Special Fiction Writing Week: Creating Prejudice in Fantasy

In honor of the super-exclusive offer for Men with Pens readers only in regards on the Gamer Lifestyle Course, we’re turning our attention in this latter half of the special fiction week towards how to write realistically in fantasy worlds.

If you’ve missed the first posts in this special fiction writing series, you can read them here:

Day One: How to create a believable character
Day Two: How to create a setting for your story.
Day Three: How to create plot
Day Four: How to get serious and make money from fiction writing
Day Five: How to create character flaws

Today, for our last post in the series, we’re going to discuss a topic no one really talks about much: prejudice in fantasy worlds.

Fantasy Has Prejudice?

Yeah, I’m afraid so. Pick a fantasy trope – werewolves, vampires, goblins, dwarves, elves, races from lands that don’t exist – and you’ll find there’s a lot of emotional strife bound up in those worlds.

If you think that all these folks should get along just fine, I invite you to look at race relations worldwide here on Earth. We’re pretty strife-ridden. And we’re all PEOPLE, all the same. Imagine if you had whole other SPECIES to be prejudiced against.

It would be insane.

In the real world, poor people feel certain ways about rich people who feel certain ways about middle-class people who feel certain ways about everyone else. Black people and white people and yellow people and brown people from various backgrounds feel certain ways about all the other races. French people and English people and Chinese people and Icelandic people feel certain ways about each other too.

It has to do with background. It has to do with how people are raised and what they believe.

It has to do, in short, with history.

You, my friend, are writing a fantasy world. The history that you know just ain’t a part of that reality. You not only have to invent a character, but you have to invent a whole series of emotions around how this character feels about all of the interactions going on around in this fantasy world.

Here’s a news flash for you: It’s simply not realistic to think that your character, along with every character your character interacts with, is just going to throw open his arms and say, “Can’t we all just get along?”

No. There’s going to be a lot of emotional turmoil. You should embrace that fact. It’s going to be a big part of this world.

Don’t Overdo It, Though

Once you’ve embraced the fact that your character is going to have some emotions regarding the other species and races in the world he lives in, it’s tempting to over-do it.

It’s tempting to think that since your character is a vampire, and all vampires in your world hate werewolves, therefore your vampire character wants to tear the skin off every werewolf he encounters, inch by inch.

That makes for some vivid storytelling. But it isn’t necessarily accurate.

Let’s go back to the real-world race relations. There are some seriously screwy people in the world who really do want to do physical harm to other races. That’s terrifying. But the great majority of prejudice doesn’t go that far. It’s more in the NIMBY realm (and NIMBY, for those of you who don’t know, is the acronym for Not In My Back Yard).

Prejudice usually manifests in one simple way: “You’re not like us. Go away.”

That’s it. If people have to make someone different than them go away by being physically violent about it, they will. But most people don’t wander around with a secret desire to maim people of other races, even if they did grow up prejudiced against them.

So how deep does your character’s prejudice for other species and races run? Where did he learn this prejudice? And before you rely on the old, “Someone of that species killed my father” trope, consider the following question:

If a white guy killed your father, would you automatically think all white guys were EVIL? What if it was a black guy? Are all black guys now evil?

Yeah, I didn’t think so. That’s really not how our brains work.

It’s an easy way to let your character act hateful to another species, but even in a fantasy world, it doesn’t really work. It’s not realistic. If your character really does HATE another species, give him a good reason why he should.

Don’t Underdo It Either

The reverse of overdoing it is also tempting. Being as your character is naturally intelligent and super-cool and generally a joy to be around, it’s pretty hard to decide that your character is uneasy around, say, dwarves.

For no good reason. Dwarves just make your character edgy. Why? Well, he’s heard stories . . .

Hearing stories is how most prejudice is created, and it’s a mistake to not allow your character to feel any of the emotions regarding stories he hears. Almost every place, especially a place with this many species who are so very different from one another, has violent and uncertain histories.

I’d like you to think about the following scenario to prove my point:

Back in the olden days of all of these species growing up, the very first time they encounter one another, they’re likely going to attack. Not because either of them is bad. Not because either of them particularly wants to fight.

They fight because neither side has the ability to communicate this sentiment: “No, dude, I don’t want to fight you or steal your resources or kill your young.” There would be no way for these species to communicate until enough time has gone by for a common language to be established.

And until that point, there are going to be miscommunications and misunderstandings between the groups that lead to violent bloodbaths for generations.

In our own human history, we completely wiped out our brethren when we encountered them, because we thought they might be a threat for resources. Those we wiped out were other humans. Imagine if we had encountered big scary semi-humanoid creatures who looked nothing like us and looked very much like they could kill us.

We would definitely have attacked them.

That means that even if these violent encounters have long been forgotten by the time your character shows up on the scene, there will be lingering resentments.

Many characters won’t have very solid reasons for that resentment, either. Too much time has passed. It’s just that this one village really doesn’t do business with Halflings, okay? And this other village is totally cool with dwarves, but centaurs give them the heebie-jeebies. And this other village has heard that all elves want to seduce their women so that they can gradually breed out the human race altogether.

Need proof? Have you SEEN all the half-elves?

Pretending that your character never encountered any of these kinds of comments and stories is absurd. Maybe the character happens to have a background that isn’t that prejudiced, and that’s great. But he’s going to hear stories from other people, and he’s not going to be able to avoid being influenced by those stories.

Your character is not immune to species/racial prejudice. Period. Even if he’s generally a really decent dude. Even if he doesn’t want to be prejudiced, even if he works really hard at not showing it, he’s still going to have feelings about it.

And just like in the real world, the sooner your character acknowledges those feelings, the sooner he can move past them and get onto being that awesome, fully-rounded, all-species-encompassing dude you want him to be.

By the time he does, though, you’ll have created a character whose emotions and personality you know inside and out. And that’s great for you.

One Last Pitch for the Win

Guys, this is the last day you can get in on the Men with Pens exclusive offer to sign up for the Gamer Lifestyle Course. If you’ve been reading our posts this last week and just itching to pick up a pen and create a world all your own, we really encourage you to check the course out.

Because writing a story, gaming away and earning a living from it? We just can’t think of anything sweeter than that.

It’s a huge, handholding course with experts who are extremely well known in the RPG world. You’ll receive their one-on-one advice, hours upon hours’ worth of modules and guides, and a forum full of your peers.

If all that’s holding you back from making a living as a fantasy writer instead of whatever it is you do now is fear, then there’s really no reason to hold back anymore. And you have today left to break free.

Go for it. We believe in you. Send us your first published clips. We’ll be so proud.

Post by Taylor

Taylor Lindstrom (fondly known as Tei) is a twenty-something copywriter and journalist from Boulder, CO. She’s the team’s rogue woman who wowed us until our desire for her talents exceeded our desire for a good ol’ boys club. She loves the color green, micro-point Uniball pens, and medieval weaponry.

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  1. Wow! I browsing through your web / design / freelance stuff when I came across this post. It took me back 10 years to when I did a couple of writing courses, with the aim of writing a fantasy novel (which never got written).

    What you’re saying here resonates with me. I’d actually rather read about a character with some flaws than someone who is too perfect. I think it would be cool to have a character who has prejudices, but who’s aware of them and works hard not to let them rule him…

    Anyway, thanks for the trip down memory lane. I really should start writing again.
    .-= Steve´s last blog ..Where To Buy Zhu Zhu Pets In Canada =-.

  2. Richard Matheson explores prejudice issues in his most representative works. Worth reading.

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