Skip navigation

Tag Archives: good

Race and ethnicity in fantasy settings/books basically boils down to the the old Good vs. Evil divide that we see in Tolkien/D&D inspired works.

One one hand you have the good races: Humans, Elves, Dwarves.

In the other hand you have the evil races: Orcs, Goblins,Trolls, ect.

Some stories even have exact evil counterparts for good races (especially those based on D&D) such as Light Elves vs. Dark Elves. Some authors like to subvert this by having a few characters distance themselves from the “norm” thus proving that not everyone in an entire race can be evil yet still maintaining the fiction that allows a convenient target(s) for the heroes to slaughter at will without any moral or personal repercussions. After all destroying evil is always a good thing, right?

As you probably guessed by now, I don’t like to go the simplistic route. Since my story is based on Dark Age Europe I like to play with this concept a bit. Yes you have good and evil, but no faceless evil races. In fact prejudice plays a big role in how each ethnic/social group views the other.

Akrosians/Republicans view the new nations of the Nordlands as barbarians. Both of these groups have reached a level of homogeneity which encourages this view of outsiders. In fact the word barbarian originally meant outsider with the twist that these foreigners were inferior to those who gave them the epitaph because they did not share the same culture or language as those who considered themselves civilized. The irony of course is that due to the destruction of Western Roman Empire the term change to mean “an individual reference to a brutal, cruel, warlike, insensitive person.” Yet to the modern observer the Roman gladiatorial games and their justice system looks as barbarous as the destruction brought by the Germanic invasions.

Things look different in the Nordlands where the distinction are largely on ethnic/religious lines. Due to the recent fall of Empire and transformation into the (New) Republic you have a mix and match of people living in former Imperial territory.

The rulers are, for the most part members of the military leadership that lead the tribes from beyond the “Three Rivers” and into Imperial territory. Funded by Republican silver they serve as a buffer between it (the Republic) and further barbarian invasions. They claimed vast kingdoms loosely allied with the Republic. While they are the ruling elite, their power is largely military and they lack the administrative skills or money to sustain these kingdoms intact. They seek to appeased the newly conquered by adopting Imperial ways and costumes and converting to the new religion of the Nine.  Yet they retain their language and legal traditions.

The vast middle class is made up of assimilated (to the former Imperial ethnic identity) locals. While the lack military power, they still have money and a strong connection to the the Republic and by extension the Church. They are the equivalent to the Romanized Gauls. These are the people the new rulers want to accommodate because they still retain much of the wealth and they outnumber their conquerors. These former Imperial citizens support the new regimes in exchange for protection.

The lower class is made up of disenfranchised farmers, former slaves and isolated groups that retain some of the customs from the time before the Imperial conquest. To the new Church they are seen as threat undermining their vision of the cosmos, especially the shamans/druids that lead these groups. They have called on the new rulers to persecute them with varying degrees of success.

A fourth and fifth group include the Elves and Dwarves. The Elves that live within the Republic borders (i.e. the Peninsula) have integrated into that culture as have the Dwarves, although this last group numbers are small and their origins are shrouded in mystery. On the other hand Elves living in the Nordlands have turned xenophobic. They now hide from the rest of the world.

As you can see, this is a world where your ethnic loyalties determine who you consider a friend or foe  (with individual exceptions, of course).

In fact this might be a typical scene in my book.

And now for some music:

Advertisements

I already talked about the villain in fantasy, but what about the heroes?

Instead of focusing on the types of heroes I’ll talk about motivation(s). They come in different flavors, such as:

  1. Honor & Duty
  2. Can’t Fight Fate
  3. It’s Personal
  4. For the Greater Good

Honor and Duty means that it is the heroes job to be, well, heroic (or at least he thinks he is). Whether he is the Captain of the City Watch or the Crown Prince the hero call to adventure comes in the way of legal, familial or societal duty. Pretty mundane as motivations go and to the modern reader it may sound a bit thin but at least it gives a hero a reason to be in the story and a day job. Useful when you have a band of heroes and you need to inject some purpose to a secondary character.

Other heroes get their call via stone tablet or star sign. A long time ago (or last week on a Tuesday afternoon) somebody, somewhere predicted that The Chosen On will rise from the gibbering masses too save the day. Easy way to start your story. If anyone asks just show them the highlighted text. Usually the story then revolves around one of two things: can the hero live up to the hype (prophecy) or is that thing they said about him so many years ago is even worth listening too. Averted, subverted and play straight so many times, I’ve lost count.

Then there is the Mel Gibson favorite for when the hero refuses the call, make…it…personal! The villain razed the heroes village to the ground, killed his parents and kidnapped his significant other. Oh hells no! It’s on! Leads the hero onto a roaring rampage of revenge with the added bonus that the hero has nothing to hold him back.

And last but not least you have the true hero, the one that does what needs to be done, for the greater good. Restore Peace to the Land, usher an gleaming Utopia, that sort of thing. The hero is the epitome of altruism. Could be the way he was raised or that he is a fervent believer in a philosophy/religion that encourages that kind of thought. Paragons of absolute virtue seem a tad outdated in the cynical world we live in, but there is nothing stopping the author from playing up the darker side of this motivation.

So there you have it. Four common heroic motivations. I hope you found them useful.

Stealing an idea from Amy I present to you a teaser from my current project. And yes, the character name sounds familiar, but I borrowed it from a wiki.

You can read more about SuD here:

flame___the_envoys_by_anikakinka

Trinity Dance Club, Boston,  Massachusetts, U.S, November 16, 01:34hrs

Blue flames warmed her hands as she danced to the music. She bent and twisted to the electronic rhythm.  The motes of light burned afterimages into the retinas of surrounding onlookers.  Senses, dulled by sound and intoxicating substances, could not see the truth behind the images.  She didn’t care. As the tempo changed so did the color of the flames, from cool blue to a furious red and then to bright white. The girl extended her arms, palms outward. The motes jumped from her hands and broke into smaller flames swirling around her like disembodied candlelight.

The lights on the dance floor went out. The music slowed down  to a slow somber tone. The beats matched the palpitations of the crowd. The only source of illumination came from the pinpoints of light around the girl. They glowed a faint orange and pulsed to the beat.

Inside his booth, the DJ smiled as he slowed the music an unnerving crawl. Then he punched up the volume and switched on the giant screens surrounding the dance floor.  Geometric shapes moved in sync with the heightened beat. The flames spun faster around the girl as her body gyrated to the pulsating music. The mix reached a crescendo and then transitioned to another song.

Her eyes opened, flashing an intense amber, while the fires evaporated. Applause broke around her. She smiled and made her way to the bar. The bartender handed her a frosty bottle of water and winked at her.  Amy thought that Mario was cute but he went through girlfriends far to fast for her taste. Sure, she found it hard not to melt when he flashed those pearly whites firmly anchored on those incredible dimples but so did half the girls at the bar even those who planned to go home with their girlfriends.

But he was not on the many tonight or for that matter any time in the foreseeable future. They hooked up in the past and he performance to date was nothing to complain about. He certainly played the strong silent type well. But he was looking for the girl he could bring home to Mama and she was not it.

Poor kid! Talk about looking in the wrong place.

If some other girl wanted to sit at the end of bar waiting for his shift to be over, nursing her free drinks and guarding her man from the pack, that was not her problem.  Her front pant pocket vibrated. She pulled the cell phone out and looked at the screen.

Briefing- D.C. 08:00hrs sharp

P.S. Business Attire- Mason

So much for sleeping in on a Saturday. Amy waved goodbye to Mario on her way out the front door. She didn’t bother with a coat even though the snow fell thick and heavy around her.  She put the hood up to protect her hair from the falling flakes. As she walked back to her apartment she left steaming puddles in the ankle deep snow.

*Local Time

—-

If you wondered what song she was dancing too, here it is.

Dwarfs, Elves,  Vampires, oh my! On a recent post (and many more after that) on the NaNo forums the subject of “cuddly” vampires (a la Twilight) came up. The poster said that he didn’t like the recent fad of turning vampires from monstrous blood suckers to tortured goth heroes. I responded that the vampires in my NaNo project were anything but “cuddly”.  If anything they are conniving, manipulative, psychopaths driven by a demonic urge to rape, murder and destroy.  As far from the romantic (in the modern sense of the word,  one which would cause the likes of  Lord Byron, Tennyson or Blake to spit if they heard what passes for romantic these days) vision of the tortured yet irresistibly attractive vampire heroically fighting the urge to drink virgin blood while dating the only virgin left in town as you can get.

This got me thinking about the endless parade of writers that from the beginning of time felt compelled to take familiar character types (the stoic Dwarf, the ethereal Elf or the Vampiric blood sucking terrors of the night) and change them in some way. Of course these archetypes are variations on earlier forms defined by modern writers such as Stoker and Tolkien. The idea behind the manipulation is to take the familiar and turn into something new (if not unique). Problem is that you can only make so many changes before you end up with something unrecognizable and lose whatever advantage the use of the original gave you in the first place.

I don’t frown on the practice as I have done a bit of archetype twisting in my day (about a month or so back). Yet it pains me when I see author after author fail so miserably at it. While the author might think that his improvements are “cool” the end results are trite, cosmetic and downright disappointing. The reader is left wondering why the author engaged in the exercise in the first place. So I came up with a few tips that will (hopefully) help my fellow nascent writers to avoid the obstacles on the road from the familiar to the memorable.

First a few questions. Honest answers to these questions will yield the best results:

  1. Why did you choose a particular archetype?
  2. Do you know/understand the history behind the archetype?
  3. Are you changing the archetype for purely arbitrary reasons,  that is, you think it would be cool to have rhinos on submarines?
  4. Or have you always hated the archetype in question and think you can do better?
  5. Is there more to the these changes than simply creating a anti-archetype? Are you doing this because you’re in a contrarian  mood?
  6. What is the role of the archetype in the story; accidental, background, or central to the narrative?
  7. Would your narrative goals be better served by abandoning the archetype all together?

Like I said before, familiarity is what drives many an author to choose a given archetype. This is especially true of modern fantasy and science fiction books, in all their variations. Both the author and the reader know the archetype and feel comfortable with it.  No need to create an entire elven language (unless you’re Tolkien) or describe how a vampire’s gaze overwhelms it’s victims senses. Just drop the dwarfs down the nearest mine shaft and concentrate on writing that exciting battle scene where the stalwart defenders of the underground realm battle the incoming goblinoid hordes. But we already read Lord of the Rings (OK, I saw the movies, tried reading the Hobbit and fell asleep on the their page)  so we want something more than the fall of  Moria. So the author introduces a few changes into the dwarf archetype. His dwarfs are not the dour hammer swingers of Tolkien’s lore but singing sensations to rival he likes of Elvis (Costello or Crespo). The attacking goblins go from an unorganized rabble to a disciplined army that fights for duty and honor.

But in order for these changes to stick an understanding of the archetypes in question is a must. You don’t need an encyclopedic knowledge of western European mythology, but understanding the history behind the myth will help you preserve enough of the archetype so that it remains recognizable to the reader.

Questions 3-5 deal with the particular reasons for the changes in a given archetype. Many a writer makes cosmetic changes based on what their DMs allowed on the gaming table while playing D&D. They go for what they think would be “cool”.  But just reversing the archetype role or characteristics is not good enough. Doing things just to be contrarian or different is  a waste of time. Might as well slap a goatee on the character’s chin and call it a day.

Which brings us to question #6, the role of the archetype in your story. Cosmetic changes are great, if you are coding a video game. A player will notice something out of the ordinary, gawk at it for a second or two and be on his way to kill the boss monster. Same thing in your book if its something that lies at the bottom of page 267 where a secondary character explains why the main character should never go to beyond the Impassable Peaks of Doom (which we know that the MC will, in fact pass with some difficulty). Things change as the archetype(s) inch their way to center stage. Without a solid explanation the reader is apt to question why is the handsome yet ravenous vampire zipping from frozen packets of goat’s blood instead of dinning on warm blood of his seventeen year old date with the body of a SI swimsuit edition cover girl. Solid answers to questions 1-5 will (hopefully) prevent the local bookstore from shipping back boxes of your latest offering to the publisher.  You need reasons why the character does not fit the mold, answers that go beyond “Well I think vampires are seriously misunderstood creatures”. These reasons should have a direct connection to the story so that it lends depth to the character and through him to the narrative.

Last but not least, could you do better without relying on the archetype? Creating a new alien race that does not read like a Vulcan on steroids is hard, yet if the changes are drastic enough as to erase the fundamentals of an archetype, I suggest you abandon it all together. Go with something else. Something that fits your vision and the needs of the story. A knight that uses a gun is not really a knight, he is a gunfighter. Go with that instead.

I hope that the above helps you in some way. I can’t wait to read how the goblins barely won the battle against the singing dwarfs yet earned their respect by their honorable behavior in battle.

Until then….