1. Link the Writer
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    Link the Writer Flipping Out For A Good Story. Contributor

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    How do I describe a fantasy character?

    Discussion in 'Fantasy' started by Link the Writer, Aug 29, 2010.

    I just created a fantasy race that has the paws and feet of a cat, the horns of a bison, the mane and tail of a lion and the face and ears of an elf (sans nose).

    Trouble is, how would I go about describing this race if I ever put it into a story? Since they have no real world animals in their country, I can't exactly say "The tail was long and thin like a lion's" or "The horns stuck out of his mane, giving him a bison-like apperance."

    Also, when would it be a good time to reveal to the audience that this race is more animalistic in apperance than human (or elf)? I don't want to info-dump by giving a blow by blow description so the readers know EXACTLY what the characters look like.

    What should I do? :confused:
     
  2. Mallory
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    Mallory Mallegory. Contributor

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    Instead of saying "paws like a cat," say "thick, furry paws with sharp claws." And etc. This actually gives the readers a better visual, in my opinion.

    And instead of giving an info dump, you could describe their traits when their traits become relevant to the story. Give a general overview when you introduce the character, just so readers know it's a fantasy race -- but please, keep it natural. No one likes the "looking in the mirror" method of description.

    Hope I helped! :)
     
  3. w176
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    w176 Contributing Member Contributor

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    Mention it when its used.

    "His paw rested in the sword, claws twitching."
    "The kids was playing around ramming thier horns together in load crashes."
    "The fan of longer darker fur on the end of his tail flicked a warning."

    After a bunch of pages the reader will have built them self an image of the creature.
     
  4. Link the Writer
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    Link the Writer Flipping Out For A Good Story. Contributor

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    I see.

    So I could say something like:

    "Aramna ran a furry paw through his mane, feeling the small horns that poked through. His tail swished to and fro impatiently. He had been waiting for what felt like hours."

    EDIT: Ninja'd. :p
     
  5. Melzaar the Almighty
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    Melzaar the Almighty Contributing Member Contributor

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    Yeah, work it in bit by bit. An action-y scene or something would really help. If they have paws they'd be barefoot, and if they're moving in a confined space, horns instantly become a problem. Then it's just a matter of describing them visually rather than to the animal when their physical interactions trigger a need to explain. :p
     
  6. Link the Writer
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    Link the Writer Flipping Out For A Good Story. Contributor

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    Oh yes, they're barefoot (they have three toes on each paw and their claws are retractable).

    Their horns? Well, they won't be super huge, about four inches long. Still, I can imagine it'd be a hassle if they're in a confined space or in the woods.

    Hmmmm....That'd probably be the most epic cat fight ever. Who needs swords when you've got sharp claws and horns?
     
  7. Northern Phil
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    Northern Phil Active Member

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    Like this: "I have seen this species many times before, but I am always shocked by their appearance. They stand tall on four paws and I have seen them leap gracefully around the tree tops. I guess that they use that magnificent tail of theirs to balance on some of the finer branches, it's rather humorous as it has a little tuft of hair at its end. Their face resembles a humans with a few feline touches which consist of fur and whiskers which easily distinguses them from ourselves. The most shocking thing about this creature is that it speaks perfect English."

    Obviously don't copy that word for word, but based on your description that is how I would describe this fantasy character.
     
  8. Mallory
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    Mallory Mallegory. Contributor

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    That's a great description if the species/race is being described from someone who's not part of the species/race. :)
     
  9. white
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    white Banned

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    "The tail was long and thin like a lion's" is lazy writing anyway. You probably shouldn't do that even in a normal piece of fiction. Instead, imagine how you'd describe a lion's tale, similar to what Northern_Phil did, and work that description into your story.
     
  10. Elvis
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    Elvis Member

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    Maybe it's just me, but that description would completely work for me if it was put in a novel as-is.
     
  11. HeinleinFan
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    HeinleinFan Banned

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    Unfortunately, there is no single answer because you don't have a particular story in mind. Clearly it would be easy for a humanoid POV to describe this "unusual" species, or for a tribe or whatever of these lionoids to observe body language in such a way as to clearly describe one another.

    "Cruto was getting old, I thought. His hair had been light the last time I'd seen him; now his mane and legs were shot with gray, and the grand sweep of his tail was more white than blond. I couldn't have been the only one who'd noticed, either; there were more scars around his face and chest, and a long half-healed rend from his lips up to his ear, ending where his opponent had reached the base of Cruto's horns.

    "He saw me watching, and his strides stiffened; I looked away hurriedly. In a few years, maybe that would be me challenging Cruto or Doraga for the position of guardmaster. But right now, any fight between us would end badly. For me, not for him. I might get a lucky swipe in, sure, but in a matter of time I'd be bleeding and staggering away."
     
  12. Link the Writer
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    Link the Writer Flipping Out For A Good Story. Contributor

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    Good pointers.

    And yeah, I haven't really decided what story to use this race in. One's fantasy and another's mystery.
     
  13. T.N. Tobias
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    T.N. Tobias Member

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    Strangely enough, I just blogged on writing believable fantasy this morning. Things that take you out of the narrative as an author are not necessarily the things that will trip up the reader. As the author, you're attempting to be consistent to your creation but as a reader its important that the creation is described clearly. Making in world references as descriptions is fine as long as there is a crystal clear frame of reference. Otherwise, its necessary to use descriptive language that is a part of our world.

    There are plenty of non-fiction descriptions of the creatures that make up your hybrid. It would be a worthwhile step to read how other writers describe things that exist and use that as inspiration to describe your invention.
     
  14. Link the Writer
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    Link the Writer Flipping Out For A Good Story. Contributor

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    @ Tobias. I just read your blog, very insightful.

    I guess my problem is that I want my readers to imagine my race exactly how I imagine them even though what really matters is that I convey the likeness as accurate as I possibly can and let the readers decide for themselves.
     
  15. T.N. Tobias
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    T.N. Tobias Member

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    Nothing wrong with wanting some specificity. If the description matters to the story than make sure it's very clear. If you are pulling the reader away from what's going on just to understand that this thing has a lion's mane, you can afford to be more informal or vague.
     
  16. Steerpike
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    Steerpike Felis amatus Supporter Contributor

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    The reader will never envision the race exactly as you have. Two readers won't even envision them exactly the same way after reading your description.

    I think it is best to provide the most important characteristics/description and let the reader fill in the rest with his imagination. If you provide too many details that aren't significant over the course of the story, the reader is going to forget a lot of them anyway.
     
  17. Link the Writer
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    Link the Writer Flipping Out For A Good Story. Contributor

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    Good point. All they would really need to know is

    1) Creature has long, thin tail with tuff of hair on end.

    2) Has a mane.

    3) Has horns.

    4) Has paws with retractable claws.

    That sprinkled throughout the story would be more than enough for them.
     
  18. minstrel
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    minstrel Leader of the Insquirrelgency Staff Supporter Contributor

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    SECONDED VERY HEARTILY!!

    This is a bit of a pet peeve of mine - that inexperienced writers seem to want the reader to see their characters and their worlds exactly as they do.

    What these writers should realize is that a) no matter how much description they write, the reader will NEVER see everything the way the writer does, and b) it doesn't matter. Writers have to learn to trust the reader's imagination. Many readers may have better imaginations than the writer, anyway, and, given a chance, they'll see a much more vivid and powerful a scene than the writer describes. Writers should learn to accept that and use it.

    Most of the classics of literature don't have much description. Most good writers don't overdo description because they trust their wonderfully-imaginative readers.

    So, if a detail of appearance isn't important to the plot, leave it out. Leaving it out doesn't mean there'll be a blank space in the reader's mental picture; rather, it may mean that what's in that space is better than what you had in mind, anyway.
     

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