Monday, April 18, 2016

World Blip – Races

A while back I talked about diversity (and for several weeks after everything tied back to it because it’s a fabulous subject, for the most part) and today I wanted to return to it. 

One of the many ways you can be diverse in your writing is in the area of races and ethnic groups.

Now, I’m not here to blow the “write from other ethnic and racial viewpoints” trumpet because I find that trumpet to be rather shrill and obnoxious and blown too often, nowadays.
Instead, I’m here to show you how.

The Power of Diversity

My only trumpet blowing will be this: diversity is realistic, and therefore should make sense to include in your novel.
Not as a checklist (see my previous post), but as a genuine realization of “oh, these is what reality looks like”.

The specific type of “races” I’m going to discuss today is the “otherworldly” kind. You know, non-human races. When you write fantasy and science fiction (and paranormal fiction), you find yourself standing in front of an open door that leads to an unlimited number of options, any of which can lead you to diversity, should you so choose.

Well, let’s look.

A Taste of Fantasy

We’ve all read that one book or seen that one TV show that deals with extraterrestrials. You know, Doctor Who, Marvel, The War of the Worlds, Enchantress from the Stars, A Wrinkle in Time, and so forth.
These people (often non-humanoid) can be good or evil or neither or both, and they’re rarely a bad addition to the story.
Moreover, they allow you to create this sense of diversity without the sense of a “checklist cast”. And that is true diversity. When no one even notices it consciously, it means you’ve done your job.

For instance, take the Marvel movie Guardians of the Galaxy. This is one of my favorite Marvel movies for many reasons, but take a look at that cast.

Sure, it features a white male protagonist. But take one peek beyond him, one little look over his shoulder.
Yup. There’s quite the diverse cast back there. I mean, the man’s got a green lady, a raccoon, a red guy, and a tree for a supporting cast and a blue-and-black baddie to face off with.

This single movie has more races (and thereby racial diversity) than all the other marvel movies will admit to. Heck, it’s got more diversity than most any movie out there.
And it has a good story, clever dialogue, and well-developed themes. None of which are dependent on the diversity of race and ethnicity. They are enhanced by it, nothing more.

Why not use races to enhance your story? Not only will they provide your story with some diversity, they can and will help bring your world to life. A setting that is new and real is more than just the latest magic system or government oppression.
It’s the people.

So let’s talk about that.

Creating a People

Worldbuilding is hard, sometimes. Even when it’s fun.
So how do you create a race?
Well, I thought I’d use one of my stories as an example… as I’ve done for the past few weeks.
My current project is a fantasy. If you didn’t know that… you clearly haven’t read the last several blog posts. I’ve been developing the world and plot for about two years now, and the first book is almost complete. Agram Awakens has four main races: human, darlo, melin, and dubin. I’ve created a few other races, but they don’t come in until later in the series. So yes.

{A slight note: when you create races, I would encourage you to avoid capitalizing them. It makes them stand out from “humans” in an awkward and amateur way. So if you capitalize the names of your other races in the narrative, do the same for Humans. *This has been your prose note, thanking you for not being amateur.*}

The four races I'm going to show you are humanoid; that is to say, they are bipedal mammals with human-like features.
With, of course, a few differences. In fact, they’re so similar that you could almost say that these other races are merely new ethnicities of human, as Caucasian and African and Oriental are all differing ethnicities of human.

Putting wordplay aside, these four races are as such:

Humans: well, humans are basically humans in my book… there are the various ethnicities of humans (AKA there’s a bunch of black guys at one point, and a bunch of white guys at another point, and so forth), and their appearance is more relative to where those ethnicities live than anything else. So.

Darlo: These fellows are marked by distinct scale-like patterns on their skin. If the edge of the “scale” is black, the inside is white. And vise versa. Basically, they have skin like a serpent, but the scales aren’t actually scales. Smh.
Meanwhile, their eyes are more likely to be metallic colors (gold, bright violet, metallic green, amber, etc.) and they have an extra finger on their right hand. Darlo, thanks to their genes, tend to be very familial people, and very loud. On average, their taller than their human counterparts, and more likely to smile, revealing sharper teeth.

Melin: this people group is, as a whole, very short. They’re quite pale, their skin darkening when exposed to sun. They are naturally quieter than humans. Their most distinctive feature is their eyes, which change according to the season. For instance, all melin have yellow eyes during the autumn, which slowly change to blue as winter comes on (it is speculated that their eyes change as the tilt of the earth and the angle of sunlight coincide with the feeling of “seasons”, since an melin’s eyes will change color when passing the equator).

Dubin: this group are very secretive, and it’s claimed that they can communicate telepathically. While this is unconfirmed, they are indeed very quiet and speak rarely to non-dubin. Their skin is reddish – like a brick – and very tough. Their pupils are similar to a cat’s. They tend to have little hair, and those with excessive amounts of hair are considered “rebels”.

I figured an example would be the best way to show you what developing a race entails, but let me go on:

When you develop a race, it can’t be for its own sake. Don’t create a race to create a race. It has to fit into your story world. If your world doesn’t need a race, why do you have one?

I wrestled with that question for quite a while: why?
It’s the most important question in writing, whether you’re developing character backstory or your setting or your plot.

For me, I created these races for the themes I could explore. I intend to deal with some heavy themes, over time. Racism is one of them, and so is hypocrisy. Through these races (I found that humanity alone is a cliché way to explore such an issue), I had complete freedom to create and explore those themes without the judgement of others on me for my choices in that. If I have a black human treat a darlo horribly because of the darlo’s race, there won’t be riots in the street.
If I have a dubin hate white humans for their race, no one will sue me.
So that’s one reason.

In addition, the idea of four main races(there are four minor races) also ties together several of the key religions in my world and creates a sense of continuity.

This also allows me to create diversity in my cast, as I have three humans, two darlo, and a melin as my main characters (if you’re curious about the gender diversity as well, two of the three most important main characters are female and the rest of the main characters are male).

So. Why do you have races? Why those races?
They’re important questions, and the answers can result in fantastic stories.
In fact, I’d like to hear them.
Do you have any races in your novels? What makes them unique? Why did you decide to include them in your novel? Leave a comment and share!

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  1. My story has no species other than humans for the main reason you mentioned: I couldn't think of a good why!
    Also have you read the Dragonspell series by Donita K. Paul? I liked the way she did different species, I think for character development reasons.

    1. Ah yes, the lack of a reason... it happens. *shrugs* And that's okay. *nod*

      I have read those, yes. She had some interesting spins on the races, for sure.

  2. I've used other breeds of "creatures" in my books, (for example, in the book I'm editing right now, I have some creatures called "gliefs" and they are basically a huge...think like the size of a small airplane...cross between spiders and dragonflies) but hardly any other so-called races. Currently writing a Sci-Fi book for the first time, I'll probably play around with things like that a little more. Thanks for the tips!
    Oh, I just remembered, in the same book that has the gliefs I do have another race. They're called the "Swamp People" and are ruled by a "Swamp Queen". Though they don't come into the story very much, they do play an important part. They are incredibly loyal to their queen, though extremely suspicious of outsiders. Dangerous enemies, but incredible friends...if you have the luck of befriending them, which because of their reclusive nature is rare indeed. Also, all of them are incredibly ugly, but hate being dirty...ironically since their home is in a swamp.
    I included them in my book because I needed something for my characters to have to survive. Of course, this won't really make any sense to you since you haven't read my book...but it's a better reason that it sounds like. :)
    How do they sound?
    Also, would you be interested in reading my book and telling me what you think of it? I'm on the look-out for more editors, and since you seem to enjoy fantasy...which is my forte in the writing you think that's something you could do? If you're busy, I TOTALLY understand. :) Believe me!

    1. Oh my goodness! That was a really long comment... Yikes.

    2. If something is a cross between a dragonfly and a spider, it /has/ to be fantastic. Being the size of an airplane is just a plus. ;)
      See, that's a good reason to include a race; the plot's needs are always a good reason for something.

      Well, if nothing else, I can at least take a look! I can't promise to be timely about it (I'm already critiquing a pair of books as it is), thanks to school finals and graduation, but if you wish, feel free to email me (

    3. Will do. Thanks! :)
      Oh, also, just so you know, I tagged you for the "Top Ten Villains" tag. If you're interested, check out my blog for details. I thought this tag went a little better with your writing theme...I think you'd enjoy doing it. I know I did! :)

    4. Oh, interesting.
      Actually, I was planning on doing the other thing you nominated me for on Monday, so maybe I'll do both. ;)

    5. (whoops, I meant the Monday after next (that is, on the 2nd).)

    6. I look forward to reading that post. :)

  3. I've got elves in one of my stories, but they're basically just humans with slightly different features and an age-old pact with the magic of the world. Of course if you told the elves they were basically just humans they'd laugh you to scorn. The racial tension there is great fun. As for why, er well, I don't really have a good reason besides just wanting elves in my world. I suppose a quasi-deep answer could be that I wanted an extra element of 'otherness' but really, I just wanted elves. XD

    1. Silly elves, so scornful of humans. ;P
      But hey, so long as your wanting elves works for the story, then it works.