UNDERSTANDING THE ‘OTHER’
The ‘Other.’ What does that mean, exactly?
In short, the ‘Other’ is anything that is different from our own experience. It can be a species, a race, a culture, or even a neighborhood that operates differently from what we are used to.
Naturally, anyone who has read any of my work should know that I’m a big fan of writing from the point of view of creatures not generally considered to be main characters in most books.
In so much fantasy, you see one or more species that are there just to be mown down in droves by the heroes. That is their only function in the story. Now, I’m not saying that’s inherently a bad thing. Tolkien, Jordan, Brooks, Weis, Salvatore, and scores (if not hundreds) of other writers have used this to great effect to create entertaining stories for ages.
It works. I’ll never dispute that.
But for my stories, I wanted something more. I didn’t want another classic fantasy with heroes destroying the evil races and that being the end of it. I wanted more complexity. More realism. I wanted to see each species I write about as not a cookie-cutter ‘creature’ but as a race of individuals with all that comes with it.
I really got started on this fascination when I was a young teen, the first time I read books by Richard A. Knaak. Namely, in the Dragonlance series where I was first presented with the idea of a minotaur being not a semi-mindless ‘monster’ but an actual species with a culture and society all their own. Strongly inspired by Celtic and Spartan analogues, to be sure, but still with elements all their own.
This fascination was further entrenched in my young mind in my twenties when I read the ColdFire trilogy by CS Friedman, where she introduced a feline humanoid species called Rahk, which were an absolutely phenomenal mixture of human and animal.
So what does it mean to write and/or understand the ‘Other’?
For me, it stems largely from teaching yourself to see a creature not as just a monster to be defeated by the heroes, but as an individual who is not defined by the color or shape of their body.
Each one should have their own desires, their own drives, their own wants and needs and circumstances that lead them to the path they are on.
Even if they are, in fact, the villains of the story whose collective aim is to ‘take over the world,’ as it were, each individual involved in that should have their own reasons for being where they are.
Perhaps it is as simple as there is a mastermind who has taken that choice away from them, but I personally find it much more interesting to consider the specific life choices that led them to exactly where they are.
And that, for me, is the heart of Understanding the ‘Other.” It’s seeing the individuals that comprise a species rather than just seeing them all as being little more than carbon copies of some template that all want the same thing.
For a deeper dive on this topic, you can watch a discussion I had recently with Andy Peloquin and Stevie Collier on the Fantasy Fiends podcast at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GrjBU_dF51k&list=PLGWYdcAA6k1eB98NhWd-7HoXwpaO-vYGk