Monday, February 22, 2010

Fantasy Characters

We've batted characters around a couple of times, but I want to look deeper at fantasy characters. How are they different from contemporary characters? How are they the same?

We are all familiar with elves, dwarves, wizards and the like. How can we come up with new fantasy characters that are fresh and interesting?

How can you take an "old" fantasy character and make them new?

In my WIP, I use fairies. They aren't the main characters, but are crucial to the plot. I wanted to do something different, so I researched them and bought books about them. Then I took an idea from one book and used the four elements: earth, air, fire, water. I gave each group of fairies a specific job in the world I created. I want to do something similar in each book I write and have already come up with two other types of fairies that are different from what I've learned about fairies.

I have two groups of people I totally made up: the Kazmura (cave people) and the Acadians (forest people). It took some time, but I worked at developing them before I added them to the story by figuring out their habits, history, beliefs, environment, etc. I came up with new words and phrases for each group.

I also have dwarves, but wanted to make them fresh and different somehow, so I took what I knew about them and only tweaked them a little. They look like regular dwarves and they are miners ... but my dwarves mine salt. It adds a new dimension to an old group of characters.

Let's talk fantasy characters. How are you handling developing new ones or making old ones fresh?


  1. In my own work, along with inventing some creature types of my own, I plan to turn some old ones on their head. For instance, dwarves are by nature the great seekers of knowledge, and are miners because a) a lot of knowledge is buried over the course of centuries or millennia, b) they can trade metals, jewels, and the like for other cultures' knowledge, and c) it's cheaper to carve durable library-cities out of rock than to mine or import the rock and build above-ground , and they can expand more easily underground. In contrast, most elves (for I plan on having several different kinds of elves) seek precious metals, gems, and unique treasures because they, having longer life-spans, want imperishable (and preferably never-depreciating) things.

  2. Well, the most I do right now with mine, is make young wizards and have them interacting with more than one 'magical' creature, such as they have their own fairy (kind of like how Peter Pan had 'his' own pixie) or how they are the only one with any kind of gifts or powers for literally miles and miles in their realm. It always presents a new twist, for instead of making them wait or store up their powers, I let them use it on every single petty little thing--because to them it is common place. I usually work with 'lost' fairies, the ones who do not realize where they come from or who they are and have become so ingrained in 'human' culture that some of it carries over. I have made them vain (as the mermaids were said to be) and quiet shadows, creatures who prefer to be invisible and never noticed. I don't stray too far from the stereotype, though I'd like to. :)

  3. Sara, I love the idea of "lost" fairies. You need to gather your courage and stray! When we write "outside the box" we get noticed. Don't be afraid of your creativity.

    Jonathan, I like your idea of switching the traditions of elves and dwarves. Nice.

    What about "ordinary" characters? Do they need to be different from contemporary characters? My main character is special, but her closest friends are not. I think they balance her nicely.

    I'm rewatching LOTR - look at Hobbits. They have no magic or special qualities, but the way Tolkien handled them makes them unique.

  4. History. I know my Greek mythology :p I also, with my book "Half-Blood" With creatures like mermaids and centaurs, instead of making them like a person chopped in half and taped to a horse I blend them.

  5. I don't want to say too much about my race of people, because it's taking me so long to finish the book that I'm a little worried someone will steal my idea and publish something similar before I finish.

    But, basically, I took the high elves of Tolkein's fantasy and mixed them with hobbits. So I have a race that are somewhat magical, but still "down to earth." Originally I tried to write fan faction about the elves, just as an exercise to get my creative juices flowing, but they are so perfect it's a bit hard to make them really interesting.

    I was feeling pretty inferior to Tolkein and other writers, until I was doing my original research and learned that he based his elves on Norse mythology, in which they were half-divine beings rather than the cute assistants of Santa Claus we think of today.

    Everything comes from something else. As long as we can create a way of making them interesting and appealing, we're doing okay.

    My novel blog has the following introduction:

    Long ago, when the mountains were taller and the seas younger, there lived a race of people who were smaller than humans, less magical than elves, and not at all like dwarves. For one thing, their menfolk (called hamen) had no beards, and for another, they loathed being underground. All they knew for sure about themselves was that they were Hanorja, and that their ancestors had come over the mountains in ages past.

    I really struggled with finding a name for them, until I came across the name "Honoria" in a name search. Its a female name meaning "honor," which is one of the key traits of my people. So I played around with spellings and got "Hanorja" (pronounced "hannor-uh") which means "honorable people" in my fictional language.

  6. P.S. every time I write "Honoria" I can't help thinking of the character Honoria Glossop from the Jeeves and Wooster stories! She is the indomitable female who constantly pursues him. LOL!

  7. Christine, when I saw the name, "Honoria" I immediately thought of M*A*S*H and Charles Emmerson Winchester. His sister was named Honoria. That was the first and only time I ever heard the name.

    I know how you feel regarding the possibility someone may come up with a similar idea as yours before you get your book published. And you are wise not to reveal too much. Please don't ever think I would want anyone to do that. I try to be careful with my own writing.

    I like what you said: "Everything comes from something else. As long as we can create a way of making them interesting and appealing, we're doing okay." That is SO true!

    Thanks to everyone for chiming in.

  8. I know that I'm a little late for this discussion, but I wanted to add a little to it. :) I did stay with the typical elf for The Keepers of Elenath, however, they are not immortal. I wanted them to be able to interact with the reader on a down-to-earth level, whereas elves who live forever almost seem unreachable. My dwarves are called "gnomes" which, I know, brings to mind a little white-bearded man with a shovel or something, but I didn't want to connect with the mining race- the shadowglyphs did that (we'll get to them in a moment) So my gnomes are like dwarves, a bit shorter and broader than normal humans. They are not confined to caves and mine shafts-- they often work with horses and metals.
    I also created two new creatures (well, not really new, but kind of)
    A Shadowglyph. Shadowglyphs: they're a little bit like fairy-hobbits. Hmm . . . that brings a really weird picture to mind, but what I really wanted were a people who were very small, around three feet tall, but had the normal characteristics of humans. They do not participate in battle; they are informers and spies.
    And . . . etels (pronounced Eht-ell)These creatures are a cross between an elf and a tree-spirit. They look a lot like elves, but their life-force is bound to a tree, like the dryads in Lewis's work (i think they were dryads, correct me if not) and if their tree was cut down they would die.
    So i think that we can use the old molds or combine them to create new creatures!!

  9. You're right, Amanda, we CAN use the old molds and combine them to create new creatures. We just have to be aware of what's out there already so we aren't accused of stealing.

    It's a good thing to read books similar to your WIP, but we also have to be careful we don't inadvertantly slip something in our stories that has been used by someone else. It's easy to do.