Feb 212015
 

SmaugI just saw the second installment of “The Hobbit” movies, “The Desolation of Smaug“, and thought it suffered from the same problem as the original, which is no real surprise as they were filmed at the same time.

I don’t care about the characters or what happens to them, or if they succeed. None of them have anything to lose, since the dwarves already lost everything a long time ago and Bilbo Baggins is basically just bored before it starts.  In fact, I was bored before the quest started, too, (in the last film) and quite often after it did start.

We know almost nothing about these dwarves, who are a bit annoying if anything. I might enjoy seeing them get eaten by a dragon.  At least it would be interesting.  Unless I wasn’t paying attention (it’s possible I drifted off a few times), none but the main dwarf gets any back story.  They seem to have no family, either, so no one even cares about them.  It comes as a surprise when we learn some of them are brothers or something, but even then, I didn’t particularly care.

Of course, they can lose their lives, or their souls, but the book/movies fail at a basic story problem – the characters can walk away any time  In fact, they did so 60 years ago.  They don’t have to go back.  Wanting to wasn’t enough (for me). There’s no dramatic tension there.  Nothing bad happens if they just give up, so who cares?  In fact, they’re the ones who cause something bad to happen when they disturb the dragon.

Bilbo Baggins

Bilbo Baggins

For Bilbo, the film suffers from the knowledge that I already know what happens to him, so there’s no tension there, though the changes in him are at least of interest.  He’s appropriately the best character (besides Gollum, who isn’t in the second part).

As for Gandalf, I personally have never found him to be interesting, really.  He’s the only one who sees a reason to do anything on the grand scheme and that he can’t walk away, but again I know he survives just fine, so at best his exploits are a passing curiosity.

Even the dragon wasn’t interesting.  I’ve never seen a less majestic depiction of a dragon.  He was all gray and black.  The only time he looked even remotely cool was (spoiler alert) when he was covered in liquid gold for all of two minutes.  His size was impressive, but that was it.  Even his voice didn’t do it for me, as it was so suave and, well, human.  At least the other beings sounded like other creatures.

Epilogue

I’m glad I waited until this came out on DVD so I could watch it while making use of my time on the computer simultaneously.  I have little doubt the last film will feel the same.  I don’t know that these movies are doing the fantasy genre any favors.  Since fantasy films almost never get made and usually suck when they do, I was hoping for better, but I guess I’ll take what I can get.

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Fantasy/Scfi Movie Fights Are Too Ridiculous

If you’ve seen any SciFi or fantasy films over the last 20 years, you know the fight scenes are ridiculous and unbelievable.  When did it become okay for archers to make impossible shots time after time, sometimes with two arrows fired from the same bow at once (Legolas in The Hobbit and Lord of the […]

1 comment

The Problem with “The Hobbit” Movies

I just saw the second installment of “The Hobbit” movies, “The Desolation of Smaug“, and thought it suffered from the same problem as the original, which is no real surprise as they were filmed at the same time. I don’t care about the characters or what happens to them, or if they succeed. None of […]

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Virgin Sacrifices in Fantasy Stories Are Stupid

So I’m sitting here watching Conan The Destroyer, which includes the age-old premise that a virgin will be sacrificed.  Personally, I think that’s a waste of a perfectly good virgin, but what struck me is the silliness of this.  There’s no way to know for sure that someone is a virgin unless they’re very closely watched. […]

10 comments
Feb 212015
 

In Part 1 we discussed the physical aspects of creating races in fantasy books. Part 2 covers the mental.  Now we’ll look at a downloadable template you can use as a starting point to aid your creative writing.

Download the PDF or Word template.

The Template

Fantasy Race/Species Name Here

Nicknames: “”

Famous For

General Description

Overall Appearance

Include voice, posture, impression, sleep and eating habits.

The Head

Eyes, brow, ears, chin, jaw, nose, lips, hair styles (and colors), tongue.  Heart-shaped, round, square.  Bearded?

The Body

Discuss height, stocky/thin, details on hands/feet, athleticism, stamina, strength, common ailments.  Can include clothing.

Special

Anything unique about them.

Gods

Which gods created them, influence them, or are worshiped by them?  How does this affect them?

Characteristics

Intelligence

Wisdom

Charisma

Strength

Constitution

Agility

Dexterity

Morale

Specific Accomplishments

Wars Won and Lost

Inventions and Discoveries

World View

Culture and Customs

Do they work every day?  Take lunch naps?  Includes marriage, death, challenges.

Society

Do they build cities?  Scavenge or farm and hunt?  Live in tribes?  Marriage?

Language

Do they have an oral or written language?  Which languages do they typically know?

Relations with Other Races

Humans

Race 1

Race 2

The Supernatural

Magic

Can they do it?  What kind, how powerful, what limits?

Habitat

Where a race lives determines many of their characteristics.

Terrain

Where do they originate from?  Land with rolling hills?  Mountains?  Plains?  Forests?  The sea?

Climate

Hot or cold?  Temperate?

Settlements (Towns/Cities)

Name important ones and develop them using my template for creating cities (check here for that blog: http://randyellefson.wordpress.com/blog-history/).

Homes

Where are they located?  In trees?  Underground?  Underwater?  How are they laid out and protected?

Styles & Materials

What are their homes made of?  Wood?  Brick?  Straw roofs?

Combat

Do they fight at all or run?  How do they fight?  With what weapons and armor?  Do they use cavalry, dragons?  Any typical battle formations?

Ecology

Mating, birth

Epilogue

This is the template I used when creating the seven original species for my main fantasy setting. Check the home page of this blog or my site for news of my first publications using them, probably in 2015. In the meantime, good luck!

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Feb 212015
 

In part 1, we looked at some physical considerations when creating races in fantasy books, while building your own world. Now we’ll look at some mental aspects.

Mental Considerations
Worldview

When I watch alien species/races on TV or see them in print, more often than not, I feel like they’re just humans in costume, for example.  They react to things just like humans would.  I don’t find that realistic.  It’s poor concept and lazy writing.  If you don’t want to think about how another race would react to things, then just use humans for everything!  Even humans in one part of Earth would react differently to many things, so different races (especially if from another planet) absolutely would.

Vulcan (Star Trek)

Vulcan (Star Trek) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

A good example from sci-fi is Vulcans from Star TrekSpock often reacts differently to events, from his expressions to what he actually says, both revealing a worldview different from humans.  His calm gets him accused of indifference.  His overly intellectual responses, devoid of emotion, get him called arrogant.  This name-calling reveals misunderstanding and a conflict between him and humans, not to mention flaws in humanity.  This is good stuff.

Pay special attention to mindset when creating races in fantasy.  You can start by using their habitat.  For example, a water-dwelling species likely has less contact with other species and could be more (or less) innocent or trusting. This is also true of a race predominantly underground.  A flying race likely has more contact with everyone and is very social, maybe acting as messengers or scouts in human society.

This brings up another issue – how they behave amongst their own kind and how they fit into another society.  It can be more fun to start with how you’re going to use them in human society and your stories, but don’t overlook their own society.  Taking the aerial messenger idea – if the entire race flies, then in their own society, they aren’t all going to be messengers, so it’s not realistic that only the messengers among them are in human society.

Capabilities

Some questions to ask yourself are below:

  1. Is your race intellectual?
  2. Educated?
  3. Wise?
  4. Do they read and write?
  5. Do they have their own language?
  6. Can they speak/read/write other languages
Human Relations

A well done fantasy race can allow the author to make commentary about humans, which in turn helps your reader relate to your work.  A classic example is that elves are depicted as immortal or with life spans over 1000 years, and since they have “all the time in the world”, take their time.  By contrast, they think humans are in a rush (often true), so many authors have used elves to comment on this aspect of humans.  This is good writing (though now a cliché).

You can craft your race to highlight us.  Feel we’re dishonest?  Make your race honest.  Think we jump to conclusions?  Make your race slow and deliberate in its evaluations to the point that it bugs humans.  If you think humans are faithful to gods, create a race that is quick to turn its back on gods if not answered, making us look good by comparison.  Maybe your race doesn’t understand the concept of property and just takes other people’s stuff like it’s no big deal and we accuse them of being thieves.

Inter-Race Relations

If you invented two or more fantsy races, think about how your invented races get along with each other (and humans).  Are they enemies?  Friends?  Why?  Are their legendary battles or animosities?  Treaties?  Are they “friends” now but some among them have bad blood?

Every race should have opinions and prejudice about others, and humans should feel or think something stereotypical about every race you create.  There should be classic misunderstandings.  And some of your characters should exemplify these ideas while others rise above them.  It adds conflict and dimension to your creations and writing.  You can start by taking real life examples from Earth and adapting them.

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 “Not” Races

When creating my species, I didn’t want to be influenced by the work of others.  However, to truly avoid influence, one must be free to do things that are like those creations, too.  If you restrict yourself to not being like them, you’re still being influenced.

For example, if I want a fantasy race to have pointed ears and live in forests, then I’ll do so despite the fact that elves are like this.  If I refuse to do it due to the similarity, I’m being influenced.

I think of this as “not” races.  I didn’t want to create “not” elves – a humanoid race living in big trees that do not have pointed ears, do not have slanted eyes, and do not live long lives.  I wanted to create a humanoid race living in big trees that looked like however I wanted them to look, if I thought it made sense based on habitat, biology, and worldview and the resulting behaviors.  If it made sense for them to have pointed ears and slanted eyes, then so be it, even though elves are like that.  Fortunately, it did not make sense.  There’s no habitat-based reason I can see for that happening, so I didn’t do it.  No one will say my species are just elves with another name because they’re not.

On the other hand, I have a species living under mountains.  It makes sense that such a species is small – you know, like dwarves, who also live there.  Why?  Because in addition to whatever natural caves and tunnels they’d find, they will create more, and that’s hard work cutting all that stone by hand.  They wouldn’t make spaces any larger than needed.  The habitat would slowly affect their height and even upper body strength (all that hammer swinging), making the species resemble dwarves.  Similarly, it is generally cold down there (aside from when they’re near natural heat sources like magma) and beards make sense to keep the face warm.

Part 3

The final section will show a template you can use for creating races in fantasy books.

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Feb 212015
 

In this three part series, we’ll look at creating races in fantasy books. This entry focuses on the physical considerations, while Part 2 will discuss the mental ones. Part 3 includes a downloadable template you can use.

While using the standard elves, dwarves, dragons, and other usual suspects in fantasy fiction is fine, and maybe even a wise idea, authors sometimes want to create their own races.  As someone who’s created seven species (I use that term instead), I’ve listed some considerations that may help you do the same.

If you’re trying to decide between calling them races or species, another blog may help you.

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Physical Considerations

One thing to keep in mind is whether any fantasy race will be able to masquerade as another. A giant spider can’t put on a cloak and sneak into a city as if it’s a human.  Less extremely, a seven foot can’t do this as if they’re a three foot one; two three foot tall ones can climb on top of each other and possibly imitate the taller one, but you get the idea.

Humanoid?

There’s a tendency to create races that are humanoid, like elves and dwarves, instead of spider-like, for example.  Humanoid species are fairly close to our own and we don’t have to figure out things like what they eat, how often they sleep, and other biological basics.  They mingle well with humans, being able to live in similar buildings, use horses, and need fewer unusual physical things.

Would a giant spider sleep in a bed, or eat with utensils, or consume the same food?  How would one travel if not on foot?  Such considerations might be needed if you go this route.  It could make things interesting in a hurry.

Chewie as shown in Star Wars

Chewie as shown in Star Wars (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

With a non-humanoid, the “weirdness” factor rises, so sometimes creators stick to only one for a prominent character, like Star Wars, where there’s only one wookie, Chewbacca.  Non-humanoids arguably work better in a visual media (film and TV) because we don’t have to keep reminding the reader what they look like.

If you’re building a world for many fantasy books and stories, you’ll have more stories to explore and show what they’re like, but if they’ve made your books weird, the weirdness can also be a turnoff.  If your world, and this race, will only be used once, being experimental is less of a risk.

The Body

Building a fantasy race starting at the body makes sense from an anthropological stance; our bodies come before our minds and habitat influences everything, especially physical features.  A water-dwelling race likely has gills and maybe webbed toes, even fins.  Something living in smaller trees likely climbs well, has an unusually strong grip, and might have a tail to help.  If living in giant trees whose branches can be walked on casually, like in Avatar, then maybe not

The race’s skin color might be affected, too, if camouflage from predators matters.  If they have little to fear, then perhaps the race is colorful in the manner of tropical birds.

Overall size and mass can help determine other aspects of your race, like strength, endurance, and capabilities.  Enemies and allies will be also affected. For example, if your race is three feet tall, does it just run away from something over six feet tall, or do they swarm?

Have a fairly complete description ready to go even if you’ll seldom use more than a few lines of it at once (to avoid too much exposition).  People sometimes prefer having a basic idea, not being killed with detail.  As they read on, they’ll likely form their own slightly different picture anyway.

The Head

You don’t need me to tell you that pointed ears, slanted eyes, hair styles, round or square faces, pointed or bulbous noses, square jaws and chins, and brow prominence are just a few of the facial features you can manipulate.  Try to have a decent idea before you just throw them together.  Delicate or blunt features tend to go together.  You don’t want it to seem like a mishmash that would look ridiculous if someone drew it, unless being weird is your thing.

It can be helpful to start with a known species and begin imagining variations.

Part 2

In Part 2, we’ll look at the mental aspects of creating races in fantasy books, including worldview and inter-race relations.

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Feb 212015
 

What’s the difference between “race” and “species” and when should you use what in your fantasy settings?  I’ve taken a look into this myself and made the right choice for me.  Read on for ideas on making the right choice for you.

Race

What’s a race?  The answer can be complicated (but interesting reading), but race has been described as nothing more than a social construct to describe different versions of homo sapiens (i.e., humans), who are 99.9% the same, having no genetic differences to warrant classification (into “races”).

dwarfSince elves, dwarves, and other races in fantasy are invented, no genetic material exists to determine if they are, in fact, genetically different from humans.  One could assume that the pointed ears of elves must mean something, but on Earth, some races have stereotypical eyes, noses, etc, and are still the same species.  So this suggests such minor differences are not genetic and races in fantasy are just that: still homo sapiens that people have divided into “races” as an artificial construct to classify people.

Of course, “small people”, aka, dwarves, do exist on Earth, but their distinctive height and other characteristics are caused by a medical or genetic disorder, which is only sometimes passed down from parents, meaning it is not a definite outcome, as one would expect if they were indeed a different species or even a race of one.  They are still humans. You wouldn’t expect a dwarf in a fantasy setting to give birth to a human, right?

Species

If races don’t really exist on a biological level, “species” is the other obvious term to use, but that has problems, too.  Even biologists struggle with the definition of species, known as the “species problem”. If they can’t define it, far be it for us to do so.  The word is just used to group similar organisms and is what the average person thinks of when considering a cat vs. a dog, for example.

How are we mere creative writers to make a decision?

Species can interbred and produce offspring (in fact, that’s a part of the problematic definition), so this shouldn’t figure in your thinking between “race” and “species” because both can do it, rendering this moot.

The Status Quo

ElfI’m generalizing, but most fantasy books use “race”, probably because J. R. R. Tolkien’s influential Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit popularized these, along with the later Dungeons and Dragons fantasy role-playing games.  It became expected and lots of people followed along, either not caring about a distinction or finding it too problematic and of no consequence to most people, all valid reasons, really.

One explanation for “races” that’s given in some fantasy books is that beings like elves were created from humans, or vice versa, and therefore elves and humans are races of the same humanoid species.  If this is the case in your world, then “race” makes sense.

Degree of Difference in Your Fantasy Races

One way to make a decision is to consider how different your creations are from each other and humans.  Elves, dwarves, hobbits, orcs, humans, and other fantasy tropes and conventions are pretty similar, making “race” a fine choice (they are the same species).

On the other hand, if one creation has wings, another has gills and other adaptations for the water, and another has four legs, these are more suggestive of being different species.  Dragons are clearly another species from homo sapiens, for example.

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Also consider that on Earth, we call Caucasians, Asians, and other versions of humans “races”, so if these exist in your world, you pretty much have to do that, too.  If you also have elves and dwarves, or similar humanoids, are you going to call those races, too, when you and your readers think of them as more different than Asian/Caucasian races of humans?  This is an inconsistent and confusing use of the word “race”.

My Decision

I’ve been creating one setting for most of my fantasy books for over 25 years, on and off, and invented seven species, which I used to call races.  I changed my mind for several reasons, in no particular order:

Reason 1

I can’t call Caucasian, Asian, and other versions of humans “race” and also call my other humanoids, who are not human, race, because that doesn’t make sense. (Asian is an Earth term, but you get the idea).

Reason 2

To be different and pull readers out of their comfort zone of expectations.

Reason 3

Some of my creations have multiple versions that are quite different from each other.  It makes sense to call each a species with multiple races of that species.

For example, let’s say I have three humanoids called dokai, lokai, both with wings and similar bodies, and a third with horns and a tail, called soman.  And I decide to call all three races.  This doesn’t really work because dokai and lokai are basically the same (one is good, maybe the other corrupted to be evil) and soman are different.  How can I say dokai and lokai are two races and so are soman?  If I do, then what word do I use to describe the difference between dokai and lokai?  I can’t use race because I’m already using that at a higher level.

It makes more sense to say dokai and lokai are races of a parent species, kai (a syllable found in both names, giving readers a clue), and soman is a separate species.  For example:

Not good

  1. Races
    1. Dokai
    2. Lokai
    3. Soman
    4. Humans

Better

  1. Species
    1. Kai
      i. Dokai (race of kai)
      ii. Lokai (race of kai)
    2. Soman
    3. Humans
      i.  Asian (race of humans)
      ii. Caucasian (race of humans)
      iii. Etc.
Coda

In the end, only you can make this choice and there’s really no right or wrong one.  Some who feel strongly one way or another will tell you otherwise, but it’s your world and you are its ultimate god.

Creating a Fantasy City, Part 1

Without cities, towns, and villages, no fantasy world building project is complete.  In part 1, we’ll look at some things to consider.  Part 2 will be the template I use for creating a new settlement. Location, Location, Location No settlement stands alone.  A city has towns nearby, and towns have villages nearby.  However, when drawing […]

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Creating a Fantasy City, Part 2

Below is the template I use when creating a fantasy city during world building.  Feel free to adapt it your purposes. You can read Part 1 here. Download the PDF or Word template. City/Town Name General Alliances Independent city or part of a kingdom?  Allies? Identification Symbol and Banner: City Colors: Slogans: Famous For What […]

0 comments

Creating Fantasy Names For Your Fiction Stories

Depending on your ability, creating names for people, places, and beings in fantasy books can either be fun or a pain.  I’ve been doing this for three decades and will provide some tricks and thoughts to help. KISS KISS doesn’t really stand for “keep it simple, stupid”, but it’s a good principle to follow when […]

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Fantasy Species vs. Race?

What’s the difference between “race” and “species” and when should you use what in your fantasy settings?  I’ve taken a look into this myself and made the right choice for me.  Read on for ideas on making the right choice for you. Race What’s a race?  The answer can be complicated (but interesting reading), but […]

4 comments

How to Create Fantasy Races or Species, Part 1

In this three part series, we’ll look at creating races in fantasy books. This entry focuses on the physical considerations, while Part 2 will discuss the mental ones. Part 3 includes a downloadable template you can use. While using the standard elves, dwarves, dragons, and other usual suspects in fantasy fiction is fine, and maybe […]

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How to Create Fantasy Races or Species, Part 2

In part 1, we looked at some physical considerations when creating races in fantasy books, while building your own world. Now we’ll look at some mental aspects. Mental Considerations Worldview When I watch alien species/races on TV or see them in print, more often than not, I feel like they’re just humans in costume, for […]

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How to Create Fantasy Races or Species, Part 3

In Part 1 we discussed the physical aspects of creating races in fantasy books. Part 2 covers the mental.  Now we’ll look at a downloadable template you can use as a starting point to aid your creative writing. Download the PDF or Word template. The Template Fantasy Race/Species Name Here Nicknames: “” Famous For General […]

0 comments

How to Create Plants and Animals for Your Fantasy Setting

In another blog, I discussed whether you should create plants and animals for your fantasy setting.  Assuming you’ve decided to do it, here are tips for doing so. New Ideas If you already have ideas, you can just write them up according to a template like the one I’ve provided here: The Template Animal/Plant Name: […]

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How to Draw a Fantasy Map, Part 1

One of the fun aspects of fantasy world building is drawing maps. This blog provides some ideas to keep in mind and tools to help. Some of this is kind of obvious but worth mentioning anyway. Where to Start A good working unit is the continent.  Despite the term “world building,” fantasy authors usually write […]

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How to Draw a Fantasy Map, Part 2

In Part 1, we looked at where to start and basic continent considerations for drawing a fantasy map.  Now we’ll look at some geographical considerations. Remember Geography Having a basic sense of geography is important or your map won’t make sense.  Some of this is obvious but is still worth pointing out. Rivers For example, […]

1 comment

Should You Create Plants and Animals in Your Fantasy Setting?

When world building, I used to think there was no point in inventing animals and plants for a fantasy setting.  After all, they’re often just variations on real Earth animals, in which case, why bother?  For example, maybe you have a horse with an extra pair of legs, or a tomato that’s yellow and poisonous, […]

3 comments
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