Posts tagged fantasy
Posts tagged fantasy
On Earth, humans are at the top of the food chain. Occasionally a crocodile or bear will snag one of us, but for the most part, we are the ones doing the killing. We achieved that spot not out of brute strength but through intelligence.
I, for one, am tired of the differences between humans and animals getting extrapolated to make the differences between humans and elves or aliens.
In science fiction and fantasy, humans are always the cleverest and most creative of the sentient species, even if the aliens were able to invent interstellar travel and arrive on Earth while we still haven’t reached Mars. The dwarves might be physically stronger, but they’re never as ~smart~ as wonderful old humans.
That way of thinking limits the interplay of various sentient species in stories. I would love a story where humans are the slow guys in the galaxy and other species’ technological advancements proceed at far faster rates.
Just something to mull over if you’re planning a story with human and nonhuman sentients.
Even if you’re not a fantasy author, these 346 essays might help you improve your stories. You probably won’t agree with every single point she makes (I know I don’t), but her overall messages generally ring true.
So you want to write a science fiction, fantasy, horror, or other speculative fiction story. This means that your story will deviate from the real world in that it has gadgets, magic, monsters, a dystopian society, aliens, or whatever else you plan on bringing in. This is not to be taken lightly. Any significant differences that your story has from the real world need to be fully examined. Go down this list and answer one question every day to develop your speculative fiction element to its fullest.
Day 1) What fuels your speculative fiction element? Magic has to come from somewhere, creatures have to eat, and inventions need energy to run. Every society needs to get its food from somewhere. Does your element need a special type of energy or can it be powered by means that already exist?
Day 2) Where is your speculative fiction element located? Most science fiction inventions are pretty much ubiquitous, but societies and monsters will have very specific locations. Entire magical species will probably have specific habitats, because it’s unlikely that unicorns could survive both in swamps and in deserts. Aliens will have home worlds and specific places where they meet people.
Day 3) When and how did it start? Has the land always had magic in it, or did something happen that created magic? When did your society start? When did the haunted house become haunted?
Day 4) How does it impact the environment? Just saying that your speculative fiction element is “bad” for the environment without giving details or explaining why is a cop-out, by the way.
Day 5) Who has the most control over it? Of the people who don’t have any power over it, which people are trying to get more power? If something exists, there will be people who want to own it. Remember that these people aren’t always bad.
Day 6) How does it impact the economy?
Day 7) What is the stance of the government that your protagonists live under on your speculative fiction element? What are the stances of other governments?
Day 8) What do major religions think of it? Remember that all people of the same religion will not think the same way.
Day 9) Does it impact people’s day-to-day lives? If so, then how? If not, then why?
Day 10) If it were shown to a normal person from present-day Earth, what would their initial reaction be?
Day 11) Can it/one of it be killed or destroyed? If so, then how?
Day 12) If there is an afterlife in your story, how does the use of your speculative fiction element impact where people go?
Day 13) How can it benefit people’s lives? How can it harm them? Even the most evil or the most lovely things have the potential to do both.
Day 14) What does it look like?
Day 15) What would a broken/defective/mutant version do? (This question might not apply.)
Day 16) Are there any rumors or legends about it? Are there any rumors or legends that involve it?
Day 17) Do the lower class, the middle class, and the upper class have different reactions to it?
Day 18) Similarly, how expensive is it to own, to meet, or to live in? What problems does that cost cause?
Day 19) How large is it?
Day 20) Are there any people who don’t know about it? If so, who and why?
Day 21) If somebody owns/interacts with/lives in your speculative fiction element for an extended period, what are the long-term effects?
Day 22) Is there a black market that sells it or parts of it? If your speculative fiction element is a society, does it contain a black market?
Day 23) Do parents allow their children to play with/in it? What restrictions do they place?
Day 24) Is it possible for it to kill somebody? If so, then how? If not, then why not?
Day 25) Does it cause or heighten any divisions between people? Does it bring people together?
Day 26) People are stupid. This is a known fact. What are the stupidest things that people could do with your speculative fiction element?
Day 27) Is there anybody well-known for being associated with it (the leader of the society, the slayer of the monster, the inventor of the gadget, the best gryphon rider, etc.)?
Day 28) How commonplace is your speculative fiction element? Is there only one of it?
Day 29) If your speculative fiction element were taken away, how would your world react?
Day 30) Is it possible to commit crimes with/in your speculative fiction element?
The follower of the day is meganrulestheworld.
EDIT: Please send me an ask if you actually do this, because I would love to see!
Bonus day 31) What are the views of the general public on your element?
Bonus day 32) What are the views of the lunatics and conspiracy theorists on your element?
Wild horses generally don’t live in forests. They live on wide open expanses of land. This is because they rely a lot on running, and they need to do that without tripping on the dense undergrowth and dodging trees. So why is the forest a favorite habitat for unicorns?
If dragons are so enormous, how do they ever feed themselves? Look at the largest carnivorous dinosaurs for inspiration: those things can’t live on humans alone. There’s also an upper limit to how large a carnivore can be. You might want to look into that. If they eat bears or elephants, how are the local bear and elephant populations affected? How are the things the bears eat affected? If they’re really reptiles, how do they live in a cave all day and still maintain their body heat?
You can’t just make a fantasy creature and have no way for the local ecosystem to support it. If dragons eat humans, then they obviously need to eat, and it’s unlikely that they only eat humans. On the other hand, the creature itself would affect the ecosystem. If they’re predators, they would affect everything that they eat. They would also affect all of the other predators that have to compete for food with them. If they’re herbivores, then there would be things hunting them. If they’re large enough, they might impact the environment in other ways.
I rarely ever see a fantasy creature depicted that goes beyond “oh look it’s cool and magical and the protagonists need it for purpose x” and actually explains how the thing would feasibly survive. I would go as far as to say there has to be a valid evolutionary reason for the creature to develop magic (how are healing tears going to help a unicorn?).
The follower of the day is lackingstealth.
I’ve seen “don’t use long, unpronouncable names” as a writing tip several times. However, the people who write about it never provide a good standard. Here’s my attempt.
When you name your Pokemon in the video games, you only get ten letters to do so. All 649 Pokemon have ten letters or less in their names. This may seem short, but anybody who knows Pokemon can tell you that several of the names are quite long. Alakazam, Feraligatr, and Pachirisu are examples.
If only everybody kept this in mind when designing the names of science fiction and fantasy characters.
The vast majority of your science fiction and fantasy names, both first and last, should not exceed ten letters. People are being presented with wildly new names, which are hard enough to remember when there are a lot of them. Burdening people with names like Hoogishinoakiltayinsotee is going to make to make the characters impossible to tell apart and a burden to read about. If you really like how your long name that you already have sounds, break it up and give it to several different characters.
Keep in mind the Pokemon rule when naming your characters and you’ll think of some memorable names that are easy on the brain.
Think back to when Einstein gave us relativity. The reaction from the scientific community was, naturally, to shoo it away and never speak of it again. Goodness, it was so counter-intuitive! Aren’t we glad that people don’t still believe in that nonsense!
Oh, wait. That wasn’t what happened at all.
A lot of people seem to think of science almost like a religion, where people worship the creation of new robots at the expense of everything else. Scientists have very strict criteria in the creation of these new robots, and introducing something like magic would throw them all out of whack. This is, of course, not how science works at all.
The practice of science is used to explain what we observe in the world. In your fictional world with magic, you’d better believe that magic would be one of the things observed. Scientists would have literally no reason not to be interested in magic if it existed. Having scientists struggle along with their inferior technology while magicians easily solve simple tasks with magic is laughable. Magic is obviously part of the structure of such a world, so why aren’t the scientists studying it? Why aren’t they incorporating magic for use in their robots?
A science versus magic theme makes zero sense. If magic exists, then science will catalog it along with all of the other things that make up that world. There are plenty of counter-intuitive, magic-sounding things about modern science. When something happens that seems contrary to common sense, people look for why it happens. They don’t just say “Does not compute” and leave it at that. That would assume that scientists are dumb when, by their very definition, most scientists are quite smart.
On an unrelated note, happy Towel Day, everybody!
Oftentimes, especially in fantasy works, the characters will stumble upon a world where there are no firm laws of physics. Maybe it only manifests itself in a few little quirks — whenever our hero is near the stump that supplies magic to the world, their backpack is at risk of being turned into a toadstool. Maybe this is an entire enchanted area where anything can and will happen. If there are specific rules to the magic, then this rant does not apply. If your characters ever go to a randomland, however, read further.
The human brain is a very precise instrument. There are 100 billion neurons in the brain.* There are an impossible number of complex connections that allow us to think and do our daily functions. Anywhere that has magic that can randomly distort physical objects could easily destroy such an organ. If a broccoli-shaped hole is made in the right part of the brain and replaced with a piece of broccoli, and you can say goodbye to something very major. A randomland would not be dangerous because it could spawn dragons. A randomland would be dangerous because of how easily it could destroy somebody’s brain. If they stay there long enough, it’s bound to happen.
You might think you could get around that by having your protagonists not be human and therefore have a simple ball of magic as a brain that can easily take part of it being turned into broccoli. You’d be hard-pressed to explain exactly why this ball of magic gets to be simple. The best AIs we have are mind-bogglingly complex, and they don’t even get close to the human brain. Anything that functions the way a brain does would have to be at least close to the same level of complexity, and therefore be susceptible to the changes in randomland.
This is also a point for anybody writing a story where the characters upload their personalities onto a computer. Something would most likely get lost in the uploading. Even with super-advanced future computers, it would have to be mentioned and not assumed that people don’t have severe personality simplifications upon being uploaded.
Long story short: when you’re making magic, make sure it can’t accidentally kill your characters by messing even a little bit with their brains.
Most people have figured out by now that it’s kind of silly for creatures from another planet to speak English. When aliens are talking to other aliens, it’s implied that the words are being translated into English for the viewers. If aliens need to talk to humans, they usually have some sort of translation device with them. Science fiction authors who are serious about portraying things realistically wouldn’t dream of having the aliens land on Earth and just happen to speak the same language.
So, naturally, they avert the horrors of aliens speaking English by having the occasional untranslated sentence of the aliens’ language floating around.
This is like saying “I don’t want my aliens dancing the Charleston, because that’s too human, so I’ll have them do a dance I made up instead.” Yeah, but they’re still dancing.
The aliens will most likely have a method of communication. However, the likelihood that this language is verbal would be astronomically low. (Hee hee, astronomically. That pun was totally intentional.) We have five senses. There are probably obscure methods of communication using the others that I don’t know about, but we verbally talk, we read visually the written word and visually communicate via informal body language and formal sign language, and blind people feel the bumps of braille. Verbal communication happens to be the most widely used. In a species that evolved under completely different conditions than Earth life, the aliens might have special footlike things that cause vibrations in sequence on the ground that are used as communication. (There go the dancing aliens again…) Smell is often ignored. There are even ways that taste could be used as communication. Not to mention the fact that aliens might have entirely different senses. It’s not that alternate forms of communication to speech aren’t used. It’s just that verbal communication is used so often, when it’s only a small step up from aliens speaking English. When you make your aliens, consider giving them a way of talking to each other without making a single sound.
This can also be used for fantasy races or supernatural beings, though there is a bit more justification for giving them speech than there is for extraterrestrials.