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When you want/should have a racially diverse world, buuut...

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Okay, so...I'm in the process of world building. Slowly. Very, very slowly. And I know that one of the things that I should try to do is make my world racially diverse, because there's going to be multiple stories taking place in areas all over the world (even if I don't have them all figured out yet). The thing is, beyond the fairies and humans (or I guess humanoids with whatever name I gave them) that I have already in mind, I...don't know what other races I really want to have in this world. I have no real desire to add elves (I mean, technically they're part of the fairies, anyway, in terms of our own lore), or mermaids or ogres or anything like that. I mean, I'm not against adding them, really? But I have no real desire to have them as part of the world and, like, do tons of research on them or anything and make sure they end up in my world. I know that dragons existed at some point, but beyond that I have no clues 'cause I haven't worked on figuring them out. It seems like when most people build their worlds and decide to add those kinds of creatures, it's because they WANT to include them, and they WANT do the research on them.

 

I mean, I'm sure there are fictional worlds with only two races in them? But it seems like it'd be boring to do it that way. And I'll probably try to come up with a few of my own races, but I have no ideas at the moment.

 

So what would you do in my situation? Would you just start doing research on various races such as dwarfs, dragons, etc and see if you were inspired to include them in your world? Would you just stick to using humans and fairies and that's it? Would you just create your own races to add to the world's diversity? How do you handle making sure that your world is racially diverse enough so that it makes sense?

 

I'm kind of hoping that maybe if I started reading up on the "typical" fantasy races that I could include like the ones that I mentioned (since I need to do so anyway for the dragons), then maybe I'll have a bigger desire to include them in my world...but I don't want to force myself to include them, either, just because I feel that I should or feel that I should make the world more diverse in terms of its inhabitants.

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So what would you do in my situation? Would you just start doing research on various races such as dwarfs, dragons, etc and see if you were inspired to include them in your world? Would you just stick to using humans and fairies and that's it? Would you just create your own races to add to the world's diversity? How do you handle making sure that your world is racially diverse enough so that it makes sense?

 

I am a fan of created races, or spins on established races. I know there are people out there that definitely love reading about elves and dwarves but there are just as many people who want to see some fresh blood. I say the first option of looking at legends and myths and seeing if any of those races inspire you, and put your own twist on them. I also suggest the third option of starting from scratch. For the races in my world I looked at the environments they would be inhabiting and decided if they were going to be human or other. Think about the niche these races would fill and how that would make them different from humans.

 

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I love creating different original races. Like Penguinball[/member] said, starting with a twist on traditional ones can be good. That being said, I think you'd be find with just fairies and humans if that's what you decided you wanted. Fantasy races are one feature of fantasy, but not the only one. I have several worlds-in-progress that are populated solely by humans. If you look at Brandon Sanderson's work, a lot of his worlds are primarily human. Mistborn has three sentient races, but that's a loose thing because *spoilers*. Elantris only has two. Warbreaker, if I remember correctly, has only humans. Same with the Wheel of Time books, which have somewhere around three

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Considering that there's currently only one sapient species present in our world (namely, Homo sapiens), I wouldn't say a world with only one sapient species is necessarily unrealistic. If anything, with a world populated by multiple intelligent species alongside humans, you'd have to explain why none of them have already gone the way of the Neanderthals and Denisovans. Modern humans seem to have an unfortunate track record of outcompeting and thereby displacing other hominins they come across.

 

Personally, I wouldn't say a humans-only world would be lacking in "racial" diversity. As long as the humans have spread themselves across vast expanses of habitable land, they're bound to evolve different phenotypes (and develop different cultures) in response to the different environments they occupy. Those who migrate further away from the Equator will evolve paler skin than their ancestors, for example. That said, it can also be fun to build cultures for species with very different biologies from humans as well. What would a culture of sapient felines look like, for example?

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So what would you do in my situation? Would you just start doing research on various races such as dwarfs, dragons, etc and see if you were inspired to include them in your world? Would you just stick to using humans and fairies and that's it? Would you just create your own races to add to the world's diversity? How do you handle making sure that your world is racially diverse enough so that it makes sense?

 

I am a fan of created races, or spins on established races. I know there are people out there that definitely love reading about elves and dwarves but there are just as many people who want to see some fresh blood. I say the first option of looking at legends and myths and seeing if any of those races inspire you, and put your own twist on them. I also suggest the third option of starting from scratch. For the races in my world I looked at the environments they would be inhabiting and decided if they were going to be human or other. Think about the niche these races would fill and how that would make them different from humans.

 

 

I mean, I guess I'm technically already putting my own spin on fairies, at least a bit. Right now I don't imagine them to be the typical mischief loving, luring humans into their fairy rings, exchanging human babies with changelings type of fairies. They're...I don't know, more serious I guess? I don't really know how to explain it. I mean, for all I know there are some types of them that I'll include that will do those things, but not all of them. But the fairies are the only ones I've done that with.

 

I'll start working on researching different races from myths and legends and see what I can come up with, but I also want to at least attempt to completely create some of my own races, too.

 

I love creating different original races. Like Penguinball[/member] said, starting with a twist on traditional ones can be good. That being said, I think you'd be find with just fairies and humans if that's what you decided you wanted. Fantasy races are one feature of fantasy, but not the only one. I have several worlds-in-progress that are populated solely by humans. If you look at Brandon Sanderson's work, a lot of his worlds are primarily human. Mistborn has three sentient races, but that's a loose thing because *spoilers*. Elantris only has two. Warbreaker, if I remember correctly, has only humans. Same with the Wheel of Time books, which have somewhere around three

 

Hm. I'm probably going to try and kind of add my own twist to some "typical" fantasy races, like dragons and maybe even giants...I dunno yet. I don't want to just add them to the world just for the sake of it and not even have a purpose for them story-wise, but I'd like to at least try to create a wider variety of species, unless I can really come up with a reason to only have two or three of them.

 

 

 

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I don't want to just add them to the world just for the sake of it and not even have a purpose for them story-wise

I was going to reply something along those lines, but now you've said it yourself ;)

 

Is this about worldbuilding the universe all your stories take place in, or is it about worldbuilding specifically for SoM? Because I don't think SoM will benefit from adding more fantasy races, it takes place in the human kingdoms of Illyria, Arkyn and Tethra (though the last one is not a kingdom), we meet fairies, and the fairy kingdom is mentioned, I think it's totally fine the way it is. Adding random other races to it would seem kind of... random?

 

You could easily  add another race to the sequel/part two if you wanted to - one of the ambassadors could be hiding out on the island of giants, or in the valley of ogres, or in the dwarf kingdom in the faraway mountains, or whatever. So far I've had the impression that races in your world tend to stick to their own kind, and don't mingle a lot (which again is totally fine). Personally, I even prefer it that way - in RPGs, groups of heroes that are racially too diverse have always been my pet peeve - how do all those different races get along just fine? Not my cup of tea, it's one of the things that I find extremely unrealistic.

Speaking of SoM, there is war/fighting/genocide between humans and fairies in Tethra (which is extremely realistic - they did live together for a while, but it didn't work out!), so adding other races that get along with humans perfectly fine would seem weird (at least to me). Giving them their own kingdoms or countries on the map fits in a lot better with what you have established so far.

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Is this about worldbuilding the universe all your stories take place in, or is it about worldbuilding specifically for SoM? Because I don't think SoM will benefit from adding more fantasy races, it takes place in the human kingdoms of Illyria, Arkyn and Tethra (though the last one is not a kingdom), we meet fairies, and the fairy kingdom is mentioned, I think it's totally fine the way it is. Adding random other races to it would seem kind of... random?

 

It's about world building in general, 'cause there's going to be more than just SoM that I write that takes place in this world. Waaaay more.

 

You could easily  add another race to the sequel/part two if you wanted to - one of the ambassadors could be hiding out on the island of giants, or in the valley of ogres, or in the dwarf kingdom in the faraway mountains, or whatever.

 

Hm, that's an interesting idea.

 

So far I've had the impression that races in your world tend to stick to their own kind, and don't mingle a lot (which again is totally fine). Personally, I even prefer it that way - in RPGs, groups of heroes that are racially too diverse have always been my pet peeve - how do all those different races get along just fine? Not my cup of tea, it's one of the things that I find extremely unrealistic.

 

Yeah, I agree. I think I definitely want to add races where that's not the case, though, like there's tension between X amount of them for Y reason (it would probably fit better with the Alanna story, I THINK), just so that it's just as realistic for things to not be 100% perfect everywhere in the world. Plus, yay tension. XD

 

Speaking of SoM, there is war/fighting/genocide between humans and fairies in Tethra (which is extremely realistic - they did live together for a while, but it didn't work out!), so adding other races that get along with humans perfectly fine would seem weird (at least to me). Giving them their own kingdoms or countries on the map fits in a lot better with what you have established so far.

 

Yeah, that's what I was pretty much already planning on doing, is adding other kingdoms and countries to the map, especially because of Alana's story that takes place in the same world.

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I'm not sure if this is useful by now, but in your story, you could always allude to other races, without having to determine exactly what they are.  Like a weird artifact washing ashore somewhere that clearly isn't of human or fairy make.  Or just rumors/stories of other races that some traveler might possibly have come across long ago, and no one was able to verify the tales.  It would give a sense of a wider range of peoples without you actually forcing anything into your story.

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I think it's definitely a good idea because there are so many themes to explore with it. That's leaving aside the fact that it's a fairly hot topic now so any novel might be considered remiss if it didn't have aspects of diversity. My world has been very human focused til now; within that, there was a good amount of diversity but it was a definitely human story. In the followup, I'm going to have my mc fall in love with a member of winged race. I might even have them have a baby, and have there be a bit of fallout over it. Why not? The fantasy novel is a perfect sandbox to explore real-world issues.

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I think it's definitely a good idea because there are so many themes to explore with it. That's leaving aside the fact that it's a fairly hot topic now so any novel might be considered remiss if it didn't have aspects of diversity. My world has been very human focused til now; within that, there was a good amount of diversity but it was a definitely human story. In the followup, I'm going to have my mc fall in love with a member of winged race. I might even have them have a baby, and have there be a bit of fallout over it. Why not? The fantasy novel is a perfect sandbox to explore real-world issues.

I would dispute the efficacy of using fictional species in a fantasy world to comment on racism or intercultural tension in the real world. That strategy's success would hinge on the reader making the connection between the non-existent species (be they orcs, elves, or lizard-people) portrayed in a book with real human groups. Even if the book is a clear allegory on racism, readers might come out believing that what applies to fantasy races may not necessarily apply to humans in our world. If someone had developed a distrust of Middle Easterners and assumed they were all fanatical Islamic terrorists by default, they're not going to be talked out of it by how orcs or elves are treated in a novel set in another world. Instead, they'll simply assume that orcs or elves aren't the same as the real-world people they dislike.

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I agree with Ty on some parts - it's going to be hard to "teach" readers about RL ethnic group dynamics by using a fantasy story as an analogy. Either your analogies are too subtle and readers simply won't get what they're a symbol for, as Ty suggests. Or they are too obvious, and you risk putting off your readers because that's conflicting with the very reason why they were reading fantasy in the first place - fantasy readers want to dive into a world different from our own, so being constantly reminded of the real world is not what they're looking for. It surely can be done well, but it's hard to do.

But then... do we really expect to write one fantasy book and stop people from being racist? It takes a lot more than just one story to change society on such a large scale.

 

However, I think fantasy stories can work very well as symbols of our world on a smaller scale. Take bdcharles' example of the inter-racial couple and their potential child, for example. The challenges they are going to face with society being against their relationship, the hardships the child is going to face growing up as a mixed-race child and not really fitting in anywhere - those are themes that will resonate with readers, and those are analogies that can work very well!

 

So I guess my opinion on the topic is: You won't stop people from being scared that muslims are fanatic terrorists by writing a fantasy story, but you can explore the challenges and every-day-struggles a POV character that belongs to a minority is facing on a daily basis and make your readers feel them along with that character.

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I think it's definitely a good idea because there are so many themes to explore with it. That's leaving aside the fact that it's a fairly hot topic now so any novel might be considered remiss if it didn't have aspects of diversity. My world has been very human focused til now; within that, there was a good amount of diversity but it was a definitely human story. In the followup, I'm going to have my mc fall in love with a member of winged race. I might even have them have a baby, and have there be a bit of fallout over it. Why not? The fantasy novel is a perfect sandbox to explore real-world issues.

I would dispute the efficacy of using fictional species in a fantasy world to comment on racism or intercultural tension in the real world. That strategy's success would hinge on the reader making the connection between the non-existent species (be they orcs, elves, or lizard-people) portrayed in a book with real human groups. Even if the book is a clear allegory on racism, readers might come out believing that what applies to fantasy races may not necessarily apply to humans in our world. If someone had developed a distrust of Middle Easterners and assumed they were all fanatical Islamic terrorists by default, they're not going to be talked out of it by how orcs or elves are treated in a novel set in another world. Instead, they'll simply assume that orcs or elves aren't the same as the real-world people they dislike.

 

It may be that making a novel a clear allegory for something would probably work against it, and land it on the wrong side of preachy. The same applies, in my view, with trying to overtly teach anything. But if the characters experience the same distrust or what-have-you of some notional "other", but then one character develops feelings for a member of that other group, and everything goes from there, it may render it that much more convincing. It's a bit of an exercise of manipulation via empathy (then again isn't all writing?) but I am hoping it comes off because in my head it is quite genuine. that said, all this is very much a side-arc. The main plot is about the pressing business of dragon clans and grand deceptions in a make-believe land :)

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I honestly thought initially that this was going to be about diversity in a more real-world sense :p

 

My world started out as human only, but there was a magical shift at one point in history that caused magic humans used to modify themselves on a daily basis to become heritable, creating other races. For instance groups who modified themselves with gills and other traits for fishing and pearl diving and the like became somewhat like merpeople. But I also have the more real-world racial differences.

 

I've struggled with how to portray real-world issues. I've heard all sorts of opinions anywhere on the scale of extremes. Some people say fantasy is for escapism and they just want stories with representation without all the struggles that come with being a minority, or LGBT, or disabled. They want a story with a gay main character where that's just part of who they are and not a huge point of conflict for them in the story. Or that mirroring the oppression that minorities face in fantasy is just perpetuating the problems they face in the real world.

 

On the other hand I've heard that it can also be important to represent those struggles, and that it can be erasure to write characters of color, or LGBT, or disabled who don't have to face any of the microaggressions of the real world. And then there are those people who think that a member of a majority group shouldn't try to write minorities and address their issues.

 

Basically there are as many opinions under the sun as there are people... so I try to stick to writing a story that matters to me and not stress it too much. I think trying to write with a message in mind is pretty much always going to come off preachy. But if there's an issue that matters to you and you find a way to naturally mirror it in the issues of your plot, go for it. And if you just want to show diversity in your work because it better reflects the real world and gives your world depth, then that's great too!

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On the other hand I've heard that it can also be important to represent those struggles, and that it can be erasure to write characters of color, or LGBT, or disabled who don't have to face any of the microaggressions of the real world. And then there are those people who think that a member of a majority group shouldn't try to write minorities and address their issues.

 

 

That's something I struggle with myself.  Being white and straight and cisgender, (and hoping the terminology hasn't changed on me) I'm not really a minority in any sense.  (Though I am on disability, but *shrugs* you don't find a lot of disabled MCs in Fantasy or Adventure).  I had always seen myself as being a not racist person, and if I meet people, I try to be inclusive.  But I have also noticed that my characters tend to be white if they're in a more real-world setting, and a lot of times I don't give skin colors in my fantasy settings, unless they're a color that no human comes in, such as green or purple.

 

The cry of "Use diversity" and the writing advice "Write what you know" seem to be eternally at odds with each other.  And it seems like no matter which way you try to lean, the people of the other opinion will find fault.  That just seems to be human nature, or a symptom of how broken our societies still are.  I'm not sure which.

 

But I came to the conclusion that you did: write what inspires/interests me and hope for the best. 

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The cry of "Use diversity" and the writing advice "Write what you know" seem to be eternally at odds with each other.  And it seems like no matter which way you try to lean, the people of the other opinion will find fault.  That just seems to be human nature, or a symptom of how broken our societies still are.  I'm not sure which.

Exactly! Adding diversity by adding fantasy races seems to be the only way to go that will not offend one group or the other. And even then some might point out that the humans in your story are all white or that the fairies/elves are white, or that it's the orcs who have dark skin -_-

 

On another note: You bring up a good point about disabled characters being underrepresented in fantasy. What does everyone think about that? Do you think that it's a thing that should be changed, or do you think fantasy is simply not the right genre to include disabled heroes as most plots are hard or impossible to do with a disabled MC? Do you know any books where it's been done well? Have you included disabled characters in one or more of your stories, and were they supportive characters, or even the main character?

 

The only example I can think of that comes close to representing handicaps is Jim C. Hines' Goblin Quest, with a hero who is weak and a wimp, but not actually disabled. In one of the sequels, an old and fragile woman becomes an important supportive character. And there's a female hero in the sequel who is overweight. All of these are just one trait of the respective characters, but it's not the only or most important one. So Hines does a good job of representing a diversity of body types (I'm aware that's not the same as representing disability, but it's a start and the closest example I could find right now).

 

Being on disability for mental health and autoimmune issues myself, I am very aware that physical handicaps are not the only kind of diability. What about "invisible" disabilities? Have you come across stories where those were represented well?

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It feels as though this topic's veered away from the original question and onto different races of humans, but I think that is perhaps in itself the answer.  You talk about introducing other "fantasy races", but not about other human races.  Unless you have a world akin to stone-age Britain (which you explicitly don't), where there really was one ethnic group, there'll be multiple ethnic groups, and you'll get diversity that way.  Who knows, if you research different human cultures for that part of worldbuilding you might find some novel "fantasy races" that arouse your interest (like Inuit spirits did for me).

 

As far as the more real-world issues side goes, again, for me it's worldbuilding.  Unless everyone is 100% mixed, there will still be an other for any person or group, and they'll respond to that in varying ways depending on their culture &c.  Personally I'd much prefer to read about the relations between the vaious fantasy races for their own sake, rather than explicitly using it to shine a light on real-world race relations.  As Tolkien said, "I cordially dislike allegory in all its manifestations, and always have done so since I grew old and wary enough to detect its presence. I much prefer history – true or feigned– with its varied applicability to the thought and experience of readers."

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It feels as though this topic's veered away from the original question and onto different races of humans, but I think that is perhaps in itself the answer.  You talk about introducing other "fantasy races", but not about other human races.  Unless you have a world akin to stone-age Britain (which you explicitly don't), where there really was one ethnic group, there'll be multiple ethnic groups, and you'll get diversity that way.  Who knows, if you research different human cultures for that part of worldbuilding you might find some novel "fantasy races" that arouse your interest (like Inuit spirits did for me).

 

As far as the more real-world issues side goes, again, for me it's worldbuilding.  Unless everyone is 100% mixed, there will still be an other for any person or group, and they'll respond to that in varying ways depending on their culture &c.  Personally I'd much prefer to read about the relations between the vaious fantasy races for their own sake, rather than explicitly using it to shine a light on real-world race relations.  As Tolkien said, "I cordially dislike allegory in all its manifestations, and always have done so since I grew old and wary enough to detect its presence. I much prefer history – true or feigned– with its varied applicability to the thought and experience of readers."

 

I really like your take on this, and how you took a topic that veered a bit (my bad) and brought it back home by linking it together so concisely. It's a great suggestion to look into real world cultures for inspiration! A tried and true method for writers through the ages, I'm sure :p

 

And I also don't like the idea of using fantasy race relations as an allegory for real world ones. The quote you shared about allegory is only part of the reason for me, albeit an important one; intentional allegory is, at its heart, preaching, and I think stories are best developed with their own natural internal consistency rather than used explicitly to mirror a specific real world issue. But another issue with it in the example of fantasy race relations is that the differences between races like orc and human are so exaggerated, and orcs are typically given traits viewed fairly universally as negative. So if your human/orc relations are supposed to mirror racism in our world, who are you asking minorities to identify with? It seems like something that reinforces negative stereotypes associated with minorities throughout history.

 

It's a complex topic.

 

But fantasy races are a traditional hallmark associated with a ton of fantasy, and they can be very fun to invent, reinvent, or just tweak to fit your story and setting. Like I said, I like your idea of researching different cultures for inspiration. There's also mythology and folklore to look into. You could think about the climate of the area you want them to live in your story, and what traits they might have developed to cope. Or take an element or object and connect it to the race, and see how that develops. Fairies and elves, for example, seem like they were developed to reflect nature, dwarves earth, etc. You could take lightning and storms and develop a race based around that, perhaps?

 

So many options!

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But another issue with it in the example of fantasy race relations is that the differences between races like orc and human are so exaggerated, and orcs are typically given traits viewed fairly universally as negative. So if your human/orc relations are supposed to mirror racism in our world, who are you asking minorities to identify with? It seems like something that reinforces negative stereotypes associated with minorities throughout history.

This is another important point. I've always seen traditional fantasy orcs, elves, dwarves, and so on as essentially different species, no less so than Neanderthals and Denisovans were a different species  from Homo sapiens. We only call them "races" because the term "species" supposedly wouldn't suit the medieval trappings of the stereotypical fantasy world. By contrast, it should go without saying that human beings from different parts of the world, no matter how different they may look, are all the same species. Relations between different species aren't the best analogy for relations between divisions perceived within one species.

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