I was thinking about how some stories focus only on one type of being, like how Steven Universe has the Gems, whereas other stories, like Tolkien’s work, have many different types of beings. What I’m interested in finding out is, what are some of the pros and cons of each?
Thanks in advance!
Hey Tifa, great to hear from you again!
While the specifics vary from story to story, the trade-off between more and fewer fantasy elements is the trade-off of additional options for added complexity. This is true of all spec fic elements, not just non-human species, but let’s focus on that aspect of it today.
The more non-humans you add to the story, the more opportunities for novelty you have. Each fantasy species can be cool and different in a unique way, making your setting more interesting to readers. You also have more plot options, as non-humans create delicious opportunities for conflict, as well as storylines specifically about different species. Having elves in your world lets you tell a story about the fatigue of watching entire civilizations rise and fall, whereas adding dwarves means your plot can dig too greedily and too deep.
But with each new species you add, the world gets more complicated. There’s more for readers to remember and a greater chance of introducing exploitable combos that cause plot holes. You don’t have as much time to explore each non-human group, so there’s a risk that they become shallow tropes rather than a living species.
There’s a careful balancing act to be struck depending on how long your story is and how important the different groups are to your plot. In most cases, you don’t want a bunch of extra non-humans running around if they aren’t central to the conflict, as they then become just another set of details that readers have to remember, but for no real gain.
As a final note, Steven Universe plays a bit of trickery with the Gems. While they look like one species at first, the many different types of Gem allows the SU writers to get most of the same benefits they’d have if they included several different alien species. This is also why the Gems have so many different powers, some of which come back to haunt the show later. If Mythcreants had a dollar for every problem Team Steven could have solved with fusion, we wouldn’t need Patreon anymore.
We also have a few articles that touch on the subject, which you might find useful:
- Should You Use Non-Humans in Your Setting?
- Should You Give Your Non-Human Group Marginalized Traits?
- Designing Aliens From an Alternate Earth
Hope that answers your question!