why is it that in many fantasy stories, humans are the focus?

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Re: why is it that in many fantasy stories, humans are the focus?

Post by Salmoneus » Wed 16 May 2018, 19:08

Generally the best advice for producing good material (not necessarily for serenity...) is: "worry more... afterwards".

Most people worry not the wrong amount, but at the wrong point. They worry whether something they do will be good, which deters them from doing it. Then when they've done it, they're happy and carefree and cocky and confident because hey, they thought it would be hard and they did it.

But the best way to improve is to be confident and carefree before you do something (because otherwise you'll never do anything, or if you do you'll have one eye over your shoulder the whole time), and then worry about how good it was afterward (because if you don't, you'll be content, and so you'll never improve (except through luck) on your first attempt).

Of course, worrying about the last thing you did while approaching the next thing boldly and without concern is not an easy thing to pull off. It's part of the reason why almost everybody is terrible at almost everything (statistically speaking).
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Re: why is it that in many fantasy stories, humans are the focus?

Post by DesEsseintes » Thu 17 May 2018, 02:35

Salmoneus wrote:
Wed 16 May 2018, 19:08
It's part of the reason why almost everybody is terrible at almost everything (statistically speaking).
I love this sentence, and I couldn’t agree more with this evaluation. It’s just that I would never have been able to articulate it as well. [xD]
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Re: why is it that in many fantasy stories, humans are the focus?

Post by fruityloops » Thu 17 May 2018, 16:30

hey i know this is like a really contrived reason for why I'm the way i am but....i had a brain injury way back in freshmen year, and take away my ability to visualize things as clearly now a days. it impacted my writing by a lot and i have trouble describing actions. even back then i struggle but not by much. now, it's next to impossible to get writing project done just because of that, especially when it's prose. non-fiction or explaining my setting i much easier for me.

it's not the virtue of my setting lacking humans that alienates people, it's how i write that alienates them. again dumb excuse but if i ever get a single comic project done, my art is serviceable but the writing would be poop. like i can practice all i want but I'm skeptical if I'll ever make progress of doing anything that's not just explain stuff in droves.
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Re: why is it that in many fantasy stories, humans are the focus?

Post by elemtilas » Thu 17 May 2018, 16:52

fruityloops wrote:
Thu 17 May 2018, 16:30
hey i know this is like a really contrived reason for why I'm the way i am but....i had a brain injury way back in freshmen year, and take away my ability to visualize things as clearly now a days. it impacted my writing by a lot and i have trouble describing actions. even back then i struggle but not by much. now, it's next to impossible to get writing project done just because of that, especially when it's prose. non-fiction or explaining my setting i much easier for me.

it's not the virtue of my setting lacking humans that alienates people, it's how i write that alienates them. again dumb excuse but if i ever get a single comic project done, my art is serviceable but the writing would be poop. like i can practice all i want but I'm skeptical if I'll ever make progress of doing anything that's not just explain stuff in droves.
No, not a dumb excuse or a contrived reason by a long shot! Brain injuries can be horribly or weirdly debilitating. Or can leave no lasting effects at all.
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Re: why is it that in many fantasy stories, humans are the focus?

Post by Salmoneus » Thu 17 May 2018, 23:37

Fortunately, unlike inventiveness, prose style is something that can be learned by anyone. All that's required is to read extensively, and to read good books. What were the last ten books you read this year?*

Concise visual description, admittedly, is another thing. I do think it's a specific talent, and one that most people don't have. [I'm mostly terrible at it. I have to force myself to include any visual descriptions, and when I do they're either overly metaphorical, or dully uninspired].

But, fortunately, good writing does not require good, concise visual description. [Indeed, modern styles tend to discourage too much description]. Many great writers largely eschew visual description, prefering either to hurry events along (maintaining broad clarity of space and action through peripheral remarks), or to convey emotional mood or intellectual theme through tangential remarks. How do your characters feel? What are they thinking of? What are YOU thinking of?

So, for example...
Spoiler:
Let's imagine four ways of seeing a scene... (apologies for my own lack of writing ability!)

1.
Under the moonlight, his hair was no longer red, but grey, and cast a deep shadow over his face from which only his aquiline nose escaped - an emperor's nose, as out of place as though it were, like so many of his other possessions, stolen goods. Under the moonlight, he looked old, and he felt how he looked.
With slow strokes, he gently rubbed the sooty grease over his knife. It was no butcher's knife, straightforward and businesslike - nor a woodsman's nor a tanner's knife, savage but practical - nor a braggart's knife, cruel, hooked and wasteful - nor a professional's slim, efficient dagger. It was the old, adaptible knife of a man who knew, reluctantly, that he might shortly need to be prepared for anything. The loud blade faded into shadow as the soot cloaked it.
He exchanged a few words with the others as he worked, quietly. The four of them stood around the path like malformed, poisoned trunks, leafless in the midst of spring, like gallows-trees. The light rain dripped from their torn cloaks. If they were waiting much longer, they might start sprouting moss.

2.
He waited with them in the half-dark. He was cold, and his hair was wet; he'd forgotten how much he hated this. Not the thing itself - he'd never forgotten how that felt, he could never forget it - but the time before. The waiting; the darkness; the cold; the damp - it was always damp, in his memory. He'd never murdered anybody on a beautiful evening.
Perhaps the evenings had seemed beautiful to them, he thought - before they'd met him. He felt as though he brought the rain and shadows with him. He wondered if he'd ever be free of them. For a while, it had seemed he had found some warmth - the rain in his bones driven out for a while by the years of tall fires and loud ale. By the months of her soft sheets, and her bright skin. Their weeks of happiness. But none of it had changed him; none of it had driven these nights from his blood. They had only retreated into him, like rising sap, knotting darkly in a mass beside his heart, a weight, just waiting for the light to pass from him, waiting like a cutpurse for him to ride out of the safety of contentment. Now they were back with him, his portable shadows, his personal rain. Now he was back here, under the eye of the moon.
He wondered whether the other men in the clearing felt the same way about what they were doing. He doubted it. He and they had little in common, he told himself.
They had welcomed him back with open arms. They knew their brother.
He stared, as they waited, at the moon. He thought how perfect it looked; a pearl; a world in miniature. He imagined the kingdoms of its mountains and its seas; imagined its songs and its lovers, its wines and its sleep. So impossibly distant; untouched. Nothing they did here would change anything on the moon. He found some comfort in that.

3.
"How long, do you think?" - that was Wynred, whose tongue, his brother said, ran loose at both ends.
"Whenever", said Wolfred, leant motionless against a tree.
"Not for a while yet," expounded Grimbold. Five decades of a criminal education had taught him very little, but he was always eager to show off what he thought he knew to the younger men. "Your well-pursed, stout-bellied class of gentleman very rarely leaves an establishment before midnight, no matter how urgent the call home. It would be rude to deprive his hosts of his most excellent company, you see - or to deprive his stomach of the most excellent company of the host's table. When the last course has been sampled, it'll be at least an hour before he can stand, and after that he wouldn't think of leaving without first being rejected at the dances by at least three ladies of quality. We'll be here a while, my lads. If he comes this way at all."
"Been to a lot of balls, have you, old man?" asked Wolfred, mocking without anger. The biggest of the four rarely had time for a kind word for anyone, but Brand had only seen him truly angry once. He hoped not to see it again.
Grimbold took the challenging tone as a sign of camaraderie. "Robbed a lot of men riding home from them, son," he said happily. "Burgled a few, as well. Nothing like a grand ball for a distraction."
Wolfred snorted. "Nothing like a house on fire for a distraction. And burning down a few of those townhouses might do a bit of good in the world."
"Now, a fire's not a wise thing in a city," said Grimbold pedantically. "You might only want a distraction, but if it gets out of hand you could burn a row down before they put it out. A whole quarter, even."
"Even better."
Wynred couldn't stay silent any longer. "Burning down a whole town row is stupid," he said, brightly. "If you burn a place down, you can't rob it!" His brother glared at him, though Wynred didn't notice in the half-light.
"Burgle", corrected Grimbold, approvingly, "But the lad's right. Nothing makes sense if it doesn't make money. Burgling, robbing, that's the point of it, all right. Keeping the ale flowing and the barmaids smiling."
"Not tonight," Brand reminded them sourly, smearing his knife with lampblack. "Nothing's to be stolen."
"It won't be," promised Wolfred, with an ugly pleasure in his voice. "We'll leave it all lying where it falls, won't we boys?" Something in his tone suggested he'd be just as happy to leave Grimbold or Wynred lying alongside it if they didn't follow the plan.

4.
The heavens know the ways of men; the Earth can see mankind's appointments, and she dresses herself appropriately for each occasion. Lovers speak into each other's dumbstruck eyes beneath hot skies and blushing clouds, pink and expectant; great armies clash among the howling winds as kingdoms and the airs all rip themselves apart and tear at their own skin.
Tonight was a sordid night; a resigned night. The lidless moon accused, like a wild man's frozen eye, but the soft rain soothed the hearts of those condemned by fate to leave the world, and of those condemned to stay. Under the dark spring boughs, their green leaves draped in funeral shadows, all men - murderer and victim - look much alike.
One man was named Brand, and you know his type. He had been kind, and he had been cruel; he had been bad, and at times he had tried to be good. He was a vacillator; a hypocrite; a fool; a fraud; a thief of love; a traitor; and a half-hearted murderer. He was, in other words, an ordinary man; and like all ordinary men, he was inwardly convinced of his own exceptional nature. Surely, he thought, as he stood in the clearing with a familiar knife in his hand, familiar brigands all around, and a familiar sin in his intent, surely some sort of mistake has been made by the world, to put me in this place, with this company among whom I do not belong! I am, he thought, just as the other footpads did, not like these other men. I am only here through an accident of fate.
Terrible and unpredicted accidents had befallen all four men, it seemed. As for their intended victim - well, in their minds he seemed almost culpable himself, to so cruelly turn four men into murderers against their will, in a single evening. For that, he deserved what was coming to him.
The trees sighed. They had seen their share of human justice.


Now, sure, you could quibble with my ability to write any of these four (off the top of my head, in my defence). But as you can see, all four, while generally cleaving to traditional prose styles, take radically different approaches to how they describe essentially the same scene. They each have strengths and weaknesses, and they each employ different techniques. So you can yourself choose which strategy to adopt, in order to play to your strengths and minimise your weaknesses. If you're not good at visualisation, you can avoid description-heavy approaches like the first; if you're not good at psychology, you can avoid approaches that internal thought processes like the second; if you're not good at compelling dialogue, you can avoid approaches like the third; if you don't want to employ distance, blue sky perspective and a certain amount of irony, you can steer clear of approaches like the fourth. And of course these are by no means the only approaches you can adopt. So having a weakness in a particular area, even if you're sure you can't improve on it, is no reason not to write well. The thing about writing is that it's an almost limitless canvass, which you can fill in your own way, however best suits your talents.

Writing is something that can be learned - if your brain allows you to engage in forums and write arms-length descriptions of your setting, it allows you to write narrative (though if you have a specific injury, like a problem with visual imagination, your style may need to find ways to circumvent that obstacle).
Of course, really good writing is something that usually takes several decades of study to master...






*a hypocritical question, as I haven't even read ten books this year. If I wrote like I read today, my prose would be really appalling (rather than just overblown, as it is). Fortunately, I read extensively as a boy, and I mostly try to read good books now, to make up for the low quantum.
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Re: why is it that in many fantasy stories, humans are the focus?

Post by fruityloops » Thu 17 May 2018, 23:59

i don't wanna waste money so i have no other choice but to read short stories. i have a short attention span sooo.
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Re: why is it that in many fantasy stories, humans are the focus?

Post by clawgrip » Fri 18 May 2018, 00:46

I don't think buying a good book is a waste of money.
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Re: why is it that in many fantasy stories, humans are the focus?

Post by alynnidalar » Fri 18 May 2018, 01:04

Have you no access to libraries? Many libraries these days also offer ebooks, so if you have a library card, you could look into getting ebooks if you don't have transportation to the library.
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Re: why is it that in many fantasy stories, humans are the focus?

Post by Salmoneus » Fri 18 May 2018, 02:07

clawgrip wrote:
Fri 18 May 2018, 00:46
I don't think buying a good book is a waste of money.
Aside from books being a cheap source of entertainment in general - compare the price of a book and the length of time you enjoy it for, vs a film or a meal, for example - novels seem like a better deal than a short story anthology anyway - since you're unlikely to like all the short stories in a collection.

That said, short stories can be well-written too, so even if you just read free online stories (and there are several award-winning SF&F story zines available without charge), that's something.
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Re: why is it that in many fantasy stories, humans are the focus?

Post by Axiem » Fri 18 May 2018, 03:16

There are different stylistic considerations between short stories and novels. In general, the longer a piece of writing, the more time you have to develop themes and characters, so you can chew on description a little more, and let dialogue breathe a little more. It's less imperative that everything contribute to the Ticking Clock (if you have one). Whereas shorter stories are better when they focus on one character, or one event, and tie a neat little bow around it.

Somewhat instructive in this is Vernor Vinge's short story (/novella) "Fast Times at Fairmont High" and his book Rainbows End. The book is basically an expansion of the short story, and while the short story focuses pretty much on one character and theme (though with some digression for world-building), the book is able to bring in a lot more characters and weave things together in a way that would just make the short story jumbled.

There's a trend in contemporary books—as Sal alluded to—especially YA and thriller to use an incredibly frenetic style with little time spent on description. Instead, it's about short, punchy scenes, usually written in 1st person present, to "keep the reader's interest" and push the plot and characters along without necessarily giving them (or the reader) time to breathe. The Hunger Games trilogy does this to an extent, though it pulls it off better than some other samples from published thriller novels I've encountered. It's about in line with the current trend in action movies to use a ton of quick cuts and constantly having things happen so the audience doesn't get bored or accidentally start to think about how ridiculous the plot is. (You never have to think deep about your world if you never give any details!)

Personally, I hate that style. I don't mind the text (or the camera) lingering a little on the descriptions and details—and you can do some very interesting characterization there, depending on how close to a character's point of view the narrator is. In my opinion, it adds to the world and ultimately makes a book much more memorable.

For instance, in N. K. Jemison's Broken Earth trilogy, some of the parts that stood out to me were simply the little bits of world-building that were done. The discussion of asphalt and how novel it was. The little bits after each chapter quoting historical texts or letters or what have you. The way the narrator sometimes just kind of winds discussion into things. The action didn't need to be omnipresent, and the lingering done in the text paints the world far better than just rushing through it would have.

But, there are a lot of different styles, and they work for different purposes. It's worth it, in my opinion, to play with a range of styles and see their strengths and weaknesses.

Also, libraries exist, and you should patronize them if you don't want to spend the money on books. They really do have a lot of great stuff.
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Re: why is it that in many fantasy stories, humans are the focus?

Post by fruityloops » Fri 18 May 2018, 12:49

it's my parents and i want to save money for art supplies (although i have a thousand dollars on my belt)...like i would kill to get a good anthology book or novel but i'm stuck with ebooks.

note: we're getting a bit off topic sooo let's end it here and restart. anyone else want to share opinions on why humans are the focus in most stories?
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Re: why is it that in many fantasy stories, humans are the focus?

Post by elemtilas » Fri 18 May 2018, 13:51

fruityloops wrote:
Fri 18 May 2018, 12:49
note: we're getting a bit off topic sooo let's end it here and restart. anyone else want to share opinions on why humans are the focus in most stories?
Ultimately I think all the answers given thus far boil down to "they're easy". Easy to write about (because they're us); easy to read about (because they're us); easy to predict (because, well); easy to digest (no, not thát way!); easy to understand.

The minute you introduce any kind of non-human person, be it an angel or demon, a Vulcan or a Klingon, a Daine or an Elf or a Fairy or any of a crore of other races, you introduce uncertainty, mystery and that which is completely out of experience. Both of reader (relatability) and author (writability) alike. I think most authors focus on humans and relegate the other races to the sidelines simply because they have no real idea what it is to bé Elf, to bé Angel, to bé Fairy. Not in any deep in the bones way.

It is much harder to write about and center a whole story on another kind of person simply because of all the work that must go into imagining how every detail of anatomy, physiology, body, mind, spirit & soul work in concert. I'm not talking about a few attribute classes like you might find in an RPG, but really what makes the Other tick, how do they react and why do they react that way when it's so obvious that . . . oh, yeah, they aren't Us! In order to do them justice, an author would have to spend a lot of time thinking about them, and thinking like them. In the same way an actor gets into character by modelling himself after who he's depicting, an author would literally have to transform herself into a person of the other race. Feel what they feel; experience what they experience; live how they live.

Then she'd have to come back from that wandering and make that experience relatable to an audience. I honestly think such an approach might take too long to be of great worth for most writers. Their goal is to churn out words and turn them into dollars. It would be much more expedient (and lucrative) to put together a few surface facts about another race, create a shallow simulacrum and leave it at that.
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Re: why is it that in many fantasy stories, humans are the focus?

Post by DesEsseintes » Sun 20 May 2018, 05:27

Salmoneus wrote:
Thu 17 May 2018, 23:37
...snippets
I enjoyed those four passages very much and am a great fan of your writings about your conworlding/langing, and therefore wondered if you’ve written any short stories or such that can be read online? If so, would you be willing to post some links? If not, just out of curiosity, are you interested in writing your own fiction at some point?
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Re: why is it that in many fantasy stories, humans are the focus?

Post by elemtilas » Sun 20 May 2018, 13:31

DesEsseintes wrote:
Sun 20 May 2018, 05:27
Salmoneus wrote:
Thu 17 May 2018, 23:37
...snippets
I enjoyed those four passages very much and am a great fan of your writings about your conworlding/langing, and therefore wondered if you’ve written any short stories or such that can be read online? If so, would you be willing to post some links? If not, just out of curiosity, are you interested in writing your own fiction at some point?
In the Census, there are some links to lovely examples of Salmoneus's writing! (And I'm one who's putting in a nother vote to see more of his fiction writing here!)
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Re: why is it that in many fantasy stories, humans are the focus?

Post by WeepingElf » Sun 20 May 2018, 15:56

Speaking of my own project, The Elvenpath, the main reason why my Elves are humans, nothing more and nothing less, is: I want to express my views of the human condition and the meaning of life through the project. And that demands that the characters are human, because with non-human characters, I couldn't say anything about the human condition because the characters would be different. Anyone could say, "Well, yes, it may work for them, but they are not human!" I don't want that. So my characters are human. (Also, of course, the thing is meant as a historical fantasy, set in a real place, namely the British Isles, and we can be pretty sure that whoever lived in the British Isles at any of the time covered was human.)
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Re: why is it that in many fantasy stories, humans are the focus?

Post by elemtilas » Sun 20 May 2018, 20:24

WeepingElf wrote:
Sun 20 May 2018, 15:56
Speaking of my own project, The Elvenpath, the main reason why my Elves are humans, nothing more and nothing less, is: I want to express my views of the human condition and the meaning of life through the project. And that demands that the characters are human, because with non-human characters, I couldn't say anything about the human condition because the characters would be different. Anyone could say, "Well, yes, it may work for them, but they are not human!" I don't want that. So my characters are human. (Also, of course, the thing is meant as a historical fantasy, set in a real place, namely the British Isles, and we can be pretty sure that whoever lived in the British Isles at any of the time covered was human.)
Another world I wish we'd hear more about here! :(
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Re: why is it that in many fantasy stories, humans are the focus?

Post by WeepingElf » Mon 21 May 2018, 13:53

elemtilas wrote:
Sun 20 May 2018, 20:24
WeepingElf wrote:
Sun 20 May 2018, 15:56
Speaking of my own project, The Elvenpath, the main reason why my Elves are humans, nothing more and nothing less, is: I want to express my views of the human condition and the meaning of life through the project. And that demands that the characters are human, because with non-human characters, I couldn't say anything about the human condition because the characters would be different. Anyone could say, "Well, yes, it may work for them, but they are not human!" I don't want that. So my characters are human. (Also, of course, the thing is meant as a historical fantasy, set in a real place, namely the British Isles, and we can be pretty sure that whoever lived in the British Isles at any of the time covered was human.)
Another world I wish we'd hear more about here! :(
It is currently very much WIP, but I shall post here when I have more to present. For the time being, a brief and woefully incomplete summary of the history of the Elves can be found here.
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Re: why is it that in many fantasy stories, humans are the focus?

Post by Salmoneus » Thu 24 May 2018, 16:45

DesEsseintes wrote:
Sun 20 May 2018, 05:27
Salmoneus wrote:
Thu 17 May 2018, 23:37
...snippets
I enjoyed those four passages very much and am a great fan of your writings about your conworlding/langing,
Thank you.
and therefore wondered if you’ve written any short stories
Yes...
or such that can be read online?
...but no. Other than slightly narrative conworlding infodumps. I don't like the idea of posting online. If it's something I really like, I don't want to automatically throw away any chance of later publication. But if it's something I don't really like (more likely!), I don't really want it displayed on the internet for all eternity for people to see and be disappointed by.

What I have done is send out stories to readers for feedback every couple of years. If you really wanted, I could probably send you a few stories at some point in the near future. But please, don't feel obliged to remain interested...
If not, just out of curiosity, are you interested in writing your own fiction at some point?
Yes; but I rarely seem to be in the right mood and properly inspired at the same time, these days...

There's also an additional problem that the stories I DO manage to finish are weird/boring. I think I'm just not sufficiently enthused by conventional plots (and/or I lack the imagination required to make them interesting), so the things I do manage to finish tend to be sort of peculiar, and probably not of any interest to anyone other than me.
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Re: why is it that in many fantasy stories, humans are the focus?

Post by elemtilas » Thu 24 May 2018, 17:57

Salmoneus wrote:
Thu 24 May 2018, 16:45
Yes; but I rarely seem to be in the right mood and properly inspired at the same time, these days...

There's also an additional problem that the stories I DO manage to finish are weird/boring. I think I'm just not sufficiently enthused by conventional plots (and/or I lack the imagination required to make them interesting), so the things I do manage to finish tend to be sort of peculiar, and probably not of any interest to anyone other than me.
Now on this matter I must most strenuously disagree with you!

You have at least one fan of your writing here (me!) and I know others would love to see more stories and world tidbits from you!

And I am unanimous in that. [B)]
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