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In urban fantasy style fiction with multiple supernatural characters, is it understandable to the reader if race names of each group are a combination of stereotypical species names (such as 'vampire' or 'fairy') with made-up names or regular names that have been altered somehow? A quick example for the sake of my question could be spelling fairy as 'fayree' or using latin/ancient language terms in the name such as 'necro' being part of the created name for zombies?

I want my story to contain some of the usual creatures of fantasy but I also want to avoid cliches with the trope-y boring names and connotations associated with such. I am worried that creating my own titles alongside normal ones could create too much confusion for the reader.

I want to assume my reader already relates/has some knowledge of my alternate reality similarly to the way the Sookie Stackhouse books are set. Like, in our relatively current time period, with mostly the same history that the reader is familiar with, except to highlight my created alternate history/difference to explain the fantasy elements existence.

Any advice on how to structure narrative to explain any created names/traits etc without info-dumping yet making it easily understandable to the reader that if for instance they read the word 'fayree' without too much background info that they would immediately associate it with the common ideal of fairy?

  • I was also wondering if anybody has any examples they like/hate from any work of fantasy (book, film, game etc), where the author has used a different moniker for a species or how the entire fantasy races are described as a whole. For example in the Sookie books they use the term "Supes". – museintheclouds Apr 25 '15 at 14:53
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I personally find it a little odd when authors go out of their way not to call something what it is. If you have an undead entity that sleeps in a coffin, hates sunlight, and drinks blood, why not call it a vampire? If it's because the word "vampire" is cliche, why is the creature itself not cliche as well?

That being said, there are a few ways around using generic names like "vampire" and "fairy." Technically, those are both blanket terms for many different types of creatures. If your vampire is African and likes to attack its victims from the trees, you can call it an asanbosam. If your fairy is attuned to the element of water and has a hypnotic voice, it can be called a nixie. If you have a fairy-vampire hybrid, why not make it a baobhan sith? Heck, Romero-style zombies are technically better described as ghouls or draugr.

If you're invested in making up your own names I would probably suggest not basing them on the existing words, e.g. "fayree" could potentially leave the viewer wondering why you didn't just say "fairy."

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    "If it's because the word "vampire" is cliche, why is the creature itself not cliche as well?" +1 – kmunky Apr 4 '16 at 23:36
  • +1 '"fayree" could potentially leave the viewer wondering why you didn't just say "fairy."' Urban fantasy implies modern cultural context. Now if there was an outbreak of animalistic vampirism in Norway, "draug" might catch on. But in an English-speaking country in the present day, people WILL call a vampire a vampire. – aniline Apr 29 at 8:00
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I'm sure that unusually-spelt variations on words like "vampire" and "fairy" would be comprehensible to most readers, but, unfortunately that is partly because "vampyre" and "faerie" are a bit of a cliché themselves. "Faerie" has more than 15 million hits on Google.

Evolving yourself some names from Latin source words seems a more promising strategy. Lesser known languages would be even better.

As for how to explain without info-dumping, my advice is show, don't tell. Introduce the word for vampire by having a bloody great [Whatever] sink its teeth into the main character's neck.

  • I actually want to avoid using 'faerie' and 'vampyre' by all means, I love how this was your example as I completely agree! Yes, am looking at lesser known languages or integrating words as in my necro example. Also I'm so sick of the word "zombies" too, it's beginning to sound tacky and almost spoof-like in my opinion and not all undead characters are always dumb, mutilated, flesh-eating lunatics and I guess, I am looking to invoke a bit more serious-ness to any species I include and avoid the cliches/traits that my characters might not have. Still in progress, Using working titles right now! – museintheclouds Apr 25 '15 at 14:47
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First of all, I think you have to give your readers enough credit to understand what you are talking about when you use the term "fayree" instead of "fairy". As long as your spelling of the word doesn't get so obscure as to be unrecognizable, then you shouldn't have anything to worry about.

Secondly, the burden of responsibility falls on you to write a character that is not only recognizable but also adheres to certain expectations that your reader might have for that type of character or creature or race. If you try to write a story about a creature that goes around sucking blood from people's necks and you call that creature a "fayree", then you are more than likely going to lose some credibility with your readers.

Just remember that a rose by any other name is still a rose, just like a vampire by any other name is still a blood-sucking ghoul.

  • Yes, I guess some of my intentjion here is to have the recognisable cliche version of the character/species but with my own twists/history so by giving them a different name would give them a bit of credibility in my imagined history/world. By giving some species different titles, I was also hoping to stray from the really ingrained stereotypes. – museintheclouds Apr 25 '15 at 14:37
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You might end up with The Walking Dead problem. No one calls a zombie a zombie. It becomes a distraction.

"Dead?" Yup. "Drinks blood?" Yup. "Turns into a bat?" Yup. "Is it a vampire?" No, we call it a plasmosucking werebat. "Err... you know what a vampire is, right?"

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In urban fantasy style fiction with multiple supernatural characters, is it understandable to the reader if race names of each group are a combination of stereotypical species names (such as 'vampire' or 'fairy') with made-up names or regular names that have been altered somehow? A quick example for the sake of my question could be spelling fairy as 'fayree' or using latin/ancient language terms in the name such as 'necro' being part of the created name for zombies?

There's a balance here, but I'd say err on the side of caution. Using latin or ancient terms in the name might be appropriate, but it depends on your audience and how common the term is. Your example of necro is great, but something like vulpine might not fly.

I want my story to contain some of the usual creatures of fantasy but I also want to avoid cliches with the trope-y boring names and connotations associated with such. I am worried that creating my own titles alongside normal ones could create too much confusion for the reader.

Hold on a minute. Tropes need not be boring. Tropes are the touchstone for your reader; they're a great shorthand. The trick is to use the trope, like the name, but then put your twist on it. It sounds like this is exactly what you're trying to do, so don't throw the baby out with the bathwater by not using a name everyone recognizes. It'll make the twist much more satisfying ("Wait, the vampires in this setting aren't afraid of crucifixes!?")

Any advice on how to structure narrative to explain any created names/traits etc without info-dumping yet making it easily understandable to the reader that if for instance they read the word 'fayree' without too much background info that they would immediately associate it with the common ideal of fairy?

Show, don't tell. Seriously. You dole out the information. One way to do it is to give the name away immediately with a story element that keeps with the trope. Next scene (or chapter or whatever) introduces the unfamiliar element. Go back and forth introducing familiar and unfamiliar elements to keep the reader engaged and on their toes.

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