1. Shreddinger

    Shreddinger New Member

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    What makes a world original?

    Discussion in 'Setting Development' started by Shreddinger, Nov 30, 2016.

    Okay, so this question is gonna be somewhat divided into 2 parts, the first being about my particular setting, and the second about settings in general.

    So, here we go:
    While I haven't decided between Fantasy and Sci-fi yet, the outline is as follows:
    A large city divided into several sections inhabited by people of different statuses: You got aristocracy, rich merchants, craftsmen, poor people, slums, a harbor, a citadel and some farms outside the walls. The citadel is built on high cliffs with the richest and most influencial inhabitants living inside it or close to it in gated communities. The further away from the citadel, the poorer it gets. Some areas are inhabited by elves(if fantasy) or another race (if Sci-Fi), but I will refer to them as elves.

    In the past the elves have been teachers and priests, but due to their arrogance towards men, there was an uprising. Outnumbered, the elves were pushed into the poorest parts, forced to live in ghettos. Most of them were too proud to trade with men, but those who did, earned a fortune by buying from men and selling it to their fellows at a much higher price. Ultimately, the elves are at the bottom of the society and most often they are connected to prostitution and illegal activities to survive.

    Apart from this, vast parts of the city are ruled by an underground organization that I will call "the Mafia" for now. Rather than fighting the system however, the Mafia chose to collaborate with the authorities to keep the people down. Blackmailing, ransoms, danegeld(found that in a dictionary) are their sources of income. They also controll the merchant routes, so part of the bargain with the authorities is, they supply the rich and powerful with all the exotic goods they need, and in exchange for that, they are left alone and are allowed to rule a large part of the city. Everything is a huge bluff though, since the authorities don't have the manpower to destroy the Mafia, while the Mafia relies on the bargain to compensate for the huge costs of all the mercenaries they employ.

    The people are kept poor, but to prevent them from an uprising (which would end in a slaughter), the Mafia invented several mechanisms: Occasionally they stoke hatred against the elves that end in brutal massacres. Also, from time to time they allow some of their people to get captured by the authorities and sentenced to death, to maintain the illusion of order. Another part are the arenas in the parts of the city controlled by the Mafia. Gladiators (prisoners who couldnt pay their debts) fight for their lives while a large crowd is watching. It is meant to remind everyone that they could be the next to fight, but also creates a little bit of hope, because they are still alive.

    That was a brief overwiev to the status quo, before the story begins.
    Now my question: Readin that, does it remind you of something or do you think, it's at least partially original?


    Now that you have answered this question, here's the second part:
    I was influenced by "The Witcher" (the novel by Andrzej Sapkowski) and a little bit by "The hunger games", which I realized only after writing a huge part of th novel ;)

    Now given the fact that people are writing stories for almost 3000 years now, is there something like a "new" idea? And even if there is, should we strive to find it? Or is it better to reinvent something old?

    cheers,
    Shreddinger
     
  2. Cave Troll

    Cave Troll It's Coffee O'clock everywhere. Contributor

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    I think this is why hybridization of genres is emerging. To keep things interesting.
    Other than that I don't think there is anything new under the sun. At least not
    until we evolve into something more intelligent, and even then it is like trying
    to shoot an asteroid in the kuiper belt from the moon. :p
     
  3. blklizard

    blklizard Member

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    I will start answering the second part but you might see where I'm headed and how it affects the first part.

    When I am asked what makes a world original, I will say that the characters themselves make the world original. Imagine having the same nation but different ruler. One might be just and kind while the other is a tyrant. Do you see how the worlds will differ greatly from that point onward due to the different paths the rulers will take? What makes stories from various writers different is their personal experiences. People read different genres because they enjoy certain genres more than others. These, in effect, impact the stories they write. They could have similar setting but, once the characters are introduced, the stories will be completely different.

    Like you said, your story is influenced by certain books. Imagine someone else influenced by different books. You shouldn't be seeking out new ideas or reinventing something old. Instead, you should be writing out stories that are uniquely yours. Add a certain flavor that makes your stories different from other people's. As a novice writer, I might copy the style of other writers from time to time. Yet, this won't make my stories stand out. I hope to one day find what is my style. It might be similar to existing styles but, if someone reads my book, they will recognize that I am the author.

    A lot of these are opinion based so I hope I was of some help.
     
  4. Shreddinger

    Shreddinger New Member

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    Every opinion helps.
     
  5. Denegroth

    Denegroth Banned

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    Your scenario reminded me of Medieval Europe, say Merchant of Venice era, with the pogroms, and shady dealings, keeping the "elves" nearby for the economic boost they give, but at a distance so they have no chance of becoming equals, or (shudder to think) surpass the gentry.

    What makes a world original? Well, once you've seen one, you've seen them all...only...different. So, I'd say the best one could hope for is a variation on the theme. If you strip away idealism and sentiment, and look at it in terms of biochemistry, geology and the like you can take one approach like Roddenberry did with the Vulcans. Humans have iron-based blood. Vulcans have copper-based. The rest you can find an example of through history.

    Warlike tribes. Peaceable tribes. Enterprising...mercantile....the more things change the more they stay the same. I think there's a certain initial fascination with the other world. I know Middle Earth would be a good example of that. However, the shine wears off and you're back at "what happens next?" Gimli is a person, just like Aragorn. Their ups and downs, their triumphs and travails begin to overshadow the landscape, and well they should.

    Tolkien spent a life time building his world. A lifetime. Once it was built, he could place his "races" on it. However, he had a history he stuck to. Not just anything could happen. So, his creation had a rigidity to it he had to follow, at the same time, that's what he intended all along.

    So...yeah...different, but the same. Lots of lakes and woods? Lots of volcanoes and beaches? Reptilians where the mammals would be? Birds where the ants would be? One thing physicists are beginning to accept is the laws of physics tend to be the same everywhere in the universe on the Newtonian level, at least. That would seem to say, chemistry would follow, molecular structure, cellular structure, so it wouldn't be surprising to find elephants a thousand light years away.
     
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  6. Necronox

    Necronox Contributor Contributor

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    Your scenario reminds me strongly of an now old RPG game I once played called "Dragon Age Origins". It effectively had the same premise of having elves as the poorest, connected to criminal organisation and also had elements of you're mafia. The lore also implies that much of the criminal organisations was run by the richer or more powerful people.

    However, I find that looking for an 'original' idea is quasi impossible since you can draw similarities between any two (or more) stories. Thus, you can say that Silence of the Lambs is actually just a repainted version of Snow White. Exagerations aside, Your promise premise sounds interesting, and certainly as it has been said before the characters certain make the entire story more unique. However, in my own world I have come up with ideas that are almost copied out of other stories despite the fact that I had never copied, or even been aware of the similarities until (usually) someone points out the similarities.

    In short, yes I think it's an original idea enough (depending on, effectively, the 'finer' details). Thought it does certainly contain content similar to many other aspects.

    As for a 'new' idea, I think it is certainly possible, but incredibly hard to do. I find it very similar to trying to point out what you don't know to someone else. How do you know what you don't know? I find it's more or less the same kind of ball game.
     
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  7. Shreddinger

    Shreddinger New Member

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    Thanks for your thoughts on this!
     
  8. OJB

    OJB A Mean Old Man Contributor

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    Shreddinger, what makes a world original for me is not the surface things (castles, fancy spaceships, elves) it is the things that lay underneath that no one wants to talk about. Secrets the community doesn't speak about, only ever hinted to. History seen from two different perspectives (you should research US civil war and read the history from the north's perspective and the south. It will really open your eyes to see how an event can be perceived in such a radically different ways.)

    In essence; a history of the world that is only ever hinted at, but never explained. Also whatever 'rules' you put into your world make sure you follow them to the letter.

    Good luck.
     
  9. jannert

    jannert Retired Mod Supporter Contributor

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    Do there have to be 'elves?' That, in itself, isn't very original. Why not invent another name for these beings? The old adage, 'if you've heard it before, don't use it' can be applied to more than just choice of phrases. While 'elves' existed in mythology before Tolkien used them, its his use of them that seems to have informed just about everybody who writes about them now. I know that if I saw a fantasy with 'elves' in it, I'd pass by.

    Maybe coin an original name for these beings? That will make your story unique to you.

    And instead of using medieval European models for your towns and villages and political structures, why not investigate other places in the real world? Ancient China? Ancient Mayan civilisation? Persia, etc. Even Roman. Of course you'd disguise these, but they might give you some ideas that aren't run-of-the-mill 'fantasy.'
     
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  10. Shreddinger

    Shreddinger New Member

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    Well, if I'd go with another race, I would have to describe them first, and this would interrupt the story quite a bit.
     
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  11. OJB

    OJB A Mean Old Man Contributor

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    @jannert

    I wanted to discuss deeply what you just said, as it is a good point but I think there is more to it than just that. Changing an elf's name, while basically keeping it an elf, is a band-aid approach. If you want to use an elf, or anything that has been used his the dawn of mankind, you have to ask yourself "Can I make something old original and new again?" The answer will really depend on you as the writer.

    Let's use an elf since we are on the topic and see how we can make it original, while still keeping it an elf. The first thing that pops into my mind about an elf is they are beautiful creatures. Beauty can create infatuation in the beholder, infatuation can lead to mania, and mania can lead extreme behaviors. So keeping in this line of thought, could a elf be so beauty that they are beyond mortal description, and seeing one can lead a mortal man to madness? Suddenly we are getting into new territory and the only thing we've discussed is that elves are beautiful, let's not forget the other attributes they have. (@Shreddinger you made the point about how describing something would interrupt the story, and in a way it can, imagine the conflict and mystery you could create by having a creature that can not be looked at without it driving the viewer mad. You'd have to use detail clues, such as buildings and clothing, to hint at what they looked like.)

    My point is, using something old doesn't have to be cliche and boring. Look at the core attributes that makes an elf an elf, and ask how can I make this new and exciting?

    Of corse, there is a lot more out there than just elves (look into Asian, Russian, Native American, African, and Middle eastern legends and fairytales. There is a lot out there to discover.)
     
  12. jannert

    jannert Retired Mod Supporter Contributor

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    Well, that's the point, isn't it? If you just assume the same characteristics for elves that Tolkien created, you're not being very original. Not that that's a problem, but the whole point of your OP seemed to be a desire to make your world original. Yes, you'll need to let readers in on what these beings are like ...although 'describing them first' isn't always the best way to do it. But discovering a new race of beings is exciting for a reader. I know it would perk me up considerably, if I were to start reading a story that had races of people in it that were very different from anything I'd read before.

    Discovering hobbits, a race who ARE unique to Tolkien, was one of the joys of reading LoTR for the first time. It wasn't a drag at all, to discover what they were like. It was one of my favourite bits of the story, and certainly launched it well.

    Elves aren't real beings (as far as we know.) Tolkien created the way we think of them today. (Unless you're thinking of Santa's elves, or some other kind of elf.) The problem is, when you say 'elf' nowadays, connected to a fantasy story, people think 'Galadriel, Arwen Evenstar, Elrond, Legolas, etc.' If your elves are similar to these, with similar characteristics and powers, then they are not 'original.' If your elves are wildly different from that 'ideal' then why not come up with a different name for them?

    As long as you use names for fantasy species that everybody has preconceptions about ...dwarves, orcs, elves ...your originality is already compromised. Again, there's nothing wrong with that, if you want a predictible reaction from readers who enjoy reading about the same things over and over again. But striving to create an 'original' world, using fantasy races that have been created by other authors doesn't seem to make much sense to me. An original world will contain original beings, won't it?

    Fantasy means you can write anything you want. So why not strike out and create something entirely different?
     
    Last edited: Dec 3, 2016
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  13. matwoolf

    matwoolf Banned Contributor

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  14. Wreybies

    Wreybies Thrice Retired Supporter Contributor

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    The part that feels rather "done" is the stark separation into zones (aka factions).

    Funny bit is that this idea of belonging to distinct groups and subgroups is something I saw come into heavy play after the "anime invasion". This idea figures heavily in Japanese media. I am left to wonder if we have adopted it as a trope because of anime influence or because it genuinely says something about our perceptions of current society.
     
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  15. jannert

    jannert Retired Mod Supporter Contributor

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    Well, that is a bizarre situation. I'd never heard of this before. Do you think people with the last name of Chretien are descended from these people? I mean, lots of groups of people have been despised and shunned over millenia, but this one is particularly weird because nobody knows (or can remember) why. o_O
     
  16. Simpson17866

    Simpson17866 Contributor Contributor

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    I would second everything about unique characters in a familiar world being better than the other way around (though unique characters in a unique world is obviously better than just one or the other).

    Have you read SciFi/Fantasy novels that introduced races without interrupting the story?

    That'd be my guess.

    Humanity evolved to form tight social groups to survive by strength in numbers, and any non-conformity – either from within or from without – is seen as the first step to a potential death threat. All of the worst atrocities in human history have boiled down to one group deciding "We have to kill them before they kill us!" (retroactively proving the worst part of other side to have been correct in having said exactly the same thing).

    The one thing that every Planet of Hats in SciFi/Fantasy has in common is that they were all created by human writers. The real universe does not look like that, but we as a species will think that other species can be summed up so simply because we think of others in our own species the same way:
    • "Gays are pedophiles!" (pedophiles are disproportionately likely to be straight)
    • "Muslims are terrorists!" (90-95% of the victims of ISIS are Muslims)
    • "Poor people are lazy!" (you can work 70 hours a week at 3 jobs and still be in poverty)
    • "Blacks are dangerous thugs who threaten cops!" (a white man caught in the act of committing a mass shooting can be taken into custody alive, yet an unarmed black person suspected of a crime – most often, incorrectly – will be shot in the back "just in case")
    • "Mexicans are rapists!" ...
    In my SFF work, this group/group division is a uniquely human instinct which comes across as Blue and Orange morality to everybody else:

    Human: "Xs are good, Ys are evil!"
    Alien: "Actually, most Xs and most Ys are good, whereas some Xs and some Ys are evil"
    Human: "How dare you say that all Ys are good and all Xs are evil? I can prove that there are evil Ys who murder innocent people!"
    Alien: "..."

    How would a less group-oriented species having the same thing differently from the way that I (most likely a human) just wrote it ;)
     
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  17. Shreddinger

    Shreddinger New Member

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    I agree with you. But introducing things like that doesn't work every time. In my particular situation I have quite a huge part of a "story before the story" which I need to characterize the MC and lead to the triggering event (which is an oath to take revenge). I want to keep this part before the story actually begins as short as possible and any sentence to describe the setting would only prolong it.
     
  18. Caveriver

    Caveriver Active Member

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    How long are we talking? Pararaphs or pages? In any case, I say don't worry too much about laying out the entire setting (or world) all at once. Keep your descriptions within a moment, or a scene, and let the readers discover the world as your MC moves through it. No need to introduce anything ahead of time that isn't relevant to the event immediately at hand. This should keep your story-before-the-story shorter, and cut down on any potential info-dumping.
    (Just a sidenote... I tend to start rough drafts- as a whole, and scene per scene- with a Class A infodump. This helps me get the things I want to cover down where I can see them. Then, I go back and rearrange the facts/sentences so that they reveal things to the MC, or reader, in the appropriate order. I suppose this is similar to how some people use an outline, but I tend to get more "keepable" material this way. Don't be afraid to infodump, as long as you fix it as you progress.)
     
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  19. Iain Aschendale

    Iain Aschendale Aunt? Supporter Contributor

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    One thing that throws me here is that the "elves"* are at the bottom of society, but, except for a few profiteers, they are the ones too proud to trade with the higher-caste human society. I think that if you look at any marginalized group in the real world, the problem it faces is finding members of the more privileged class who are willing to do business with the "untouchables". Just think of the sentence "We don't serve your kind here, boy".

    And I agree with Denegroth, the situation of the elves in your scenario reminds me of that of the Jews in Europe. I've read**, however, that the European Jews were able to survive and at times thrive due to being allowed to engage in activities, such as money-lending and acting, that were forbidden to Christians at the time. Since you described them as having been teachers and priests before, perhaps there is some service related to those professions that they could provide that is forbidden to humans? It would seem unrealistic for an entire race (or, I guess species) to provide for itself through prostitution and crime, whatever its reputation among the upper classes. Otherwise, most of the lower-caste groups I can think of off the top of my head serve as a source of unskilled and semi-skilled labor.

    *I wouldn't recommend calling them "elves" unless you are a) going to make them straight-up willowy, intelligent, long-lived noble Tolkien critters, simply because that's what 90% of your audience is going to assume.

    **This isn't an area I've done much reading about, so if I'm wrong, please feel free to correct me.
     
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  20. newjerseyrunner

    newjerseyrunner Contributor Contributor

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    I also thought of Medeivel Europe, but also times in Roman history as well as the third Reich.

    If you're looking for originality for your race, making them aliens probably gives you more creativity and separate them a little.

    So elves are nobel and intelligent, outlive humans by hundreds of years, have special mind powers and pointy ears and are strict to a strange religion. They are also usually deceptively skilled in combat. Have you ever heard of such a thing in sci-fi , Mr. Spock?
     
    Last edited: Dec 5, 2016
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  21. Sam Woodbury

    Sam Woodbury Member

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    Originality would come forth in describing all these different groups of people with their histories and cultures. In a fantasy or science fiction world this would be necessary even if they were all human beings. The description can be sparing, gradually developed as the story unfolds, but it is necessary. If the setting was historic or contemporary, a writer can rely on common knowledge of a setting; their readers would have some idea of modern New York City, Victorian London, or ancient China, but unless a fantasy or SF story simply is set in an already established world like Middle Earth or the Star Wars universe, it is necessary to present the world to the reader.

    Simply making the"other" elves to avoid description is also problematic because there are many different elves; for instance compare Legolas in LOTR to Dobby in Harry Potter.
     
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  22. halisme

    halisme Contributor Contributor

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    Okay, the walled city with the major class divide is Attack on Titan, the elves being poor is Dragon Age, the Mafia is basically a combination of the typical fantasy thieves guild and "we must make monsters to keep us together", i.e The Village by Shamalama Dingdong.

    The thing to remember that world building is building, with each brick being a different concept or event from out own world. While there are a limited amount of bricks, it's the arrangement of them that creates something new.
     
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