Fantasy Faction

Fantasy Faction Writers => Writers' Corner => Topic started by: Yora on October 08, 2014, 09:42:17 PM

Title: Nonhuman peoples
Post by: Yora on October 08, 2014, 09:42:17 PM
For some reasons, nonhuman peoples seem to have really gotten out of favor. They never were really popular with Sword & Sorcery and in Epic Fantasy they only get very little roles, if they even exist at all. Maybe it's because of the stuff I've been reading recently, but it appears that nonhuman peoples really only show up in fiction based on roleplaying games or strongly inspired by Tolkien. Both segments of the market that are not particularly high in regard.
I am working on a story idea, and I almost feel like struggling to find away to have elves but trying to cover up that fact that they are elves.

How are you approaching this?
Title: Re: Nonhuman peoples
Post by: AshKB on October 08, 2014, 10:06:39 PM
In my world where I have elves and dwarves, I....just have elves and dwarves, and people can take it or leave it. Then again, my elves have three genders, are matriarchal, use rifles and construct empires, so, tropes are something I twist. Admittedly this world is shelved for now, but that was more due to a large amount of world-building I'd have to do and I wanted something else that'd be easier to get things finished with.

(Then again, the 'easier' world has vampires and werewolves, and I might toss in a few other sub-species. Depends.)

Mostly, I ignore the market and I use genre-attitudes more as inspiration to twist tropes and have fun. This is fantasy, after all. We're allowed to play around with things. But I'm curious...Why are you hiding that they are elves? I'd say almost having your own take on them would be a selling point, rather than something to hide.
Title: Re: Nonhuman peoples
Post by: Yora on October 08, 2014, 10:37:05 PM
Elves are a particularly difficult case. Personally, I love them. But lots of people hate them and when they give reasons for that, I entirely agree with them. Those characterizations they describe annoy me to hell and back as well, as they are just awful and should be called out. Elves are great if you don't turn them into melancholic, immortal tree-huggers who are superior and everything, and the writer describes them in a way that makes it very clear the reader should be totally loving them.
I certainly won't turn them into such carricatures, but I am under the impression that lots of people wouldn't even give the story a single glance if they know there are elves that play a big role. It they had green skin and a different name, those same people would probably be perfectly happy with them.
Same thing applies to gnomes, but they so rarely get the treatment of writer gushing that even the passionate gnome haters (who really just hate kenders, and for good reasons) won't be turned away by their presence.
Title: Re: Nonhuman peoples
Post by: AshKB on October 08, 2014, 10:57:08 PM
Elves are a particularly difficult case. Personally, I love them. But lots of people hate them and when they give reasons for that, I entirely agree with them. Those characterizations they describe annoy me to hell and back as well, as they are just awful and should be called out. Elves are great if you don't turn them into melancholic, immortal tree-huggers who are superior and everything, and the writer describes them in a way that makes it very clear the reader should be totally loving them.
I certainly won't turn them into such carricatures, but I am under the impression that lots of people wouldn't even give the story a single glance if they know there are elves that play a big role. It they had green skin and a different name, those same people would probably be perfectly happy with them.
Same thing applies to gnomes, but they so rarely get the treatment of writer gushing that even the passionate gnome haters (who really just hate kenders, and for good reasons) won't be turned away by their presence.

What gave you that impression? I mean, if you want to change the name and give them green skin, nothing's stopping you, but if you really want them to be called 'elves', I honestly say go for it. Lots of people are probably going to be put off by something else, and others would go 'oh, interesting elves! I want to see what this author is doing with them'.

- people hate gnomes? And, uh, what are kenders?

(I ask both as a point of 'not everyone in this genre is part of the same circle/attitude', and also genuinely. Never heard of kenders.)
Title: Re: Nonhuman peoples
Post by: Elfy on October 08, 2014, 11:22:04 PM
There's a really good and amusing essay about elves (The Preservation and Evolution of Elves) by James Barclay in the Fantasy-Faction Anthology, which speaks about their role in the genre and how it's altered over the years from Tolkien until now. It depends on what you mean by non-human. Is it a race with minor biological differences like the elves and the dwarves or even the hobbits or is it something totally alien in shape and form? Kameron Hurley's The Mirror Empire features a shift from standard binary gender characters and it also has living plants, although whether or not they're sentient has not become apparent in the first book of the series. Do creatures like vampires and werewolves, even ghosts feature in the non-human stakes? All three were at one point human. The TV show (British version) Being Human actually examined that featuring a ghost, a vampire and a werewolf all trying to 'be human'. The monster du jour is the zombie, is that looked at as non-human? A number of UF's these days feature various fairy races, many of them look human, but they think totally differently. It's very definitely still there, but it depends on what you regard as non-human.
Title: Re: Nonhuman peoples
Post by: cupiscent on October 09, 2014, 01:33:13 AM
I think I'd be more interested in "nonhuman" races if fantasy fiction did better at representing the actual diversity of human races. As it is, it's hard not to view the inclusion of (say) elves as some sort of "I wanted ~*different people*~ without having to engage with the actual differences present within the existing human spectrum." And I find that lazy, insulting and boring. (And/or the author wants to include justified othering, and that's even worse frankly.)

I'm sure there are heaps of great examples of the inclusion of elves, dwarves, whatever that are subtle and nuanced and the author has great intentions etc etc. But that's how I feel about it as a reader. I feel disappointed every time elves or dwarves show up in a novel, and if they're in the blurb, I need a lot of other potential awesome to balance that out.

As a writer, I've never felt the need to include nonhuman races. There's still too much interesting stuff I haven't explored in humans. (Wait! I tell a lie: the first novel I ever wrote, co-written with my best friend at age 14, had elves. But looking back now, all we really wanted was a completely separated kingdom of people; there's no reason they couldn't have been human and just really, really insular.)
Title: Re: Nonhuman peoples
Post by: Nyki Blatchley on October 09, 2014, 12:20:20 PM
I think I'd be more interested in "nonhuman" races if fantasy fiction did better at representing the actual diversity of human races. As it is, it's hard not to view the inclusion of (say) elves as some sort of "I wanted ~*different people*~ without having to engage with the actual differences present within the existing human spectrum." And I find that lazy, insulting and boring. (And/or the author wants to include justified othering, and that's even worse frankly.)

I completely agree with this.  In my main world, I have all the varieties of human known in the RW, plus a few extra (I have a green-skinned race in a couple of stories, who are simply humans with different pigmentation).

I rarely use the traditional fantasy races, other than in comedy. On the rare occasions I want non-humans (besides occasional demons and monsters) I invent them from scratch, although in some cases they aren't a radical departure, like the Eahui, who are simply winged humans with some bird-like qualities.

I've no objection to reading books with elves, dwarves etc in them, provided there's a good reason for them to be there, as opposed to them being humans in fancy dress.
Title: Re: Nonhuman peoples
Post by: Yora on October 09, 2014, 02:34:08 PM
While I have a quite different personal taste in this matter ("disagree" doesn't seem to be the right word here), thank you two both a lot for contributing to this discussion. I was kind of afraid that nobody here would see that there could even be a problem regarding this issue.
There seem to be many people around who think the addition of nonhuman cultures (that's what I am primarily thinking about) needs to be justified. And I partly agree with that. Having a culture that is in every way like humans but has pointy ears and is called elves does indeed raise the question "why not just have them be humans?" And part of what I am struggling with is how much different is required to make a nonhuman people actually nonhuman and not just humans with pointy ears? I understand the complaint and I believe I can significantly improve my world by adding more differentiating traits to each of the cultures. Right now, I can say that I want to have elves, but I can not explain why I do so. And if I don't know what purpose they have, I can not realize the potential that there is to make my work unique. And I can't expect people to accept that the existance of elves is an essential part of the identity of the world if I can't even explain it to myself.

So the real question might be, how do you use the inclusion of nonhuman cultures effectively? If you could give some examples of what you would consider good reasons, that would be super-helpful to me. (Though a bit of an unfair question, as it's difficult to explain why "normal" should be changed.)
- people hate gnomes? And, uh, what are kenders?
Kenders are a race of hobbit-sized people from the Dragonlance series. They are habbitual kleptomanics who always deny everything even when caught red handed, fiddle with everything even though it's very dangerous, and regularly stirr up trouble because of boredom. And despite being extremely obnoxious, we are told that they are incredibly adorable and everyone should love them. While Dragonlance has become most popular for the novels, it's also a roleplaying game setting, and there are always people around who enjoy annoying other players and goofing around. When these get an opportunity to play kender characters, the outcome is often disastrous. Probably the most hated race that ever appeared in RPGs.
Gnomes are not as strong an archetype as dwarves or halflings, so quite often they are shoved into worlds with no real idea what their place is, and end up being over-carricaturized as pranksters and wacky inventors. The reason I like gnomes is because they are not as fenced in into a single super-specific stereotype as dwarves, and I feel I can do a lot more with them while not causing an outrage of "those are not real dwarves!"
Title: Re: Nonhuman peoples
Post by: Jonny_Anonymous on October 09, 2014, 09:33:54 PM
The best Elves are Melniboneans.

But yeah I would like to see more books that actually have non-humans as the point of focus.
Title: Re: Nonhuman peoples
Post by: Elfy on October 09, 2014, 10:54:00 PM
I have to admit I really liked the kender. Partly because they were put in the books for comedy relief and in the early books, I gave up after a while, they performed that role admirably. My favourite was the original Tasslehoff Burrfoot, and his tales of his legendary Uncle Trapspringer. I didn't take to Earwig Lockpicker quite as much. I did love the names, though. One of the things about kender was that they were new.  The other Dragonlance races were pretty standard fare: humans, elves, dwarves, the occasional gnome, with goblins and orcs as the bad guys. The idea of kender probably came from hobbits, especially the thief thing (Bilbo was hired by the dwarves in The Hobbit, because Gandalf said he was a thief and he turned out to be a pretty good one), but they were roughly the same size as gnomes, possibly long lived, although their lifestyles didn't loan itself to long life (they were rather childlike both in appearance and outlook, and as their curiosity overrode everything else tended to have no fear of anything), one unusual physical characteristic were their facial wrinkles, once they attained adulthood they tended to develop extensive facial wrinkles, and they saw this as a sign of physical attractiveness. I can see Yora's point that it could become annoying with a bunch of people playing kender in an rpg, but for one or two in book they broke up things and made for some amusing situations and conversation. I didn't play games like D&D, but from what I knew of them in the early days people always seemed to want to play thieves, and they always seemed cool characters. The Thieves World, shared world anthologies were also quite popular at that time. Joel Rosenberg did a series called Keepers of the Flame, which featured a group of college kids (interestingly enough one was severely handicapped, which at time was ground breaking) who were transported from this world into one like the one they gamed in, and the thief character (a smooth jock on campus) was always the most amusing. It was he who in fact suggested that they make their code word on the fantasy world: twoallbeefpattiespecialsaucelettucecheesepicklesonionsonasesameseedbun. I burst out laughing the first time I read that. However I digress, but I see kender as an example of doing something different and creating an entirely new race. Another great example is the hobbits, before Tolkien I don't believe anyone had added to the lexicon of fantasy races for centuries.
Title: Re: Nonhuman peoples
Post by: Yora on October 10, 2014, 09:47:12 AM
One thing that occured to me is that it might really help things to refer to nonhuman peoples by culture or nationality. After all, you would describe human characters as Hyrkanians, Rohirim, or Calishites, only very rarely as "humans".
In many works the nonhuman peoples already do have more than one ethnicity, but they are still almost always called elves or dwarves. The one example I can think of that doesn't do it are the Dunmer from the Elder Scrolls games. I don't think they are ever called Dark Elves (not sure with the other elves, though).
Title: Re: Nonhuman peoples
Post by: CameronJohnston on October 10, 2014, 11:49:20 AM
The thing I find about nonhuman peoples in many novels is that they are just a bit boring, re-skinned humans basically, with similar cultural structures. I mean really, they are NONhuman so should clearly be portrayed very different in some respects.

Stereotypical elves and dwarves have been done to death, but they can still be great if you have a really strong character to play with, or if you really delve into and expand their culture and beliefs (in your own unique way).

I thought that Adrian Tchaikovsky in Shadows of the Apt did well in differentiating his different nonhuman(ish) cultures and races. Each of them inherited mind-set attributes and physical abilities from their racial makeup and while human(ish) were still all different. Steven Erickson in the Malazan books had some very good depictions of this as well, specifically Karsa Orlong.
Title: Re: Nonhuman peoples
Post by: Yora on October 10, 2014, 11:52:56 AM
What exactly makes characters feel nonhuman? It's something that sounds very obvious, but I am always having a hard time getting a real idea how that might look like.
It's an entirely justified demand, but do people who claim that have a somewhat clear concept how that could be done? (Not that they would need to justify that view, as they usually propose to not have nonhumans at all because of this.)
Title: Re: Nonhuman peoples
Post by: Jonny_Anonymous on October 10, 2014, 02:33:56 PM
What exactly makes characters feel nonhuman? It's something that sounds very obvious, but I am always having a hard time getting a real idea how that might look like.
It's an entirely justified demand, but do people who claim that have a somewhat clear concept how that could be done? (Not that they would need to justify that view, as they usually propose to not have nonhumans at all because of this.)

A completely alien characters like you would see in sci fi except on a fantasy earth. Basically I want more Lovecraftian raceses in fantasy.
Title: Re: Nonhuman peoples
Post by: Yora on October 10, 2014, 02:58:10 PM
I wonder if anyone ever actually did that, except as monsters. .The one case I can think of would be Lovecraft himself with the Elder Things.
And the moral of that story happened to be that while they look totally alien, they still think very much like us. Kind of the inverse of that idea, actually.  :D
Title: Re: Nonhuman peoples
Post by: asabo on October 10, 2014, 04:37:57 PM
I think to justify non-humans in a story, you have to decide what their importance to the story is. I have a race in a scifi story that achieved peace on their planet thousands of years ago. They don't understand the humans interracial contentions so they study it. An alternate fish-out-of-water set up that allows some discussion of the political situation. But I need to always be aware of this mindset for these people. And as said by others, not everyone from this planet should have the same opinion. It wasn't until I did the third draft that I realized I had an entire planet of people that looked identical and reacted identically.

That requires a lot of worldbuilding to set up countries and governments and indigenous races. That's required for my novel (and why it's on the shelf for the moment). Take a look at your story and decide why you need this character/people.

Create the race you need for your story. Give them a new name so that you don't feel contained by existing stereotypes. Figure out how they fit into the world (or shockingly don't) and how they impact your story. If they have no impact on the story, there is no reason to have them.
Title: Re: Nonhuman peoples
Post by: K.S. Crooks on October 10, 2014, 06:51:57 PM
My first novel has elves, dwarves and centaurs, but only in small moments so that the reader knows that they exist in that world. I created beings called Basanites that live inside mountains volcanoes which are more troll-like. In my sequel I have created several different beings (some human-like others not), due to the characters going to another country. What I chose to do for all of them was first create the environment (forest, swamp, plains) then look at different animals that live in these areas.

I base some of the features of each species on the animals that live in that type of environment. You may want to also not use the most prominent animals in that area as that may be too predictable. You want your characters to have strengths that re different than regular humans but also have weaknesses based around the same animal.

Their appearance should stem from the animal you used but their behaviours, society structure and speech should be unique and what you want them to be. Be sure to make characters and not caricatures. Good luck with your writing.
Title: Re: Nonhuman peoples
Post by: Jonny_Anonymous on October 10, 2014, 08:37:49 PM
I wonder if anyone ever actually did that, except as monsters. .The one case I can think of would be Lovecraft himself with the Elder Things.
And the moral of that story happened to be that while they look totally alien, they still think very much like us. Kind of the inverse of that idea, actually.  :D

I would love to read a high fantasy series that instead of elves and dwarves has races of Lovecraftian-like beings instead.
Title: Re: Nonhuman peoples
Post by: AshKB on October 14, 2014, 09:23:25 AM
What exactly makes characters feel nonhuman? It's something that sounds very obvious, but I am always having a hard time getting a real idea how that might look like.
It's an entirely justified demand, but do people who claim that have a somewhat clear concept how that could be done? (Not that they would need to justify that view, as they usually propose to not have nonhumans at all because of this.)

Look at what is 'human', and change it. Or play around. Maybe other species don't have the concept of romantic love. Just straight up do not get it. Or maybe they only feel sexual attraction during a mating season. Maybe they don't raise their children from birth, but spawn and just pay attention to the ones that survive. How would a telepathic or empathic species really function with communication? Maybe merfolk spawn and centaurs form herds like horses (complete with the boss actually being a matriarch). If they have different senses (both magical and not), then really, really include that in their POV chapters or in how their culture(s) communicate and function. Same with things like large ears - are these ears movable? (I'm actually a big fan of large, movable ears on non-human peoples). Maybe they have different concepts of time, or direction. Different instincts would be interesting, particularly as we don't tend to think of ourselves as creatures with instincts (which we are, we so are), so it'd force a writer to really, really delve deep, which'd be fascinating.

And so on. Documentaries are good for ideas, as are anthropological studies. I figure it can be done, it just requires a fair bit of thought and analysis.
Title: Re: Nonhuman peoples
Post by: Elfy on October 15, 2014, 12:12:42 AM
A good example of non human races that genuinely act different for me was in China Mieville's Perdido Street Station. They gave me a real feeling of otherworldliness in the way they thought and behaved. It's also a really good book.
Title: Re: Nonhuman peoples
Post by: Yora on October 16, 2014, 07:47:42 AM
A thought I was having today was that a really effective way to make nonhuman characters appear nonhuman might be to give them a number of unusual cultural values.

For example, in the world I am preparing, I've already decided that there would be gnomes who are smaller and weaker than almost anyone else, and they compensate for that by relying heavily on making their enemies see them as weak and cowardly (as they would expect) to lure them into ambushs and return for surprise attacks when they think the gnomes have fled the area and holed up in their strongholds. In a culture that fights this way, retreating and even surendering would not be seen as dishonorable or shameful. It would even be regarded much higher than to stubbornly fight on when the odds turn against them.
The lizard people lay clutches of eggs and the young mature quite quickly. In such a population protection of the young would not require as high a priority as for humans. There's a lot of them and they can easily be replaced. In turn, the lizardmen might find it quite odd that humans go to such great length to protect their offspring.

The best thing about values, instead of specific customs and traditions, is that they are very basic and are the foundation from which almost any other aspects of a culture develop. Simply by introducing just three or four new ideas at that basic level can lead to long chains of changes that build upon another when it comes to developing how a society is structured and individuals act. And best of all, if the reader knows about these specific values, all the oddities of that culture can be at least rationally understood instead of being random and arbitrary, even if the reader and other characters very much disagree with them or are appalled by what they see.
Title: Re: Nonhuman peoples
Post by: Yora on October 17, 2014, 08:08:51 PM
I got another thought on the subject on using nonhumans, particularly elves, dwarves, and orcs.

Even though there is commonly strong opposition to "humans with pointy ears", I think the main reason we see them so often is because they have basically become public domain cultures. You can't just take a human culture someone invented and put them into your own work without being called out for just copying it, but you can do that with the generic nonhuman races. And that's why wood elves, high elves, dark elves, dwarves, and orcs always seem to be so very similar in every setting without major changes in their culture. What people really like about the races is their culture!
And when you look at fantasy settings, there are huge numbers of cultures that really are just straight Vikings, Mongols, Aztecs, and Japanese. Amazons also fall into this category, being both a human culture (though mostly fictional) and fictional race. The choice to have wood elves in your setting is the same choice as having vikings.

If faced with the question of having a human culture that lives in the forest and is good at archery, or making them elves, the real thing to ask yourself is whether you want to explain the entire culture to your audience from scratch, or if want to start with some common archetypes and only explain what your personal take on it changes. Making the nonhuman characters think and act nonhuman isn't really the point. Using a generic fantasy race is simply a shortcut.

And I think this explains to me why I want to have wood elves in my setting: I like this culture and think I could make a better version of it than I've seen from other writers. And understanding that should make it really easier for me to use elves much more effectively in my stories.
Title: Re: Nonhuman peoples
Post by: cupiscent on October 18, 2014, 01:14:40 AM
All of this is true.
But!
To my mind, generic is bad.
Title: Re: Nonhuman peoples
Post by: Yora on October 18, 2014, 06:54:02 AM
If you don't add anything, yes. But I think it's a case of the 80/20 rule. 20% of work is responsible for 80% of the content/quality. Being 100% original takes a huge amount of effort, but you can still be mostly original with a lot less work. You don't need to change everything, just changing some aspects can still get you very nice results.
Title: Re: Nonhuman peoples
Post by: AshKB on October 18, 2014, 08:11:52 AM
I think my concern with 'cultural values' as a stand-alone is that humans ourselves have so, so many different values and beliefs and behaviours, there runs the risk of dehumanization at worst or missing the 'nonhuman' quality you were after at best. For example, the gnomes you mentioned - ambushing and retreating isn't by itself particularly nonhuman, more a cultural trait that in this case happens to be held by gnomes. Maybe if they had physical adaptations to hiding? (Skin-colours and patterns that blend in with the local environment as an example?) And conflating 'culture' with 'species' runs risks with it.

But fully agreed on the 'generic' as an issue (although I disagree with example of Vikings - who they are and what they are doing informs the time and place and cultures). If people made cultures and mores more varied and imaginative, there'd be way less Ye Old Fantasyland.
Title: Re: Nonhuman peoples
Post by: Yora on October 18, 2014, 08:31:59 AM
So, do you have any example about humanoids that think and act unhuman? Because I am starting to think that this isn't actually ever done by anyone. If you have creatures that are truly alien, they are monsters of whose thoughts we are learning almost nothing. It's limited to seeing them do things that are incomprehensible.
Title: Re: Nonhuman peoples
Post by: AshKB on October 18, 2014, 09:52:55 PM
So, do you have any example about humanoids that think and act unhuman? Because I am starting to think that this isn't actually ever done by anyone. If you have creatures that are truly alien, they are monsters of whose thoughts we are learning almost nothing. It's limited to seeing them do things that are incomprehensible.

Ohhh, well, I'm not sure that we are really after truly, completely alien, so much as 'not completely us' - which is skewed by us having an enormous ability to emphasise and anthromorphise things. POVs with vampires and werewolves frequently include things that we wouldn't notice - more smell, attraction of blood, etc - but we can still understand. Where things fall down is outside that.

So, hmmm, your gnomes. Evolved to be ambush-only, no front-out fights - is there any shame in not participating in an ambush? And how do they handle conflict? (I ask because they do actually sound like they could be really, really interesting :-) ) Because it's interesting the more you think on how much knowing when to back down and when to stand up/forced to stand up so we don't lose face is inherent both in our species, and in other social ones. That could be really interesting if it's expanded into how their society and personal interactions function.
Title: Re: Nonhuman peoples
Post by: Yora on October 18, 2014, 11:18:06 PM
My idea is that this translates into all types of conflict, not just armed combat. When gnomes see that they are in a very weak bargaining position and their rivals or competitors have their mind set, they will feign defeat and leave, even if they don't have any actual intention of giving up the issue.
Other gnomes know that and recognize it as a form of politeness judo, but to outsiders it usually looks like gnomes are constantly making promises they don't intend to keep or keep going back on their word. And they are seen as quite willing to use blackmail when they are in a position where they can get away with it. Which is in fact mostly actual blackmailing and coercion. In gnome culture, it is not judged just as harshly, because it's regarded as a gamble. When you are playing this card, it will eventually cost you in the long run. You will get what you want, but you're making yourself more enemies and might lose potential allies, so it's something not done lightly. But it is seen as a legitimate measure in emergencies, as long as it's staying within reason. Threatening to commit a crime against your opponent is of course unacceptible. Threatening to expose shady business deals or calling in favors from your opponents business partners is fair game, though.
Title: Re: Nonhuman peoples
Post by: Roxxsmom on October 19, 2014, 08:59:15 AM
I think nonhumans are still around in fantasy, just not the stock in trade elves, dwarves, orcs and so on. Maybe it's because computer games are so popular, and these races are always included in order to diversify and balance gameplay, so they've grown kind of stale. But I can't think of many fantasy novels that employ them these days.

But I've run across nonhumans of other kinds in some of the books I've read recently.

Game of Thrones has the others. They're actually a bit like elves.
There were nonhuman creatures in Abercrombie's First Law World, and they sounded sort of orc or ogre like.
Kate Elliot has "trolls" (evolved from dinosaurs) and shape shifters in her Spiritwalker world.
Jay Lake had some catlike people in Green and its sequels.
Anne Lyle had the Skraelings in her Night's Masque trilogy
And of course, in Robin Hobb's books, the dragons were intelligent beings, and they transformed their servants into elderlings, and the Fool's people were not, strictly speaking, human.
And urban fantasy often seems to have nonhumans in the form of vampires, werewolves and so on.
And lest we forget, Harry Potter had all kinds of nonhumans, though Rowling put her own spin on them.

I know I'm missing some others, but it's late here. I don't think non humans make a fantasy novel unsalable or anything, so long as you make them interesting.


 
Title: Re: Nonhuman peoples
Post by: Elfy on October 19, 2014, 11:01:42 PM
I think nonhumans are still around in fantasy, just not the stock in trade elves, dwarves, orcs and so on. Maybe it's because computer games are so popular, and these races are always included in order to diversify and balance gameplay, so they've grown kind of stale. But I can't think of many fantasy novels that employ them these days.

But I've run across nonhumans of other kinds in some of the books I've read recently.

There were nonhuman creatures in Abercrombie's First Law World, and they sounded sort of orc or ogre like.

I always though the shanka or flatheads as they were named in the books were some sort of neanderthal. There's a missing link character in Phillip Jose Farmer's Riverworld series, not sure if that counts as non human. Like Roxxsmom mentioned urban fantasy has a lot of non human characters: vampires, weres (not just wolves), ghosts, demons, any number of mythological creations. I'm particularly taken with the Aeslin Mice in Seanan McGuire's InCryptid series; a race of sentient, talking, intensely religious mice.
Title: Re: Nonhuman peoples
Post by: AshKB on October 20, 2014, 03:02:14 AM
I think nonhumans are still around in fantasy, just not the stock in trade elves, dwarves, orcs and so on. Maybe it's because computer games are so popular, and these races are always included in order to diversify and balance gameplay, so they've grown kind of stale. But I can't think of many fantasy novels that employ them these days.

But I've run across nonhumans of other kinds in some of the books I've read recently.

There were nonhuman creatures in Abercrombie's First Law World, and they sounded sort of orc or ogre like.

I always though the shanka or flatheads as they were named in the books were some sort of neanderthal. There's a missing link character in Phillip Jose Farmer's Riverworld series, not sure if that counts as non human. Like Roxxsmom mentioned urban fantasy has a lot of non human characters: vampires, weres (not just wolves), ghosts, demons, any number of mythological creations. I'm particularly taken with the Aeslin Mice in Seanan McGuire's InCryptid series; a race of sentient, talking, intensely religious mice.

Aren't Neanderthals human, though? And interestingly, a documentary I was watching the other day made the point that we're currently in this really weird era where we're the only humans/hominid species around - previously, we always had someone else. I've always found it interesting that we then turn around and create all of these other fantastic not-quite-like-us species to fill in our landscape.

(Although, really, if anything, we were the creepy elves to the Neanderthals - tall, slim, smooth faces, weirdly high voices, slower to mature...)

The Aeslin Mice are the hands down best sapient non-human species I've ever read. I love them so much.
Title: Re: Nonhuman peoples
Post by: Elfy on October 20, 2014, 03:13:44 AM
Always glad to meet another fan of the Aeslin Mice. Neanderthals are an earlier evolution of humans. We could also argue that vampires and werewolves are also human, just altered ones. Your comment about us appearing as elf like to the neanderthal is interesting and it would be fun to see a fantasy written from that point of view. The X-Men comic in particular has an evolutionary argument about the mutants being homo superior and the next step in evolution, so they are at odds with the currently larger homo sapien community. I don't know if many people here have read Julian May's Saga of the Exiles. That had two separate species of alien landing here on earth before humans had evolved. The Tanu and the Firvulag, it was from these races that we got our legends of the Seelie (Tanu) and the Unseelie (Firvulag) Courts, and we didn't evolve from neanderthals, we were actually the descendants of the time travellers who were sent from our future, mostly for crimes, and occasionally by choice.
Title: Re: Nonhuman peoples
Post by: AshKB on October 20, 2014, 04:34:40 AM
Always glad to meet another fan of the Aeslin Mice. Neanderthals are an earlier evolution of humans. We could also argue that vampires and werewolves are also human, just altered ones. Your comment about us appearing as elf like to the neanderthal is interesting and it would be fun to see a fantasy written from that point of view.

Everyone needs to know of the Aeslin Mice ('HAIL'). And ohh, I meant with Neanderthals...it's not that they are earlier (they are cousins/siblings, not a parent) but they are so closely related to us, and so much like us, that the line between 'human' and 'non-human' gets blurred. So multiple species of human, and then non-human. Which could actually be where one take on elves and dwarves and so on come from - all related, just split off at different times and adapted to different environments, and then meeting up again.

I've actually always wanted fiction where Cro-Magnon and Neanderthals were running around together - with the former having that otherworldly edge to them. I started toying with writing one, but I think I'd need to limit myself to a short story or else the research would eat me.
Title: Re: Nonhuman peoples
Post by: Elfy on October 20, 2014, 06:27:50 AM
Always glad to meet another fan of the Aeslin Mice. Neanderthals are an earlier evolution of humans. We could also argue that vampires and werewolves are also human, just altered ones. Your comment about us appearing as elf like to the neanderthal is interesting and it would be fun to see a fantasy written from that point of view.

Everyone needs to know of the Aeslin Mice ('HAIL'). And ohh, I meant with Neanderthals...it's not that they are earlier (they are cousins/siblings, not a parent) but they are so closely related to us, and so much like us, that the line between 'human' and 'non-human' gets blurred. So multiple species of human, and then non-human. Which could actually be where one take on elves and dwarves and so on come from - all related, just split off at different times and adapted to different environments, and then meeting up again.

I've actually always wanted fiction where Cro-Magnon and Neanderthals were running around together - with the former having that otherworldly edge to them. I started toying with writing one, but I think I'd need to limit myself to a short story or else the research would eat me.
At least the first of Jean M. Auel's books Clan of the Cave Bear has that Neanderthal and Cro-Magnon duality. Main character Ayla (I think?) is a Cro-Magnon girl separated from her tribe by an earthquake and she's taken in and raised by a Neanderthal tribe.
In The Sword of Shannara I think Allanon explained how the elves, dwarves, etc... developed as distinct from people. This may also be explored in the prequels that Brooks wrote more recently.
Hail! Cheese! and Cake!
Title: Re: Nonhuman peoples
Post by: TBM on December 07, 2014, 02:47:31 AM
The problem with elves who are all snooty and wise and "always right" is that their arguments can usually be torn apart by any reasonably intelligent reader. But the humans have to hold the idiot ball and not call them out on their bad arguments and hypocrisy. And then elves are still praised as wise when it's nothing but an informed ability. It's incredibly frustrating to read. If they actually WERE right all the time and made you think "Wow, I really didn't think of that!" Aka if they really were profound, then that would be great. But it never happens with a writer who's inclined to make them always right.

"Humans with pointy ears" is just a stylistic choice. Saying it's inherently bad is ignorant in my view. 
Title: Re: Nonhuman peoples
Post by: JMack on December 07, 2014, 06:25:12 PM
Wow, catching up, and so many pieces of a months' long conversation.

Aeslin mice?  Never heard of them but love MacGuire, so... a book hunting we wil go.

Agree that elves, dwarves, etc. create an opportunity to both depend upon and take advantage of our expectations.  There's a sort of built-in audience as well. 

I think the reference to science fiction earlier is useful.  One of my favorite authors has been C.J. Cherryh, who made a career out of putting a single human into the midst of an alien culture and watching what happens.  She sort of acknowledges the problem of "aren't these just versions of what we know as human culture" through guest appearances of methane-breathers who make no sense whatsoever.  You just have to clear the space ways since their ships will cork-screw and take random paths with no notice while screeching upside down poetry.  David Brin's Uplift series, especially the wonderful Startide Rising and The Uplift War, gives us a  few non-human races from earth and a bunch not from earth.  Scifi does it great; no reason fantasy shouldn't.

The discussion of coming up with new titles for an elf-by-any-other-name made me cringe inwardly, remembering the world I created in my teens.  The "elves" were renamed the "Brin".  They were exactly the tree-hugging, melancholy bores rightly ridiculed in the earlier replies to this post.  I take comfort that I imagined them with blue skin, feathers, and seriously brutal xenophobic tendencies  (oh wait, I guess that's normal).

Finally, someone commented on how each race would not call itself some generic name.  It reminds me how funny I find it when someone publishes a map of "The World of Thnlimushidan-ak-Pergamum" or some such.  Ya know, we here just call it "earth" or "world".  Wouldn't every world do that?  With on syllable?  And wouldn't everyone's name for their own people be, well, "people"?

Hmm, "Brin" shows up twice in the same post.  I promise, I made up the name first,  the author must have named himself after my never-published race of pseudo-elves.
Title: Re: Nonhuman peoples
Post by: Elfy on December 07, 2014, 09:54:31 PM

Aeslin mice?  Never heard of them but love MacGuire, so... a book hunting we wil go.


Just to help you out there. The Aeslin Mice are part of Seanan McGuire's InCryptid series (first book Discount Armageddon). The central characters are crytozoologists, so they hunt out and often co exist with urban legends and races that the rest of us think are fictional. There are 3 books out currently and Seanan has a bunch of free shorts around it on her website.
Title: Re: Nonhuman peoples
Post by: Nyki Blatchley on December 08, 2014, 10:53:19 AM
Finally, someone commented on how each race would not call itself some generic name.  It reminds me how funny I find it when someone publishes a map of "The World of Thnlimushidan-ak-Pergamum" or some such.  Ya know, we here just call it "earth" or "world".  Wouldn't every world do that?  With on syllable?  And wouldn't everyone's name for their own people be, well, "people"?

This is a point I've been making for many years. Most of the classic "worlds with names" aren't actually worlds - eg Middle Earth is a continent, Narnia is a country etc. Tolkien does have a name for his world, Arda, but only ever uses in from the POV of the Valar, who can see it as opposed to what's outside it. There's a line in one of LeGuin's early SF books something to the effect of that there are planets which have no native name, because their inhabitants call them "the world". The only reason for a world (or a continent, or a country) to have a name is if the people who live there are aware of something else it contrasts with.
Title: Re: Nonhuman peoples
Post by: Elfy on December 08, 2014, 10:29:50 PM
Finally, someone commented on how each race would not call itself some generic name.  It reminds me how funny I find it when someone publishes a map of "The World of Thnlimushidan-ak-Pergamum" or some such.  Ya know, we here just call it "earth" or "world".  Wouldn't every world do that?  With on syllable?  And wouldn't everyone's name for their own people be, well, "people"?

This is a point I've been making for many years. Most of the classic "worlds with names" aren't actually worlds - eg Middle Earth is a continent, Narnia is a country etc. Tolkien does have a name for his world, Arda, but only ever uses in from the POV of the Valar, who can see it as opposed to what's outside it. There's a line in one of LeGuin's early SF books something to the effect of that there are planets which have no native name, because their inhabitants call them "the world". The only reason for a world (or a continent, or a country) to have a name is if the people who live there are aware of something else it contrasts with.
That's actually a good point. Does anyone have an actual name for the world of The Wheel of Time? I don't believe it was ever properly named. The countries have names, but the world as a whole doesn't seem to. Fans generally refer to it as Randland. It does make sense, we call our own world Earth, but if people from another planet came here they wouldn't call it Earth, just like if we went to other planets and started calling them by the names we use, it wouldn't make sense to them. With Tolkien as he based so much on Norse legend I think the Middle Earth continent name probably came from what the Asgardians named the human world: Midgard.
Title: Re: Nonhuman peoples
Post by: JMack on December 08, 2014, 10:43:13 PM
Meanwhile, U.S. speakers call Deutschland "Germany", Espana "Spain" and Belgium... well, I don't think we remember there's a Belgium ;)

Herein lies a spark of realism for any authors who wish it.
Title: Re: Nonhuman peoples
Post by: Elfy on December 08, 2014, 10:49:00 PM
Meanwhile, U.S. speakers call Deutschland "Germany", Espana "Spain" and Belgium... well, I don't think we remember there's a Belgium ;)

Herein lies a spark of realism for any authors who wish it.
You find with alternate reality books they often go back to old place names. England becomes Albion, Germany morphs back into the Prussian Empire, and the like. I'm personally kind of glad they changed the name of what used to be known as Terra Australis, to Australia, or as some us pronounce it now 'Austraya', because the other bit is a real mouthful.
Title: Re: Nonhuman peoples
Post by: AshKB on December 10, 2014, 11:06:11 AM
Meanwhile, U.S. speakers call Deutschland "Germany", Espana "Spain" and Belgium... well, I don't think we remember there's a Belgium ;)

Herein lies a spark of realism for any authors who wish it.
You find with alternate reality books they often go back to old place names. England becomes Albion, Germany morphs back into the Prussian Empire, and the like. I'm personally kind of glad they changed the name of what used to be known as Terra Australis, to Australia, or as some us pronounce it now 'Austraya', because the other bit is a real mouthful.

Raises the question of if there are any books where Australia is still New Holland - that could be really fun, actually. Our country isn't exactly a usual setting for Alternate Histories.

Anyyyyyway - excellent points with the naming of worlds. I've often always wondered that myself, but then I haven't yet gone into the mythology and history of other cultures to see what they named their bit of world. There's usually, at least, Someone Else if you're talking about countries and areas. It's just when it gets to planets that there tends to be only one, I think.

(Although...fantasy with multiple planets would be amazing.)
Title: Re: Nonhuman peoples
Post by: xiagan on December 10, 2014, 11:28:10 AM
(Although...fantasy with multiple planets would be amazing.)
Like Raymond Feist's Riftwar Saga? ;)
Title: Re: Nonhuman peoples
Post by: JMack on December 10, 2014, 11:45:44 AM
Or the Chronicles of Amber by Zelazny, with multiple dimensions in which each version of Earth is a shadow of Amber, only further or closer away from it.  Re -read this a few years ( God bless Amazon marketplace) and it really stands up over time.
Title: Re: Nonhuman peoples
Post by: AshKB on December 10, 2014, 09:07:59 PM
Never read Feist on his own: I've read his team-up with Janny Wurts, and wasn't that impressed. And I wasn't talking about dimensions so much as something that really, really brings home Different Planets. Amber in that respect seemed pretty similar to a lot of other fantasy in that they jump from place to place (although a bit more psychedelic), but it's not really...what I meant.

I guess more of a sci-fi feel, where you KNOW you're on a different planet, not just a hazy 'different place than we started'. It's a different POV. But then fantasy isn't a genre for recognizing planets anyway.
Title: Re: Nonhuman peoples
Post by: Elfy on December 10, 2014, 10:43:53 PM
Meanwhile, U.S. speakers call Deutschland "Germany", Espana "Spain" and Belgium... well, I don't think we remember there's a Belgium ;)

Herein lies a spark of realism for any authors who wish it.
You find with alternate reality books they often go back to old place names. England becomes Albion, Germany morphs back into the Prussian Empire, and the like. I'm personally kind of glad they changed the name of what used to be known as Terra Australis, to Australia, or as some us pronounce it now 'Austraya', because the other bit is a real mouthful.

Raises the question of if there are any books where Australia is still New Holland - that could be really fun, actually. Our country isn't exactly a usual setting for Alternate Histories.

Anyyyyyway - excellent points with the naming of worlds. I've often always wondered that myself, but then I haven't yet gone into the mythology and history of other cultures to see what they named their bit of world. There's usually, at least, Someone Else if you're talking about countries and areas. It's just when it gets to planets that there tends to be only one, I think.

(Although...fantasy with multiple planets would be amazing.)
The problem with calling Australia New Holland is that it was really only a very small part of the country that got called that. Tasmania was Van Diemen's Land for quite a long time until Abel Tasman at least. New South Wales was originally called that by Cook I believe, and I don't think he knew the true vastness of the country. It's rather like why the Native Americans were mistakenly called Indians by white explorers and settlers for a long time, because Columbus initially thought he'd discovered a new passage to India. Did the Vikings have a name for North America, or was that lost in the mists of time?
Title: Re: Nonhuman peoples
Post by: Yora on December 10, 2014, 11:01:47 PM
That part where they visited was Vinland.

The natives they encountered there they called the Skraelings. The "scrawny ones".
Title: Re: Nonhuman peoples
Post by: Elfy on December 10, 2014, 11:09:39 PM
That part where they visited was Vinland.

The natives they encountered there they called the Skraelings. The "scrawny ones".
And Anne Lyle makes excellent use of some of that in her alternate history/fantasy trilogy The Nights Masque.
Title: Re: Nonhuman peoples
Post by: SarahW on December 29, 2014, 05:01:33 AM
Don't remember if I answered this.

Short answer: I approach non humans in the same way as humans. But different forms.

Longer answer: I don't write strictly non humans, but rather humans that may have slightly different shapes. But they are people. Though not in the traditional sense. People in that they have independent thought and self-awareness.

Like if a living person walked out of town, and arrived ... in purgatory town.
Title: Re: Nonhuman peoples
Post by: Yora on January 01, 2015, 12:43:08 PM
How do you feel about using classic fantasy races or unique creations tailored to your world?

I decided very early on against dwarves and halflings and instead merged them together into gnomes. I liked the result a lot more than I like either dwarves or halflings (which I think are both not very interesting and long ago shifted from archetype to stereotype), but they still didn't feel quite right for the kind of world I had in mind. They are still dwarves, though not as rude and heavily build, but otherwise doing the same things.
Since yesterday I am trying out some ideas with merging the gnomes with goblins, another generic race I still had flying around in my notes, but not really fitting into the greater scheme of things. And now I feel this new race is really something new and doesn't feel like it wandered in from a completely different setting. They still live in mountain fortresses and dig tunnels deep beneath the earth, but instead of great kings in shining armor and golden crowns who build massive square constructions and run big factories, they are now these shifty weasely guys with big black eyes, who have dealings with ancient creatures that have never seen the light of day. They still sell strong and gleaming steel that comes from their forges, but instead of a wonder of progress, it's a mysterious creation from a dark place, and most people would prefer not to know where exactly their new big swords come from.
And still, these guys are filling the same role as dwarves. But there seems to be so much more fascinating posibilities with them than anyone could ever do with dwarves. If you want dwarves, dwarves are exactly what you get. They are still around because people like them and apparently this means they are very well done. But anytime you write about dwarves, you are most likely not doing anything new with them. Which doesn't have to be bad. There is always a lot of enjoyment in seeing an old idea brought to life in a more refined way than before.
Title: Re: Nonhuman peoples
Post by: MarcoM on January 10, 2015, 07:49:29 AM
How do you feel about using classic fantasy races or unique creations tailored to your world?

"Classic fantasy races" are cut-outs to fill a void in a pinch. They're overused, completely void of excitement and so well known that you will fight an uphill battle to make the reader believe or understand that "your" dwarves, elves, halflings, etc. are different and interesting.

As such, I tend to avoid them. The stereotypes are good insofar that they connect things that feel like they belong with each other. Elves are more nature-focused because they live longer and have a better understand on the workings of the world. Dwarves are craftsmen, lost in their work and a little isolated from everyone else, so it's natural that they appear grumpy and unfriendly. You get the idea.

In the end, they're an okay starting point and can be a template to derive from, but I'll take original people over the standard fantasy bunch any day.
Title: Re: Nonhuman peoples
Post by: TBM on January 10, 2015, 11:20:44 AM
Quote
"Classic fantasy races" are cut-outs to fill a void in a pinch. They're overused, completely void of excitement and so well known that you will fight an uphill battle to make the reader believe or understand that "your" dwarves, elves, halflings, etc. are different and interesting.

I don't think it's an uphill battle: Just do the opposite of what Christopher Paolini did with his elves and dwarves. His "elves":

- All have the same beliefs and traits.
- All look the same way.
- All act the same way.
- Are all very powerful.
- Are all incredibly passive and surprisingly useless given their traits.
- Do nothing to intervene when humans are massacred and they know it, but will go to war en masse when a few of their trees have been cut down.
- Only the evil or uneducated regard them negatively.
- Rip off LotR : Came from over the sea in white ships, have waking dreams instead of sleep, are called "the fair folk", both poets who sing to nature, their language is very similar and are fading.
Quote
As Eragon discovers in Ellesméra, because elves can achieve anything they want with magic, there is no need for elves to farm or work to survive  Paolini

BORING!
Title: Re: Nonhuman peoples
Post by: MarcoM on January 10, 2015, 11:59:31 AM
What does that have to do with the fact that you'll have to explain that your elves, dwarves, halflings, orcs etc. are not THE elves, dwarves, halflings, orcs etc. instead of just explaining what they are? You have to put in effort to convince the reader to drop a preconceived notion. That's an uphill battle.
Title: Re: Nonhuman peoples
Post by: TBM on January 10, 2015, 12:16:04 PM
Quote
What does that have to do with the fact that you'll have to explain that your elves, dwarves, halflings, orcs etc. are not THE elves, dwarves, halflings, orcs etc.

Everything. THE elves, dwarves and halflings are mono character races which is why they're boring. Showing contrasting individuals, legit inter-species dissent, and not having them be always right and self righteous. As for first impressions, its easily done by introducing the race individual doing something unexpected for the stock fantasy.  Like an elf cutting down a tree, or a dwarf archer, or an extremely tough halfling warrior.
Title: Re: Nonhuman peoples
Post by: MarcoM on January 10, 2015, 02:43:25 PM
Quote
Showing contrasting individuals, legit inter-species dissent, and not having them be always right and self righteous
...and doing that for at least the first 10 characters for each race, otherwise people will assume it's a SFS dwarf, elf, etc.
Title: Re: Nonhuman peoples
Post by: TBM on January 10, 2015, 04:14:25 PM
That's unnecessary if the characters are defined by who they are and not their race. Quality > Quantity.
Title: Re: Nonhuman peoples
Post by: K.S. Crooks on January 11, 2015, 02:53:29 PM
In my novel series there are dwarves, elves, centaurs and many other non-human beings. Most are seen in passing and do not play any significant role in my first novel. There are some other goblin-like creature that are involve late in the story but I made them more animal-like than person so I wouldn't count them.

In my current novel, book 2 of the series, I have the characters visit another country that is populated by non-human beings. They will play a huge role in the story. I wanted to have characters where I could create a look and culture to fit what I want and not have it clash with what people already feel they know. People already have a set notion for how a dwarf, fairy or elf should look and act like. How often have you ever seen dwarves that live in tree-top villages or elves that are miners in caves. Anything that varies too far from can cause confusion to the reader. If you create your own beings you can do whatever you want and not conflict with a person's preconceptions.
Title: Re: Nonhuman peoples
Post by: Ryan Mueller on January 16, 2015, 05:29:58 AM
As far as elves go, I liked the way Michael J. Sullivan handled them in his Riyria Revelations. They're not your typical Tolkienesque elves. They also don't factor in much until later in the series.

Personally, I don't use the standard races like elves. If I want to write a fantasy race, I'll come up with my own. There's also a lot of variety between human cultures without adding other humanoid races.
Title: Re: Nonhuman peoples
Post by: TBM on January 16, 2015, 08:10:30 AM
 Mortal humans can't replace immortal elves in terms of wisdom and power. Nor should they. They should be their own thing.   

Or you can say there's plenty of potential variety in non human species, making humans unnecessary altogether.

Title: Re: Nonhuman peoples
Post by: Nyki Blatchley on January 16, 2015, 01:31:19 PM
Well, as for the most part we're humans writing for humans (or am I making assumptions?) it's more likely that human characters will be the primary focus of interest.

Mortal humans can't replace immortal elves in terms of wisdom and power. Nor should they. They should be their own thing.   
Well, that's assuming you want beings of great power and wisdom. If you do, that would be a reason to include elves or something analagous.
Title: Re: Nonhuman peoples
Post by: TBM on January 16, 2015, 03:13:15 PM
Most fantasy books are human centered statistically, but what matters is a character's principles, actions and flaws. Not what species they are.   Humans are thus easily replacable. As replacable as any fantasy species.
Title: Re: Nonhuman peoples
Post by: Yora on December 11, 2015, 04:48:52 PM
I've recently been thinking again on why I don't want everyone in my stories to be human, so that I might become able to make active use of the presence of nonhumans instead of them just being there and not really adding anything.
And I think one big reason why I want to have elves (but no dwarves and goblins) is because readers will recognize them. I think the preexisting knowledge that readers will have will actually help me establishing the wider context. When you have elves, they always come with a lot of baggage attached. But some of that can be very useful. When I introduce the setting and establish the mood, I don't have to start from nothing. Simply by stating that the characters are elves, I also make a strong implication that readers can expect a lot of other things about the world and the mood. Half of them or so will then turn out to not be the case and working somewhat different than the conventional stereotype, but you do have a foundation of common ground to build on.

The other peoples I have created are not as clearly taken from an established archetype, but I expect readers to recognize them as "orc-like, but less evil" or "dwarf-like, but not grumpy", and again that creates a rough basis that allows readers a quick entry into the cultures. Even if the specific facts don't match up, you can still draw directly on the mood that already exists in the heads of the audience.

The very original thought that started the whole work process years ago was "What about the society of elves before their decline?" I could attempt to do that with just humans and start with nothing, but I think it would be very difficult to communicate it to the readers what my intentions with that world are. By simply having a world in which elves live in small groups but are in the process of creating large civilizations, I think most readers will get that idea very quickly.
Title: Re: Nonhuman peoples
Post by: Lanko on December 11, 2015, 07:37:36 PM
The biggest problem I have with different species is that every person tends to be generalized. Even when huge efforts are made to differentiate this.

Example: In Mass Effect, all Krogans (male at least) are warriors, mercenaries and brutes. All Salarians are super intelligent, be it as a scientist or a con artist. Every Vorcha acts and thinks the same way. The Trurian are highly militarized. The Rachni are a hive. The Geth all think/act the same. One side wanting to join the Reapers is not enough.

I think the Quarians and Asari were the most freshed out. I thought it was possible to see the individuals behind the species culture/situation/etc. But the Asari the most. They had criminals, philosophers, scientists, military, mercenaries, civilians, political leaders.
Never saw a Quarian criminal, for example. Or even a mercenary, considering their huge ability with electronics. I think they were too focused, too chained to their Fleet. If they are compared to Israel, there are jews who don't feel the same.

Elves are probably even harder, as like you said, they come with a huge baggage of preconceived things. They walked too much on the "wise, isolated, peaceful tree-loving folk", then somewhere some switched to the other extreme "dark, racist, perfectionist, beauty-obsessed".
Title: Re: Nonhuman peoples
Post by: night_wrtr on December 14, 2015, 04:59:59 PM
The WIP I am working on now will center around non-human characters through at least 75% of the book. In fact, humans won't be mentioned until an attack takes place on a human city in the very late chapters, which is more of an afterthought, as it is not directly related to the overall story.

I have been tossing the idea of including a human POV as an interlude. The human character I have in mind wouldn't be relevant until a second book, and I don't want to get ahead of myself with that. I want a standalone first book without having to commit to another books afterwards. I wonder how many complaints there would be with a book with no human characters in it? I'm sure there are plenty that ignore humans all together, but I am not a tenured fantasy ready just yet.
Title: Re: Nonhuman peoples
Post by: Raptori on December 14, 2015, 05:17:19 PM
The biggest problem I have with the nonhuman species in most fantasy is that they're just humans with an atypical culture and an exaggerated or slightly weird appearance. In most cases they can even breed with humans and produce fertile offspring. That means that they are not a different species; the term 'race' fits better. Few authors really think through the implications and baggage that comes with clearly delineated races, and as a result end up with some painfully racist overtones in their writing (such as the issues Lanko outlined).

It might be interesting to see a realistic treatment of elves/dwarves/goblins either as separate species (in which case interbreeding would be as repellant an idea as breeding with other primates is in the real world) or as races (in which case the real defining features would be cultural only, and their appearance would exist as a spectrum rather than binary), but to be honest I'd prefer more variety than that.

There's a whole world of possible non-human species out there that you can use as characters in your stories; it seems like such a waste to stick to tall humans with pointy ears or short humans with hairy feet. Examples: armoured bears and mulefa from His Dark Materials, wit-beasts in Farseer, cats in Cinder Spires. All of those are far more memorable and interesting than any treatment of elves or dwarves.  :P
Title: Re: Nonhuman peoples
Post by: Yora on December 14, 2015, 05:51:35 PM
I believe there are people who will automatically refuse to read anything that does not have any humans. But I also suspect that these are mostly the same people who don't want to read stories that have anything other than humans either. If you already have a strong nonhuman presence, I think the absence of humans won't make much of a difference.

But I think that such a story needs to show the readers why it makes a difference to have nonhuman characters. Or at least that it makes a difference. As a writer you should be able to explain to yourself why you want to do the story with nonhumans instead of having everyone just be human. If you add nonhumans just because it's the proper thing to do for a fantasy story, then it's very easy to end up only repeating a cliche. There needs to be a purpose to any such choices.
Title: Re: Nonhuman peoples
Post by: SarahW on December 15, 2015, 08:45:38 AM
If you will forgive the gross out factor, I have skull-fairies in my novella Uploaded Fairy. In a sense they are what remained of humanity after a long fantasy war I have in the back story after The Wizard Voreth's last stand holding off the purple slime invasion.

The non-humans entities are human, just with wing like mutations, whose role has changed somewhat to be a kind of living version of the Grim Reaper.

So when I have MCs beheaded, well human characters are really executed, they just have mutations that make them look somewhat otherworldly.

This is an alternative universe broken off from our own that is strictly realistic fiction. Where virtual reality, and the collective subconcious births a new reality.

This same kind of 'mutation' phenominon extends to clothing choices, where the only clothes they can wear are things left over after the ruins.

Hence the references to old and dry wooden clogs.
Title: Re: Nonhuman peoples
Post by: J.R. Darewood on December 15, 2015, 06:12:27 PM
For some reasons, nonhuman peoples seem to have really gotten out of favor. They never were really popular with Sword & Sorcery and in Epic Fantasy they only get very little roles, if they even exist at all. Maybe it's because of the stuff I've been reading recently, but it appears that nonhuman peoples really only show up in fiction based on roleplaying games or strongly inspired by Tolkien. Both segments of the market that are not particularly high in regard.
I am working on a story idea, and I almost feel like struggling to find away to have elves but trying to cover up that fact that they are elves.

How are you approaching this?

I guess I'm jumping into the convo late.

Some people want elves others don't (I have to say I'm losing my sh*t with excitement over seeing elves on MTV next month, but that's me).  Going with Tolkien-esque tropes might turn some people off, but it's fair to say that it's a huge draw for some people, especially as fantasy becomes more mainstream.

The way I started to deal with it in my WIP was to go back before Tolkien and D&D to the source material-- legends and shit like that.  I'm not sure it really worked because I modified the names.  I think it would have worked better if I had stayed closer to my legendary sources and went for a bit more cultural cohesion instead of just making my own sewn-together amalgamation.

My Ogiers are O'gog, (derived from the biblical story of Gog and Magog), with their legendary history of descending from a series of First Children like Gog, Danu (think Tuatha de Dannan), and Tehemat (a fusion of Tiamat and the Hindu goddess Kali).  Magog are my substitute for minotaurs-- they're just like 7-8ft tall humans (usually jacked) whose warriors bolt steel horns (1-3) into their skulls as a badge of accomplishment in battle.

My elves (influenced by Irish and germanic aelfish stories but human-ized) just have elongated ears and they're called A'elfar.  My version of Dark Elves are the A'elfar who are branded exiled to the Fell (a place that was plunged into my version of hell like 1000 years ago) so if you are born there, you're eyes are black b/c of the way the Fell interfere's with the soul's connection to the body. So Dae'elfar either have a big brand or their eyes are black-- not exactly like Drow but there are some similarities. They live in caves b/c they have to hide from the crazy awful shit that roams around in the fell.

I guess the point in mentioning all that is that there is sort of a middle ground between the full-on magical realists and the Tolkien tropes.  Maybe.  I'm not sure if it worked, tbh, but I"m trying it out.
Title: Re: Nonhuman peoples
Post by: shadowkat678 on March 26, 2016, 04:04:10 AM
What I don't understand is why they have to be so nonhuman. I mean, look at animals. They're nonhuman, but you see similarities, right? There are very intelligent animals that obviously show emotions, are smart and ambush like the gnomes mentioned back there, etc. Why not make it where Elves and Humans branched off from each other at one point? Same as a lot of other humanoid species? That's what horses and Zebras did, and they're far enough apart they can't make a fertile offspring. Yet they still look pretty close, correct?

So why do they have to act so inhuman?
Title: Re: Nonhuman peoples
Post by: TBM on March 26, 2016, 08:35:17 AM
Elves don't act human or inhuman. Humans act like elves, or don't. Rare is the story where elves come after humans

There's arrogance in thinking that another sentient species that acts like us, is acting "human".

PS I hate half elves and the idea that elves and humans can produce offspring is so unnecessary.
Title: Re: Nonhuman peoples
Post by: Yora on March 26, 2016, 10:32:35 AM
Europeans are the descendants of half-neanderthals, though. So there's that.
Title: Re: Nonhuman peoples
Post by: shadowkat678 on March 26, 2016, 01:46:58 PM
True, they are.

What if there were a Narnia like thing, where you find out the world hadn't had humans at first, but some found their way in and started spreading? And what about changing things up? I think I've done a pretty good job at that, but people won't really know any of this information unless they start reading. They own't know that orcs and elves and dwarves and halflings are just as ethnically diverse as humans,  or that dwarves are actually a subtype of elves, or that orcs aren't all evil, though they have a reputation among other races that isn't always nice. Yes, my antagonist and protagonist are elves, but I needed that for plot sake, and I needed them to live longer. They don't know that yet. They just pick up the book and see elves. Even if you do diverge, how do you get more people to start with open minds?