Adriana here with a collaboration post I am SUPER excited for! Today I have the lovely Cait Potter joining me for a post on the topic of writing more diverse fantasy novels and characters.
So, Welcome Cait! Before we get started, I’ll let you introduce yourself a bit.
Cait: Hey guys! I’m honoured to be a guest poster especially for this particular topic. I’ll jump right in and elaborate on what Adriana meant by writing more diverse fantasy novels and characters. It’s my personal belief that, in a genre that allows you infinite use of your imagination, if you can’t write past the white characters, dragons and elves (My way of summing up the fantasy tropes) then you should reconsider the genre you’re writing in. This appears brutally honest but…honestly, that is the way I write especially about topics I’m passionate about. What do you think Adriana?
Adriana: I definitely agree with you on how Fantasy seems to be limited to certain things that do revolve mostly around cliches. I know that, when I write a fantasy novel, I usually spend the longest time outlining and planning so as to avoid cliches and just let my imagination take over. Though, I have found (as I am writing a novel that has mermaids/sirens in it) that there seem to be so many cliches related to them (or other fantasy creatures) that make it hard to let your imagination take over and actually achieve that diversity. How do you go about achieving that diversity? I know I have a few ways of going about it but I would love to hear your thoughts!
Cait: I find that when it comes to cliches you don’t have to avoid them just change them to make them less the cliches they are to something perhaps a little different. Hmmm…How do I got about achieving diversity? Good question.
I feel I go about it in a few different ways;
The first, is understanding that there are more people in the world than just me. That there are billions of ways a human can look, sound, dress, etc as well as the amazingly different ways we perceive the world according to memory, experience and emotion. Now imagine all the different ways you could have your characters, human or not, experience each other and the world around them. Why would you want to just stick to the usual?
Second, The world doesn’t wait for you so why should it wait for your character. There is so much going on in this world let alone all the others you could imagine. You don’t have to go for an ordinary waltz through the woods, your character doesn’t just have to deal with dragons. There is so much more to explore.
Third and last, Experiment! You have worlds inside your head my dear writers, give yourself room to experiment with them. Go wild. Is there a type of music in your world? Learn to play it on an instrument. Same goes for anything else (Cooking is always fun), But if you don’t want to get this adventurous maybe consider experiencing the things you want to write about in more ways than just watching a documentary or reading a guide book about it. Learn to not copy and paste your world, learn to create it yourself.
Over to you Adriana!
Adriana: Those are some awesome points! I will have to file those away for my own personal use haha. Your first point was outstanding I must say. When writing my fantasy novels I’m always trying to make sure I’m not just sticking to the usual appearances of the characters and such. Though I often find myself turning back to it in fear of offending people or something haha. Usually for my approaches to get diversity in my characters (if based off mythical creatures like mermaids and such) is by actually referring back to how they appear in the original myths themselves and from there I base a character off the myth and add my own twists and changes from there. I seem to get characters pretty well but it’s plot and world building that get me. It seems that, for plot, a lot has been done and I feel it dulls down the creativity (for me) as I come up with something and go: ‘Oh wait. Thats from so-and-so’s novel’
Is there a way you approach coming up with a unique plot or world that kinda helps you from not getting that ‘I feel like I’m copying this person’s novel’ feeling?
Cait: For your first concern when it comes to character appearances, you only have to worry about that if it concerns human characters. Then I would suggest research. Otherwise, on any other characters you will have free reign. Go ahead and make that minotaur have pink horns, who is it going to offend? (OK probably someone but I have no idea why and you should ignore them because having pink horns is awesome) Anyways…
On plot, I think simplifying it might be your answer. Think of your plot as what your character wants/needs and how they have to go about it getting it…or there. The rest is up to what you’ve got happening in the world that your character is involved in, the character’s situation, your character’s perception.
For eg: Your character wants to avoid being eaten by that angry mermaid. What things could stop that from happening? What could complicate that? Maybe the character can’t swim? Why is the character even in that situation? Maybe they got ship wrecked? PLOT..No? Experiment with it. You don’t have to follow one idea, one plot.
For world building, That’s a tough one. My best advice is to build it from the ground up. Start with the land, the sea, the mountains, etc. Come up with a few funny names for them, then rename them later. Build a house in each place, what is different about living in those places? How are the people changed? Add the things you want but justify them being there.
Well, you don’t have to do that but the idea is all the same. Your characters will be affected by where they live. It’s a good place to start at least.
Seriously, you’re limited only by your imagination, Experiment!!!
Adriana: Yeah, for me its more the human characters I worry about. I’m very careful and don’t want to accidentally offend someone but your point makes complete sense. (I now want a novel where a minotaur has pink horns haha 😛 ) As for the world-building approach, I thank you as one of my struggles is world-building. That’s how I’ve been going about this all for my one novel but it is definitely not easy. Though, my main struggle with world-building is naming the places and locations and such. (Unlike my super complex questions this one should me a lot more simple.) How do you come up with names for places? Do you agree that all the names should have similar sounds and pronunciations? (I’ve been told many times they should all sound similar)
Cait: Names. Oh names. I think this is one of my biggest peeves in fantasy. I can’t pronounce the names. I end up making up some random jibberish to replace that character’s name and then the horror of having to pronounce it to someone and feeling the light slowly leaving your eyes as you get to your fourth attempt.
Ok that was dramatic but I feel like it’s a fair point. Feel free to disagree.
Names can be weird, wacky, interesting and unique but as a person who struggles with pronunciation, can we try and consider this point? Please be kind to me!
I don’t agree that they have to sound the same, what’s the fun in that. Though maybe in a place where in the accent things are easier to say or it’s just the way things are spoken? I don’t know.
Name things, scratch the names out, mix them around, rename things. Names aren’t the only thing about a place, object or character so you should just do what feels natural.
Adriana: Oh I totally agree! I find it very frustrating (and kind of embarrassing) when I cannot pronounce a name of a place or character. I love quirky names for places and such as well….as long as I can actually say it without stumbling over my words. I agree that names aren’t the only aspect about a place but I do think that a name of a place can really sell it to your readers. I think that naming things does have to be a somewhat major consideration as I feel that that can also set the tone too. Like if I want something to be taken seriously as the characters are about to go somewhere dangerous I don’t think ‘The Black Forest’ is a really good name and I might take it more as a joke. (Unless of course that name actually has some sort of fitting meaning to it… Does that make sense? What are your thoughts?
Cait: I agree!
Words definitely have substance, the way a word sounds can make you feel different things. A name doubly so. A name has a personality and can easily sway a reader’s first impression over a place or character to what you want them to think or feel about it.
But like I said, a name isn’t the only thing so you shouldn’t have to stress about it. If you’re having trouble putting a name to something or someone, keep working on that thing or person until your name comes to you. Let your naming be natural, you know like ritual sacrifice. What’s the point if it feels all stiff.
Adriana: Very good point. (as you can see I still have a lot to learn about writing fantasy 😛 )
Now, kind of jumping back a bit here to character development a bit before we finish up here. (Cause I just came up with something) Do you have any examples from some of your novels where you have taken a common fantasy creature (like mermaids, fairies, and dragons) and added some sort of twist to make them more your own creation? I’ll share some of mine in a moment but I would love to know if you have any twists/changes you’ve added to make them seem more original/special.
Cait: I certainly do!
Let’s go for the wackiest first….I had a werewolf that was a roman slave until he time traveled to the future.
I have angels that aren’t actually angels but still angsty and on too many drugs all the same.
I have a mermaid myself but she threatens to eat her friends (tries to on several occasions) and broods in the local pool.
I think when it comes to making your fantasy creatures a bit more strange than they already are, personality is key!
On the subject, there was something I would mention. Destroying the stereotypes of the average fantasy creature.
For eg: Why are all the ‘ugly’ creatures considered evil? Give me orcs, trolls, big nosed, boily witches, goblins and all the like, working for the good of the world. Hey why not? Why are all your dragons knock offs of the medieval western serpents? Give me some dragon diversity. What could an egyptian dragon look like? What about all those asian dragons we only see in parades? (How to train your dragon is an excellent source and not to promote or anything but you should seriously watch it for dragon reference.) Your elves don’t have to be pretty, graceful creatures that are good a shooting arrows. They could be unattractive, whiny and good with a gun.
My point is, you don’t have to set boundaries when it comes to fantasy creatures. The possibilities are endless. Don’t insult your intelligence and creativity by setting limitations to either. Don’t insult your readers by copying and pasting your fantasy creatures straight from the textbook.
Adriana: That is fantastic! I must say I’m quite happy the dragons thing was brought up. While planning out different kinds of dragons for my WIP ‘The Tale of Fojan Ryo’ I took the difference between the dragons from How To Train Your Dragon into consideration when planning it all out.
For example: I have a dragon called a Northwest Windskimmer and this dragon is very long, very large and sleek and flies through the sky softly as it surfs on the breeze sort of like a ribbon. They are harder to find but great when learning to fly a dragon.
Another one of my favourite dragon types (out of 7 so far) is one called the ‘Southern SkySnake’ It has a small, sleek body, large wings and big head. Its uneven weight/size makes it rather clumsy (due to its really big head) but it is very very friendly and an amazing flyer.
It was definitely a blast doing that for sure. I know I have other twists for other types of creatures but those are the main ones, really. I seriously love it when people take many different approaches to common fantasy creatures and make them more unique. Always love hearing about all the fun twists!
So, Cait. Anything else you wanna add quick before we wrap up this post?
Cait: There are a few other things I would discuss but maybe that could be saved for a sequel to this lovely conversation?
To sum up my points in a few key sentences. Don’t be afraid to experiment. Don’t stress out if your world isn’t working. Fantasy takes time and it takes effort. There is a lot going on and it’s a lot to work with; that can be scary sometimes. But there is a good side to that, you have so much to work with and so many possibilities. Let your story draw you in as much as it might your readers.
Adriana: A sequel might have to be arranged, for sure! Those are some awesome points, Cait! I want to thank you so much for collaborating with me on this post. I certainly had a blast! 😀 (and I have learned a lot about world-building here for my own uses)
Cait: Thank you for this opportunity! I’ve had great fun discussing this with you and I hope it is as informative for your readers as it was for me. As it is, if you have any direct or follow up questions for me personally you can contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org
It was great having writing this with you Adriana and I hope I get the chance again. Thanks!
and thank YOU for joining me, Cait! 😀
So, now readers, do you have anymore questions about worldbuilding and/or Diversity in Fantasy novels? I would love to hear your thoughts or maybe some unique twists you’ve added to common fantasy characters.
Until Next Time!