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Humans as the neutral norm.

Discussion in 'World Building' started by MrNybble, Nov 7, 2021.

  1. MrNybble

    MrNybble Sage

    After seeing a bunch fictional stories I wonder why humans are a baseline to compare to other fictional races. Some fictional races are inferior/oppressed or superior/dominate. Lots of demons or mythical creatures being lords or slaves to humans. How would one make a story readers can relate to that does not seem like humans are not the monkey in the middle. Seems weird having humans in a struggle between insects and gods.
    OberonLordofSylva likes this.
  2. Chasejxyz

    Chasejxyz Inkling

    I mean.....we're all humans. The only sapient species that we have any sort of written record of interacting with is ourselves (I don't think there's even oral records of interacting with other hominid species). We think our experiences are the "default," just as we tend to assume that most people have the same experiences that we do. To truly know a truly alien mind is straight-up impossible, as the only brain you'll ever have is your own, and imagination can only go so far. You don't know what you don't know.

    Any story that has actual gods in it are going to have them be "superior" to humans, just as they're going to be "superior" to elves, orcs, dwarves, or anything else that isn't a god. The only way around that is to just. Not have gods. Or have them not be godly, which is the same thing.

    There's plenty of stories where humans are just one of many sapient species and they're...not exactly EQUAL to the others but roughly on the same ground. A halfling in a human city is going to run into issues based on their physical differences, but so is a human in a halfling city. In games like MMOs, everyone is roughly the same size, has the same body shape, and can do the same things because programming is hard. Same thing with DnD, though you're totally free to do whatever you want, though there's still the assumption that the player characters are bipedal, have hands with opposable thumbs etc. If you want to see a really good example of a multi-species setting where there are huge physical differences between individuals and they're all mostly equal, then check out Runaway to the Stars. The specific page I linked is for a centaur character that was raised by humans in a human orphanage, so clothes were an issue, she wears glasses to be able to read human books, stuff like that. A recent post is about how she would finger spell ASL with only 4 fingers on a symmetrical hand. So you CAN have settings that aren't human centric...it just takes a ton of world building and consideration and speculation about a lot of things, and not everyone wants to (or is able to) do that.
    OberonLordofSylva likes this.
  3. Prince of Spires

    Prince of Spires Archmage

    As ChasejxyzChasejxyz mentions humans are the baseline simply because we're human. A reader will always compare race X to humans simply because that's how humans work, even if it's not the intention of the writer.

    As for why other races are X or Y, well, you listed pretty much all possibilities there are, so that shouldn't really be a surprise. A race will always be stronger/weaker or better / worse at something compared to humans. If a race is equal to humans in everything they do then you simply have humans with a silly name.

    The other side is that many of the humanoid species in fantasy represent a single human trait. Elves represent beauty and knowledge and an idealised past, dwarves are the industrious craftsmen, and hobbits represent the idealistic, almost communist (but then in a way which works) humans who don't show greed and work in harmony with nature. Those races are used to highlight and contrast these features. And as such, it's natural that humans are sort of stuck in the middle.
    OberonLordofSylva likes this.
  4. Devor

    Devor Fiery Keeper of the Hat Moderator

    I have a fantasy multiverse project on the backburner, and I tried to explain this, something about humans being the easiest or baseline sentient race for the gods to create.
    OberonLordofSylva likes this.
  5. LAG

    LAG Troubadour

    Tolkienism and lack of diversity, as well as the aforementioned anthropocentrism.
    Nuances are key, as can be seen on Earth: Thousands of human cultures, many more subcultures, and a staggering variety of morals, mores and practices. Imo one species can never be fully neutral, and humanity shows this in its history. Slavery, war, the clashing of technologically advanced or religiously inspired civs with those they see as their lessers or 'barbarians' has been with us from the dawn of time.

    This is just my opinion, but if an author's humans are neutral, bland, culturally monotonous, chances are any race the author creates or re-uses will have the same uninspired lack of depth.
    OberonLordofSylva likes this.
  6. Demesnedenoir

    Demesnedenoir Istar

    Simple, you make them the monkey on the bottom or on the top, heh heh. It's an interesting question that needs further defining to attack full on.

    OberonLordofSylva likes this.
  7. Gurkhal

    Gurkhal Auror

    As mentioned above humans are the only species which we know to exist with a sentinence. It makes perfects sense for me to start with RL existing things as a base and then build from there to create more fantastic inclusions into a setting.
    OberonLordofSylva and skip.knox like this.
  8. Mad Swede

    Mad Swede Inkling

    It's almost inevitable that this should happen. Apart from anything else, we mostly share a set of values and behvaiours, which makes it difficult to create something else in a way which our readers will accept. Even in those SF works where there are other species with other values, they're almost always set or related in some way to our values and beliefs because there are few other ways of conveying this to our readers.
    OberonLordofSylva likes this.
  9. skip.knox

    skip.knox toujours gai, archie Moderator

    >How would one make a story readers can relate to that does not seem like humans are not the monkey in the middle.
    Care to share any ideas, MrNybbleMrNybble? What would *you* look for in such a story?

    Honestly, I've not noticed. What I look for in stories is characters I care about. If I care about them, then in a sense they are at the top of the (story) hierarchy, without regard to biology. I don't care at all where they might fit in some abstract, out-of-story hierarchy.
    OberonLordofSylva likes this.
  10. OberonLordofSylva

    OberonLordofSylva Troubadour

    What I do to to differentiate my races from Humans is to deliberately make them more monstrous. Dipping into the old mythology where our beloved stock races and characters come from for inspiration is always the first step for me, and might be helpful for you. Humans are scared of anything that isn't like them, so why would they ever understand and appreciate anything that isn't them? Don't go full horror, but I think everyone on this thread is sick and tired of "human except not" type worldbuilding. Even Tolkien did his part to separate his races from each other. He did that by making the Elves alien and ethereal, cause that was their role in the world. Every other race, including humans, was then compared to his Elves and found lacking in some way. Personally, I think it's more interesting to see things from the perspective of a sympathetic but still inhuman monster trying desperately to connect with the world around them, a world that was built not for them but for humans.
  11. MrNybble

    MrNybble Sage

    It's hard to find a fictional story that has non-human or even non-humanoid characters as the main protagonist. Given a writer must make characters sympatric for the reader and the easiest way is to use human traits imprinted on monstrous forms. Be it that most readers will rather associate with humans in any story over a fictional one making it harder to sympathize with non-human races.

    Just saying it's a challenge for any writer to expand outside the comfort zone most readers are accustom to. Not many or any fictional stories completely lake any human characters. Even stories without humans still have human traits infused into the characters to make them relatable. Granted I have been guilty of that do to lack of knowledge or time to make a new race from scratch that's completely different from humans.

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