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Avoiding cliched elves and genre crossovers in a Fantasy Project.

Discussion in 'World Building' started by Writer 1 Gregory, Aug 8, 2016.

  1. Writer 1 Gregory

    Writer 1 Gregory Dreamer

    Hi all,

    I mentioned in my introduction that I've been writing for a while now and would like to do a fantasy story at some point. Now, I have started on a story about an Elf Princess, unfortunately I haven't fleshed out the story a whole lot in terms of mapping and such and I'm kind of stuck as a result.

    This is my first straight up fantasy project and while I'm trying to avoid genre crossovers with science fiction or the western genre (which I'm also quite fond of) I'm also trying to avoid the Lord of the Rings types of elves. This is difficult since I'm struggling to map out a story properly.

    Any thoughts?
  2. WooHooMan

    WooHooMan Auror

    Going out of your way to avoid cliches isn't a great method of plotting. And genre crossing can be fun and interesting.
    So, I think you're totally backwards.

    Really, you could argue that the Elf cliche (thin, pale, blonde, pointy-eared, magical nature-lovers) is really not much at all like how Elves are portrayed Tolkien's books. So, trying to avoid that "cliche" seems like a waste of time. In fact, it'd be more original if you did Elves closer to how they were in Tolkien's books.
    TheCrystallineEntity likes this.
  3. Demesnedenoir

    Demesnedenoir Istar

    Make elves how you want them, don't worry about cliche.
  4. valiant12

    valiant12 Sage

    You shouldn't avoid genre crossovers. Western fantasy is an interesting idea. Science fantasy is a very fun genre.
    If you want to write a science fantasy-western with a generic elves you should - sound like a fun story .
  5. Ban

    Ban Sir Laserface Article Team

    I second the previous posts. Don't go out of your way to make your elves not cliché, just let your creations be what feels right for the world/story.

    I will offer some advice however, if you really wish to make your elves different. First of all write down all the clichés yo know about elves. Such as: Tall, skinny, long lived, pointy ears, long hair, magically inclined, live in the forest, live on the northpole (santa's elves need love too), Elven monarchy (looking at you shakespearre).
    Once you've done that, write down the 5 or 10 things you personally find most iconic about elves. Keep that small number of iconic things, to make sure people will still recognize your elves as elves and change the other elven aspects.

    For example you can have long-lived, wise elves with pointy ears. But who also have curly black hair, dark skin, no talent for magic and live in a naval republic somewhere on a tropical archipelago.
    Writer 1 Gregory likes this.
  6. Peat

    Peat Sage

    Why are you trying to avoid genre-crossovers/LotR Elves?

    Also, do you really mean LotR Elves, or do you mean D&D Elves?
  7. Chessie

    Chessie Guest

    Yes! Readers have certain expectations of what elves should look/be like as well. Make them your own, of course, but don't worry if they're tall, blonde either.

    I'm working on an elven romance series at the moment and not really caring about how cliche my elves are. They live in mountainous terrain and have olive skin. Everything else is pretty standard. What matters is the story, not how cool "you" did elves.
    Writer 1 Gregory likes this.
  8. Please don't worry about being uncliche. Supposed cliches and cliches for a reason: a lot of people like them.

    Genre crossovers are awesome. I love them. Genres are mere limitations anyway...

    Also, it annoys me when people try so hard to be "original" with a race or creature (mermaids, werewolves) and end up changing them so much they aren't mermaids or werewolves anymore; they might as well be something else.

    Though, I totally support the idea of dark-skinned seafaring elves. Those sound really cool.

    In short, don't worry.
  9. Queshire

    Queshire Auror

    Well, everyone else has mentioned the core stuff, but on a more practical matter, one thing I favor is to pick something else to mix together with the classic races to give them a twist. For example, I've had Elves that use biotechnology and were based around magical!genetic engineering. For a more mythic feeling to elves, I think mixing elves with the idea of Taoist Immortals would have interesting potential.
    Writer 1 Gregory likes this.
  10. FifthView

    FifthView Vala

    Make your elf race really a race of trees. At various times, like mating season or war or.....whatever, the large trees split their bark and from within step forth in another form, which just happens to be similar what we tend to think of as elves. They can exist in that form for some time, but not more than about a week or two, without returning; too long, and they deteriorate and die.

    Hah, I don't know. There are lots of things you could do.
  11. WooHooMan

    WooHooMan Auror

    I made some Elves who were albinos who could walk through walls and levitate. They lived in the mountains (driven up there by the Dwarves) and worship a giant snake.
    That was my attempt at making Elves that were true to Norse mythology.

    So, you got the D&D elves, the book Tolkien elves, the movie Tolkien elves, Norse elves, Germanic elves and old English fairy tale Keebler-Christmas elves.

    So, which one's the cliche?
  12. Penpilot

    Penpilot Staff Article Team

    For me, I put the story first. If the story requires X to be what one could consider the cliche variety, so be it. I find that the more I focus on telling a compelling story, the less cliche elements turn out to be.

    The only crime in using cliche elements is to write them poorly.
  13. Malik

    Malik Auror

    The cliche elf is a human in pointy ears. Bow optional.

    I built a conlang for my elves. I later scrapped it, but designing their language helped me figure out how they think. Even the accent I constructed after scrapping the conlang helps me remember how they see the world. There are ideas that they don't have words for, and they have words for concepts that we don't have words for.

    You have to look at your races and think to yourself, Why are they different? I know how I see this; how would an elf see this? How would a dwarf see it? Why? And you have to do that with every scene where you use them. You're going to have to build some sociocultural backstory. If your elves are just humans who can talk to trees, then just have humans who can talk to trees.
    Writer 1 Gregory likes this.
  14. Writer 1 Gregory

    Writer 1 Gregory Dreamer

    That makes so much sense that it's frightening. :D
    Malik likes this.
  15. Gurkhal

    Gurkhal Auror

    Given Tolkien's and D&D's influence over later works and the fantasy genre I'd say that these two provides the cliche elves. Movie Tolkien elves just looks like a product of these two.
  16. Malik

    Malik Auror

  17. Chessie

    Chessie Guest

    Absolutely. There should be something that distinguishes them from humans in the story. Right now, I'm having a hard time figuring out why elves and humans would interbreed in my world. Figuring out the little things make a difference in the long run.
  18. SeverinR

    SeverinR Vala

    The darker skinned sea going people sounds interesting. Skin color depends on where the person originally started, so a darker skin color would be from an area that had a lot of sunshine. Tropical island elves? Why not.

    I have on a back burner, Nomadic elves that would live much like the Native Americans that lived off the land (as opposed to those that farmed). They couldn't survive long in an established civilization though. They would conflict with the people that settled the land. So they would either kill the settlers or the settlers would kill the nomads.

    Establish your elves before you write about them, so the "rules and mannerisms will be set, then work your elf characters into the established "rules and traditions."
    Also, remember the less contact a race has with others the more unique the people, the more interaction with other societies the more likely they are to mix the cultures.
    So a city on the ocean with lots of foreigners coming to the city, would have mixed cultures with groups of people accepting different cultures and embracing them in some instances that the original culture would never consider.
    The small backwards farming community would have more strict adherence to old culture.

    Make your world yours, construct it with your unique people and cultures, mix them when appropriate. Don't copy much from other peoples worlds and it will not be cliché. Humans have many different cultures and societies, they aren't cliché. But when people write to much like someone else they do become cliché. It's not the race, it's how you write them.
    Ban likes this.
  19. skip.knox

    skip.knox toujours gai, archie Moderator

    > a darker skin color would be from an area that had a lot of sunshine.

    True for human skin. Elf skin might react differently.
    Ban and Russ like this.
  20. Reaver

    Reaver Kwisatz Haderach Moderator

    This is my favorite kind of Elf:

    Last edited by a moderator: Oct 10, 2017
    Malik likes this.

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