling, the faster an orc can climb the worse she is at jumping, elvish priests cheat at poker?

    What other myths and legends can you draw on? Tolkien is one place, but there are other mythologies you can mine for literary gold. If humans aren't around, maybe the elves in your story are known for taking orc children as changelings and raising the orclet as though it were an elfin. Or perhaps the savagery of the orcs as portrayed in some stories is due to a battle-blessing from a particular god, who gave gifts to the forebears of elves, goblins and orcs, but who the elves and goblins wickedly betrayed.

    There's more, clearly, but this should get you thinking. Good luck!
     
  7. w176
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    w176 Contributing Member Contributor

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    HeinleinFan had many valid points but i would like to stress one diffrent question altogether.

    Why do you use them?
    Tolkien used elves to lift questions about mortality, hobbits to stress the protagonists as the small normal man in contrast to the epic story, and urokhai as something unnatural and against nature.

    They had a thematic purpose in the stories and worlds ha came up with. He didnt just make some funky races. Make you races to fill a thematic and dramatical role in your story.
     
  8. Melzaar the Almighty
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    Melzaar the Almighty Contributing Member Contributor

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    Look back to their creation as well. How did they come about? Did orcs-like-things just evolve out of people one day, or the other way around? To go back to warcraft, I've done several quests in WoW which reveal that this race or the other is actually a lot closer related to another than they think, which can be interesting for conflict. Imagine finding out the "monsters" you're fighting are actually your forefathers?

    or, to give them a sense of other-ness, create a way that they were made that was unlike others. I have some "elves" in a story who pretty much function as tolkein-esque elves, except a lot of the plot is about their origins, which cycle through about 3 more and more regressive forms of magical creature, right back into the spirit world. Probably not original in summary, but choosing the journey they take and making it significant means you can mix together enough different things to make look a little original, in approach though not in actual, you know, outcome. :p
     
  9. TobiasJames
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    TobiasJames Contributing Member

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    I don't think there's any harm using fantasy races already invented, just make sure you do your research first. Established races such as Elves, Dwarves, etc. have a backlog of lore and shared racial characteristics that you should only ignore at your peril.

    Say "Dwarf" and people already have a pretty clear pre-conception of what you're talking about. If you want to deviate from that and add your own characteristics to the established race, then you're gonna have to do some explaining. Challenging people's pre-conceptions is fine (a great example is R.A. Salvatore's Drizzt Do'Urden books, which present a Drow Elf as a conscientious character) but people won't expect it so you're giving yourself extra work. If you deviate too far from the stereotype (e.g. a teetotal Dwarf who lives on the surface and hates using weapons) then I think fans of the fantasy genre would resent it. If you're deviating THAT far, then what's the point of using that race in the first place?

    All I'm saying is, be careful how you use them because people will already have ideas of these creatures in their minds, and asking them to alter their pre-conceptions is giving yourself a lot of work to do as a writer.
     
  10. throughthepeephole
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    throughthepeephole Member

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    Thanks for all the wonderful advice everyone, I have bookmarked this thread for future reference :)
    I described vampires as being a 'problem' for some writers mainly because of their recent surge in popularity. With vampires being such a staple in popular culture at the moment, many writers find it hard to make their vampires stand out, to give them a set of unique attributes whilst keeping their core characteristics intact. I am having much the same problem.
     
  11. ojduffelworth
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    ojduffelworth Contributing Member

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    Humans are also a staple in popular literature. Giving a human character a set of unique attributes whist keeping core human traits intact is also difficult.
    To my mind, the species of your character is secondary to the trials and tribulations he or she faces. Sure, they will react differently to those trials

    The best character driven stories test the limits of the character. ie test their beliefs, physical or mental endurance, love, prejudice, morals and so on…
    Vampires and Hobbits will have different beliefs and limits. Just make sure they are dwelling on the edge of those limits, and threatening to cross them, and you will keep your reader on edge and interested (easier said than done!)

    And don’t forget too that your readers will only relate to your characters if they have human attributes that they recognize – regardless of whether or not your character is a Vampire of Hobbit.
     
  12. TWErvin2
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    TWErvin2 Contributing Member Contributor

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    It's not necessarily just the race, but it's the world, cultures, interaction that make a difference as well.

    My novel has some of the 'standard' races: humans, ogres, goblins, giants, elves, zombies, etc. But it's not all 'standard'. The 'elves' are not the Tolkein elves. And there are greater elves and lesser elves (lesser elves didn't have a part in the first novel--but they're equivalent to sprites and faeries.). The greater elves are immortal bloods created in the cataclysm that brought about the downfall of the First Civilization. With zombies, there are both the mundane and souled zombies.

    Further, you can create your own races. Take a look at Stephen R. Donaldson's works--he has the ur-viles, reavers, cave-wights, Hurachai, etc., and the world he created in the Chronicles of Thomas Covenant rivals that of Tolkien.

    Steven Brust has elves in his world, but they're not really thought of that way--they're not the typical elves, and really aren't identified as that except in passing once or twice in the Vlad Taltos series.

    There is nothing wrong with using the standard set by Tolkien, but don't attempt to retell the same story. It's been done already (see The Dark Tower Trilogy by Dennis L. McKiernan).

    Or that's my two cents on the topic.
     

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