Shannon, here, for an introduction:
If you checked out my last post, then you know about my new series: “Writing Tips: Details: ____.” I will be periodically posting about the little things – how to choose something like a wardrobe for your character. Last time, I spoke about vehicles, and that’s when Charles E. Yallowitz blew me away in the comments. As a high fantasy writer, he doesn’t deal with cars, but he still took the time to see the correlations between the cars and other transportation methods he has had to decide. By broadening the discussions, I knew he had to have his own slot – his own posting – and I offered him today’s place. Below you will read tips from Charles E. Yallowitz – and who knows? – maybe your added commentary will be the next one chosen to keep the discussion going.
Fantasy Transportation: Horses, Griffins, & Everything In Between
My name is Charles E. Yallowitz from the Legends of Windemere blog, and I’m a fantasy author. First, a thank you to Shannon A. Thompson for allowing me to write this guest post about modes of transportation in fantasy.
It’s a rather interesting subject because many believe the sky is the limit with this, but there are things to consider when choosing a fictional mount. Unlike modern vehicles, you don’t have a wealth of information about the inner workings and evolution of the cars. Choosing a 1967 Chevy Impala over an Aston Martin DB5 requires different research than choosing a griffin over a hippogriff. Some might say no research is required beyond knowing the difference between the beasts, but part of this connects to world building and character development. I’m big fan of lists to keep things organized (and avoid me getting sidetracked by shiny ideas), so here we go:
1. Size of the Rider - In my series, I have a gnome named Fritz Warrenberg who rides a sheep. Due to his height and weight, this mount is perfect for him. Yes, he can ride a horse with some control, but he would have trouble if it panics because he wouldn’t have the strength to take command. On the opposite end of the spectrum, you don’t put a towering barbarian on a riding sheep. (Not unless it’s for comedy or the characters are going to be eating mutton in the next scene.) So it is very important to compare the physical abilities and description of a character before putting them on a specific mount. This can also help develop some of the cultural habits of fantasy beings because modes of transportation are one of the essential pieces to a society. For example, a species that uses a flying creature for mounts might live in the mountains or have an economic structure around delivery services due to faster speeds.
2. Confidence and Experience of the Rider - Animals sense the emotions of the person trying to control them. I know this from experience and suggest to never panic while riding a horse that happens to be a jerk. A rider gains confidence through experience, which denotes what kind of rider they are. For example, Nyx in my stories is a sorceress who grew up in the city and learned how to ride griffins instead of horses. So, she constantly has trouble with horses and is either awkward or bucked. This is primarily for comedy and character development, but it can be used to decide on if a character can use the mount or not. Many times an author will have every character know how to ride to make things easy, but taking the confidence and experience into account can create more depth to them.
3. Temperament of the Mount- One of the big differences between a car and a riding beast is that the car can’t think for itself. (Apologies to Knight Rider.) A horse can have any temperament and we have those in reality, so they are rather easy to adapt to whatever situation you’re working on. Panicky mares, unshakeable battle horses, and playful ponies are fairly common. Things get trickier when you move to the fictional mounts because it is up to the author to pick how they act. You can give them the same variety as a horse, but it helps to give them a baseline of attitude. Griffins (my favorite if you haven’t noticed) can have a basic temperament of caution or standoffishness with a new rider that evolves into something bigger. More destructive creatures, like dragons, can be the type to turn on a rider at the first opportunity. There are ways to cheat here like magical control or the ‘raised from birth’ connection, but animals have natural instincts that should be taken into account.
4. Terrain of the World- One of the reasons horses get used most of the time in fantasy is that they’re versatile. Yet, they have their limits such as thick swamps, pathless mountains, large deserts, and oceans. You can still use them for some of these areas, but you have to factor in the dangers and slow progress. This is where boats and mount choices can come in handy. Camels and donkeys are alternatives for difficult terrains as are flying mounts and personally designed creatures. An example of that last one could be a large, multi-limbed monkey with long hair to hold while it swings through a dense jungle.
5 Technology of the World- There are fictional worlds with technology more advanced than ours. Magi-tech is an example where magic is used to create high tech within the traditional fantasy realm. Most times this is something that most of the heroes don’t have experience with, so it requires a set of characters specific to them. A common mode of fantasy-tech transportation is the airship, which can be powered in whatever way the author designs. I prefer magic, but I’ve seen steam, coal, and absorbing lightning in storm clouds used. The key to designing something like this is consistency and creating believability. These modes of transport can remove the animal issues from a traveling section of a story, so the ‘mount’ doesn’t have a mind of its own. You can throw in mechanical failures for suspense as well. An added bonus here is that this opens up more of the world’s progression to the reader.
6. History of Taming- It is easier to go traditional with horses and the like, but you can work nearly anything into a mount if you design a history of taming into it. Orcs can ride rhinos, elves can ride bears, and almost any other combination as long as the author has it established. A character shouldn’t be able to simply jump on any animal and ride it without an issue. There has to be some level of taming within the species for it to be viable.
7. Be Creative and Have Fun- This might sound like a strange suggestion, but the benefit of being able to work outside of make/model/year transportation is that an author can flex their imagination. If you want to go beyond what’s already out there then take the previous rules and design your own creature. Nobody can really say your winged hippo with lightning breath can’t exist in a world of fiction.
Again, thank you to Shannon A. Thompson for letting me write this fun, and hopefully informative, guest post. Hope everyone enjoyed it.