1. WriterDude
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    WriterDude New Member Contributor

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    How much can you change fantasy-creatures and get away with it?

    Discussion in 'General Writing' started by WriterDude, Dec 2, 2011.

    I remember some years ago when me and my brother was watching a moviec called "Reign of fire, a movie about dragons. The movie itself was crap, but the dragon-part led to an interesting discussion we still don't agree fully on. Basically the dragons in the movie was pretty much big, flying, firebreathing lizards with no forearms. They only had the rear feet and wings. My brother accepted them as dragons right away, but I'm used to the "traditional" dragons and hated them. We started arguing if the creatures in the movie could be called dragons or not, and we both had arguments for and against. He said dragons don't exist, so you can make a flying hamster and call it a dragon if you want to. If dragons don't exist anyway, the flying hamsters will be your version of a dragon. I argued that dragons don't exist in -this- world, but they do exist in our culture, myths, legends and stories. In short, they are so commonly known that if you say the word "dragon" to someone, they will usually know exactly what you are talking about. If I say "little grey men", what do you think about? Most will think small, humanoid creatures with big, black eyes, no hair, small mouths and all that. It's commonly accepted that that's what aliens, or little grey men if you wish, look like. But they don't exist, so "little grey men" could just as well be short, normal humans with grey skin. They would technically be little, grey and men, after all.

    So the question is thus: How much can we change commonly known fantasy-creatures like dragons, fairies, elves, mermaids etc and get away with it?

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  2. AnonyMouse
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    AnonyMouse Contributing Member Contributor

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    The "dragons" in Reign of Fire weren't dragons at all. They're wyverns, to those who care to make the distinction. ;) But I suppose it's all the same to most people. No harm done.

    And I liked that movie. Amazing story? Deep characters? Hell no. But it's an action movie. You know what to expect when going in. For what it was, I liked it. Dragon versus helicopter and guys in sailsuits was fun. But I digress...

    People are willing to accept just about anything if you make it believable, practical, and enjoyable to read. My current WIP involves mermaids, among other things. They walk on land, can breathe air, and have some traits not typically associated with 'canon' mermaids. But, within the context of the world, it all makes sense and my readers haven't questioned it at all.
     
  3. seelifein69
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    seelifein69 Member

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    I say it's your story, so you can bend whatever you want.

    Perhaps if you want to do a dragon "type" you might enjoy it more to give them another name so that others don't picture a sterotypical dragon.

    It's your world, and you can make it anyway you want (That's why I love writing). I say have fun and create some original beasts!
     
  4. Allan Paas
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    Allan Paas New Member

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    The Chinese and Japanese have their snake-like dragons, while "white people" have their lizard-like dragons. But they all mostly breathe fire, and fly. So if you see a big beast flying around, screaming and puking fire, you can bet its a dragon, unless there's a running-wheel nearby...

    The little grey or green men, why not purple, eh? Where and from what did that myth begin anyway? And why is it connected with aliens, or did aliens come from that myth?
    One is certain, our universe is far too big to have life only on Earth. The more or less average number of stars in a galaxy is 300 billion, and there are 50-100 billion galaxies in our universe. There are about 2 billion Earth-like planets in our galaxy. Even if just a small percentage of those planets are alive it still sounds like a lot of life is going on.

    I say we can change them as much as we like. There are no rules. Of course they'll still have to be "reasonable", or well explained so you could get away with it.

    If no one changed them they would be far more boring than they are at the moment. I consider new as good, so I welcome it. But, of course, not all new is good, and that I don't welcome.
     
  5. WriterDude
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    WriterDude New Member Contributor

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    (this isn't directed at you directly, of course. I just use your quote as an example.)

    But wyverns are not real either, right? So dragons or wyverns, it should make no difference. But my initial point is both dragons and wyverns -do- exist. No, you won't see a dragon flying down Times Square any time soon, but they are very much real in our mythology, in lack of a better word. I mean if we say the word dragon, most people know what we are talking about. How can we simply change them to fit a single story? Who am I to single-handedly change everything we know about a creature that has been around in stories for hundreds of years? If I really do want a dragon in my story, but one that doesn't look or behave anything like people are used to, why not call it something else?

    Let me give you an example. What about dinosaurs? That's a bit of a stretch, as we know they existed, and we know more or less what their bodies look like. But even so, do we know anything what their skin looked like? Yes, we do... and no, we don't. We can make educated guesses based on similar creatures, their living environments and stuff like that, but we can't know for sure until we see a live dinosaur. In fact, some scientists have developed theories that many dinosaurs like T-rex had feathers. It sounds ridiculous based on what we thought we knew about dinosaurs, but we can't know it for sure. And chinese dragons are snake-like and are often covered in feathers. It's not that much of a stretch to think they were inspired by stories about dinosaurs. I mean we knew dinosaurs were around, but couldn't explain them. Over time the dinosaurs in the stories evolved into the firebreathing dragons we know today. Feathers or not, there are a lot of similarities between dinosaurs and dragons. But if dragons "evolved" from dinosaurs, who are we to change them now?
     
  6. digitig
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    digitig Senior Member Contributor

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    Only in heraldry, as far as I can tell. The mythology of dragons worldwide is so diverse that they easily fit in with ancient dragon mythos.
     
  7. Fullmetal Xeno
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    Fullmetal Xeno Crimson Angel Contributor

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    I don't know why, but Dragons make me mad. I think they are very overused, but i guess cause i watch alot of dragon movies that are cliche. Don't take my comment too seriously, i would just like to see something original. Im working on a fantasy story, but with no dragons, elves (well a race quite like them, but theres differences) , dwarves, trolls. etc. etc. My fantasy story has a few creatures from the real world, but it introduces plenty of new ones too. I would like to see more original fantasy out there.. it's such a creative genre...
     
  8. Question
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    Question Member

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    Yeah I have to disagree because asian dragon typically are similar to the ones in Reign of Fire (their more snakelike and don't have limbs). Plus I don't believe you have to get to hung up on myths details because its your writing and you can make it how ever you want. Also Myths are essentially creative "writings" of their own aren't they
     
  9. spklvr
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    spklvr New Member Contributor

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    I agree with writerdude that if you are going to base a creature on something and change it completely, it's better to just call it something else. However, I think all creatures have key features that makes them that creature, and it's when you remove these things that it's just wrong.

    For instance, vampires drink blood. It's in the name! "Vam" means blood and "pir" means monster. Thus, a vampire is a blood monster. No consumption of blood means it's not a vampire. As for dragons, as long as they are large monsters that fly in the sky, they may be dragons. So sadly you cannot put wings on a giant hamster and call it a dragon. Werewolves, their key feature is that they are humans that change into wolf monsters during the full moon. Take that away and it's just a shapeshifter.

    So in my opinion, if you are using a known creature, you should identify and respect the key aspects that makes the creature what it is, and then do with the rest as you please.
     
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  10. spklvr
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    spklvr New Member Contributor

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    Double Post
     
  11. Jhunter
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    Jhunter Mmm, bacon. Contributor

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    I was going to post a reply. But this covers everything I was going to say.
     
  12. digitig
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    digitig Senior Member Contributor

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    Except for the black ribboners, members of the Ankh-Morpork League of Temperance, of course. Any convention can be subverted.
     
  13. digitig
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    digitig Senior Member Contributor

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    "I am seeking the dragon!" cried Aelreth.
    "A am the dragon!" the creature replied, in a sort of low squeak.
    "No you're not! You're -- what? Some sort of flying giant hamster."
    "Look, my ancestors spent a fortune on public relations. Some of the best available. The public image is a little -- well -- exaggerated."
    "So do you breathe fire?"
    "I chew wood into shavings. They catch fire easily. It's all a matter of spin, isn't it?"
     
  14. spklvr
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    spklvr New Member Contributor

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    And as fun as that sounds, I would never take flying dragon hamsters seriously :p
    I should probably change my statement to say anything is allowed in comedy and parody (though I would still say the black ribboners fit the traditional blood sucking formula, as they choose not to drink blood but can and probably should). I have read books where the author tries to change a creature's key features, but even in the few cases where the story is actually compelling, I will still dislike the creature because it's not right. Maybe if it was called something else, I would enjoy it.

    Perhaps I'm not one to talk. I write about a vampire that can't drink blood from humans because the first time he tried he got a piece of skin stuck between his teeth and it has since grossed him out too much.
     
  15. digitig
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    digitig Senior Member Contributor

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    I'm not convinced I was taking them seriously. :)
     
  16. TWErvin2
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    TWErvin2 Contributing Member Contributor

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    I believe you can alter fantasy/mytical creatures if it makes sense to the world, but more importantly to the reader.

    In my novels, the dragons most closely resemble the dragon in the 1980 movie Dragon Slayer. So, the wings are incorporated into the front limbs, similar to a bat. They're not the four-legged creature with wings sprouting from their back. I've only had one reader state that the dragons were more like wyverns (although in my second novel, I have wyverns--they resemble a cross between a vulture and a dragon).

    Another example would be zombies. There are two types of zombies in my novels. The mundane (standared shambling, slowly rotting corpse directed by a necromancer), and the souled (which don't rot and although can be controlled by powerful necromancers, can actively think and respond to threats). I've not had reader's complain or think they were out of place. The point being, if it makes sense and you present them realistically (based on the world), the readers will accept it.

    As a reader, I'm the same way. For example: In Steven Brust's Vlad Taltos novels, the Easterners are humans and the Dragaerans--tall, centuries-old humanoids whose genes contain the material of their House animal--are 'Elves', or that's how Vlad's Grandfather (an Easterner) identifies them.
     
  17. WriterDude
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    WriterDude New Member Contributor

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    I have no problem with altering creatures like dragons or zombies. Zombies have been around for a long time, but it wasn't until "Night of the living dead" they became hungry for human flesh. (or so they said on Deadliest Warrior, so I might be wrong.) It changed zombie-movies and made them quite scary and popular again. Then zombies changed again with "28 Days later", where we had running zombies. I have also seen somewhat intelligent zombies, and even zombies that talk. And for that matter, there are computer games where the main character is a zombie. On top of that, the zombies in the original zombie myth wasn't even dead. (sort of). They were simply victims poisoned by witch doctors with some sort of fish poison (blowfish, I think), so their heart rate dropped, their skin turned pale, they barely breathed and so on. They looked dead in every way, and even the pulse was hard to find. They were thought to be dead and were buried, but the "corpses" were dug up a while later and the victims recovered. However, the poison and near-death had taken it's toll, so their brains barely functioned. The result was people who could barely think for themselves and walked around like they were in a trance, and followed orders more or less blindly. That's a pretty big difference from the running zombies in 28 Days Later. ;)

    The point is no matter how different those zombies are, there's no question that they are all zombies. But what about the "zombies" from movies like "Invasion of the body snatchers" or "The thing"? The body snatchers are simply people taken over by parasites. They are very much like normal people in every way, so are they technically zombies? In a way, yes, they are. And no, they are not. So can we call "Invasion of the body snatchers" a zombie-story? And what about "The thing"? If you haven't seen it, it's all about an alien parasite that kills people, then change itself to mimic them. The whole point in the movie is there's a few scientists stuck in the Antartica, and they know one of them is an alien. But who? Naturally, it leads to a lot of paranoia and fear, and one heck of a movie. But is it a zombie-movie? "Swamp Thing" is another great example. To be short, a scientist had an accident in his lab, the lab exploded and his body was thrown into a swamp along with some chemicals. As a result, his body merged with the swamp to keep him alive, and he became the Swamp Thing in the title. Is he a zombie? Especially as in one story I read, it was explained that the scientist did not become the swamp at all, but the swamp got some of his memories and turned into him. The scientist was dead, but some of him lived on in the creature the swamp created. Can we call that a zombie?

    And that's the point. We all have a common idea what a zombie is, even if they technically don't exist. So can we replace the zombies with aliens mimicing dead people and still call it a zombie movie? How much can we change zombies before they stop becoming zombies?
     
  18. cruciFICTION
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    cruciFICTION Breaking Beard Contributor

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    Every bird, lizard, or mammal on Earth has a pentadactyl limb (don't quote me on that. I know that there are a few without it), and they have four of them. If you had those terrible dragons with four legs AND wings, that would mean it would be hexapodal, and there aren't any hexapodal mammals or birds on earth, and dragons couldn't be lizards since lizards have cold blood and have to spend all their time on the ground.
    So, naturally, we can assume that dragons are very much like bats, and are mammals, since they don't have feathers. That, or they're whatever the dinosaurs were, which is still not a lizard since, again, they're too far off the ground to have had cold blood.

    That's not to mention that the actual definition of wyvern is "a winged, two-legged dragon with a barbed tail". It's just a different kind of dragon, like a subspecies. The barbed tail is the main point, anyway. Because of the tail, the Hungarian Horntail from Harry Potter is a wyvern. But it's still a dragon.
     
  19. Ralinde
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    Ralinde Member

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    Be Creative - That's What We, As The Reader Want


    Ok - ignoring the dragon issue entirely since everyone else seems to have covered that, in answer to your question I think you can do a lot and people aren't going to care. In fact, taking an old myth and re-inventing it works like an absolute charm. Obvious cases include Harry Potter, Percy Jackson and definitely Twilight. I don't recall super speed or strength, an abilty to endure the sun and let's not forget the whole sparkling thing they had going on, to be typical vampire traits. If I recall (because I read the first two books once but never really got into the ridiculous Twilight thing), Myers' vampires couldn't die by the traditional means either. This is comparing her vampires to the most commonly known version written by Bram Stoker. Having said that, Stoker's version is not the original either. Vampires exist in many cultures and they're all different in some way to another culture's version. In essence, I don't think Myer's vampires are really anything like the stereotypical view most people have of a vampire and yet look how that worked out?

    In answer, I think it's actually better to re-invent the old into something new. Keep the base qualities but change things up. A minority may wish to find fault with this but largely, your audience actually wants you to bring something new to the table.

    Anyway, I may or may not have something here but in my opinion, I feel you can pretty much get away with being as creative as you like.
     
  20. spklvr
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    spklvr New Member Contributor

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    Okay, I'm gonna let my love of vampires and hatred of Twilight get the best of me here.

    People enjoy Twilight for the romance, not the vampires, and if they say otherwise, they haven't read a proper vampire novel. Though in a sense they are typical vampires as they do drink blood, and super speed and strength are common vampire traits, and Dracula could walk about in the sun as he pleased, he just couldn't shape shift. In that sense they are very typical vampires, minus the lack of fangs (though there were no mention of fangs in the original Slavic vampire folklore) and the sparkling. However, had Meyer done more research into mythology (though to be fair, I haven't found much mention of this on the internet either, just in books on mythology), she would have known her vampires are more closely related to a type of fairy myth that was ruined by creations as Tinkerbell. Yes, fairies killed people and drank human blood and they radiated a beautiful light that attracted humans. Please note though that there used to be an abundance of different fairies that have all sort of merged into one tinkerbell-ish stereotype.
     
  21. WriterDude
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    WriterDude New Member Contributor

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    You forget the little fact dragons does not exist on earth, but in fantasy world were earthly laws of physics and nature isn't relevant. So although dragons wouldn't have four feet here, they could easily have four feet there. It's the same reason insects in fantasy stores can be gigantic. In reality, there are plenty of reasons why they can't grow any bigger than the ones we already have. But if it's fantasy, go nuts. In fantasy stories, you can literally do anything you want. But does that include changing commonly known creatures into something different? Now that's the question. :)

    @spklvr: Thanks for the tip about the faeries. I'm not surprised they are so much different, though. If you think about a lot of the nice stories we know, they were not exactly as nice originally. Snow White, Red Riding Hood, Sleeping Beauty and so on were all quite brutal in their original form. I even read a story based on Snow White where the girl was created from snow, but she only lived a few minutes. When she died, the father raped the corpse while the mother was watching. And that's one of the nicer stories. ;)
     
  22. Kirsteen
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    Kirsteen New Member

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    I really enjoy it when I read something that takes what I *think* is true and turns it on its head. I could basically fall asleep if I read another Anne McCaffrey type dragon book, but if someone were to play with what dragons are then I'd be intrigued.

    I like the fact that vampires are endlessly deconstructed and reconstructed - who wants to write the same old character that everyone else has had a stab at? Just looking at movies - my interest was caught in Underworld because vampires had highly complex societal organisation, a history with werewolves that created tension between species, vampirism explained as a kind of virus that can be transmitted - as well as some standard vampire abilities and tendencies. You do need some of those if you are going to call a monster a vampire...but the fun is in playing Jenga with a monster and seeing what you can take away without it all collapsing around you.
     
  23. digitig
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    digitig Senior Member Contributor

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    I'm afraid you fail on both your real and fantasy biology. The pterosaurs were reptiles, although are believed to have been warm-blooded. And Chinese dragons have 3, 4, or 5 digits on each hand/foot depending on their status (and for what it's worth, they don't usually have wings, flying by means of magic, which undermines your argument for why they have to be warm-blooded).
     
  24. Allan Paas
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    Allan Paas New Member

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    Talking of dinosaurs, they are not dead, a few species survived... Ever heard of alligators, crocodiles, and turtles? And doesn't matter what the size is, a reptile is a reptile. The same goes to mammals, you ever seen the small things with tails, running around and munching on your food?
     
  25. digitig
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    digitig Senior Member Contributor

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    Ahem. Crocodiles, alligators and turtles might have existed in prehistoric times, but they are most certainly not dinosaurs.
     

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