One of my favorite things about writing fantasy is the worldbuilding. I’m sure I’m not alone. With all the world at your disposal, you can create whatever sort of world you want, with its own cast of creatures and races, cultures and landscapes. But of all the things to invent, my favorites are the creatures. (Big surprise, coming from the biologist, huh?) So in the next few posts I’d like to share a few of the techniques I use to invent new creatures. Here’s today’s:
Find the Awesome.
This is usually the first corner of the imagination that I visit. I want something awesome to play with in my world. Something that when people read it, they think, “Wow, I want to live there and see that,” or something frightening enough to put them at the edge of their seats. Something that sparks a reaction–wonder, fear, disgust–but I’d also be happy with something that sparks thought. Because those are the kind of creatures I like to read about.
So what does awesome look like? A burly predator, or a sleek grazer? Something that flows, or something bulky? Is it super sneaky, or bumbling, or fluffy and lovable? Or disgusting? Something to scare the gray hairs out of your characters–or something that sparks them into following it deep into a dark forest? Or we could go even wilder. How many legs does it have? How many heads? Does it breathe normal air, or a specialized air found in a deep cave? Does it fluoresce?
I don’t think about how realistic that would be. Not at first. I just start with the awesome. All the reasons can be crafted later, once I’ve found something that really sparks my interest.
Sometimes you can find some pretty awesome creatures already here on earth to give you ideas. Cheetahs that run up to 70 mph. Chameleons that can change the colors of their hide. Cockroaches that can live a while without a head. Elephants and other large animals that can communicate long distances with ultrasonic sound, and deep sea fish that attract prey with glowing lights.
Some of these ideas can make for really cool story tools. Maybe you need a super fast messenger creature, or your characters need to communicate without the antagonists knowing, so they do so through creatures who communicate through ultrasonic sounds. Maybe your character needs to get through a troublesome patch of wilderness inhabited by a color-changing, camouflaged predator. Unusual creatures can add tension and mystery to a story that mundane creatures might not provide as well.
Once I find an Awesome, I can start to work out the why and the how. But for now…what would you find awesome?
Have you read any books with awesome creatures that made the story more exciting or interesting?