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Supernatural Concessions

Discussion in 'World Building' started by Coldboots, Jan 31, 2017.

  1. Coldboots

    Coldboots Scribe

    A staple of fantasy literature are things that deviate from what we see in the ordinary world, whether it be in contemporary world or in the retrospective view of things in the historical world.

    Something I've struggled with, is allowing myself to include more and more supernatural elements. Elements that include effective magic beyond the ritual, supernatural conditions similar to lycanthropy and vampirism, and races like orcs, elves, or whatever you want to invent.

    I just am partial to humans as a default lately, and relate more to them for reasons that ought to be obvious. It's a weird thing to create parallels from my own perceptions of baseline 'normality'.

    So when do you think it's necessary to bring in 'others' to the story, whether it be magic, otherworldly beings, or anything else you can imagine? Is there a point to their being there? Are they simply there because they are?

    As an aside, the reason I got into speculative settings at all was because my knowledge of history and the real world was woefully inadequate to write with any authority on specific places. I like creating spaces in my mind, but I like linking it with ethos, logos, and pathos in the real world that the reader can look at and take something away from, even if it's something that wasn't intended.
  2. Michael K. Eidson

    Michael K. Eidson Archmage

    I like using other races to make comparisons and contrasts to the human race. Think about the Vulcans of Star Trek, how they are useful in contrasting to the emotional nature of humans. Pick any human trait, and give the opposite or some modified version of the trait to an invented race. Show them in action, allied with humans or opposed to humans. How they behave gives an idea of how much of an advantage or disadvantage that trait is for humans.
    AngelaRCox and Coldboots like this.
  3. skip.knox

    skip.knox toujours gai, archie Moderator

    Mine is alternate history. The premise is that all the creatures and fantastic stories of the Middle Ages reflect real events and real creatures. So my world has dwarves, elves and the rest sort of by default. They're there because they are part of that world.

    Once the premise is granted, the real work begins. It's not that dwarves exist, it's why do dwarves exist in this place but not that one. It's how do dwarves live, what are their politics, social structure, do they marry, what do they do on Saturday nights? And how are those things dwarf things and not elf things or human things?

    There are points of departure for this. Does this particular people have kings, for example. Do they live in cities? Are they tribal? Polytheists or monotheists? Saying yes for dwarves and no for elves helps create those differences.

    Now, if you're writing a *this* world story, things get trickier, but it's been done many times. From Beagle's Folk of the Air to Gaiman's Neverwhere, authors have found ways to mingle the fantastic with the mundane.

    As for when to bring them in, that's going to depend on the specific story you have to tell. I see no way to make a generalization on that.
    Coldboots likes this.
  4. If you don't like to write about them, there's no real reason to include them. In fact, a fantasy novel populated entirely by humans could be refreshing.

    My stories include things like werejaguars and people with wings for no other reason than that I like them, Dragons are awesome, so I write about them. I like being able to deviate from reality and explore what-ifs and imagine a world different from reality. That's part of why I write fantasy. I love writing about these things. You, on the other hand, needn't feel obligated to write something you don't want to. You can make up a variety of mundane human cultures and a world all your own and write a story about it.

    And yes, the real world can be daunting to write about; that's another reason I write fantasy. My hometown is so boring no one would want to read a story set in it, but I don't know anywhere else irl, so I make up places. When I get into alt history and historical fiction, though, that'll have to change...
    AngelaRCox and Coldboots like this.
  5. FifthView

    FifthView Istar

    A little over a year ago, I started trying to let my whimsy run a little more wildly than I'd been in the habit of doing. I realized that on many levels my fantasy worlds were basically too physics-driven, real history-driven, and that I was essentially merely trying to reinvent the wheel in creating worlds that were "realistic." I even wanted magic systems that could be understood as being derived from science; for instance, rampant nanotechnology causing "miraculous" abilities. Even if the vaguely scientific principles behind all this weren't explained, they were still there in the back of my head.

    Then I thought, screw this.

    I went through a short stage in which fairies were going to play a significant roll in a story. That idea didn't go far. But I did end up on my current WIP, in which simple use of magic is extremely common in the day-to-day lives of most people. Charms, enchantments, mysticism. And some of the primary characters have some very powerful, ridiculously powerful magical abilities. One main character has a very creepy voodoo-type of magic, with all kinds of creepy crawlies figuring into his use of magic.

    What's the point of all this? I don't know. I do think it's extremely freeing, however. Trying to take a preindustrial Earth type of society and make an interesting story and society without relying on fancy....well, it's like reinventing the wheel. OF course it can be done, but the process is a little boring in comparison.
    Coldboots likes this.
  6. To each their own.

    I'm trying to step a little outside the realm of "realism" myself. Trying to be a little more willing to rely on the fantastical. Why can't my MC's unrealistic throwing knives be magicked? There's really no reason why they can't within my world.
  7. That's brilliant! Lots of my characters have wings, or braids, or wear cloaks, or wear nothing, or go barefoot, simply because I like those sorts of things. At least three things are constant in my books: crystals, cats, and true love. :p
    DragonOfTheAerie likes this.
  8. ThinkerX

    ThinkerX Myth Weaver

    With me the rational is two-fold:

    1 - My worlds were terraformed by 'ancient aliens' not even remotely human in appearance or outlook, who set out to 'modify' other races they collected from life-bearing worlds as servants, 'zoo specimens,' or whatnot. As part of their tech was based on PSI, they genetically imbued their favored subjects - human and otherwise - with PSI ability. When the 'ancient aliens' civilization collapsed/vanished, the descendants of these PSI types became the first wizards.

    2 - Lovecraft. Truly bizarre creatures from strange dimensions and places. Also more or less what happened to the 'ancient aliens.'
  9. Peat

    Peat Sage

    I feel a bit like I'm threadcrapping but this...

    is the heart and soul of it. If something doesn't interest you, don't write it. If you're having to search for reasons to include particularly fantastic elements, which appears to be the case, you're probably better of just not doing so.

    If I'm wrong and you're interested in them as elements but are unsure how to make them fit the sort of story you want to tell... there's a Pratchett interview somewhere where he talks about his approach being to take these weird supernatural things and ask "What if they were real". There's a bunch of possible answers but once you start thinking about the reality of what being a werewolf would be like, you should be able to see some reflections of the things humans think are important.

    I'd add as a tangent that I'm somewhat of the opposite mind to the second sentence I quoted. Human-only or human-centric fantasy is very common and fantasy that deals well with the non-human is pretty rare.
  10. Miskatonic

    Miskatonic Auror

    I like using more of the classical mythological creatures, especially those that are lesser known. I can always change things up a bit, like I do with vampires.
  11. Christopher Michael

    Christopher Michael Troubadour

    The answer to the question is both simple and exceedingly difficult. When is it necessary? When it fits the story you are attempting to tell.
    Is there a point? Yes. Both as set dressing (this is a fantastical world- oh, hey, there's a group of trolls in the background) and as important elements. I especially like utilizing some of the creatures to explore aspects of What It Means To Be Human, in ways you can't do with purely human characters.
    Are they simply there to be there? Yes. And no. And yes again. If you are populating a fantasy world, especially Epic and High Fantasy, you need a ton of creatures. You need background "NPC" races who are just there to show the world. You need unimportant characters you can interact with of the various races. And, sometimes, you need to have characters of the various races that are of vital importance.

    But I think it's important to craft the races with an eye to the story you are telling. Don't avoid the "tropes" of elves or vampires or werewolves, but give them your own twist. (No. For the love of Tolkien, do NOT make your vampires brooding high schoolers who sparkle in the sun!!!!)
    Coldboots likes this.
  12. In my current story, the whole world is populated by tribes of various Werebeasts who have their own cultures, mythos, and so forth. They act a lot more animal-like than most Werebeasts I've read of, too.
  13. ^The sequel to Red Nights will be something like that...

    Instead of just werewolves, I have the werekin kind which turns into various large predators while transformed. I have one character who becomes a lioness, two werejaguar sisters, a werebear (polar bear) and the MC's friend becomes a dog. Not a wolf, but a goofy, slobbery, badly behaved dog. :D Probably a pitbull since I love them (yes I am one of those crazy pitbull loving people)
  14. ^Most of mine are cats or birds, or cats with wings! :D
  15. elemtilas

    elemtilas Inkling

    :) Winged people are awesome! In my own world and stories, they're definitely my favored people.

    Three constants? Mgmg, let's see. Love, yes. A little of the whimsical. And, of course, winged folk!

    For what it worths, I don't really consider things like elves (of whatever sort) or werebeasts or even necessarily magic to be "supernatural". If they're part of the fabric of the observable world, then, well, that's what's real in that world. If it's a magical device that turns the camshafts over in the city's pumphouse that allows water to be brought to the Crownless King Inn's toilet facilities, well, I just don't see magic as being particularly supernatural. It's just background thaumology and thus not really any different from the super-technology of SF. Supernatural elements are those things that are well and truly "above" what is considered natural and ordinary in a world.

    As for when to bring them in. I'd say if the story requires it, then bring it in! If the story doesn't absolutely require it, but would be enhanced by it, then bring it in! If the supernatural elements would only serve to detract from the story, then, best leave them out of the story.
  16. Mythopoet

    Mythopoet Auror

    I think for it to count as fantasy, there should be some element that is impossible in the real world. It doesn't have to be made up creatures or races. It doesn't have to be magic or spells. It doesn't have to be anything in particular. But something in the story should tell the reader "you've traveled to another place where there are things you could never experience in your real life".
  17. AngelaRCox

    AngelaRCox Dreamer

    Sometimes I get self-conscious because a lot of my fantasy doesn't really have magic and stuff, and I certainly don't have elves and dwarves integrated with people (if they exist in the world I'm writing at all). I love a good escapist tale with lots of supernatural stuff going on, but I also really love quiet stories about being human. I do like Michael's example of how Star Trek uses non-humans to talk about the human condition. It's also worth noting that Star Wars, on the other side of the spectrum, does *really good* at presenting a diverse world in which non-human races are often very non-human, where in Star Trek they are very clearly just humans with a few cosmetic differences. In Star Wars, it's more set dressing than thematic to have all these non-humans everywhere, but at the same time they're incredibly well integrated and the supernatural elements are handled really well as integral parts of both the plot and the world.

    You've got options and fantasy falls on all sides of the spectrum of supernatural, and there's an audience for any of it. It's just a matter of deciding how much you want to focus on it. Delving deep into diverse non-human races and extensive supernatural elements will require a lot of world-building and probably take a lot of your description, putting the focus more on spectacle. Keeping things mostly human gives you space to develop the smaller details of your story more, possibly making it more intimate (not to say you can't have intimacy in supernatural stuff, but it's trickier).

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