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Submitted on
July 17, 2008


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Loser Beasts

Thu Jul 17, 2008, 8:42 PM
  • Mood: Dumbfounded
  • Reading: Fruits Basket. HELP ME.

I don't know if this qualifies as a rant, but I'm rarely satisfied or unsarcastic enough for things not to count as one, so whatever.  If I'm not careful I may actually end of giving people tips on how to write fantasy, but we'll see.  Really, I'd just like to complain about the number of fantasy animals out there that trump all plausibility and logic once you get past the whole "they live in a fantasy world" thing.

I should explain that the art of writing fantasy is that you create a set of new, consistent rules for a place that is not the Earth we live in.  Make the rules and keep them = happy reader.  Make the rules and break them = reader who wants to set your dog on fire.  Having
said that, fantasy worlds need inherent logic.  Did you get that?  Your world needs to make sense, as in the puzzle pieces fit together.  Don't feed me that "a wizard did it" crap.  I'm a fairly discerning reader (I didn't say highly" or "microscopic-ly"; I've been baffled by the level of detail hatefans have gone after Harry Potter for.)  Inherent logic fits with the first rule of fiction: you can make me believe anything, so long as you justify it.  (Doing the opposite is deus ex machina, fantasy or not.)

Shall I start with my favorite?  You guessed it!  Paolini's Inheritance dragons!  Now, I have nothing against dragons.  Admittedly, I may have a slight problem with the plausibility of their construction, but I'm too much in love with their aesthetic and mythical qualities to care.  That is what you call "suspension of disbelief".  But Paolini's dragons appear to trump all biological and ecological logic if you start thinking about it.  And I mean rudimentary stuff, too.  First, they grow to adulthood incredibly fast, a trait usually used by predators who don't tend to live too long.  (Wolves and big cats have an average of 7 to 9 years in the wild, if they're lucky.)  But Paolini's dragon's live forever (or may as well) and never stop growing.  Would this be a bad time to mention what the metabolism of a warm-blooded, multi-ton, immortal creature would be?  I mean, wolves and such needs to eat every couple of days, and the ratio of predator to prey has to be at least 10 or 20 to one.  Since the equation is based on predator weight ... we're talking maybe a mammoth or elephant every few days?  Not deer.  Not rabbits.  Mammoths.  Or possibly Iguanodons.

I won't waste anymore words on Paolini's world; we all know what I think about him.  But how about orcs?  Does anyone ever think about what they did when they weren't pillaging?  Or even research so-called barbarian cultures to see why they raided?  If orcs burn down every farm, they don't have anything to eat, folks.  And, uh, in medieval warfare, I swear there is nothing quicker than that to stop an army in it's tracks.  Not to mention collapse the entire economy.  (Take a look at what happened to Europe after they got over the Black Plague and so many farmers died that no one was left to till the fields.)  I hate, HATE "evil for the sake of evil" creatures.  Unless you're willing to show the all-devouring wyrm eventually settling for his own tail, or orcs starving in droves, spare me.  The logic numbs the brain, and I don't care if it "makes the hero realize he's lost everything due to blind evility!"  Enough real violence is justified (or it better be, all moral arguments aside); don't candy coat your evil.  Readers don't like it being spoon fed to them, either.

I gotta address the rule of cool here, too.  The creature that is the fastest, best, and coolest at everything gets really stupid to read about.  Especially if it's an anthropomorphosized wolf with telekinetic powers and a "tragic" past.  If you're using a "fursona", there's another phrase for that: Mary Sue/Gary Stu.  Better known as Author on Board.  Regardless of genre, if you've got personal demons to work out, do it and put the manuscript aside.  Story is God, not the issues you're going to grow out of 2 years after high school.  The creature that is "Teh Coolz", beleagured, isolated, somehow totally likable (despite their whining) but utterly misunderstood makes me want to shoot myself.  I want to see someone impale it through the eye and wear its skin, just so I don't have to hear about it anymore.  If you want to fix your problem, tell me what it can't do, and it better not be a horseradish allergy.  

I'm also tired of the beautiful, wonderful animal that just wants to be free.  First, everyone who keeps talking about how beautiful the animal is should die within the first 20 pages, cause the only really story worth reading would be about how the guy who called it ugly suddenly has to deal with it.  Second, animals as a rule are satisfied with food, water, and established, uninvaded territory.  Wild animals face starvation and injury on a daily basis, compounded by parasites inside and out.  If someone walked into your suburban house and said  "You're free, little apes!  Run!  Go!" you'd think they were out of their mind.  Zoo animals and domesticated animals are kind of the same way.  So justify it to me, and don't take the cliche route like "cruel owner/starved/forced to fight" if you can help it.  Odds are half your audience already read it better in White Fang.

Last, the animal companion.  I think I just mentioned the major things that satisfy an animal, so if the chance of reproduction isn't on that list, too, I need some serious justification.  Considering that half the time mammals know what we're feeling better than
we do, why would they hang around if someone who basically can't speak their language?  A wildcat (especially!) would get gone after its paw was saved from a trap.  And sentient animals would be even worse.  Wolf: "My ass says I get the scraps!"  Horse: "... Yeah, you can walk." Cat: "Bored now.  Carry me." Wild animals raised from infancy are more likely to have a bond, but here I'll point out that the flight instinct is first in all wild creatures, even carnivores.  Pumas and bears and wolves will run from a human unless they're defending territory or food (and sometimes even then.)  The prey drive of aggressive dog breeds was bred for generations; does anyone ever actually wonder why wolfhounds kicked the crap out of wolves?  And why they're so leggy in the first place?  To catch the wolves.

Above all: use logic from real biology.  Baby unicorns can't be born with six-inch horns, or they'd rip their mother's wombs open.  (Yeah.  Ya like that mental image?)  Gryphons would need to have incredibly light lion bones in order to fly.  Monstrous creatures would need to fit into an ecosystem that existed thousands of years before convenient peasant munching.  (Not to mention not wipe out the puny human species by being the dominant predator.)  And if you think the introduction of hordes of vile bat demons is something easily forgettable, you don't know squat about the destruction fire ants, foxes, or rabbits are capable of.

You can bend and even break all these rules, of course.  Just make it a story worth reading.  But odds are, if you're scooping out of the Loser Beasts bag, I bet you have a pretty crummy story in the works.

So let it be done.
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DawnAllies Jul 26, 2008  Hobbyist General Artist
Well really this was much too much fun to read and I actually went through all the comments as well cause it's an interesting topic and seeing other people's opinions on these things is nifty.

Hey, also random journal I read cause it's an interesting subject, good one to rant on even. I've had similar thoughts on some of these things, even read a couple of similar rants. I can't remember where I read about the rule of fantasy, that sure, you're writing fantasy but once you make a set of rules for your world you have to stick to them, you can't set up your little world of magic and faeries with a set plan of rules and then part way through the story go 'hey, i can't do this but I want to, oh well i'll just do it anyway, no one'll care.' It really was an interesting article.. Oh well.

The evil for sake of evil bit I've actually had more issue with in movies than books recently. Seeing Prince Caspian (admittedly, I never read these books as a kid and am struggling to get through the kid friendliness of it all now) where the three kids went and killed the bad guys without batting an eyelid. Okay, sure, I could excuse it in The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, in that movie all the bad guys were big evil monster/animals, but in Prince Caspian it's just people with slightly different appearances.. And I dunno, but killing a person, there's something about doing that that makes me think it's going to effect a person in some way, especially kids.

I suppose I've been reading too much good fantasy fiction to of seen much evil for the sake of evil, or it's been written well enough into their character how being evil for evil sake's works for them. That and I'm willing to give a lot of leeway if the story's good.

I haven really read very many books where the animals didn't act in some manner that was still well, natural to their species. Anyone with a cat for a companion has a cat who generally cares about themselves more than the person they're following past with a certain level of sentience that means when the human's in a stupid position the cat might just go out of their way to help them. But they still act like cats while at it. .. I can't say I've ever read a book where someone had a natural lion/puma/etc as a companion. Not for anything more than a possible bit character anyway. The logistics of having a big cat as a travel companion is absurd, how do you feed the thing and not have it kill you or simply run off after prey at the first chance? And how do you convince one to travel around, those things like a set spot and not to move further than they have to.. Wolves I can see passing a little better maybe, but still.. Has to be from a babe to get way with it I'm sure.

Ooo.. The whole Uh, what're they called, the Paulini books.. By god, they're not very good at all, no they're not. They're borrowed ideas from better books bastardised and thrown together atrociously. I did kinda like it when I started, the first one was starting out okay. But Eldest was like.. My god, I've been reading this in three other series and they're all doing it a hundred times better. How those dragons are done also irritated me beyond belief. There's no way they grow that fast, have the perfect speaking ability, etc etc with any real plausibility and well.. Yes, as you stated, if it weren't for the fact his parents had the money there's absolutely no way that little nerd would of gotten his book sold.

I don't much mind orcs, but then I've read too many of those Dragonlance books and they do a good job of fleshing out all those other myth creatures. Never read much of the Tolkein lot, the first book bored me to tears and I struggled over eight months to get through that book. So no comment!

I gotta ask, what're you, or what -were- you reading to get all these beautiful animals that need to be set free? And the wangsty heroes? I will admit I'm really fussy with my fantasy, I generally wont pick up a book where the blurb goes along the line of 'hero with stupid name meets other heroes with equally bad names of varying races after tragic accident is thrown together and they must save the world from big bad'. Which admittedly makes up the majority of the fantasy/sci-fi section of any bookstory, but there you go.
Give me a dragon or a book from the animal's point of view, or maybe a real world setting and I'm more likely to pick up the book.. So not so many pretty animals that aren't at least kinda sentient that fit into those.

Hmn.. also never followed a story with super duper super beast, they might be big and evil at the end, but they don't get much screen tim and die anyway, so eh.

Anyway, I've written too much and babbled myself. Just wanted to say I liked your rant, liked the comments left and thought I'd drop my own two cents cause you know, it's fun ^^
My favorite kind of comments are the long ones. :) I suppose when I spoke about the bleeding-heart hero who wants his animal to be free, I was speaking about straight animal stories. I have read some fantasy, mostly unicorn stories, where the protagonist can't bear to see it fed and groomed. (The sentience thing may be an argument, but a lot of times they were just horses with horns.) Honestly, the only time I think I've seen it done to any satisfaction was a short story called A Rope To Catch The Wind, which was a metaphor for having the loyalty of a horse.
I've also noticed that a lot of fursonas are the front for 13 year olds working through the fact that they feel lonely and unloved. That's not to sneer and say I didn't do it myself, but man, reading comics or stories about it is torture. And extremely transparent. I think it's great that the little fellows are learning to channel their bad feelings into something productive; I just don't want them to think that their clumsy personal demons make for good reading. Cause it doesn't, really. Most premises are "So-and-So is the coolest, fastest wolf with this mysterious cool power, and he's cool, and an outcast ..."
There's a lot of great fantasy out there for young adults right now, so I think I get my panties twisted when I think about folks wasting their time (and praising) that which insults their intelligence.
DawnAllies Jul 27, 2008  Hobbyist General Artist
Hmn.. Yeah, I can see that sort of thing getting tired very quickly. The only one I can really equate it with is possibly birds, who well, really, they're much better off in the air flying free.. So long as it's a natural enough enviroment for them and they wont just you know, die because the climate/food sources/food chain is all screwy for them.
Can't say I've really read too many stories where the unicorns didn't seem to have some sort of human like brain power, so they're more like equal companions than just pets and well, they tend to dictate quite strongly just how they want to be treated and how things work wether the person likes it or not.

As to the whole fursona thing, I suppose I've never really looked into it very much, though it seems to be the same sort of general plague I've found of your stock standard fantasy role play characters. If you're not the last of your species, you're a dire angry friendless outcast git who no one likes. They have to brood in the dark corner of the room and be short with anyone who approaches them, that is until they've rebuffed advances say, once and then they'll do a bleeding heart story of all my friends/family/loved ones are dead, everyone's against me, I've had a horrible life, woe is me, I don't like you, I don't want friends, etc etc. Oh also! I'm the BEST FIGHTER IN THE UNIVERSE and know a bajillion different kinds of martial arts that your practical knowledge of what's actually possible have no effect upon! Also, if you happen to be of the opposite sex you are now my one and only.. and wow. I'm reliving bad days on yahoo right now, this wasn't my point.

Anyway, the point of that was that well, it seems to be your stock standard sort of character, the self pitying, OMG STRONGEST IN THE UNIVERSE, loner, freak who no one understands/likes. Yet who's desperate for friends and will latch onto the first person who shows any sign of remote friendliness despite any form of judgement past, 'hey they said hello to me, they're my new best friend'. Admittedly this doesn't happen quite so often in stories.. or at least, the other person saves their life perhaps and there'll be a page or two of debating wether to trust them, but yeah.
Makes for large portion of people's OC's though, yes.

I always had a thing against those characters. Mostly as coming from a role play background more than actual story writing, they were a pain in the ass to interact with and were alllllways so ever melodramatic. They were quite simply no fun and you always felt like punching them in the face or just yelling at them, "GET OVER IT. EVERYONE ELSE HERE IS AN ORPHAN ABUSED CHILD SUPER PERSON AS WELL." Well, except for a couple of people, including me. I was usually something bubbly/happy/friendly that could be thrown into various situation/places and be able to do something still. Situational characters can be fun, but are a pain when you depend on other people to help keep the fun going.

And hmn.. this seems to be me bitching about character creation and going off the whole fantasy story theme. Bother.

Anywho! Anthromo-stupidbigword animal stories are good! Yes. Especially when they keep a strong aspect of the animal in the structure of the created world. The Animals of Farthing Wood tv show really kicked off the fancy for me, finding those books was a massive pain but it was a good beginning for that sort of setting. Having not much care for my fellow man and their stories, the ones about animals doing animal things/having big adventures I've always found much more interesting. Couple of random books here and there with probably the Duncton series by William Horwood the most standout series I've read so far. Massive thick books that they are, sooooo much happens and the characters are all so well written, the setting so wonderfully set. Who'd of thought the lives of moles could make such interesting reading? Course, it's fantasy and these moles aren't exactly normal moles, but still. Wonderful series.

And yes, there is an amazingly large amount of fantasy stuff out there for young readers now. Like seriously, less than ten years ago and there wasn't a quarter of the stuff there is now, I'm sure. I keep wandering towards the young adult/teen section of book stores to see what they've got to read. They seem to have a larger selection of animal POV stories than older readers which is lame.

Oh hmn.. I just realised. To go along with the whole fursona thing. I've just picked up The Promise of Wolves, first book in the Wolf Chronicles, I think that's it anyway (not currently in hand to check exactly) and just from the blurb I couldn't help but think of all your fursona wolf characters with their elaborate wolfy settings and character setups and what not with the poor me central character and it probably fits with this book. Not that it's a bad book, not really anything spectacular so far, but it's okay. I just remember thinking, 'hey, it's an OC wolf writer published!' Which is probably somewhat belittling to someone, but oh well. These wolves really act like wolves at least, so it's by someone who actually has looked into wolves lots before going ahead, which is nice.
And reminds me of another book I picked up based around the magpies/birds of the UK called One for Sorry, Two for Joy which was horrible. The fact I'm Australian and our magpies are completely different birds didn't help. I kept imaging our black and white horrors/darlings instead of the rather pretty UK version. Still, this book was horrid. The premise was interesting enough and I did read through the whole thing, but in the end it was very much.. Yeah, there's no possible way what so ever. There was too much of the book that didn't actually have the motif 'but that's a tale for another time' (but that was the impression) for between journies in part of the story and it was a THIN book. Like really thin, big lettering book.
That didn't actually have a woe me main character, it was just badly written.

Umm.. I've once more made this much too long. So I shall shut up and leave it at that. I went off on tangents too! Cheers to me.

Anywho, thanks for reponse, was very nice of you ^^
FablePaint Jul 25, 2008  Professional Filmographer
Hehe, I love your rants, though I'm curious as to what prompted your simmering outrage to finally make its way to your journal?
I'd actually just finished reading Life of Pi, and the author is just so incredibly right on the money about how animals think and prioritize. I suppose it was a tie-in to my pet owners rant, but I also wanted to do a rant on plausibility because I'm such a stickler for it. I knew Paolini would be a good place to start (he always is), and I also wanted to address the numerous lupine characters that have no flaws and could basically rip Superman's head off. It's not a crime on DA, but it would be in a book. These young idealists need to be disillusioned, you see!
FablePaint Jul 26, 2008  Professional Filmographer
Hehe, ya I know what you're talking about. Especially coming from my end, it's incredibly frustrating to see people with wolf characters or stories with their own version of "the Fury" or just super awesome fighting skills with no consideration to character development or limitation on their abilities. Superman was a dull character because he's got minimal internal conflict (though stories where authors have attempted and succeeded at creating conflict within his character strike on some intriguing points).
I figured if anyone could appreciate that sentiment, it'd be you. ;) Half of the "inspirations" from BBA are a little transparent, to say the least!
FablePaint Jul 26, 2008  Professional Filmographer
Yeah, but we don't resent it. It's kind of a "hehe", then you move on and continue fretting about your own work.
Sakura004 Jul 23, 2008   Digital Artist
Ugh, Finally somebody realizes the unlikeliness of unicorn foals with horns. Something's gonna tear on the way out *watches and cringes*

Paolini wouldn't have ever made it if it weren't for the fact that his family worked in the publishing business. Otherwise, he'd be completely unfamous (he was homeschooled, not much of a social life, I wonder how he adapted to sudden publicity?) So I'm gonna just leave it there.

While I hope you're not dissing Tolkein in any way, shape, or form..... he put a buttload of detail into his world and it's history, and there's very few things he didn't explain.... but one of those few things is the orcs. Although, I do kinda have to give him credit, because he was one of the first to come up with the "uncontrollable evil" thing, I guess. It wasn't like he was copying off an author who copied off from another author, who copied off from yet another author, and so on.

And this journal applies to the three-part-story-thing I've been working on since 6th grade. It started out uber stoopid and cheezy, and then I left it alone for a year, and then looked back at it in 8th grade and went "holy crap! What the hell was I thinking here?" thank goodness only one-and-half books had been typed up, but still I'm editing the first book. It's disastrous. And I've been off-and-on editing with that things for almost three years now. I write up a scarily-detailed summary on a sheet of paper before I do any book-typing now.

But I really like how everything else in the story is coming along :D

Gah, I love your journals. They make me crack up everytime :thumbsup:
Tolkien was an original, whatever flaws could be argued, so I'm not dissing the guy. I'm dissing all the copycats that think they can be just as profound and successful as he was without doing half the work (and crying.) So even though I'm not a freak-out fan of LOTR, I give credit where credit is due. Hail to Tolkien!
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