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Fantasy race names

Discussion in 'Writing Discussions' started by CavalierElrik, Nov 29, 2016.

  1. CavalierElrik

    CavalierElrik Acolyte

    I have wrestled with this internally for far too long. Conflicting views, suggestions, and internal strife (aided by any agent/publishign rejections) make me constantly question this:
    Should I avoid using the terms Elf, Orc, Dwarf, or Goblin in an epic fantasy fiction piece?
    I have no problem doing research or drumming up the imaginative creativity to come up with something else for each, but I can't help but wonder if the standard tropes are limiting the appeal of a potentially good storyline.
    Then again, is calling them something different just a feigned attempt at individuality when in essence, they are the same?
    The Elves are supposed to be standard epic fantasy Elves, the Orcs are similar to pre-concieved, "Tolkien-esque" Orcs (more or less), so does changing their names make any difference then at all?

    Thanks everyone for any thoughts and opinions.
  2. Ireth

    Ireth Myth Weaver

    If you're not changing them from the standard Tolkien-esque depiction, I wouldn't bother changing the names. "Calling a rabbit a smeerp" and all that.
  3. Heliotrope

    Heliotrope Staff Article Team

    No, changing the name does not make any difference.

    I'm going to go out on a limb here and explore why publishers/agents may be hesitant to represent a book containing these tropes.

    If we look at the current market, a quick google search on "top selling fantasy fiction 2016" showed a few telling things:
    1) Urban fantasy is in.
    2) Fantasy romance is in.
    3) Vampires/werewolves are still in.
    4) Gods and their relationship with mortals is HUGE right now.
    5) Mythology is in.
    6) Historical fantasy is in.
    7) Elves, orcs, dwarves etc are out. Done. No one is publishing anything that contains these tropes.

    Now there is the chicken or egg question, is it that publishers aren't publishing these books? OR is it that readers aren't buying them?

    The last twenty years was saturated with that sort of "Tolkein-esque" fantasy, and I think we are seeing a shift. I think the younger market is looking for "Not their dad's fantasy." They want something different. Something newer, fresher, more edgy then what the the previous generation read. Now, that's just my prediction based on my market research.

    If you want to write a novel containing these tropes and self pub it, go for it.

    However, a quick look at the top selling fantasy of 2016 will tell you that publishers are looking for something different.
  4. Caged Maiden

    Caged Maiden Staff Article Team

    Yeah, I don't want to sound discouraging, but when I read the original question, it sounded like you were perhaps attributing rejections to this ongoing question. To that, I say that agents, editors, and publishers are clever folks. They're looking for anything they can market and sell and make money on. They would not allow something as trivial as what a race is called stand in their way for a moment. They're looking for concepts, depth, relatable characters who are well-rendered, and surprising elements of story that whet their appetite for more.

    Helio is right about looking for market analytics to help answer some of your questions, but it can be discouraging to hear, "Well...I don't know anyone who's looking for Magic and Dragons right now, but if you have any zombie urban romance, they'll take anything you got!" YUK!!! Really? (yes, someone told me that once)

    But that's sort of how it is if you're submitting. Make sure you read up on every agent you query. Learn what they like, what they expect to see in a submission. I don't know how many rejections you racked up, but sometimes you just have to stick with it for the long haul if you believe in your story. Or you could always stow this novel away for a bit and write some more. Maybe join a group that will help you analyze the manuscript for weaknesses or things that might make it more appealing to an agent. Or perhaps start following some agents on twitter and participating in their online pitch sessions or PitMad.

    Best wishes
  5. Demesnedenoir

    Demesnedenoir Istar

    I'm not so sure that's a great way to judge much of anything. Best seller lists are like looking at blockbuster movies to see what to write. Fantasy is way too broad of a category to judge by top seller lists. And in this case, top sellers in fantasy are probably YA heavy. What you should be looking at if following trends is in the trades, what is selling to pubs, not necessarily what is hot on the bookshelves. Same goes for spec scripts.

    However, this is only if you are a trend chaser. In many ways, it's similar to chasing trends in movies... just try to sell a spec script that fits into the blockbuster category and see what happens.

    That said, elves, dwarves, orcs, goblins do carry baggage, if you handle them wrong, I don't doubt they could be a nail in the coffin. However, if you change their names and still handle them wrong, the nail will still be driven. And, if an agent deals in epic fantasy, they would be foolish to turn down something JUST because it has elves. Agents are flawed, publishers are flawed, but they don't stay in business by being total fools. Traditional epic fantasy has a market, and publishing as an industry wants to serve every viable market. When the next GRRM book comes out, what will sales be like? Will the publishing of Winds of Winter mean to chase GRRM style books? Not necessarily.

    There is a better way to think of it: whatever you submitted just isn't for them. That happens a disproportionate amount of the time according to agents. Agents can't tell what is going to be a best seller (without a big author name, nobody can) but they do have an idea what they can sell, what their connections are looking for, etc. Submitting to the wrong agent or publisher (which is inevitable, it's impossible to know exactly what every agent is looking for) means a rejection, unless it blows their socks off.

    The less happy way to think of it is, your work just might be lacking something. Whether it is the writing, the story, the lack of X, the excess of Y...

    Heliotrope likes this.
  6. Heliotrope

    Heliotrope Staff Article Team

    I agree and think you make some excellent points. I think what I was getting at was not so much about "following trends" but about understanding what is current. Ford couldn't come out with a line of model-t's and expect them to sell again to any dealer, except perhaps as a novelty.

    The tolkeinesque style of fantasy, while nostalgic to many, is not selling like it used to. Readers are moving on. Tropes are moving on, characters are moving on.

    I see this even in middle grades fiction. In my day good and bad was very cut and dry. Kids liked the black and white obviousness of a 'villain' and a 'good guy'. This is not the case anymore. Kids are wiser than my generation. They are looking for a different type of story.

    That is all I'm saying. I'm not suggesting following the 'trends' per se, but I think it is important to stay up to date on where fantasy is going.
    Demesnedenoir likes this.
  7. Chessie

    Chessie Guest

    Many of these books are doing well on Amazon in the Epic Fantasy/Sword & Sorcery categories with high rankings and many reviews. Some are pretty sticky, too. We can't always say, with great assurance, that any one type of subgenre in fantasy is in and the other is out. Readers still love these books and probably always will.
    Demesnedenoir likes this.
  8. Jackarandajam

    Jackarandajam Troubadour

    Write what you love, and try to be as original as possible. If the market isn't ripe for publishing, either self-publish, or shelf it for better weather and keep writing. Markets circulate; The Kingkiller franchise is scheduled for a movie, a T.V. show, and a video game, which may increase interest in high fantasy within the next couple years.

    It's fun to work around tropes like the "huge evil army," or "the epic journey to save world," and still write a high fantasy epic, which is the genre I love. Like thousands of other writers, successful and otherwise, my love of fantasy has deep roots in Tolkien, but it's healthy to tell your story in your own way, purposefully not falling back on the easy road of plot elements supplied by your original, childhood inspirations.
    It's NOT easy for me, and my work still needs a lot of tweaking before it's "Tolkien-esque" free, But it's good creative exercise, and I enjoy the challenge.
    Consider searching different folklores for an original alternative, something different enough to steer away from age old tropes, and give the race it's own identity.

    This IS NOT experience talking, but it seems like chasing the market for what to write, instead of searching the market for where to publish, would be incredibly frustrating.

    I know for me, by the time I finished writing it, the market would surely have shifted to something newer, fresher, and I would be shelfing it all the same.
  9. Russ

    Russ Istar

    If you are writing about things that are obviously traditional elves, dwarves orcs or whatever, simply call them that. Otherwise you risk insulting your reader.

    I doubt that the reason your book is getting rejected is because you are using those traditional words to describe the creatures in your book.

    On the broader question on traditional publishing acquisition trends I have a different perspective.

    My belief is that right now, agents and editors are looking for all sorts of different things in fantasy. They are looking for really traditional stuff, they are looking for political stuff, they are looking for alternative lifestyle stuff, they are looking for stuff set in non-european based settings. The market is very diverse right now. Have a look at say Nalo Hopkinson (still publishing) or China Mieville to see just how far away from the traditional market stuff is getting published by the big five.

    I have come to the conclusion that now might be the best time in traditional publishing for the breadth of different material traditional publishers (large and small) in living memory for the diversity of spec pic that is being bought.

    My other advise is never, ever, ever chase the market. I don't know anyone who either does it successfully or know anyone in the publishing industry who recommends it. Write the book the appeals to you, write the book you love and then try to sell it. If it doesn't sell now, and you don't chose to self pub it, put it in a drawer and write the next book and hopefully the market will come back to you.
    Demesnedenoir likes this.

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