Sunday, August 14, 2011

Fantastical humans and creatures in writing

Ever since Twilight came out, there have been undercurrents of discussion in the unpublished writing world (and maybe the published one too, who knows?) about how effective supernatural or modified humans and creatures are in creating tension in a story. Unlike talking animal characters, supernatural and fantastical creatures are human enough for readers to relate to, but fantastic enough and with enough paranormal background to create an interesting fantasy (or romantic) world.

This is just a list of ones I see most often or would like to see more of, from most to least favorite.

Cyborgs: Ok, these aren’t really supernatural at all, but they are certainly on the fantastic side. A human, given robotic implants to make them, if I can borrow a phrase, stronger, better, faster. I love them-who doesn’t like an otherwise vulnerable guy with overwhelming physical strength? I’ve said this before, but I haven’t seen as many stories featuring cyborgs as I would like, and very few of them explore the effect that such modifications would have on a character’s humanity.

Faeries: Faeries are neat because of the variability with which they are portrayed. They can be tiny things with insect like wings, or human sized. They can be elements of nature or almost contemporary. They can be good, evil, or just like to play tricks. There is a ton of classic literature on fairies that is begging to be addressed in future work, and there is also a ton of recent novels that explore fairies and the fairy realm in interesting ways. For a quick read, check out War of the Flowers by Tad Williams.

Shifters/ Werewolves: Humans that can turn into animals, and of course, the classic werewolf. Shifter books are practically their own genre in a lot of romance, with the classic alpha pack leader serving as a status symbol for the hero/heroine to fall in love with. Werewolves are often a subset of shifter books, with many liberties taken on how shifter society works and which animals shifters turn into (it’s 99% of the time a large predator). Classic werewolf fiction has fallen off a little bit, however-being a werewolf is no longer the curse it once was in the literary world.

Animal Hybrids- If the characters are truly anthropomorphic animals, then it is probably furry fiction, but animal hybrids are a bit different. I classify animal hybrids as stories where a character looks mostly human, but has animal like traits or abilities-think catgirls from anime, or perhaps a human with wings or claws. Usually these stories have a society of animal people, or several different societies of people who have different species traits, who coexist with humans. Typically there is a romance subplot between two different “species.”  This is a huge genre in unpublished fiction, and I’m surprised it hasn’t taken off in the legit publishing world yet. Characters that are human enough to be attractive and yet have innate, cool abilities based on an animal, with no shifting required? That sounds interesting to me.

Aliens: UFOs, abductions, and creative takes on otherworldly species-Aliens can be a lot of fun. Most of the time, unfortunately, they aren’t put to good use, and are the ambiguous enemy that must be defeated or are mere background players in the human space opera. There is a lot of potential for aliens, though, and good science fiction takes advantage of the many intergalactic species humans may encounter. For a good MG book series with interesting aliens, check out Animorphs. For a great TV show with interesting alien races, check out Babylon 5.

Vampires: Blood totally skeeves me out. So do needles. Combine needle sharp teeth and sucking blood and just…ugh.  That said, vampires can be very interesting, and their lore is intriguing. The thinly veiled sexual innuendo of blood sucking can even titillate if done well. However, vampires are getting a lot of knocks, chief among them that lately, they are extremely overdone.

Elves: Can we please have elves in a story that aren’t stuck up assholes? Everyone steals Tolkien’s elves, who are always fair haired, long lived, wise nature loving creatures who look down on humans. I don’t like elves because they’re typically portrayed as misanthropic, and being human, I kind of love humans. Societal commentary is great in fantasy, but a writer doesn’t typically need an entire perfect race that exists just to make the humans in the story look bad. It’s not realistic.

That’s just a few of my opinions on fantastical character types I see in the publishing world. There are others that have been popular at some time or another-ghost stories are classic, and there are a few angel or demon stories out there that I’m not familiar with, I’m sure. Zombies have been big for quite a while, though I would be loathe to truly call them “characters.” If someone can make a sympathetic zombie character, I would love to see it.

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