I have to thank Subzero for the inspiration of this thread. It's a combination of two of his: one in this forum and the other in the Fantasy forum concerning cliche fantasy creatures (namely elves). When you find yourself writing about elves or dwarves or dragons or any other "cliche" creature or being, what do you do to make them unique?
I'll share in a while, but I'd like to hear from some other people first. Don't be shy; I've probably populated my main fantasy world with just about every cliche out there.
October 16th, 2004, 12:15 AM
I feel the need to make a midget comment...
October 16th, 2004, 08:27 AM
Interesting question. I never included dwarves, elves, or dragons in any of my stories, but if I did, I don't understand why I should make them unique. After all, isn't the great strength of those fantasy races they are archetypes?
For example elves, especially the Tolkien kind, work so well because they resonate with a deep human yearning. As Tolkien himself put it, elves are the first born, mankind before the fall. They represent how humans dreamt to be in all cultures and eras: sinless, beautiful, immortal, loved by the gods and everyone else. I can see why a writer wants to change one of these attributes, as Salvatore did with his dark elves (made them "evil" but kept the beauty and the immortality/long life span). Then you get enemies who turn our hard-wired expectations upside down -- yes, even though we don't want to admit it, an ugly person is easier to stomach as the villain than a beautiful one. I guess it has something to do with mating ;)
Dragons aren't much different. They represent the force larger than us: stronger, wiser or smarter, dangerous if angered. If you go down the Jung/Freud road, that sounds awfully close to parents who are the central influence of human children, and in adolescence have to be confronted. See the dragon slayer similarity?
I actually consider dwarves the most interesting group of the bunch, because few fantasy authors have yet explored their archetype. Think of the dwarven need to dig and form the Earth, the paradox of returning into her lap but changing her to their own image. I always thought the dwarves' mastering of Mother Earth is a human core instinct, even more visible in this age when we have the technological power to destroy Earth as we know it, while we struggle with the responsibility to keep the planet halfway inhabitable for future generations. Exploring that theme from a dwarvish perspective could be quite fascinating.
who now wanders off to write a short story about dwarves...
October 16th, 2004, 08:57 AM
I think I mainly change dragons.
I've never used elves and don't intend to use dwarves.
My dragons have different elelments instead of just fire, colors, and some are rather small horse size.
Elves, I have never used elves, and if anything close it would be my Ice creatures.
My vampires will be using curvy swords, but thats almost originol, and rule the un-dead, also the male vampires tend to like women's blood.
Dogs I will start giving pointy long ears that stick up.
Humans will probably remain the same, except the various eye colors.
Zombies, or the un-dead, will only chase the fearful, and once they are bit they will also become un-dead, and will be under rule of vampires.
Wizards and witches will probably be the same but they probably wont be ugly in my stories.
World will have the hunt or be hunted rules in most places, has many regions.
October 16th, 2004, 05:02 PM
This is, indeed, an intersting thread.
I don't think there's any hard and fast rule that says you MUST be original. But I think the risk lies in your work coming across as a rip-off of a better author. That and the reader will get into your story and think, Hey, I've already read this. Although some people just can't get enough of Tolkien's elves.
Personally I have my own angles on lots of different races. I tend to think more in terms of evolution than mythology. For that reason most of my races don't get along too well. They're not really other 'aspects' of something human. They're competitors pitted against humans with different advantages and disadvantages.
When I write about dragons, they're hardly intelligent. To me a dragon is more of a dinosaur. Mystical capabilities manifest in how people relate to them, which may seem a far stretch at first, but there are lots of people in real life who worship cows - for example.
I have a race that I've been calling magnalopithicus. Classically they fit the definition of ogre, or orc, or big nasty slow-witted whatevers. Their culture and interactions with other races are generally based on the terms under which they've survived.
I don't know that I'm completely unique. But I know that I'm not really following anyone else with these ideas - so at very least if I'm found to be similar to someone else, I can plead ignorance.
October 16th, 2004, 06:18 PM
I also incorporate a lot of paleanthropology in my fantasy race. Elves, dwarves, and humans are all closely related species (though none of the characters in the story would think in species-terms).
Elves are a slightly older species, closely related to humans. Mostly crafted in a physical mold of Tolkein's elves, they're taller than humans and more lightly built. However, they are all dark haired and skin tone ranges from brown to black. There are two dominant elf cultures, one greco-nordic (the Alfar) and the other semetic (the Ellyllon), both of which founded ancient civilizations. Like all other species, not elves can wield magic, but the elves were the first to study magic and they know the most magic arts. Elves are not naturally immortal, though survivors of a certain cataclysmic event in the deep past became immortal and were able to pass their immortality to their children at the cost of their own.
Dwarves are also an older species, at home in highland regions. They are typically shorter than humans (4-5ft tall), though some races of humans are as short if not shorter than dwarves. They're proportionally stocky, with heavy chests--they look like the standard dwarf. Dwarves come in as many skin tones as humans do, from white in the north to black in the south; bronze and copper in the west. Though many of their religious sites and great fortresses where built underground, Dwarves live on the surface like normal people. Their inventive, industrious and virtually magic-free (though every once in a while, a dwarf magic will rise up), which is why humans like to keep them around as slaves.
As for dragons, mine are similar to choppy's. Non-intelligent beasts, flying around--instilling fear and awe in all they encounter. Almost every culture (particularly those near the sea, since the biggest, most impressive species of dragons is like an albatross) have its own dragon-god. Also there are dragons proper (four legged and winged reptilian creatures, generally found in the southern hemisphere and the tropics), wyverns (two-legged and winged creatures that resemble a cross between a heron, a bat, and a crocodile; found in the northern hemisphere, unrelated to dragons), and wyrms (a variety of wingless creatures with long bodies and six [sometimes vestigal] legs.) None of them can't breathe fire, but I just thought of something that might be cool... need some time to flesh it out.
October 16th, 2004, 06:50 PM
The only time I've ever written a story with elves and dwarves in I did a sort of science fiction/fantasy mix, where they were actually aliens. The dwarfs came from mineral heavy planets with high gravity levels - hence their height and appetite for mining! I'm not sure if what I did was any good - I ended up abandoning the book - mostly because it was the first *big* thing I ever tried writing, and I've never tried writing any familiar races into my books since. Nowadays I tend to write just humans (well, they're not on earth, but they're human, if you know what I mean) and occasionally create new races.
October 18th, 2004, 02:06 AM
I don't usually tend toward pre-existing races-of-fiction in my writing, but if I did, I would probably assign them "character" first and foremost, regardless of (and perhaps even in spite of!) their racial characteristics.
I have been put off books before, because an author has relied too much upon the stereotype and not enough upon personality.
January 26th, 2006, 03:50 PM
I, for one, actually like it when a writer puts a new spin on an old, 'cliche' race and even like to do it myslef, though I am not much of a writer.
My Vampires, for example, are not undead or immortal, but have a 'condition' (I wouldn't know the correct term be it disease, mutation, or other) where they require blood in order to stay alive. This condition also seriously damages the body's mellanin, causing them to be deathly allergic to certain light like sunlight, as well as giving them that famous unearthly pale glow.
Also, one thing I like to mention about them, is that rather than hunt for human prey as they may have in the past, my Vamps rely on the enoromous Goth population to take blood in smaller amounts from willing doners or 'Vampire groupies' as I fondly refer to them. In exchange for blood and even servitude, they get the pleasure of being in the Vampire's company. Silly Goths.
I also like doing work with other races such as Faeries, Elves (mine are Faerie/Human crossbreeds), and even anthropomorphic races.
January 26th, 2006, 04:40 PM
Lately, I've been thinking what the life of a human born with dwarfism might be like in a fantasy world where races of Dwarves or Halflings actually exist. You never hear about humans with dwarfism in fantasy novels. Would he run off to live with the little folk? How would humans view him? Would the Dwarves or Halflings accept him?
(Human little person mets fantasy little people races story idea copyright 2006, by Mark13.)