View Full Version : Staple Races
January 17th, 2002, 02:04 AM
I have found at the writing workshop i'm at and on other sites about the web, many writers use the traditional races; elves, dwarves, goblins, orcs, dragons.
I have a major problem with this. these races were exhausted long ago in fantasy fiction, and it displeases me that some new writers persist in clinging to these old, unoriginal ideas.
not to blow my own horn, but i make it a policy of mine to create my own races, i try my best to be creative.
after reviewing much of the works containing these old and very tired creatures, i'm of the opinion that some would-be writers are lazy, relying on commonly known racial attributes that do not need much fleshing out at all.
so, is it a case of laziness or creativity, or just writers wanting to write about their favourite races from the works they grew up on?
[This message has been edited by Asraloth (edited January 17, 2002).]
January 17th, 2002, 11:40 AM
so, is it a case of laziness or creativity, or just writers wanting to write about their favourite races from the works they grew up on?
I'm not a writer...
And I don't play one on TV...
But I would bet that a lack of creativity/imagination is true in a majority of cases. IMO
Erebus and Penumbra would be the ones to ask, they seem to have the most experience in the field.
Hasta la bye bye
January 18th, 2002, 02:03 AM
I completely disagree. Using the races you mention doesn't point at all to a lack of originality or creativity so long as the author can find a new take on them - which is what I try to do. For instance I use dragons in my writing but they have their own functional society, multiple habitats, weaknesses, hierachies etc etc. Elves too - but they are unlike any other elves I have read about barring general physical traits (pointed ears and the like but even they are for a reason)and the fact they live and work in wood (rainforests but wood nonetheless)
Where your 'lazy' authors might fall down is in exactly recreating the accepted view, if there is such a thing.
The positive thing about using a well known race is that is gives the reader a frame of reference for general physical characteristics. What the author has to do is give that race credible new mythology, motivations, conflicts and so on because that's what makes them interesting.
Take Grunts by Mary Gentle. About Orcs but no way would you think them similar to JRRT's except in general physical appearance.
I'm all for new inventions though, don't get me wrong and if it's something you enjoy, don't let anyone stop you. What you have to bear in mind though is, are you genuinely enhancing your world or are your new races a hindrance? This sort of thing happens in SF a good deal, I think, where authors get so caught up in their own technology they forget they are writing a story.
Other thing to ask yourself are - are your creations credible, would they ever have evolved (or been manufactured if you like) and survived in the form you make them? Are you actually inventing new races or actually renaming new descriptions of old ones?
It's a great creative challenge to do what you're attempting and not something I've gone into this far, but it doesn't make you more original or creative than someone who doesn't, just differently so.
And how far do you go in abandoning old races. After all, you've missed the all time classic off your list - humans. http://www.sffworld.com/ubb/smile.gif
And are horses, for instance, still a major mode of transport in your writing? I'd be interested in the degree to which you go.
January 18th, 2002, 02:25 AM
Actually, I agree. If i pick up another book with Elves, Dwarves, Humans, Orcs, and Dragons...I might regurgitate my breakfast.
That fact is, no matter how you spin these races, they're still the fantasy staples. I have no idea if laziness or INABILITY to be creative has anything to do with it. It might rather be the case that the author doesn't WANT to write outside the established fantasy "box" so to speak. And there are markets for such works, so they're not totally without merit.
The question is this: will these works that re-hash the same themes over and over ever reach the level of the great standards of hte genre, and ever be accepted for anything more than "entertaining little books?" Probably not...but then again, that's not necessarilly the point. If, as an author, you want to be recognized as a beacon of creativity and talent, you must develope your OWN ideas, and putting little twists on industry standards doesn't fit the bill here.
But again, go back to your purpose. Do you want to write to make money? Do you want to write to satiate your own imagination? Then by all means, use those goblins, orcs, dwarves, elves, etc until you can't stand them any more. There's nothing 'wrong' with writing for any of these purposes.
As for myself, I have started to see a bit of a movement among readers of fantasy for 'more.' Many readers' tastes are becoming a bit more sophisticated and a bit more demanding. I've started to notice calls on such boards as these for fantasy that doesn't fit the generic mould...and I think that's good. The genre cannot exist forever rehashing the same ideas over and over, and it's time it got a swift kick in the ***. There will always be room for the standard races, but there needs to be some form of development along with tem or the genre will stagnate.
January 18th, 2002, 02:33 AM
<<And are horses, for instance, still a major mode of transport in your writing? I'd be interested in the degree to which you go.>>
Heh. You just mentioned my obsession! http://www.sffworld.com/ubb/smile.gif I many times use giant lizards for mount, or a species called Zasaarak lately: creatures who live in the mountains, full of fur with six legs.
Anyway. I too never use elves, dwarves, etc, cliches in my stories. I prefer to invet my own races.
January 18th, 2002, 04:58 AM
“so, is it a case of laziness or creativity, or just writers wanting to write about their favourite races from the works they grew up on?” - Asraloth
Personally I think the answer will vary from author to author.
Are some authors lazy with their creations? yes. However, I do not believe that the majority of “published” authors fall into this category. I think it is much more common in fan fiction and amateur writers. Either from, as you said, laziness or from ignorance.
Do some authors lack creativity? Certainly. But on the other hand, does a good story require totally unique worlds with strange new creatures? no. Remember we are human and, yes, our readers are human too. It is possible to create a world so abnormal that many readers will be turned off. Humans find comfort in what they know. It’s a fact. It is one thing to add a few new creatures or a few new ideas, but it is another thing to shun everything familiar.
Also, as Nom says, “authors get so caught up in their own technology they forget they are writing a story.” Sometimes authors allow their own creativity to get in the way of their story. The world and creatures, magic and technology are all background. The story is where the real creativity is.
And lastly, do writers just want to write about their favorite races from the works they grew up on? To some extent, I think this is true of all writers. Fan fiction of course being the purest example.
January 18th, 2002, 06:20 AM
There have been other discussions like this in the forum before...and I will reiterate my response to the query...
Using staple races in fantasy (i.e. elves, dragons and dwarves) is not laziness IF they are being used because the story NEEDS to be told using established fantasy races. Take for example GRRM's ASOFaI series. He uses a number of traditional fantasy races and themes (mark my words, the children of the forest will turn out to be a variation on tradtional elves), and his writing is SPECTACULAR. He is a master story-teller. Good writing and strong storytelling is what makes a good fantasy novel, NOT original races.
I have read FAR TOO MANY novels and short stories that are overflowing with "original" races. But folks, bad writing is bad writing. No amount of original races will save bad storytelling. Period.
January 18th, 2002, 06:57 AM
Matt, I disagree with you. If the story does not tell me something new and interesting, I won't read it because of flowery words. Words are words. The ideas are what counts.
Ideas = characters, story, world, creatures. All are important. And writing is ALSO important.
So there are these elements: World, Creatures, Characters, Story, Writing.
World. Why do we read fantasy? To travels somewhere "else". If it is somewhere we have traveled again and again is it somewhere "else"? No. So it gets boring and repetive. So there must be something new to discover.
Why do we write fantasy? For the same reason. If there is not something new to discover, why would I want to travel there? I won't write about something if I don't have something new to tell.
Of course, if you write about aliens who have no sustance, talk nonsense, and humans can't understand nothing of them-- Would you want to travel there? I wouldn't!
Creatures. We know cats and dogs. Of course, there would be there (?) in a fantasy setting. But again we travel there to find something new and exciting and mystical. But the elves and dwarves are like cats and dogs to us, so many times we've seen them. So again you need something else to read/write fantasy.
Characters. Very important element (THE important for me), but I won't say much, for the discussion is not about them. I'll just say that each characters must have a difference from the general group and from other characters; something to characterize him/her.
Story. The story above all else must be logical, according to the facts we have; the facts for the world. So the "same" story in two diffrent worlds may not be the same story, after all! Note how the world is VERY closely tied to the story.
The story must also be about an important issue for the characters and/or the world in general. "Important isuue" varies. A merchant about to lose her property is important for her, but not for a soldier of the baron's army. Or for the world (usually). An invasion to the barony is important to all of the above: the baron (of course), the merchant in the barony, the soldier, and the world. The world because it's going to change it; a little perhaps, but it's a change.
So, if the story has importance --is about an important issue for characters and/or world-- it is usually good enough to use.
Writing. Of course it's an important element. It must be not-tiring and undestandable above all else --that's what interests the reader. Also it is good not to be repetive and clumsy --that's what interests me as a writer, and of course those bad-mannered guys/gals called critics http://www.sffworld.com/ubb/smile.gif.
So. You can't say "I'm writing good, so everything else I don't care about"; all of the above elements are important equaly.
And of course that is my opinion only.
Note also that, having said that, I don't think that no-one should use elves, dwarves, etc (though this kind of books rarely attract me any longer); but more people should try to be more creative, so the genre will move on. Yes I know it's difficult to proggress away from something you know well, but most of the time it's quit rewarding. (Like changing decor in your house.)
A bit of comment about what KATS said. You seem to judge that way (I pologise if I'm wrong about this): Published = good ; Not-published (or fanfic) = crap.
I think you're wrong. Not all published stories are good; just ask me to send you a list of published crap! http://www.sffworld.com/ubb/wink.gif And, of course, not all non-published author are bad; and not all fanfic is bad also.
That a story sells copies is not a safe way to judge that this is certaily good stuff. It is a way to judge that it is a good investment (if you are a publisher; and we have many examples of cliched books published, for the publishers think: What the hell! they bought the other book that was like this one. They'll buy this one too!), or it is marketable. The merchant gives what the people ask. The people ask what the merchant gives. Do the people dicide after all? Or they eat what is served to them, for (they think) there is nothing else?
Well anyway. I started rumbling in this post --not my habit. So here I put an end to it.
January 18th, 2002, 08:36 AM
I agree with NOM, KATS and matthewajg. Usaing 'traditional races' does not automaticly mark a work of fantasy as bad, in my opinion.
Of course the 'traditional races' races have been used often before, so there's bound to be a higher level of competition. The book needs to 'stand out' from the masses in another way, be it the 'twists,' the characters or the plot. But that what separate the good and the bad writers. A really great storyteller, I believe, can cross the street and tell us about it afterwards in a way that actually makes the mundane thing interesting. While a bad storyteller couldn't tell the tale of 'how he rescued the world' without his entire audience falling asleep.
Using staple races in fantasy (i.e. elves, dragons and dwarves) is not laziness IF they are being used because the story NEEDS to be told using established fantasy races.
I would like to turn this around an say: There's no reason to tell a story using new races unless the story NEEDS to be told using the new races.
Using new races, new ecology ect. places a burden upon the reader. The reader has to assimilate, imagine and relate to all those new things in order to appreciate the story. And that extra effort has to be repaid by making the appearance of those new thing integral to the story somehow.
January 18th, 2002, 10:04 AM
Something else we should all remember is that for every person that can't stnad to see staple races in fantasy, there's someone who loves to read about them in as many new ways as possible.
That's what makes this genre so superb and diverse - not just the writers within it but the almost infinite needs of the readers.
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