Orignality in Fantasy (specifiaclly re: Creatures and Races)

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knight_tour
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Re: Orignality in Fantasy (specifiaclly re: Creatures and Races)

Post by knight_tour » August 1st, 2010, 12:46 pm

Well, while I certainly don't respect your tone, I am a fairly decent historian. I would have majored in it if I had known of a decent career that didn't involve teaching, but as I didn't see one, I minored in it instead. Anyhow, I think you are wrong. I don't think it takes a historian to build a world, though it helps. It does take a terrific imagination.

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Bryan Russell/Ink
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Re: Orignality in Fantasy (specifiaclly re: Creatures and Races)

Post by Bryan Russell/Ink » August 1st, 2010, 2:13 pm

steve wrote:And there's this test, which rocks.
Actually, it's sort of funny - I once wrote a series of tongue-in-cheek answers to that Rinkworks test, which they published a few years back. Had fun doing that. I'll see if I can dig it up.
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Re: Orignality in Fantasy (specifiaclly re: Creatures and Races)

Post by Bryan Russell/Ink » August 1st, 2010, 2:19 pm

knight_tour wrote:That's just it -- YOU want new and different things. You shouldn't dismiss the quite large group of people out here who don't want new things when it comes to this sort of fantasy. I don't want to read about an elf with a twist. I want to read about elves who are elves. People always go on about there being so many such stories out there, but it isn't true. Besides the first couple of Shannara books and the Iron Tower trilogy and Silver Call duology, the only one I can think of is Quag Keep. The official D&D books all played to a certain audience and did fine by them, but those books are not satisfying in the least to a great many of us. I'd say that is a pretty tiny number of books published for those of us who want more D&D-type stories. It is only the type of setting that I want to be like this; the story itself does need to be original. Realistic twists are fantastic, but not ones that turn the various creatures into something else. I don't need dwarves on skateboards.
I do think this can work, though the writing would have to be real sharp. It would have to be vivid and engaging in a superior way - you'd have to hook the reader (agents wary of more blase knockoffs) right away with quality prose and engaging, complex characters. Especially at the beginning. A whiff of cliche or formulaic writing and they'll start worrying. Sometimes all you need is one great writer to open things up. George R.R. Martin took things in a new way. Who knows? Combining Martin's approach with Tolkien's may just be enough to reinvigorate those tropes and offer something that is both new and familiar.
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Emily White
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Re: Orignality in Fantasy (specifiaclly re: Creatures and Races)

Post by Emily White » August 1st, 2010, 3:16 pm

knight_tour wrote:That's just it -- YOU want new and different things. You shouldn't dismiss the quite large group of people out here who don't want new things when it comes to this sort of fantasy. I don't want to read about an elf with a twist. I want to read about elves who are elves. People always go on about there being so many such stories out there, but it isn't true. Besides the first couple of Shannara books and the Iron Tower trilogy and Silver Call duology, the only one I can think of is Quag Keep. The official D&D books all played to a certain audience and did fine by them, but those books are not satisfying in the least to a great many of us. I'd say that is a pretty tiny number of books published for those of us who want more D&D-type stories. It is only the type of setting that I want to be like this; the story itself does need to be original. Realistic twists are fantastic, but not ones that turn the various creatures into something else. I don't need dwarves on skateboards.

I want to say first off, that I basically agree with your argument that if people want comforting and familiar, we should give it to them. However, I'm going to have to disagree with your assertion about not wanting elves with a twist (or other mythological creatures). You may say that now and people may have said before Tolkien that they didn't want fiction with a twist, but really look at the base of your argument here. You want elves (other mythological creatures) the way Tolkien (and others) created them, but before LOTR, elves were short, ugly little things that hid in the grass and played tricks on people. They weren't beautiful warriors as they are often depicted now. I think we can have something new and still feel like we're enjoying the familiar. Or maybe we can take the familiar and morph it into something so new people go "wow, now that's amazing. I never would have thought of that." You say you want elves who are elves, but those elves look a lot different than they used to.
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Re: Orignality in Fantasy (specifiaclly re: Creatures and Races)

Post by polymath » August 1st, 2010, 4:50 pm

One billion potential English language fiction readers world-wide. Considering the printrun economy of scale breakpoint is about 2,000 copies, five hundred thousand potential special interest niches can be served. Considering there's about one hundred twenty thousand new fiction titles published annually by one hundred twenty thousand plus U.S., Canadian, British, Indian, Australian, and South African English language publishers, niche markets are being underserved by a fourth. Anything goes if it's marketable to a large enough niche.
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Re: Orignality in Fantasy (specifiaclly re: Creatures and Races)

Post by Matthew MacNish » August 1st, 2010, 6:57 pm

This is a great discussion and while of course I agree with some sentiments more than others it is great to see everyone chiming in. Plus I got Simon and Sarah to join the forums, woot!

Anyway I think that Eragon and the Inheritance Cycle is an excellent example of a highly derivative story that still worked and found a high level of success. The main races like Elves and Dwarves were essentially borrowed directly from Tolkien (though Paolini did explore the Dwarf Race much more thoroughly by looking at their religion and politics and so forth). He also (whether intentionally or not) followed severely close the archetypes that were put to use in Star Wars. Think of Brom as Obi-Wan, Galbatorix as Darth Vader and Oromis as Yoda. Now I know some people didn't think that story was that great and I do realize the film was pretty bad but I for one have enjoyed all the books and you can't deny their commercial success, especially amongst YA readers.

What does this prove? Nothing really except that it can be done. I for one would love to read a story in which Tolkien's Elves, Dwarves and Orcs exist but in which some new kind of plot that has never been explored before takes place.

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Re: Orignality in Fantasy (specifiaclly re: Creatures and Races)

Post by knight_tour » August 2nd, 2010, 1:21 am

Emily White wrote:
knight_tour wrote:That's just it ...

I want to say first off, that I basically agree with your argument that if people want comforting and familiar, we should give it to them. However, I'm going to have to disagree with your assertion about not wanting elves with a twist (or other mythological creatures). You may say that now and people may have said before Tolkien that they didn't want fiction with a twist, but really look at the base of your argument here. You want elves (other mythological creatures) the way Tolkien (and others) created them, but before LOTR, elves were short, ugly little things that hid in the grass and played tricks on people. They weren't beautiful warriors as they are often depicted now. I think we can have something new and still feel like we're enjoying the familiar. Or maybe we can take the familiar and morph it into something so new people go "wow, now that's amazing. I never would have thought of that." You say you want elves who are elves, but those elves look a lot different than they used to.
Emily, had it just been Tolkien then you would be right. To me, and to many others out there, D&D changed all that. All those who weren't into it can roll their eyes, but there were a LOT of people heavily into D&D in the 80's and 90's. To those people these creatures settled into a very consistent type. To the average D&D lover it is not interesting to twist these types of creatures into something else.

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Re: Orignality in Fantasy (specifiaclly re: Creatures and Races)

Post by knight_tour » August 2nd, 2010, 1:27 am

Matthew Rush wrote: What does this prove? Nothing really except that it can be done. I for one would love to read a story in which Tolkien's Elves, Dwarves and Orcs exist but in which some new kind of plot that has never been explored before takes place.
I would like someone to show me a single well-written Tolkienesque book that didn't do well. Heck, even the poorly written ones seem to do well. I would think more that were done well would be certain hits.

As to your last request, I am trying to do just that, but I am a first-time writer, so I expect I will get a lot better over time. This whole 'Tolkien did it so no one should write such stories again' thing always bugs me. It's like saying, "We watched a basketball game already, so why watch another one?" People love what they love, and even within the constrictions of the familiar (like a basketball game) things never go the same way twice. There are infinite great stories that can be written within the familiar Tolkienesque/D&D-style worlds.

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Re: Orignality in Fantasy (specifiaclly re: Creatures and Races)

Post by knight_tour » August 2nd, 2010, 1:58 am

Bryan Russell/Ink wrote:Combining Martin's approach with Tolkien's may just be enough to reinvigorate those tropes and offer something that is both new and familiar.
That's my intention, Bryan. Of course, Martin has decades of experience as a pro writer, so I need room to grow.

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Re: Orignality in Fantasy (specifiaclly re: Creatures and Races)

Post by polymath » August 2nd, 2010, 2:12 am

If there's a niche for demenses and demons, there's writers trying to reach it, just as there's a niche for sympathetic zombies and writers trying to reach it. I've read five attempts at sympathetic zombie novels. They were heavy in authorial reporting (telling), And Plot plotted, and slow starters with unsettled narrative points of view. I've read dozens of dungeons and dragons role playing game manuscripts, same issues plaguing them, same with high fantasy imitations of Tolkien.

The high fantasy niche numbers about fifty million, the largest potential novel niche and has been for about half a century. Charles Dicken's A Tale of Two Cities, 1859, is the best performing fiction title of all time at two hundred million copies sold. Tolkien's Lord of the Rings saga sold fifty million copies per installment and The Hobbit one hundred million. Rowling's Potter saga averaged fifty million copies per installment. Other high fantasy titles also place on all time bestseller lists, some numbering into millions sold.
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Re: Orignality in Fantasy (specifiaclly re: Creatures and Races)

Post by knight_tour » August 2nd, 2010, 3:11 am

polymath wrote:They were heavy in authorial reporting (telling), And Plot plotted, and slow starters with unsettled narrative points of view. I've read dozens of dungeons and dragons role playing game manuscripts, same issues plaguing them, same with high fantasy imitations of Tolkien.
I don't claim to be a great writer yet (this was my first try at a novel), but I did avoid these things. I was lucky that I had only written a few chapters when I started learning about all of the show/tell stuff. That meant I was able to fix the issues early and write the rest as almost all show with minimal amounts of tell.

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Re: Orignality in Fantasy (specifiaclly re: Creatures and Races)

Post by tchann » August 2nd, 2010, 11:35 am

I've mused a few times on my eligibility, so to speak, to write fantasy. My first real introduction to the genre was Terry Brooks' Sword of Shannara series - I read the first trilogy in high school and loved it. I started tabletop roleplaying in college and knew what a halfling was before the Lord of the Rings movies came out, which forced me to read those books and see how much Tolkein really had fathered the modern fantasy. Meanwhile my husband has an entire bookshelf filled with fantasy paperbacks, of which I have read...one.

I've read some Piers Anthony and Terry Pratchett, which I love dearly for taking the fantasy norms and subverting them in hilarious ways. They understand that trope does not necessarily equal trite, and one can draw upon the familiar without telling the same story over and over again. It's that sort of balance that I hope to achieve in my own writing, while focusing on the belief that the story being told matters far more than the races or settings it contains.

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Re: Orignality in Fantasy (specifiaclly re: Creatures and Races)

Post by wilderness » August 5th, 2010, 9:04 pm

I personally don't think it's elves and dwarves that have gotten old, but the quests that have gotten old. I don't want to read about a magical object that you have to either find or destroy or the forces of dark (with no motivation, they're just evil) will take over the world.

Urban fantasy has taken off because people have found a way to give classic stuff like vampires all sorts of new adventures in the modern world. By blending the classic and the modern, authors have created something new. Vampires have had a renaissance, going from horror to romance, action, or even humor. I think medieval motifs could have the same. But as long as authors cling to the tired quest plots, it is really hard to stand out. And if you can't stand out, how is an agent or editor supposed to choose one from the thousands that come their way?

Someone mentioned Eragon. Remember that Paoloni originally self published and then he had the added novelty aspect that he was 15 when he wrote the book. I personally couldn't even get through it because it was too derivative and don't even get me started on the prose. (On the other hand, regarding Nathan's recent blog post, perhaps it was the simple prose that drew young readers. Reading Eragon is a lot faster and easier than Tolkien.)

I recently read Eon: Dragoneye Reborn. I thought this was unique because it drew from Eastern mythology, something I haven't seen a lot of. I also enjoyed Graceling, which is similar to older Tamora Pierce but the fact that the MC was a woman who's power was to kill seemed intriguing. So it can be done; there are new ideas out there. Just have to find 'em.

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Re: Orignality in Fantasy (specifiaclly re: Creatures and Races)

Post by knight_tour » August 6th, 2010, 2:10 am

wilderness wrote:I personally don't think it's elves and dwarves that have gotten old, but the quests that have gotten old. I don't want to read about a magical object that you have to either find or destroy or the forces of dark (with no motivation, they're just evil) will take over the world.
In mine I twist this all around. The seer who has a vision about finding a lost artifact has no idea why this artifact is needed, as the powers it contains are fairly minimal. However, he trusts the rare visions he gets, so he sets out to find the object. He is shocked in the end when it doesn't work the way he expected. He comes to believe that the visions were simply wrong, at least until the unusual ending...

I have to say, though, that the quest was never what I felt the story was about. It was about the characters and their lives and interactions. I eventually want to do more low fantasy stories, but this one worked well as an epic.

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Re: Orignality in Fantasy (specifiaclly re: Creatures and Races)

Post by Ninjas Love Nixon » August 9th, 2010, 3:06 pm

Emily White wrote:You want elves (other mythological creatures) the way Tolkien (and others) created them, but before LOTR, elves were short, ugly little things that hid in the grass and played tricks on people.
That depends on your mythology. If you take a look at the Celtic traditions in Ireland, Wales, and Scotland, you will find what may have been the roots of Tolkien's take on elves.

The Book of Invasions details the races that came to and conquered Ireland, like the Fomorians, the Fir Bolg, and the Tuatha Dé Danaan. The Tuatha and the Fomorians were formidable warrior cultures, and the beauty of their greatest warriors is often referred to (Bres the Beautiful, for example). The Tuatha Dé Danaan finally defeated the Fomorians at the Second Battle of Maig Tuiread, but were later defeated themselves by the Milesians. After this defeat, the Tuatha Dé Danaan retreated underground beneath the sídh, earthen mounds that still dot the Irish landscape. In time the Tuatha Dé Danaan became the fairy folk, the elves, of Irish tradition.

I don't know if this informed Tolkien, but it seems unlikely he was ignorant of the Celtic Cycles, and there are some striking parallels.

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