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  1. #1
    WordDruid wdavidson's Avatar
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    The Trouble with Elves/Dwarves etc

    In this month's flash fiction competition, some of the feedback I received has started me worrying about an element of the novel that I am now quite a long way into writing. It is a fantasy novel, and borrows from the "epic fantasy" tradition, although in what is hopefully (i.e. intended to be) quite a fresh way. A consequence of this, however, is that, while not a central part of the story, it does involve Elves, Dwarves and other traditional fantasy elements...

    Like some of the people who commented on my flash fiction entry, I have always regarded these elements as very much embedded in the Middle Earth/ Tolkein(esque) story-telling (although of course they originate from much older Germanic and Norse traditions). For me though, that presented a challenge, to see whether they could be reimagined in the way that other classic figures (Vampires/Wizards/Superheroes) are able to be reimagined, and to be made more relevant to a modern audience.

    What worries me is whether by doing this I am likely to alienate a proportion of my potential readership, by including elements that would turn them off from wanting to read the book.

    As such, I would really welcome the comments of anyone who can relate to the instinctive reaction that I am describing, to help me understand whether I am creating problems for myself by going down this route, or whether actually people would be interested in reading something that tries to take a fresh approach to these classic fantasy ingredients.

    Thanks in anticipation/apprehension,

    Will

  2. #2
    G.L. Lathian G.L. Lathian's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by wdavidson View Post
    In this month's flash fiction competition, some of the feedback I received has started me worrying about an element of the novel that I am now quite a long way into writing. It is a fantasy novel, and borrows from the "epic fantasy" tradition, although in what is hopefully (i.e. intended to be) quite a fresh way. A consequence of this, however, is that, while not a central part of the story, it does involve Elves, Dwarves and other traditional fantasy elements...

    Like some of the people who commented on my flash fiction entry, I have always regarded these elements as very much embedded in the Middle Earth/ Tolkein(esque) story-telling (although of course they originate from much older Germanic and Norse traditions). For me though, that presented a challenge, to see whether they could be reimagined in the way that other classic figures (Vampires/Wizards/Superheroes) are able to be reimagined, and to be made more relevant to a modern audience.

    What worries me is whether by doing this I am likely to alienate a proportion of my potential readership, by including elements that would turn them off from wanting to read the book.

    As such, I would really welcome the comments of anyone who can relate to the instinctive reaction that I am describing, to help me understand whether I am creating problems for myself by going down this route, or whether actually people would be interested in reading something that tries to take a fresh approach to these classic fantasy ingredients.

    Thanks in anticipation/apprehension,

    Will
    The people that frequent this forum are not your 'general reader.' They have an eye for critiquing and often find tropes annoying and jarring.

    Remember that they have their own perspectives on writing styles/ways of setting a story, etc,. Much the same as large publishing houses who have knocked back countless best seller novels for such reasons.

    The fact is that Elves and Dwarves are extremely popular for a reason: people like them. Eragon is a great modern example of how these types of races can capture a readership.

    I say, if you like writing about Elves and Dwarves then do it. Don't worry about what people say in regards to the races you chose to build your story around. Your only worry should be about doing it well.

    A good story will sell, regardless of tropes - that's been proven countless times before...

  3. #3
    Greymane Wilson Geiger's Avatar
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    Cononomous said it better than I could, so I'll just agree. Go with it, if it's good, it will sell, elves or no.

  4. #4
    It could be worse. ~tmso Moderator N. E. White's Avatar
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    I haven't read your flash, but ditto what Cononomous and Wulfen said.

    I know that when I first started writing, I wrote what I thought was the standard fantasy fare but with what I thought was a different twist. My peers shot me down quick. Some of that was warranted, some of it wasn't.

    But what it did help me realize is that it is all about characters. What they look like and their accents are just window dressings. It's nice, and imperative in some cases, to have great window coverings, but the underlying characters have to make sense and matter to your readers.

    Good luck!

  5. #5
    G.L. Lathian G.L. Lathian's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by tmso View Post
    I haven't read your flash, but ditto what Cononomous and Wulfen said.

    I know that when I first started writing, I wrote what I thought was the standard fantasy fare but with what I thought was a different twist. My peers shot me down quick. Some of that was warranted, some of it wasn't.

    But what it did help me realize is that it is all about characters. What they look like and their accents are just window dressings. It's nice, and imperative in some cases, to have great window coverings, but the underlying characters have to make sense and matter to your readers.

    Good luck!
    The truth!

  6. #6
    LaerCarroll.com
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    One of the big challenges for writers is to take standard elements in any genre and breath life into them. It could be the lone gunfighter riding into town in a Western or seen-it-all private investigator as well as elves, dwarves, etc.

    My favorite writers do it in a couple of ways. One is to change some stereotypical trait of a character or class of actors. Such as vampires. They are often supposedly dead during the day and alive at night. But what if this was a myth that vamps themselves have spread around? So that vamp killers would stroll into a vamp camp during the day and not take any special precautions. Result: food delivers itself for a nice lunch.

    Another way is to develop the characters of the, say, elves as well as you would ordinary people. Elizabeth Moon has her Paksennarion rub elbows with specific elves and learn their individual natures as well as their general natures. They ceased to be standard flat figures and became multidimensional PEOPLE. Laurell K. Hamilton's vampires come in all kinds, including ordinary people desperately trying to fight their blood thirst.

    So don't wonder WHETHER to use fantastic characters. Wonder HOW you're going to make them real and believable to your readers.

  7. #7
    Shadow's Lure (June 2011)
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    Quote Originally Posted by Laer Carroll View Post
    One of the big challenges for writers is to take standard elements in any genre and breath life into them. It could be the lone gunfighter riding into town in a Western or seen-it-all private investigator as well as elves, dwarves, etc.

    My favorite writers do it in a couple of ways. One is to change some stereotypical trait of a character or class of actors. Such as vampires. They are often supposedly dead during the day and alive at night. But what if this was a myth that vamps themselves have spread around? So that vamp killers would stroll into a vamp camp during the day and not take any special precautions. Result: food delivers itself for a nice lunch.

    Another way is to develop the characters of the, say, elves as well as you would ordinary people. Elizabeth Moon has her Paksennarion rub elbows with specific elves and learn their individual natures as well as their general natures. They ceased to be standard flat figures and became multidimensional PEOPLE. Laurell K. Hamilton's vampires come in all kinds, including ordinary people desperately trying to fight their blood thirst.

    So don't wonder WHETHER to use fantastic characters. Wonder HOW you're going to make them real and believable to your readers.
    Excellent reply. As long as you aren't using "dwarf" as short-hand for "short, stout, likes gold, drinks lots of ale/mead, fights with an axe", you have so much room to develop your characters.

  8. #8
    We Read for Light Window Bar's Avatar
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    Elves, dwarves, etc.

    This has been a good thread w/ plenty of helpful insight. I'll add something that I haven't seen mentioned: making sure there is a connection and a reason for the fantasy elements you use.

    For example, using Scandinavian-style dwarf characters in a setting resembling ancient New Zealand is going to pull your reader right out of the tale... unless there's an interesting reason for the characters to show up in the out-of-place setting. Otherwise, you're better off going with characters that arise from the tradition and location you have selected.

    -- WB

  9. #9
    aurea plectro goldhawk's Avatar
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    I would say that for each person who won't buy because it has elves and dwarfs, there's one who will. Write the story you want to it write and write it well. A well-written story will always sell.

  10. #10
    @PeteMC666 PeteMC's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Jon Sprunk View Post
    As long as you aren't using "dwarf" as short-hand for "short, stout, likes gold, drinks lots of ale/mead, fights with an axe", you have so much room to develop your characters.
    This is exactly it, and for "elf" read "tall, willowy blondes who live in the forests and are like totally in tune with nature, and all awesome archers and stuff".

    If you can do it differently (and in your Flash you did, and I liked it and voted for you) then great, but sooooooo many people seem to pick up a D&D monster manual and go "oh yeah, dwarves, they live underground in something that I can't call Moria but is basically the same thing" and give them an axe and a horn of ale and away we go that it just gets tiresome to be honest.

    Kat's absolutely right that these terms (especually "elf") can mean wildly different things, but sadly they usually don't.

  11. #11
    Registered User SilentDan's Avatar
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    That's why I'm defying cliches in my fantasy book. It still has elves, dwarves and so on, but the protagonists are non-typical ones. It's D&D based, but I'm making some of them classes that you wouldn't expect - like a dwarven druid, for instance (and a bartender who's pleasant and amiable, yet a dwarf... he might even abstain from alcohol!). Or a hobgoblin wizard with class (in the social class meaning, not the character class/role/job meaning, although it's a player class so...). Or a drow barbarian. Or a gnome fighter. Or a city-elf rogue (was going to go wood elf but then woke up to the fact that's been done).

    And you know what? I'm having a lot more fun writing this way - messing with cliches - than I've ever had writing stereotypes.

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