The thing that really bothers me about Fantasy is when the only thing I run across is Tolkienesque elves and, oh, sometimes orcs and blatant orc rip-offs. It really is enough to make a girl scream. And with me not being a Legolas fangirl, it's a scream of pure, unadulterated pain.11/18/2006 #1
I notice that Jave Harron likes to suggest non-Tolkien High Fantasy authors for inspiration, and I suppose that studying the "masters" never hurts, but really, trying to be like someone other than Tolkien will eventually backfire and someone else will complain that everything looks like a carbon copy of, say, Harry Potter (I've already seen it starting to happen, by the way).
Instead, I think that looking at myths, fairytales, the old epics, history, religious sources, and urban legends for inspiration (in short, the Public Domain) is the best possible course of action. After all, that is often what the authors we admire did themselves. Elizabeth Hayden certainly didn't create the Fir Bolg, and Robert Jordan's evil omnipotent being Shaitan...hmm, I wonder he got the idea for -that- guy from.
Above all, I think the most important thing to do when dealing an inhuman race, supernatural creature, god, or (I'm going to just throw this out there) foreign human culture is to put your own ideas and fresh perspective into it. Maybe you've seen rams butting heads, so your uicorns aren't so innocent and pacifistic.
...Can anyone else think of tips or advice for modifying fantasy creatures, race, and gods for stories...or even creating them from scratch?
Non human races is something I plan to cover in my Sci-Fi column eventually. Alien races and fantasy races should be a lot more creative than elves, Wookies, or Vulcans (or clones therefore of). Thing about sci-fi alien races is you have something called physics to take into account, and the fact an organism evolving in a completely different ecosystem (with its own atmospheric pressures, gas mixtures, and so on). Personally, I prefer transhumans in scifi (humans modified via genetics, cybernetics, mind interfacing, etc.) are more interesting than Vulcan Clone #333 or worse, Space Elves and Space Orcs or Cat People. Worse are attractive humanoid aliens that humans can biologically breed with for no apparent reason (like in the case of Star Trek).11/19/2006 #2
Getting back to fantasy, you can throw all those conventions out the window. You're not even constrained by physics. For instance, you might use foreign human cultures (IE magical altering as a sort of transhumanism), or the like. Or perhaps on each continent/region, there's different resources and different animals become the dominant lifeforms. Like a continent without grasslands becomes home to a sentient burrowing insect race with 4 genders: non sapient drones, a queen who lays eggs, a male, and a nurse female that hatches eggs. Each has a caste system. Of course, the sociology of them meeting a human nation (perhaps based on Aztecs or ancient Egyptians rather than England, or even something original) would be interesting. One person I must recommend on sociology and anthropology of fantasy nations is China Mieville. LE Modest Jr. is also good for economics (though I'm more familar with his scifi).
One thing I did with a race in a thing of mine was having the landscape of the magically created world alter the people who live there; for instance, there's a race of people who live in a volcanic area, who have taken on a couple of dragon-like characteristics (namely fire-breath).11/20/2006 #3
It's worth remembering that *Tolkien* drew from long-established myths himself- and I must say that I don't think anyone would cite Rowling as a "master" alternative to Tolkien, although I do know what you mean, EV :p And yeah Jave, we could do with Dummies having a chapter on the subject!11/27/2006 #4
I'm yet to write anything starring aliens myself, because I imagine I just couldn't pull it off: I imagine "real" aliens would be well beyond anything in our imagination, or at least well beyond the usual stereotypes. The only acception to this are the Uclasions in my UC setting: but I've got various complications with them (such as how they're extinct, oh how original) and the fact that no one actually knows what they actually are.
Unfortunately the only half-original idea I've had for a fantasy species was some kind of etheral community: think ghosts who deliberately divorced themselves from their corporeal bodies to have a better grasp of magic. Mostly I just liked screwing with conventions and having a species that *liked* being immortal meddlers in reality, as opposed to suddenly becoming all contrite and apologetic and seeking death and/or atonement. The antlike race Jave's got there, for example, might be better associated with science-fiction, but introducing that kind of factor to a more familiar realm could get interesting...
Still, orcs and elves dominate that kind of fiction: mostly because they're what people expect, and because budding authors are too scared to try and break from the norm... but there's no reason why people can't *try* making well-known conventions a bit more original. Put some fire under those cliches, people!
Here's a few for a new sci-fantasy I'm coming up with. My plans are to utterly merge genres and obliterate cliches in each in the process.11/27/2006 #5
Hu: Standard "human." Several different ethnic groups. Culture groupings include Triumvirate, Xianese, and Vox-friends.
Soulshell: A general term for a specialized clockwork construct holding a thaumaturgically transplanted human mind. Common in Triumvirate and Xianese territories. Most have a humanoid shape.
Vox: Tall, stocky grey humanoids with bird-like legs, 2 nostril slits, and strange vocal cords. They are amphibious humanoids that evolved from a shore-prowling amphibious scavenger. Vox have the ability to communicate via "sound modulation." That means they alter soundwaves most people can't detect in subtle ways, and alter the magnitude of waves to show positive or negative response. They can talk in "normal" ways, but some humans can learn modulation through thaumaturgy or translation devices. Name comes from the Latin word for "Voice."
Angui: Sapient quadraped lizards that travel in herds along plains. They eat prairie rodents by means of their 'appendages', a pair of prehensile tongues. When mating, the s*** is a neurotoxin that kills the female, and the eggs inside her hatch and eat their mother's carcass as first meal.
Buggers/Chitters: Insectile hominids with 4 genders: A male, a queen female (lays eggs like a factory), a nurse female (holds the eggs), and a genderless non-sapient drone. Most numerous species.
Aerovores: Organisms look like a cross between a squid and a spider-plant. They have a central body with the top side being green due to chlorophyll. The central body is actually a biological type of hot air balloon, and the chlorophyll helps them perform photosynthesis. They absorb water from the air, and take in CO2 from the air. They can live and reproduce without ever touching the ground. They prefer to live over cities, where there's plenty of carbon dioxide.
Culture groups (incomplete list):
Triumvirate: A trio of culturally, militarily, economically, and technologically nations historically connected to each other, whether they like it or not. Most citizens are hu or soulshells. They are comprised of: Eire, the Drifters, and the Necropolitian League.
Eire: Steampunk Irish styled meritocracy. Fuel mainly comes from the bogs, where a thaumaturgically adapted type of moss grows rapidly. Boggers who harvest fuel for their industry are second only to engineers there.
Drifters (AKA Admiralty of the High Seas): Former navy of the Latini Imperium that turned their kilometer long megaships into floating cities. They existed by scavenging the ocean floor and trading with their land-based cousins for fuel and food. Names tend to be related to Portugese and Brazilian.
Necropolitian League (AKA Latini Remnant): A Byzantine styled nation run by a self aware clockwork computer called the Machine Emperor. Every decade, it reboots itself, with a different personality each time. It can range from psychotic one decade to wise and noble the next.
Timeless State of Xian: The Eternal State (or timeless, depending on translation) of Xian was a contemporary of the Latini Imperium. However, while Latini broke appart, Xian remained very stable. The citizens live with very high standards, and the nation is ruled by countless bureaucracies. To them, there is no difference between technology and magic. Soulshells and humans are common here. Names are obviously Chinese.
Mu: A chain of floating islands that the Vox inhabit. Several humans live here, and their cultural gradually adopted the practices of the Vox (they call themselves Voxfriends). Aerovores also are common there, and some aquatic cousins of theirs. There is generally a Polynesian type vibe here.
Here's a recent idea:
The Pontos are a race of elephant-like creatures that never grow much larger than an African Elephant calf. They live in small villages along the Great River, or "trail of life" as they call it, and farm the small strip of fertile ground beside the desert. Their language is complex, involving not only sound, but trunk and ear movement. They domesticated the crocodiles in the river when they learned that the crocs would feed on the bodies of the predators they killed and return to be fed again. They now treat them like dogs. Their favored weapon is a short stabbing spear.3/19/2010 #6
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