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  1. #16
    Shadow's Lure (June 2011)
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    What I'm about to say isn't meant as an attack on anyone or their writing: an infinite universe allows for infinite variation, so write what you love and be happy.

    But.

    I guess I was lucky. Although I enjoy Tolkien and some authors who followed his path by including elves/dwarves/orcs in their stories, I was always more drawn to the works of Howard, Lovecraft, Leiber, and such. So when I started crafting my own stories, the idea of using "fantasy" races didn't really occur to me.

    Note: I did write one novel aimed at Wizards of the Coasts that included the typical D&D races, but it just didn't feel right. Like I was copying off someone else's homework. Thankfully, it will never see the light of publication.

    From my own personal perspective, when I see a modern fantasy cover that has an elf/dwarf/etc (or, gods forbid, a drow) on the cover, it doesn't exactly turn me on. If an aspiriting fantasy writer asks me about using those races, I advise them to think long and hard about it. What are you saying by writing about a drow ranger? That you think they are a cool character in D&D? Fine, then write reams about them--for yourself. (Hell, most writers have loads of stories and snippets hidden in their closets and hard drive that they don't ever intend to publish.)

    You need to figure our what you're trying to say. What does Zork the Drow Ranger represent? An attempt to capture the idea of being separated from your home and people because you are "different?" Why do you need a drow to do that? There are people all around you who live lives of loneliness and non-acceptance. Start there.

    You may discover that your story just cannot work without a dark elf character. Or maybe you'll discover that what you thought was a tool for inspiration was actually a crutch holding you back.

    Infinite variations.

  2. #17
    Registered User SilentDan's Avatar
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    Re: Drow... so true. Clearly, a Chaotic Good Drow Ranger escaping from his oppressive Lawful Evil kind (TM) has been done before (hilariously depicted in The Order of the Stick, and defeated not by strength of arms or strength of magic but by copyright infringement law). I might have a drow ranger in a D&D session for a joke, but a carbon copy in writing, for seriousness, would be too obvious.

    I started a series, with a D&D influence, and it was pretty much textbook D&D. It never went anywhere, however some of it was rewritten as a 2nd-person, present-tense, choose-your-own-adventure style story on Protagonize.com, and tidied up so I could use it for a Youth and Children's Writing class at University. It received a Distinction, so I was happy with that. So textbook D&D = nothing special, as is textbook fantasy in general. But textbook D&D/fantasy in general in a non-textbook tense, person or some other thing? Potential critical success, not to mention fame, money, whatever. Well, you can hope for that, and you might actually get some too on the basic that what you're doing is, if not never done before, at least not done any time *recently*. You know, fresh. "New". That's always worth the risks involved - ie the risk of critical failure. But you probably won't get that, if you're doing old stuff re-envisioned in a fresh perspective.

  3. #18
    Palinodic Moderator KatG's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by SilentDan View Post
    So textbook D&D = nothing special, as is textbook fantasy in general. But textbook D&D/fantasy in general in a non-textbook tense, person or some other thing? Potential critical success, not to mention fame, money, whatever. Well, you can hope for that, and you might actually get some too on the basic that what you're doing is, if not never done before, at least not done any time *recently*. You know, fresh. "New". That's always worth the risks involved - ie the risk of critical failure. But you probably won't get that, if you're doing old stuff re-envisioned in a fresh perspective.
    No, you're not, not on that basis. Because the "old stuff" re-envisioned makes up the better bulk of fantasy fiction and is going on constantly in thousands of titles. Jon is re-envisioning old stuff, and the idea that the "old stuff" is limited to tall elves, dwarves, vampires, orcs and dragons -- and not just these things but done only in certain ways -- is categorically wrong. The "old stuff" involves everything from ghosts and shadows (paging Mr. Sprunk) to genies to time travel to airships to evil machines and it is all "re-envisioned" countless times. And there is absolutely no correlation between publication and sales success and literary acclaim with which elements you pick and whether you do them in a certain way or not, including D&D or to not D&D. None. Nada. Zip. The data does not support any of it. The measurement stick you, Jon and others are talking about -- elves or no elves and what flavor -- is completely irrelevant to what goes on in fantasy publishing. And the people who buy and read fantasy novels, whether they avoid books with elves like the plague or refuse to read anything else (and the vast group in between who don't care,) do not give a farthing about whether you authors like elves or not. But they might read a story in which you explore how much you hate or like them or invent a new species in which you're actually exploring the symbolism of elves in mythology without them being elves. Because symbols are not locked into forms.

    But each generation of authors swears that this is a very important issue, and that their works "re-envision" for the first time or the first time in a long time all the "old stuff." It's a selling tactic and it's psychological as well. Each new author is unquestionably new and what they do in their stories and character voices will be different from others, and may catch on or not, but while acknowledging the infinite variations, as Jon does, the community still likes to pretend that reams and reams of past fantasy fiction in their infinite variations doesn't exist. I'm talking scholarly articles where they also pretend thousands of books never existed. And that's a tribute to the power of symbols. But the symbol itself will be there whether it's in plate armor or a monocle and red coat.

    You can dress the set however you like. You can even make it a major focus of the enterprise. But the meat of the story seldom has to do with the clothes or whether a dwarf is drunk or sober. (And for the record, non-alcohol swilling dwarves have been done before, and wine swilling ones and cocaine snorting ones and vegetarian ones and who knows what else.) I like your set-dressing, I do, but it's never going to be the engine that drives the story entirely. It can set the stylistic tone of a story, which helps with the symbolism, so that you've got a bit of a steampunk feel going to some of what you're bouncing around is something to note, especially as you want to throw time travel into the mix. Maybe you have a natural inclination to go Victorian. That's something to consider.

    But something else to consider -- the character alignment bit of D&D is effective in the game because it's about symbolism. And when you are playing with that, you're simply playing with symbols that are more about telling stories and thinking about emotions and ideas than they are about playing D&D. It's not that the dwarf is sober, cheerful and a bartender. It's what having a sober, cheerful bartender means in the story.

    Alright, I have to go cook a big dinner, so I'll stop the ranting. All of the above is just my own opinion, except for the part about there being no correlation with this stuff. That's fact. There's no getting around that data. Of course, you might come up with something interesting from trying to get around it, but it's still not going to change the publishing field. Elves and no elves are all welcome and may succeed or sink irrespective of their presence or lack thereof or wardrobe therein.

  4. #19
    Registered User EMMAXIS's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by KatG View Post
    No, you're not, not on that basis. Because the "old stuff" re-envisioned makes up the better bulk of fantasy fiction and is going on constantly in thousands of titles. Jon is re-envisioning old stuff, and the idea that the "old stuff" is limited to tall elves, dwarves, vampires, orcs and dragons -- and not just these things but done only in certain ways -- is categorically wrong. The "old stuff" involves everything from ghosts and shadows (paging Mr. Sprunk) to genies to time travel to airships to evil machines and it is all "re-envisioned" countless times. And there is absolutely no correlation between publication and sales success and literary acclaim with which elements you pick and whether you do them in a certain way or not, including D&D or to not D&D. None. Nada. Zip. The data does not support any of it. The measurement stick you, Jon and others are talking about -- elves or no elves and what flavor -- is completely irrelevant to what goes on in fantasy publishing. And the people who buy and read fantasy novels, whether they avoid books with elves like the plague or refuse to read anything else (and the vast group in between who don't care,) do not give a farthing about whether you authors like elves or not. But they might read a story in which you explore how much you hate or like them or invent a new species in which you're actually exploring the symbolism of elves in mythology without them being elves. Because symbols are not locked into forms.

    But each generation of authors swears that this is a very important issue, and that their works "re-envision" for the first time or the first time in a long time all the "old stuff." It's a selling tactic and it's psychological as well. Each new author is unquestionably new and what they do in their stories and character voices will be different from others, and may catch on or not, but while acknowledging the infinite variations, as Jon does, the community still likes to pretend that reams and reams of past fantasy fiction in their infinite variations doesn't exist. I'm talking scholarly articles where they also pretend thousands of books never existed. And that's a tribute to the power of symbols. But the symbol itself will be there whether it's in plate armor or a monocle and red coat.

    You can dress the set however you like. You can even make it a major focus of the enterprise. But the meat of the story seldom has to do with the clothes or whether a dwarf is drunk or sober. (And for the record, non-alcohol swilling dwarves have been done before, and wine swilling ones and cocaine snorting ones and vegetarian ones and who knows what else.) I like your set-dressing, I do, but it's never going to be the engine that drives the story entirely. It can set the stylistic tone of a story, which helps with the symbolism, so that you've got a bit of a steampunk feel going to some of what you're bouncing around is something to note, especially as you want to throw time travel into the mix. Maybe you have a natural inclination to go Victorian. That's something to consider.

    But something else to consider -- the character alignment bit of D&D is effective in the game because it's about symbolism. And when you are playing with that, you're simply playing with symbols that are more about telling stories and thinking about emotions and ideas than they are about playing D&D. It's not that the dwarf is sober, cheerful and a bartender. It's what having a sober, cheerful bartender means in the story.

    Alright, I have to go cook a big dinner, so I'll stop the ranting. All of the above is just my own opinion, except for the part about there being no correlation with this stuff. That's fact. There's no getting around that data. Of course, you might come up with something interesting from trying to get around it, but it's still not going to change the publishing field. Elves and no elves are all welcome and may succeed or sink irrespective of their presence or lack thereof or wardrobe therein.

    I agree that you can have a good story with an elf, dwarf, drow etc. in it or a bad story. It's as irrelevant as if your character is male or female. Cliches go round and round in circles. But I also think there are certain trends in publishing that I take notice of. Suddenly, vampires and zombies are all the rage. I am personally sick of elves, since I've read 13 books involving elves and could really care less about them, but there are always readers who may or may not be new to the elf world who will find them fascinating. Elves aren't going away any time soon and there's nothing wrong with that. I think if your true passion, as a writer, is to write about elves, more power to you; BUT, I myself would love to see more originality on book covers these days.

  5. #20
    Shadow's Lure (June 2011)
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    Quote Originally Posted by KatG View Post
    Because the "old stuff" re-envisioned makes up the better bulk of fantasy fiction and is going on constantly in thousands of titles. Jon is re-envisioning old stuff, and the idea that the "old stuff" is limited to tall elves, dwarves, vampires, orcs and dragons -- and not just these things but done only in certain ways -- is categorically wrong.
    The (macro)data doesn't matter to the writing, which is what I was addressing. If you're going to write about elves, or vampires, you'd better be sure about it because there's a high probability that someone else has done it better. Let me rephrase that: there's a pretty good chance that thousands of authors have done it better.

    As I said in my post, everyone is free to write whatever they want. You don't need my permission.

  6. #21
    WordDruid wdavidson's Avatar
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    OK so: (1) I finished my book. I mean properly finished, edited and re-written many times and polished until it hurts. Next step, submissions, but in the meantime (2) I gave myself permission to come back online and visit the forum for the first time in a few days and I've been reading all the responses to this thread with great interest.

    A lot of very interesting and sensible things have been said and it is good to see where the discussion has moved on to while I have been studiously ignoring the internet.

    To bring things back to the genesis of my original question, and if anyone has the appetite for it, I would welcome some thoughts on the way in which I am approaching the Elven in my writing. For me the starting point was (sorry Jon Sprunk and others) Lords of the Rings, although just for the record Elves had been part of mythology for a good thousand years prior to that, taking a number of sometimes radically different forms. In particular, I was interested by the ending of the book, as [spoiler ] the Elves depart into the West and the days of magic come to an end.

    Bear in mind that this (when I was thinking about the content of a book/world) was post 9/11, Afghanistan, Iraq. The idea of a race who, if only in their own minds, are superior in strength, intelligence and technology/magic, who intervene in other race's domestic affairs to their own ends and then, after the main battle, declare "mission accomplished" and disappear off into the West, resonated on several levels for me.

    From there, I worked backwards, and forwards. Looking backwards - who are the Elven? How do they think about the world around them? Very quickly, I thought that they would be pretty didactic and not very good sharers. They would deploy observers and seek to guide the policy and development of the races that they were assisting. But they would keep secrets and they would be sceptical about anyone who doubted or challenged their ideas. I thought about the Chicago School, Burma and Chile under Pinochet.

    Looking forwards - what sort of places would they leave behind them when they had decided that they had had enough and upped sticks? If you have seen magic/power/glamour first hand how do you react when it is snatched away from you? Firstly, you try to emulate what you have lost. Secondly you are always twitching and looking over your shoulder, because you know - you know - that what you are trying to do just can't be done. You don't have the magic (to paraphrase Scottie).

    So that gave me the world, the setting for my novel. It's a world that is almost exclusively populated by humans, but where magic is an historical fact. A world of half-baked attempts to mimic the ideological purity of a long-vanished master race, whose influence is still felt in every aspect of life from politics to economics to warfare. A world where an awful lot of things have never been attempted because, meh, without magic what's the point? It's a world in which the defining characteristic of my Elves/Elven is their absence, but in which they still cast a long shadow...

    Ramble over. It's late and I need sleep. This is where you all tell me that nothing in what I've outlined above is original and that it's all been done 6 months / 3 years / 5 decades ago by a much better writer than me! I hope not, but since starting to write I have been trying to steer clear of anyone in the post-modern fantasy vein (Brandon Sanderson, for example?) for fear of being influenced/discouraged and frankly now it's written I'd rather know before submitting it if it is likely to be discounted as lacking in originality.

    Obviously, if anyone thinks that this sounds like the sort of book they'd like to read, I'd love to know that too!

    Thanks

    Will

  7. #22
    Registered User SilentDan's Avatar
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    Hmm. Master race. Elven nazis? Just throwing that out there.

  8. #23
    Palinodic Moderator KatG's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by EMMAXIS View Post
    But I also think there are certain trends in publishing that I take notice of. Suddenly, vampires and zombies are all the rage.
    No, they were "the rage" five years ago in the early-mid oughts, and it wasn't sudden. It was actually the result of a complicated set of factors over about seven-ten years, including simply having authors who were interested in writing about vampires and zombies and contemporary fantasy stories in the late 1990's. The majority of novels about vampires and zombies are not successful. The majority of fantasy novels without vampires and zombies are not successful. There's no correlation. The number of vampire and zombie novels is actually relatively consistent as a percentage of the total fantasy and horror fiction produced, with an occasional spike for vampires. What changes are the total number of fantasy novels produced -- it's grown larger, so the number of vampire books proportionately grew larger, what Hollywood is doing with movies, and what some of the titles that are hits contain. Right now, the actual uptick trend is ghosts. I can go through a set of bookstore bookshelves and publisher newsletters and break down the ripples of what's being explored and the marketing aspects too, but the problem isn't that authors notice things -- it's that they put them in the wrong context. They put them in terms of a mythology, ignoring the data that doesn't fit the myth, such as the claim that vampires and zombies are recently and suddenly popular, something that was already being claimed back in 2002. So when an author is focusing on hey what's the cool trend, one of the reasons it's not very productive is that the author is usually wrong about what the cool trend is. And many authors are cycling through myths in their series, so one book may be about vampires, but another is adding ghosts, demons, elves, invented races, ghosts, voodoo, you name it, to the universe. The choice of say vampires to convey symbols is in many respects random.

    Quote Originally Posted by Jon Sprunk
    If you're going to write about elves, or vampires, you'd better be sure about it because there's a high probability that someone else has done it better.
    The same could be said about shadow magic, which is a really old fantasy element used thousands of times before. But either way, it is still irrelevant. You do not directly compete with any other fiction author. What they've done with something is irrelevant to anything you do. And everything is already in the market. I was not saying that you were trying to censor Dan.

    Quote Originally Posted by Silent Dan
    Hmm. Master race. Elven nazis? Just throwing that out there.
    Been done, more than once. See the B movie film Elves for instance. Although zombie Nazis are more popular.

    Will, again, what others do is not the key factor. Your novel sounds interesting to me. Your novel touches on a lot of poly sci stuff on Afghanistan, though one of the things prevalent in these situations is that the old human culture in this case doesn't lose influence either. The vacuum would create many different forms of extremism and ideology. You are working less with a post-modern idea than a lost magics idea, but the symbolism sounds interesting.

  9. #24
    Shadow's Lure (June 2011)
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    Quote Originally Posted by wdavidson View Post
    OK so: (1) I finished my book.
    Congratz. That's no simple accomplishment.


    For me the starting point was (sorry Jon Sprunk and others) Lords of the Rings,
    Don't ever be sorry for what you write or where you get your influences. No one on this planet has had the exact same experiences as you. Your perspective is unique and just as valuable as George Martin's or Prof. Tolkien's.

  10. #25
    Palinodic Moderator KatG's Avatar
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    And for the record, Jon's use of shadow magic is way cool and I like Mike Sullivan's elves too.

  11. #26
    Registered User Vinegar Tom's Avatar
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    Frankly, the trouble with elves and their kin is that they hark back to one particular fantasy franchise. Anyone who wrote a sci-fi novel in which the aliens just happened to be Klingons or Daleks, let alone Martians equipped with tripedal war-machines and heat-rays as invented by H. G. Wells in 1898, even though the story had nothing whatsoever to do with that particular franchise, would be laughed at for having no imagination at all. So why does fantasy, a genre in which by definition absolutely anything goes, have to be saddled with these ancient cardboard stereotypes?

    It's true that, as several people have already said, elves and whatnot have a long and very complex pre-Tolkein history that gives you plenty of scope to do unexpected things with them. But if that's your approach, why bother to call them elves, thereby dragging in all that Tolkein baggage? If people see an elf on the cover, they'll expect it to be predictable off-the-shelf D&D-derived cliché-ridden fantasy fodder. And since some people like that sort of thing, it will sell to that demographic. If that's all you're after, fine, and good luck to you! But if you want to write fiction that rises above the ghetto that would once have been called "pulp", you'll have to go a bit further than plundering the rules of a very popular game in terms of world-building.

    And by the way, anyone who honestly thinks that taking a cliché and turning it on its head, thereby making a joke that only works for people who were familiar with the cliché in the first place, turns it into something other than a cliché, doesn't really understand what a cliché is.

  12. #27
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    Quote Originally Posted by Vinegar Tom View Post
    It's true that, as several people have already said, elves and whatnot have a long and very complex pre-Tolkein history that gives you plenty of scope to do unexpected things with them. But if that's your approach, why bother to call them elves, thereby dragging in all that Tolkein baggage? If people see an elf on the cover, they'll expect it to be predictable off-the-shelf D&D-derived cliché-ridden fantasy fodder. And since some people like that sort of thing, it will sell to that demographic. If that's all you're after, fine, and good luck to you! But if you want to write fiction that rises above the ghetto that would once have been called "pulp", you'll have to go a bit further than plundering the rules of a very popular game in terms of world-building.
    As well as elves and dwarves I would add plate armour and castles to the list. Scale and mail armour is good for protection against most weapons and Medieval fortresses are very expensive in taxes to build. David Gemmell wrote good fantasy without involving Tolkeinian/D & D stereotypes, not that I am knocking either of them.

  13. #28
    Registered User Vinegar Tom's Avatar
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    Michael B, I have to respectfully disagree with you. The big difference between elves and castles - and this is the point that I'm really trying to make - is that castles are a pretty basic real-world thing. In fact, since I live in Edinburgh, Scotland, I can prove to myself that castles really do exist and were taken seriously in warfare for a very long time just by looking out of the window. But I have yet to look out of the window and see an elf.

    Military installations with thick stone walls go back before recorded history - Jericho, for instance, had walls 15 feet thick, and whoever built Zimbabwe invented castles before they invented writing, which is why we don't know who they were. Building huge stone fortresses is a really basic idea. And so is wrapping your warriors in the toughest kind of armor you can come up with. The development of armor is all about the practical issues of protection versus weight. For example, an Ancient Greek warrior whose bronze armor weighed about 80 pounds but could be put on very quickly paid a servant to follow him around carrying his armor, so that he wouldn't pointlessly tire himself out prior to the battle. And the first bit of plate-male to become obsolete was the bit you wore on your legs, because even a very strong man becomes tired very quickly if he has to run with lumps of steel attached to his legs! And incoming damage was far more likely to hit you above the waist anyway.

    So, whatever you call them, armor and castles are a basic thing which obviously has its uses. But elves are not. They are completely fictional, and very culture-specific indeed. Consider genies. Or, to use a more correct word, djinn. Almost everybody who read that word instantly thought: "Blue guy who lives in a lamp, has infinite magical powers, and is a bit of a joke." However, if you happen to be a devout Muslim, you will know that the djinni are officially recognized as sentient life-forms who, since they have free will, may theoretically convert to Islam if they are so inclined, though apparently most of them aren't. Still, at least one mosque exists for this specific purpose. Which is more than Catholicism ever did for the elves.

    All I'm saying is that off-the-peg stereotypes are useful if you want to sell totally predictable fiction to the bottom end of a market that's supposedly all about imagination. You can even do interesting things with traditional folklore (depending on which religion it derives from - some of them will still murder you for disagreeing with them...). But using stereotypes ripped off from a major franchise because blondes with pointy ears spell "fantasy"? NO!!! Sorry, there's no word to describe that except "lazy". In any other genre, this would be a joke. But since fantasy has taken over the niche formerly occupied by sci-fi in which square-jawed men with ray-guns saved screaming ladies in space bikinis from bug-eyed monsters, it's become a kind of retarded relative who does the best that he can, and if it happens to be feisty teenage girls learning important life-lessons through their relationship with a unicorn, we'll all pretend that this rubbish is good because he can't help it.

    Excuse me, but enough of the stereotypes already! Incidentally, unicorns are almost unkillable supernatural creatures who are strangely obsessed with putting their horns in the laps of sexually immature females of an entirely different species. Is it just me, or is there something a wee bit peculiar about unicorns? And why haven't we read about it yet? Somebody should write a book in which unicorns have to go to support groups where they obsessively talk about having The Horn.

  14. #29
    Shadow's Lure (June 2011)
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    Quote Originally Posted by KatG View Post
    And for the record, Jon's use of shadow magic is way cool and I like Mike Sullivan's elves too.
    Mike's got a good thing going, but that Sprunk guy is a tool. (That's my way of saying thanks for the compliment.)

  15. #30
    Shadow's Lure (June 2011)
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    Vinegar Tom,

    I hear what you're saying, but we should all be careful when assigning certain genres/subgenres to the rubbish bin. As Kat often says, there are people (a lot of them, actually) who enjoy reading about elves, or wizards tossing fireballs, or little green men from Mars. It's not the trappings that determine the value of a story.

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