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Too many sentient races

Discussion in 'World Building' started by mulierrex, Aug 27, 2016.

  1. mulierrex

    mulierrex Scribe

    Is there such a thing? I found that I'm trying to insert too many sentient races into my world, such as humans, elves, dwarves, merfolk, goblins, etc. Then it came time to discuss their cultures and it feels like too much. How realistic is it for many different races (species might be a better word) to share culture traits or even a language?
  2. You will have lots of different cultural traits, customs, beliefs, languages and other details even within your races. Look at Earth; we have only one sentient species, but we have literally thousands of languages, dozens of religions and divisions of them, and other details beyond number.

    However, you don't have to explain or show all the details of your world in your story. Your story is only a tiny piece of your world. You need only develop what is directly relevant to your story.
  3. FifthView

    FifthView Istar

    Well...."It depends."

    You can see a fictional universe like Star Wars or Star Trek and find many sentient races, with no problems. One of those two universes does seem to spend a lot more time exploring the different cultures than the other—at least, if you are including television depictions also, so with multiple episodes. But in either case, what's necessary for the story may not be an in-depth exploration of every race that appears in it. (So on Star Trek for instance, a pan of the hallways on the Enterprise might show some odd non-human going about her business but never once explore all the cultural attributes of her race.)

    In the end, the story you have to tell will determine how many races are good and how in-depth to go.
  4. jm.milks

    jm.milks Scribe

    I just want to point out there are many mammals elephants, bonobos, dolphins, ect. That are sentient and even birds who are as well. We've even been able to exchange language with other species (look up Coco the gorilla), and many animals could be considered to live in their own stone age, which is defined for us as when we began using tools. Crows and ravens, octopi, otters, and many that I have already mentioned.

    I suggest in creating cultures for different races, you look to how evolution has affected other sentient species on our own world. You then take the lore and specific traits that define that race and apply ideas of how that would affect their society.

    What certain evolutionary traits would affect the elves? They generally have larger, pointy ears, which would help hearing, and managing body temperature. Ears would also play a role in showing emotions and would be important in social activities. This would mean that a good, pseudo realistic base culture for elves would incorporate settlements in a warm - temperate climate with little sound pollution and more hunting, possibly more musically oriented, and they would keep their ears well groomed if they were seeking love and affection, or simply higher social standing.

    This is all just based around that one trait that they may or may not have in your story. What other traits would a race have and how would it affect them through the generations?
    KC Trae Becker likes this.
  5. Peat

    Peat Sage

    According to the site that shall not be named, the classic number (for those having lots of non-human races) is five. So I think you can safely have five outside a very short story. Maybe more, but definitely five.
  6. Devor

    Devor Fiery Keeper of the Hat Moderator

    One of the reasons that we use elves and dwarves and orcs is that our familiarity with them makes them easier to include without using up too much of your - let's call it writing skill capital - with readers. The better you are as a writer, the more writing skill capital you build up. Skill capital is that willingness of a reader to take in all those setup details while trusting that they will lead to a payoff that's worth it. The more you introduce new races and cultures and a million complex details, the more you use up that capital. But elves and dwarves are lightweights and only use up a little capital; the underground theocracy of worm-men might use up quite a bit more.

    So the answer is, you can have as many races and cultures that your skill level can hold. The more unique and numerous those races are, the higher the skill level they require from you. And it makes sense, for example, to focus on a small handful of unique races that are the focus of your book, and if you want to, fill up the rest with classic ones.
  7. mulierrex

    mulierrex Scribe

    Thanks for all the replies. That being said, I did narrow it down to 4-5 main races, with the others I had in my list either not operating in civilization or not being "sentient" at all.

    My new question is, how realistic (that word again) is it to have those 4-5 plus their subspecies all be able to speak the same language? I am going to have different cultures and such but I am stuck on communication.

    In my world at the moment the gods have their own language that's mostly runic, and there is a 'common' (English) language that humans + human subspecies speak...but I don't know if it's necessary for my other species to have their own language, or if it makes sense for everyone just to speak the common tongue and only that.

    And building off of that, do any of you usually frown on cyphers, or think they're lazy? If I do make multiple languages I'm probably just going to make a new alphabet and just make it look like it's something different when really it's just English with cool looking letters.
  8. SaltyDog

    SaltyDog Sage

    I have twelve. Most speak one language, standard, so they all can understand each other. Some speak their native tongues as well though I don't address that in the story. I call them races, as species seems demeaning to call a sentient being that.

    I would say with a good explanation of lore of that race, your good. And a large sized world too. (They would need a lot of space.)
  9. SaltyDog

    SaltyDog Sage


    I would say it would be okay if all had one language, say a few hundred years back all the races decided to create one universal tongue so they could trade and communicate together with out problems or misunderstandings.

    With a large amount of created languages, comes a lot of work. And most people I think wouldn't pay too much to the languages, if the story is good.

    Your idea might work though, so swing for it.
  10. KC Trae Becker

    KC Trae Becker Troubadour

    I'm writing a 5 book series, so my numbers aren't exactly comparable, but I have six sentient species, four of which are humanoid, with six sub groups, mostly within the human/aelfar/mer species.

    Three species are central to the plot, the two non-humanoid ones and the human/aelfar/mer species. Two humanoid species are mostly in the back ground and one barely present.

    I also have sentient animals, but they are either magically enhanced individuals or functioning on a different level of sentience.

    This would be overwhelming, but I plan to manage it carefully, mostly on a need to know basis.

    That said, I've been thinking about this story for 16 years. It's the reason I'm learning to be a writer, while not quitting my day job. I've had lots of time to think about all these cultures and even dabble in a few languages for my own edification.

    Language barriers will definitely be an issue. I plan on having a babble fish (Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy) story device to help with communication issues so my readers don't get frustrated, but I think some communication difficulties are needed for realism. Miscommunication has such great potential for humor and plot turns. But it will be tricky to pull off well.

    A newbie protagonist will help the reader stay oriented and filter out overload. Much of what I've created will just be backstory with lots of potential for spin off short stories.

    I'm passionate about this story and will keep trying til I make it work. My current day job still has a few years before real writing time will open up, so I've time to keep learning techniques to shape my monstrosity into bite sized chunks.

    You have to decide for yourself how much time and/or skill you have to invest to pave the way for readers to understand and enjoy your story.
  11. Katherynn

    Katherynn Acolyte

    Many people can be taken away by filling their world. It is often easiest to settle on two or three main races and expand from there. Say your main character decides to venture into the woods and runs across elves. Then they decide to side with them in a large event that will link the the two together heavily. It then makes sense for your to expand on the elven culture, lore...so on and so forth. Say that the same character then runs into dwarves but it is only in passing. It makes sense for you to mention the culture, but it isn't as vital to the plot as what the elven would be.

    That said, you should know everything about every race you include. Even if it isn't within the work. In one of my main novels, the continent my FMC is on only houses elves. So for her to be familiar with dwarven customs makes little sense as she's never grown up around it. (Actually, no one even knows that the dwarves exist which makes all the lore building I've built useless for about 70k...just to give you an idea.) If you are a planner, then the best bet is to start with your MC and their surrounding area. What races are they likely to run into? Which ones populate their area more? Start expanding with them and work from there. I find that it makes the process a bit easier as I don't feel obligated to try to figure it all out at once.

    As for the language barrier...realistically, one would exist. However, there are quite a few factors when it comes down to it. Are many of them traders? How often does the race interact with humans? Is the story a higher fantasy or a low? Realistically speaking, traders and races interacting heavily with humans would speak the same language. I find that languages don't come into play unless you are writing high fantasy. Most readers won't question why you have no alternate languages, in my experience.

    A lot of it will depend on your personal preference, skill level and, above all else, what you feel comfortable with. Don't overwhelm yourself!

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