I’m writing a fantasy novel and I’m working with both fantasy races and cultures that have real-world similarities. Any advice on how to avoid negative connotations between some of the more stereotypical “dark” races and the cultures they’re based off of? For example, I’ve developed a race of trolls with culture that draws from the Japanese but is different enough (from what my test readers have told me) that there isn’t enough to pin down a specific culture but they say reads as vaguely Asian. Also, mone of the stereotypically “dark” races are presented as dark solely by virtue of being what they are, and I’ve tried to give all my races both good and bad traits without playing to stereotypes, but I’m just not sure if I’ve either changed the culture enough or ought to change it more so it doesn’t read as anything (but I don’t want to accidentally cherrypick) or if I should start over and go completely from scratch.
Damn you JRRT for infusing modern fantasy literature with this idea that “races” of fantasy beings have to be all of one personality. Orcs are all twisted, elves are all haughty, dwarves are all clannish, humans are all corruptible and selfish but ultimately good, hobbits are all hedonistic, etc. It’s just as xenophobic/racist as an all-human version of the same.
There’s a subtle difference between “the culture of the elves is such that they are haughty” and some kind of biological determinism that says elves are all naturally haughty and I don’t know how to finish saying what I mean and I throw myself on Nik’s mercy because I feel like he’ll say it better anyway.
I was about to say… what is with this obsession with making non-human fantasy races modeled on one specific (non-European, usually) culture? This always bugged me about Star Trek even. Like, there’s maybe one to two mentions of Klingon dialects but by and large, there’s just “Klingon” all speak Klingon and act Klingon and there’s very little room for variation.
One thing I’ve found helps in my own work is to constantly think of my fantasy races not as “races” but as “aliens.” These are legitimately different species (even if I personally work in some magic gene-therapy bull to allow interbreeding). This forces me into a mental recasting to think of all possible intra-species variation just as we humans have. So yeah, it’s possible while in the course of a single story to only interact with one culture of the fantasy species, that culture is a small snapshot of a larger cultural gradient.
It also bugs me when folks just take from a real world human culture for their fantasy species without examining the geocultural and historical background that gave rise to said culture. For instance, “Japanese culture” is product of Japan’s history and geography, etc., and just one of many possible paths that said culture could have developed along.
Your race of trolls or whatever who live in the snow-swept mountains of Fantastica are going to have a biological/historical/technological/culture background that makes certain development far more likely to happen, but rather than try to think those out, nah, just steal from some real world human culture. I mean, this is pretty dehumanizing in a very literal sense. What we have here is a failure of imagination, which is ironic because it happens more often in speculative fiction writing than anything else.
This is just me, but I really really prefer it when fantasy races aren’t based on real life countries and cultures. Like Nikhil said, think alien!
Or (and I’m not Japanese so maybe this is not a good idea) there *are* troll-like creatures in Japanese mythology. This doesn’t mean making your trolls Japanese is a good idea but rather you can use oni or other Japanese troll-like creatures as a base, of sorts.
But if you don’t see the distinction between the two, or decided oni that drink green tea and wear kimonos is a good idea, I would rather people go with alien.
Also, how to avoid negative connotations for taking the negative aspects of the culture: take from the whole culture so you have both the positive and negative aspects represented in the story. Simple as that.
ok so hear me out. What if one day Kuroo, a fighter under the shogun, stumbles upon a shrine nearly in ruins and prays for guidance because he’s so fucking lost in the woods and accidentally summons Kenma, the spirit of the forest??????