In our native setting, humans are the top of the food chain. Sure, we might sometimes stumble into a gray area and be eaten by a lion, tiger, or bear (Oh my!); but we still generally sit at the top of Mother Nature’s food pyramid. For us, the view is good. Nothing but blue sky above us and tasty treats below. But what happens when we change that?
Let’s look at the genius that happens when we look at more than what’s in front, behind, or beside us:
In Tolkien’s The Hobbit, the entire story is based on this premise. A dragon sweeps out of the skies, decimates the city of Esgaroth (what most remember as “Lake-Town”), and steals the vast treasures of the dwarves for itself.
Then, in The Chronicles of Prydain by Lloyd Alexander there is a predatory bird that often acts as spies for the evil Arawn Death-Lord. Alexander uses them to add depth and intensity to the flight of the heroes as they race to find various items of power in their fight against various evils.
Dragonlance‘s Margaret Weiss and Tracy Hickman worked with a team to establish a setting where the primary concerns are those above. Either the gods (represented by Krynn’s constellations) are plotting against one another and causing strife; or dragons in various forms are fighting and manipulating the bipedal races to do their bidding.
Let’s not forget Stephen King’s IT. Where is the “clown” the first time we see him in the film? In a sewer grate, BELOW us, where we often don’t think to look. (It should be noted that this is often where one finds whatever one’s children are looking for but claim, “It isn’t ANYWHERE!” with much angst and woe-is-me.)
By far, the best example, in my opinion any-whether, are those stories which take place in some subterranean perspective.
The adventures of Drizzt Do’Urden as told by R.A. Salvatore in The Dark Elf Trilogy take advantage of all three dimensions perfectly. The city Drizzt is born in is deep underground and filled with a race of dark elves known as the drow. Drow live in three dimensions. They can levitate; so hiding places are not just front, back, left, and right, but also up or down. Their goddess is a spider-queen so spiders move across every surface. Danger can – and does – come from every conceivable direction.
While we may not all write in high fantasy or horror or even horrific fantasy, I think we all want to create stories with depth, and we can do that by making sure to remember not only depth, but width and height as well. Jodi looked left and right as she approached the road, then glanced behind her to see if her pursuer had gained any distance. A flash of metallic green skin told her all she needed to know, and she moved to dash across the road. A bone-wrenching impact on her right shoulder dropped her quickly to the ground. As her vision started to fade, Jodi rolled over and saw what appeared to be an enormous red-eyed tree frog standing above her.
“Boss! I think I found that fly you were looking for.”
Go on, write a short snippet about danger coming from above or below. Give planar thought its comeuppance.