Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Elves versus Dwarves - Oh the Cliché

One of the most common tropes I seem to keep finding in fantasy novels is the oft-times hostile relationship between elves and dwarves.  This something I’ve always found intriguing and wondered where the genesis of this feud began.  At first blush, it appears that the tall, slender woodland race versus the short, squat mountain dwellers would be natural choices for enmity, right?  I keep coming back to the question of why?  The only genesis I can think of Tolkein and the Lord of the Rings.  This of course was likely drawn from various sources and combined into his epic vision.  The only other source I can think of is the various editions of Dungeons & Dragons, which largely codified this racial feud.  For better or for worse, there are a great number of current tropes and influences to epic fantasy that are drawn from the classic role-playing game.  They even have their own TV Trope reference (http://tvtropes.org/pmwiki/pmwiki.php/Main/ElvesVersusDwarves)

The Ochra series certainly has some of the classic elements – elves, dwarves, dragons, orcs, mages and clerics, the gamut of what you would expect to find.  I also have a map, which reinforces another trope, whereby the writer feels compelled to visit each location illustrated.  In any case, one of the most natural inclinations I’ve noticed in fantasy (particularly epic fantasy) is to have the elves and dwarves at odds, if not out rightly at war with each other.  The problem I keep seeing glossed over is the reasoning for this enmity – you just start off with the two hating each other.  When I started plotting out the Ochra Cycle, this issue came up fairly early on.  I just couldn’t find a justifiable reason for a feud, certainly not for a war. 

What I did find was a reason for some form of annoyance. 

Elf picture by Yuka Han

 The Elves (note capitalization) of Ihr’Vessen are the super-power of the realms.  They have the standing military that could take on any of the races; they have the super-mages that have refined their craft over millennia; they have the strategic acumen developed from countless conflicts.  This links back to their role within the creation myth of the Pantheonic Tragedy several thousand years passed.  Leaders of the Feye supporting the eventual winning side, they are actually cousins to all the magical creatures, such as Dryads and Treants.  The Elves formed the backbone of these forces, which included dwarves among others.  Exceptionally long-lived, powerful and magically inclined, they are the current caretakers of Ihr, nature and the cycle of life and death.  As a race they have several standing tasks the go all the way back to the Tragedy; there are even a number of Elves still alive from that era.  The Druid Council is the managing force for this responsibility, Druids the leading agents of this oversight.  This of course led to the Elves developing a sense of superiority; compared to the majority of non-Feye races, they actually have a valid point.  This superiority complex derives from most of the Elves witnessing the other ‘lesser races’ develop from scavenging clans of hunter gatherers to what they currently are.  In most respects they are very, very far behind what the Elves can accomplish.  Art and culture, advantage Elves.  Individual skill in battle, advantage Elves.  Magical abilities, advantage Elves.
Dwarf by Kim Dong Hyuk 

In the case of the dwarves, there is little contact with the Elves anymore, despite their ancient alliance.  The dwarves think the Elves haughty and condescending.  The Elves consider the dwarves as a ‘lesser race,’ yet to define themselves.  The dwarven people (none of this clan or thane business, thank you very much) withdrew up into the highlands and mountain ranges of Naro.  They maintain large settlements above ground, but are increasingly delving into the depths of Naro for resources, though not for the stereotypical reasons normally associated.

The Elves have been given a task – watch over Ihr.  Several prophecies indicate the Elves will hand over this mantle of responsibility, to a race that has advanced itself culturally and militarily to the point where they can maintain vigilance in a manner the Elves have done.  Which race and when is unclear.  For many years, the dwarves were the likeliest candidates, until they immigrated to the Naro region.  The Elves consider the dwarves too self-centered and unwilling to commit to the welfare of the other races.  So the Elves wait, looking elsewhere.

In a round-about way I’ve justified why there would be a lack of civility between the two, the annoyances that I mentioned earlier.  From the Elven perspective, it comes down to disappointment and a perceived failed opportunity, whereas the dwarves feel they are always (pardon the pun) being looked down upon by the Elves.  Is it enough?  That remains to be seen; I’ve yet to reach the part of the story in Book 2 that brings up the detailed history Elves and dwarves share.  Is it more than what I’ve seen or read in certain books?  Absolutely.

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Music as Atmosphere & Inspiration

Music can be a great source of inspiration.  Setting the mood, certain turns of music, verses from a song or even a music video can sometimes launch a story or help a writer overcome a block.  I’ve already spoken to the types and forms of music and how they drive my writing.  Personally, any time I find myself stuck or looking for an idea, music is often at the forefront of solutions.  A few cases in point:
(Song) Chasing the Dragon by Epica:  This beauty runs for over 8 minutes in length and was instrumental in assisting me launch through about 8 or 9 whole chapters in a couple of weeks.  The beginning half is a mellow guitar and female vocal mix, which has an airy and epic feel to it; great for sweeping scenes and determining mood.  It quickly rumbles into a heavier, thrash-metal section that I always enjoyed hitting when writing battle scenes or conflict.  As far as lyrical content, the song itself is very far removed from fantasy.  It’s hard to reconcile a song about drug usage and dependency to fantasy.  All I can say is the ‘feel’ of the song is poignant and sweeping, which is the mood I was looking for the Ochra series.
(Music Videos) Quiet Love by Hoorah for Earth:  I found this video on a gaming website.  Someone else linked to it and I was instantly amazed at with story-telling.  The song itself (and the group’s style) is a bit of a throw-back to the heavily synthesized and drum-reliant music from the 80’s; I loved the 80’s music scene.  The mood generated by the song and the video are exceptionally well intertwined.  Subtle elements provide the details required to understand what they wished to communicate, all the while maintaining a great science-fiction quality to the video.  It’s a really well-made 4 minute sci-fi short; so well done that my four-year old daughter constantly asked to see the ‘woman chasing after the man’ video that I finally bought the CD.

(Music Video) Breathe of Life by Florence + the Machine:  The song plays during the credits sequence for Snow White and the Huntsman, which is how I learned about Florence + the Machine.  Absolutely stunning vocals backed by some epic orchestral accompaniment.  Throw this track on repeat and just imagine a sweeping battle scene a-la Lord of the Rings or some massive melee.  Go on, I dare you not to imagine yourself as your character fighting his way through some horde of gobos, orks or other meanies.

Sunday, November 11, 2012

So That’s My Voice?

Well, the last several months have been flooded with activity; new boss with new directives and way of doing things, followed by a busy season that sees increased activity across the board.  In all that, I somehow find time to review and edit the first book of the Ochra series, with a view to significantly reducing the word count, as well as cleaning up the syntax.  This chore isn't made any easier by the bloated manuscript as it began - 181k words, down to over 120k.  I'm now into the deep editting, cutting unecessary portions and cleaning things up in general to get under 100k.
Well, somewhere in there, I think I went and found my "voice."

This elusive term, every so often evident as a slap upside head in published authors’ works, seems to be really drawing out the worthy parts of my text.  I'm dropping whole sections of superfluous and silly writing.   Works like classic Lord of the Rings trilogy, the George R.R. Martin A Song of Fire and Ice series, Guy Gavriel Kay’s Fionovar Tapestry, Suzanne Collins’ Hunger Games all have a readily identifiable voice, the style that catches the reader and hooks them in.
Four chapters into it and things started flying!   I am finally writing what I want to say, how I wish to say it.  It is finally showing instead of telling.  What was once bloated and ponderous, now moves and engages <insert snappy fingers>.  Sixteen chapters down, another 16 or so to go.....