September 28th, 2012, 01:55 PM
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,
September 28th, 2012, 02:54 PM
The people that frequent this forum are not your 'general reader.' They have an eye for critiquing and often find tropes annoying and jarring.
Originally Posted by wdavidson
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...
September 28th, 2012, 03:05 PM
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.
September 28th, 2012, 03:16 PM
it could be worse
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.
September 28th, 2012, 03:45 PM
Originally Posted by tmso
September 28th, 2012, 03:48 PM
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.
September 28th, 2012, 04:20 PM
Shadow's Lure (June 2011)
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.
Originally Posted by Laer Carroll
September 28th, 2012, 05:38 PM
We Read for Light
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.
September 28th, 2012, 05:49 PM
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.
September 28th, 2012, 10:13 PM
I don't understand, did someone say you had to have Tolkein stuff or something? The fantasy field is not narrow and neither is its audience.
Elves have been done from everything from monsters who eat people to four and a half billion years old demi-gods. This is in part because elves, like fairy and goblin, is a catch-all term for all sorts of mythological creatures. There are numerous different myths about elves that have been raided by authors over the decades. We've had elves who work on race cars and elves who live in the sea. Dwarves are a sub-species and they vary too. Most of the myths about dwarves makes them on the shorter side, so there's not as much differential on size usually, but mythologically, as we discussed once here, dwarves have been everything from ghouls in graveyards to small barn fairies.
September 29th, 2012, 02:01 AM
Thanks to everyone who has taken the trouble to reply to this thread. I do think one of the most valuable things about this forum is the level of support that people are prepared to give to one another, and there is a lot of food for thought in these posts.
In particular, I think that I had for a few moments slightly lost sight of the concept that a novel or short story cannot be all things to all people. In mitigation, it's been a long week and I am in the midst of my fourth (and with any luck final) redraft, so perhaps a bit more vulnerable to preying doubts than usual!
Anyway, thank you all again.
September 29th, 2012, 03:14 PM
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".
Originally Posted by Jon Sprunk
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.
October 5th, 2012, 09:39 PM
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.
October 6th, 2012, 04:28 AM
I say write how you envision your races, but just flesh them out into being fully developed characters.
You can also turn a few things on their heads. I have a dwarf historian in my fantasy series...yet I don't remember why I did that.
October 7th, 2012, 04:01 AM
Dwarf historian! How about, drunk elf who gets into fights a lot? I may use that at some point, actually...