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How to integrate a original fantasy race?


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#1 AshemDragon

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Posted 01 April 2018 - 01:46 PM

Hi everyone. So. I'm writing fantasy, and all my main characters are part of this fantasy race I came up with called syiks. The only two humanoid races in the book are syiks and humans (also just in case it's important context, humans are basically syiks' prey). Personally, I think it's pretty simple; it's a fantasy world, so fantasy humanoids exist. However, a problem I keep running into when people (friends, family, and critique partners alike) read it, they usually ask something along the lines of "what are syiks? where did they come from? Are they mutants? Cyborgs? Fae creatures? Aliens? How long have they been around, and how did they come to exist?" So. Obviously it's not as simple as I thought it is.

 

I don't really have any of this written, or even really thought about it, because my idea is that syiks just are there? Like if you read a fantasy book and there's elves, people are generally just like "okay there's elves," and that's kinda the way I was hoping for it to go with syiks. Is this "what are they, where did they come from" mentality usually how people think about original fantasy races, or is it more likely that I'm doing something wrong? I do a lot to explain, I guess, "what syiks are," in the sense of what they look like, how they're different from humans, what their special abilities are, etc. but I guess for a lot of people that doesn't answer the question "what are syiks" on a fundamental enough level? Does anyone know how you're supposed to do this, to convey that this original race is just part of the world of the story, and there's not really any backstory to it?

also hopefully I'm posting this in the right forum?



#2 NCruz

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Posted 01 April 2018 - 06:26 PM

My question is: Why are there only two races? Are there others that aren't as important to the plot, so they're in the background?
 
Fantasy worlds do need laws and rules. In your world, humans have an origin too. Did humans evolve? Were they created by a god? What is the mythology of mankind? The same questions apply to syiks.
 
Do the syiks have anti-human myths that portray humans as the evil race, and the syiks as victims? Do the humans have anti-syik mythology?


#3 Anna L. Walls

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Posted 01 April 2018 - 09:02 PM

Without reading the story, it would be hard to give helpful advice, but it sounds like you need to set the stage. The question above is legitimate. Why are there two dominate races? How could they co-exist at such a level and still survive? To do this, the story has to start out with that first hunt. And really, I can't say much more without reading the story, but you do need to answer all those questions in that first exchange.


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#4 lnloft

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Posted 01 April 2018 - 09:20 PM

Think about it as context, especially if your story is set in the real world except it has the syiks. Were the syiks always on Earth, just another race that evolved, or were they created, or did they come through a portal from another world? You don't have to go into enormous detail, but context is important. It sounds like from what you're saying that they've just always been there, so that implies evolution, or created by some divinity, or whatever is the origins for everything else in your world.

 

One thing I'll note is that while it helps me to build detailed worlds for my stories, I also don't have to reveal everything in the book. So let's just pretend for a moment that the syiks actually came through a portal from the world Syikia 1000 years ago to Earth, and they fled because their world was about to be destroyed by some dangerous magical power, and they found that Earth was great for them because it had an easy prey source, and the arrival of the syiks meant that human history after the year 1000 has changed dramatically, because people had something hunting them, which meant, as one of the ripple effects, that humans advanced their gun technology a lot faster, so by the 1800s they already had fully automatic machine guns. Again, just completely making things up. But if that was some of the backstory, you don't have to reveal it all, but having that knowledge in your back pocket can inform you as to how you write the rest of the world. Think about if you were writing a completely contemporary non-fantasy story about a kid in New York; you'd still have all the knowledge you possess about the real world, but you're not going to stop and tell the reader about the history of the United States, but having that knowledge and how life in the US works helps you create a richer story, because little things will brush upon it. So, all of this is to say, listen to your readers and address some things, and maybe make more answers for yourself, but often if you just add a little bit, it's enough that they stop wondering (or even start speculating on their own and coming up with their own ideas, which is always fun).


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#5 Springfield

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Posted 02 April 2018 - 02:26 AM

Hi everyone. So. I'm writing fantasy, and all my main characters are part of this fantasy race I came up with called syiks. The only two humanoid races in the book are syiks and humans (also just in case it's important context, humans are basically syiks' prey). Personally, I think it's pretty simple; it's a fantasy world, so fantasy humanoids exist. However, a problem I keep running into when people (friends, family, and critique partners alike) read it, they usually ask something along the lines of "what are syiks? where did they come from? Are they mutants? Cyborgs? Fae creatures? Aliens? How long have they been around, and how did they come to exist?" So. Obviously it's not as simple as I thought it is.

 

I don't really have any of this written, or even really thought about it, because my idea is that syiks just are there? Like if you read a fantasy book and there's elves, people are generally just like "okay there's elves," and that's kinda the way I was hoping for it to go with syiks. Is this "what are they, where did they come from" mentality usually how people think about original fantasy races, or is it more likely that I'm doing something wrong? I do a lot to explain, I guess, "what syiks are," in the sense of what they look like, how they're different from humans, what their special abilities are, etc. but I guess for a lot of people that doesn't answer the question "what are syiks" on a fundamental enough level? Does anyone know how you're supposed to do this, to convey that this original race is just part of the world of the story, and there's not really any backstory to it?

also hopefully I'm posting this in the right forum?

 

People know what elves are, fantasy or not.

 

If I handed you a story involving a unicorn, you wouldn't have to ask questions. 

 

If I handed you a story about a rodeo, and people are tying up sheep, riding bulls, horses and the next person rides a urgplup, which is purple, gigantic, feathered and four-legged, would you not have questions? I don't think most people would just be like, 'oh, the urgplup, of course.'



#6 Monsmord

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Posted 02 April 2018 - 12:16 PM

One suggestion is to read other fantasy featuring unique races, and see how those authors handled it.  Start with Tolkien, whose work has largely defined the very stereotypes and tropes we now use to shortcut our own work - we don't always have to "explain" elves, dwarves ,etc. because he already did the hard work!  (Not all elves are Tolkienesque, of course - assuming the audience will assume they are makes for lazy, boring writing.)  Beyond that...  Many characters across the Eternal Champion cycle of Michael Moorcock are non-human humanoids; Steven Erikson's/Ian C. Esselmont's Malazan books include a number of unique races/subraces; Ekaterina Sedia's The Alchemy of Stone uses gargoyles as an ancient race; China Mieville's Bas-Lag series has a virtual zoo of races; Philip Pullman's gallivespians in the His Dark Materials series; Martha Wells's Books of the Raksura have a lot as well.  Etc.  You're in good company creating a unique race.

 

A large part of being a writer is being a reader.  Nothing beats experiencing how other authors have succeeded (or failed) in doing what you're trying to do.  Read enough, and you'll internalize a lot of options and solutions.

 

*

 

Another suggestion is to consider whether those questions need to be answered in full, or at all.  Lnloft has it spot on.  Your job is to tell a compelling story.  To accomplish that, your secondary world needs to be engaging and consistent, and to feel complete.  That doesn't necessarily require that you explain evolutionary mechanisms, the complete lineage of family lines, whether the geography of your world is shaped by tectonics, etc.  I mean, you can do that, but does that help tell the story, or just drag it down?  Consider the LotR books (again).  Tolkien created an encyclopedia for Middle Earth, with all sorts of mythology, backstory, etc., but didn't reveal it all in The Hobbit.  Or Fellowship.  Or The Two Towers.  Etc.  By the time The Silmarillion was published, we read it because we cared; Tolkien already had us invested in Middle Earth through the grand, epic adventures, even though we didn't have everything at hand.

 

If your readers don't feel your world or race makes sense, or find your story incoherent because of missing details or cultural motivations, you have a problem.  But if your readers feel the story was sensical and dynamite, and now they have more questions about your world, you totally nailed it.  Sounds like a series to me!

 

And again as lnloft points out, you might benefit from crafting your own Silmarillion for your eyes only.  You need to know enough about your world to ensure you can write one that feels whole, even if it's not.  If you don't know how your race got there, or their past history with the humans, you might be missing opportunities in your storytelling, or worse, some story elements won't congeal, and readers will catch on.  Do you need a whole encyclopedia?  Probably not.  But, if you have some down time between projects, or need a break from crafting your narrative, or even if you're trying to figure out a character's deeper motivations and worldview, you might do well to answer some of your readers' common questions.

 

To address your last point - there's always a backstory.  To everything.  It may seem mundane, but it's there.  Consider how many culture clashes there have been on Earth, how much history, so much of it lost - and without it, we wouldn't be who we are.  Why are there so many races of humans?  Why do some cultures create certain myths or monsters, and others not?  Where did the word "salary" come from?  Why does Ireland have no snakes?  Why does clothing and style differ between peoples in the same part of the world?  Why do Western businessmen wear ties?  Why is a region in the southwest corner of Newfoundland called the Wreckhouse?  The reasons can be absolutely fascinating, stories unto themselves.  Backstory is something you should think about to one degree or other; if nothing else, it can inform details in your story that make the world seem rich and complex - even if you're just cheating!

 

*

 

My last suggestion is a more straightforward mechanical one.  Many authors choose to start chapters/sections with epigraphs.  These usually set the tone/theme of the section, but can also pass info to the reader outside the narrative.  It's a bit of a cheat, can't be the only thing you do, and can come off as cliché; it's a scalpel, not a chainsaw, so tread carefully.  The Malazan books exploit this fantastically.  David Edison's The Waking Engine does so not to explain his world, but to deepen it - his epigraphs are quotes from dead people, but written after they've died (this makes sense in context).  Perhaps your epigraphs include some oblique cultural references that give us a taste of the hidden history, or even extracts from "dry historical documents" that tell us something about how the races have interacted in the past.

 

Here's an absolutely terrible, awful example epigraph that you should not emulate:
 
Silly little human feet, weak and pudgy, can't tear meat;
Silly, pudgy, weak or not, they're tasty in the stewing pot!
 
- Syik nursery rhyme
 
 
Starting a relevant chapter with that would tell the reader that syiks aren't human, their feet must be very different, and that they may eat humans, but that syik culture is largely recognizable to us since they have nursery rhymes, eat stew, etc.
 
I think you can do better than that, though.   :smile:


#7 AshemDragon

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Posted 03 April 2018 - 06:11 PM

Thank you all for all the advice! I do indeed have a LOT of backstory and details and world-building that only I know and that doesn't need to be included in the book itself; however, I think that, in a way that might be part of the problem? I've been crafting this world for almost 5 years, so everything about it is incredibly familiar to me, and it's hard to figure out which details are the ones that are making it all make sense to me that I'm forgetting to tell the audience.

 

Another thing:

If I handed you a story involving a unicorn, you wouldn't have to ask questions. 

 

If I handed you a story about a rodeo, and people are tying up sheep, riding bulls, horses and the next person rides a urgplup, which is purple, gigantic, feathered and four-legged, would you not have questions? I don't think most people would just be like, 'oh, the urgplup, of course.'

 

All my main characters are syiks, so I am handing my audience a story about syiks, not a story about mundane things and then suddenly, oh here are syiks. Unfortunately, syiks are not nearly as widely recognized as unicorns, obviously. So people kinda still have to ask questions... On top of that, because it's from the syiks' perspective, it's hard to fit in a place to really... explain them? Like, if it was from a human's perspective, just wait til a syik (or, for the sake of this analogy, an urgplup) appears, and just be like "Before Jennifer stood the urgplup, gigantic and feathered, its purple body blocking out the sun as it reared up on it's two back legs... [a little backstory on how urgplups came to be a regular thing at rodeos] [a little backstory on where they're from and their relationship with humans] [probably one more piece of information that I can't think of right now]." but like... My story isn't from that perspective (also syiks are kinda native to where they are in the story so there isn't really a "how they got to that place") so the descriptions are just a little different, because it's basically the syiks describing themselves/each other. Personally, I think I'm putting some good info out there, but clearly I'm doing something that's throwing people off? =(

 

As for their origin, I guess it would be evolution, the same way every other animal came to exist. But, like... isn't that kinda weird to just say in the book somewhere? To just be like "syiks evolved into existence over the past hundred thousand years or so." I feel like if no one explains some special thing that happened to bring a certain species into the world, it's kinda just implied that, like... they've just always been there, no? Like when people have a magic system and don't explain that like... ""the gods came down and sacrificed their divinity to split it up among humans,"" or something, we just go ahead and assume that the magic has just always been there, yes? Also. Sorta related to their origins, I don't know what I'm doing that's making people question if syiks are cyborgs or aliens or something. Like y'all said, this is hard to figure out without the context of actually reading the whole thing, so I think I'll have to just talk more about this with the people who've read it...

 

One last thing, it would probably be a GOOD idea to give more info about the syethan culture, right? To flesh out their place in the world a little more?

Thanks again, everyone!



#8 lnloft

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Posted 03 April 2018 - 07:22 PM

Deep breath. Slow down.

 

So, yeah, it's awkward to say, "And the syiks evolved over millennia, because that's how things work." What you want to do is drop enough hints that gives the implication of that. Making sure they have a fleshed out culture is a big thing. One, it just makes your story richer in general, but it also gives an impression of longevity. If they have myths and fables, famous warriors, an annual holiday celebrating/remembering a pivotal event... all of these things build up an idea in our heads that they've been there, and we automatically start filling in the blanks.

 

Sometimes, it's not just about WHAT information you share but also HOW you do it. An info dump like the semi-example above about the urgplup above doesn't do a good job, because the reader can't retain all of it, and then even though you've given them the information, they still have questions. Again, it's about weaving things in. So with the urgplup again, Jennifer sees it appear at the rodeo, and she notes that this was a particularly big one, and its horn looks a little chipped and its purple hide has some scars to it, suggesting this one has been in a lot of fights. And then later, Jennifer goes to find Mickey, this urgplup's rider, who mentions that he caught this one as a baby and raised it himself. And from these two encounters, the reader gets some of a physical description, gets an idea that urgplups might fight with each other, and that they live in the wild but people capture them for their own uses. And that's the sort of approach you need to take with the syiks. For instance, rather than stop and describe what syiks in general look like, compare two syiks to each other: "Unlike Jimmy the syik's smooth, silver skin, Tiffany the syik was more mottled gray, allowing her to disappear into the shadows." (For the record, this is a tactic that works just fine for giving descriptors of humans as well.) But something like that gives us an idea of their coloration and variety, and has the benefit of helping us keep Jimmy and Tiffany straight.

 

As a last note, see if your readers can help you out. They might be able to pinpoint specific places they are having trouble.


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#9 NCruz

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Posted 03 April 2018 - 07:44 PM

It really helps to get experienced CPs in the Fantasy genre. There is certainly a way to explain their origins without resorting to textbook terminology or info-dumping.
 
Here's one example that pops in my mind. I can't remember the name of this TV show, but it's based on a fantasy book series. There are elves, humans, and I think dwarves. The explanation for their existence is that there was a war in our time period that resulted in genetic mutation (based on the opening sequence). I can't remember exactly if that was it... But certainly, in one of the episodes I watched, there was a rusting helicopter or military transport in the background. Instant hint that the show takes place in post-modern times.


#10 lnloft

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Posted 03 April 2018 - 07:53 PM

Elfstones of Shanara?


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#11 Springfield

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Posted 03 April 2018 - 08:38 PM

Thank you all for all the advice! I do indeed have a LOT of backstory and details and world-building that only I know and that doesn't need to be included in the book itself; however, I think that, in a way that might be part of the problem? I've been crafting this world for almost 5 years, so everything about it is incredibly familiar to me, and it's hard to figure out which details are the ones that are making it all make sense to me that I'm forgetting to tell the audience.

 

Another thing:

 

All my main characters are syiks, so I am handing my audience a story about syiks, not a story about mundane things and then suddenly, oh here are syiks. Unfortunately, syiks are not nearly as widely recognized as unicorns, obviously. So people kinda still have to ask questions... On top of that, because it's from the syiks' perspective, it's hard to fit in a place to really... explain them? Like, if it was from a human's perspective, just wait til a syik (or, for the sake of this analogy, an urgplup) appears, and just be like "Before Jennifer stood the urgplup, gigantic and feathered, its purple body blocking out the sun as it reared up on it's two back legs... [a little backstory on how urgplups came to be a regular thing at rodeos] [a little backstory on where they're from and their relationship with humans] [probably one more piece of information that I can't think of right now]." but like... My story isn't from that perspective (also syiks are kinda native to where they are in the story so there isn't really a "how they got to that place") so the descriptions are just a little different, because it's basically the syiks describing themselves/each other. Personally, I think I'm putting some good info out there, but clearly I'm doing something that's throwing people off? =(

 

As for their origin, I guess it would be evolution, the same way every other animal came to exist. But, like... isn't that kinda weird to just say in the book somewhere? To just be like "syiks evolved into existence over the past hundred thousand years or so." I feel like if no one explains some special thing that happened to bring a certain species into the world, it's kinda just implied that, like... they've just always been there, no? Like when people have a magic system and don't explain that like... ""the gods came down and sacrificed their divinity to split it up among humans,"" or something, we just go ahead and assume that the magic has just always been there, yes? Also. Sorta related to their origins, I don't know what I'm doing that's making people question if syiks are cyborgs or aliens or something. Like y'all said, this is hard to figure out without the context of actually reading the whole thing, so I think I'll have to just talk more about this with the people who've read it...

 

One last thing, it would probably be a GOOD idea to give more info about the syethan culture, right? To flesh out their place in the world a little more?

Thanks again, everyone!

 

I think  the thing that's throwing people -- potentially, as I'm obviously just guessing here, and as I understand it -- is that you are mixing them with mundane things :humans. There are humans in your world, thus people naturally would look at it as the world they know, except there are the other things. If the world was just your own creations, on some other planet, I don;t think people would tend to wonder about an origin story.






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