I think that if you want your story to be clearly distinct from the inspirations, then before building the plot details you should focus on worldbuilding.
For example: how to make "hobbits" more otherworldly? Well, start with asking yourself why are they hobbits at all? What about hobbits do you like? And independent of that, what purpose do they serve in your story, what place do they have in your world? Tolkien's Hobbits are very Human-like because they are
fundamentally Human pygmies (unlike Elves, let alone Dwarves) and their behavior, culture, psychology is deliberately Human. JRRT's Elves and Dwarves aren't Humans, and everything about them is skewed from humanity in systematic, carefully-thought-out ways by how they differ from us. To the extent they feel "alien" it is as a gestalt feeling you get from reading their behavior, which was written based on that framework of how they differ internally from Humans.
As another example, the After Ragnarok series (possibly forgetting the name) has Elves which have a finite supply of souls. Those who die of old age get reincarnated, but those who die violently don't, so over time they're going extinct. Meanwhile Humans go to Hel if they die of old age, and go to Valhalla if they die violently. This difference will show clearly in the behaviors and thought patterns of Humans and Elves, and lead to conflicts and plot hooks. Human and Elven cultures will be radically different, even if the species were the same otherwise.
So what place do the Hidden Folk and Dwarves have in your world? Ask yourself about each race: Where did they come from? Are they Human? If not what are they? Did they come from the maggots in Ymir's flesh, or whatever? How do they differ from Humans? I don't mean superficial things like how they look or talk. I mean fundamental things that will shape their entire culture, worldview, psychology. How do they reproduce — live birth, eggs, pouches? Do they have two sexes in equal ratios, like Humans, or not? What do they eat — are they omnivores like Humans, or pure carnivores, or pure herbivores, or saprovores — and how do they get food? How long do they live? What is their life cycle? What happens when they die, and do they know? Is their primary sense vision, or hearing or smell? How social are they compared to Humans? How do they raise offspring? How are the structures of their societies, their day-to-day lives, similar to Humans or different? Do they comprehend the same moral concepts Humans do, or do they have Blue and Orange Morality
? Do they have the same emotions Humans do? In reaction to the same things? Do they have a sense of humor? What is their history — how long they've lived where they are, where they came from, their past? Have they historically been independent, or economically dominant, or subjugated? Self-sufficient or dependent on trade? Do they have any senses or abilities Humans lack, or weaknesses to things that don't hurt Humans? What diseases are most common in their communities? What is their relationship to the land and water around them?
Answer these questions, and think about the narrative part you want them to play, and the consequences will start to show how they act and think different from Humans.
edited 26th Mar '13 3:46:19 PM by ArcadesSabboth
Oppression anywhere is a threat to democracy everywhere.