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Are the undead overused?

Discussion in 'World Building' started by LOCOFOOL, Aug 3, 2012.

  1. LOCOFOOL

    LOCOFOOL Minstrel

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    So I’m doing research for my story and I come across an article that has a list of the 10 most “overused things in fantasy writing”. I figure I might as well take a look to see if any of my ideas are considered overused. I figured it would be the usual use of elves, orcs, dwarves “dark lords” all that. I was surprised to find that the undead were on that list.

    In my story I wanted to give the villains an army they could control and use to instill fear into people, something with little to no intelligence or free will already. Undead was the PERFECT choice!

    I want my story to be something that’s creative and fresh. Hearing that it may be considered overused and uncreative made me question using them.

    Personally I don’t think undead are overused. Do you think they’re overused? If so, is it in a bad way?
     
  2. ThinkerX

    ThinkerX Myth Weaver

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    I have been seeing a *lot* of (urban) zombie books in the stores lately.

    Not to mention the continuing surge in (urban) vampire books.
     
  3. shangrila

    shangrila Inkling

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    It depends on your definition of undead. Vampires are, technically, part of this group, so if they were included then it's certainly overused at the moment. Zombies as well, in a way, but then I think they've been kind of cliched ever since the first "of the Dead" movie.

    If you're worried about it, automatons could be a good replacement. Whether they're something like stone golems, homunculi or some kind of robot, they would all be intimidating to fight against.
     
  4. Feo Takahari

    Feo Takahari Auror

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    The basic concept of something that's dead but refuses to stay down is too variable to be overused. Granted, vampires are a little overdone at the moment, but there are plenty of less well-known undead like rusalki. (Or you could create your own variety.)
     
    Last edited: Aug 3, 2012
  5. LOCOFOOL

    LOCOFOOL Minstrel

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    I did mean skeletons and zombies in more of a swords and shields fantasy era. ThinkerX, you’re right, urban zombies are pretty much everywhere now.

    Shangrilla, those are great alternatives, I’ve been concerning using something else myself and came up with a few other replacements for something no free will, easily controlled, and intimidating.
     
  6. LOCOFOOL

    LOCOFOOL Minstrel

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    I thought this too. Creating my own undead would be a fun challenge for sure!
     
  7. shangrila

    shangrila Inkling

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    Glad I could help. Also, if you do decide you want to do zombies and skeletons, maybe you could have them as Frankenstien type monster. Bits of flesh and skeletons mushed together to create something vaguely human looking or, hell, something worse.
     
  8. JCFarnham

    JCFarnham Auror

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    The undead have even been raising themselves in Science fiction stories I've read this year. Maybe that says something.

    Never the less, it is wrong to say you shouldn't or can't use an undead army. You probably should in fact. You need to do something definitive and unique with them however. If they exist simply because they're mindless? Well I can think of plenty other mindless things you could use (Shangrila had it right). The old advice is: If you can switch out an element of your book for something else and it makes no difference to the plot whatsoever, then you need to have a rethink.

    I take that this way: If you want an undead army you need to make it the only army that could possibly make sense in context. Otherwise, why aren't they homunculi, or golem, or whatever?

    Maybe they're cliche, maybe they're not quite, but the simple fact is, if you ground them well, then no one is going to care much. There's a reason zombie media is so damn popular :)
     
  9. The problem with undead as i see is not the undead per-say, but the often bizarre and contradictory rules that govern them - that and every single necromancer in every bit of fantasy might as be the same character.

    Actually, yes... i would say that the undead are overused. It seems that people take a gander at DnD and immediately decide that all necromancers are tall men with shaven heads wearing dark robes (with a classy inline of purple) with a wight in a spiked helm wielding a comically glowing sword standing behind him. The story is nearly always precisely the same - the evil, evil necromancer unleashes a vast horde of the undead - he starts to win the war, then a guy with a robe finds an equally evil book in some castle and defeats the undead horde by speaking the obvious words of unbinding - often with the aid of a immensely cute and strong-of-will teenage, street wise and wise-cracking female thief with a bust the size of Lake Victoria.

    Or, a paladin swears to defeat the evil host and instead becomes the general of it after foolishly unleashing a weapon to defeat them (Arthas being the perhaps the best... and actually the only really good, example of this).

    The undead are nearly always shown to the same - i.e. mindless. Of course, tropes have appeared to make the undead intelligent, often in the case of Liches. But i'm fairly certain every single type of undead has been done to death (pun intended) - and now I visibly curse whenever I find them in novels.

    But... I do play vampire counts in warhammer - so I suppose I can't complain too much.
     
  10. Steerpike

    Steerpike Felis amatus Moderator

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    I wouldn't concern myself too much with thoughts of what has been overused or underused. Just write a great story. If you do that, you can have as many undead as you want in it. If your story is no good, no one is going to read it and say "on a positive note: no undead!"
     
  11. LOCOFOOL

    LOCOFOOL Minstrel

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    Thank you all very much; I can honestly say this help more than I thought! This definitely got the gears grinding in my head to work on this. I'm going to figure out something that will make a difference to the plot like JCFarnham said.

    If I did use undead there are no necromancers or paladins or even busty females. That's just not my style!

    Those are true words of wisdom Steerpike. I can tell everyone here knows what their talking about.
     
  12. T.Allen.Smith

    T.Allen.Smith Staff Moderator

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    I'm fully behind Steerpike & JC on this.

    I just doesn't matter if people think something is overused. It only matters if you have a good story, good characters, and what you choose to do with the elements of a story.

    If someone honestly believes that undead, elves, dwarves, etc. are cliche then they're probably writing & reading in the wrong genre. Yes, you can write fantasy without them but someone that spits out the term "trope" or "cliche" concerning every well accepted monster or race clearly does not understand that the story is what counts.

    Is magic trope? Most fantasy stories I've read have some magical elements. Magic is a cornerstone of the genre but it's twisted and told in many different ways by many different authors. Whatever you're writing, make it your own.

    If Steerpike, JC, and I all wrote a story about zombie orc wizards, I can guarantee you that there would be glaring differences on how they were portrayed.

    Sorry about giving the zombie wizard idea away Steerpike.... Lol.
     
    Last edited: Aug 4, 2012
  13. danr62

    danr62 Sage

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    Forget about being original. Just tell the story that you want to tell, one that you would want to read as well. There is nothing that hasn't been done before, in some form or other.
     
  14. Zero Angel

    Zero Angel Auror

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    I love undead and would hate to see them not used because of some lame article.

    I also love creating new undead! It's a blast. I have over 100 different types of undead for my world (so far)--most of them unnamed unfortunately.
     
  15. LOCOFOOL

    LOCOFOOL Minstrel

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    Thanks again for all the input!
    Over 100? That's impressive Zero Angel.
     
  16. Zero Angel

    Zero Angel Auror

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    I use mathematics to help. Here's my creative process in respect to creating undead.

    What makes a race unique? How can it be perverted? Is there anything that the race is very good at/very bad at/known for? What magicks power the race? How can those magicks be perverted? What is the inverse of those magicks? Do they have holy rituals that can be made unholy? Special traditions or customs? Special subraces that can be perverted in their own way? Loss of body part (head, heart, finger, foot, genitalia, intestines, organs, etc)? Special ways to die? Sins? Special sins with respect to that race or religion? Racial religions? Dark gods? Gods of death? Cults? A good trait taken too far? Betrayal? Betrayal with respect to their race/religion/special bonds?

    The hard part is naming them.
     
  17. LOCOFOOL

    LOCOFOOL Minstrel

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    That's a pretty great system!

    I feel you with the naming struggle; I have it with both naming races and characters. For races I usually take their most unique trait and look it up in a different language. Works pretty well for me so far. I just need to work on character names!
     
    Last edited: Aug 5, 2012
  18. psychotick

    psychotick Auror

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    Hi,

    I agree with the others, undead may be cliche, but it's how you write them that counts. In my current WIP I haven't even called them undead. I just called them abomnations, souless shells of people, their souls consumed by a great demon, and they wander the world eternally hungry (and shambling).

    But if you want to see undead from a truly weird perspective, there was a very poorly done, less than B grade movie called Aagh Zombie!, which I saw earlier this year, which shows the undead perspective on the living, thinking they've all gone mad with a virus and are trying to kill them. Bad but truly weird.

    Cheers, Greg.
     
  19. Godzilax99

    Godzilax99 Scribe

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    A good alternative to undeads would be mind controlled humans. Almost the same, but humans who lose their ability to reason, or even understand pain could be a nice army. Totally mindless and fully controlled.

    I personally like undead. I mean Legions of Undead...
     
  20. Ireth

    Ireth Myth Weaver

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    That sounds pretty much like the first idea of zombies, originating in Haitian voodoo. So, not so much an "alternative" as "going back to the classics." XD
     
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