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Creating a Species
Posted: Tuesday, April 19, 2011 2:53 PM
Joined: 3/13/2011
Posts: 224


When you write your fantasy, how much of your creation process involves the creation of new species? I've always been curious about this, as many of the novels I love use animals that exist in the real world as a part of their fantasy world (something I do as well), and there are some that use mystical creatures from our culture (Unicorns, Dragons, etc)

What is your approach to species creation in your world?

For me, I have two custom created species that play major roles in my fantasy world. One is a creature that lives in a parallel world to the fantasy world that is tied in with the magic system of the world. The other is a magically created creature -- a chimera. This creature uses magic to emulate science. The chimera in this case was sorcerers playing with genetics for a purpose.

When I create any species, I evaluate how the presence of the species will impact the humans I have on the planet. From there, I figure out what they'd eat, how much is required to sustain them, and the conditions they can survive in. 

Posted: Tuesday, April 19, 2011 3:28 PM
Joined: 3/13/2011
Posts: 245

I don't go that detailed. I figure out what makes them so fantastical and then go from there. I have four created species in my traditional fantasy that I wrote. (Well, only two of them actually show up in that first novel. The others show up in later volumes of the trilogy.)

Other creatures show up, such as basilisks, dragons, fairies, centaurs, etc. And I play around with the conventions of each species, mixing different traditions and such.
Danielle Bowers
Posted: Tuesday, April 19, 2011 4:28 PM
Joined: 3/16/2011
Posts: 280

As a biology major in college, my big thing in creature creation is to make the creature make sense. If it is a creature found in the wild, what is its food? What hunts it? Design an ecosystem around the creature.

For your genetically engineered chimera, you have a lot more leeway. Darwin hasn't touched the species.

Playing with genetics would be tricky, even in sci-fi/fantasy worlds. If I were writing about a genetically engineered creature I would add some design mistakes. It wouldn't be able to produce a certain enzyme needed to aid digestion so they have to eat unicorn poo. Would the sorcerers put in a natural safeguard to prevent them from breeding in the wild if they escaped? Is there a chromosome that doesn't turn off a certain growth spurt that needs to be magically taken care of?

Posted: Tuesday, April 19, 2011 5:51 PM
Joined: 3/13/2011
Posts: 224

@Ivoidwarrenties -- This is really funny, actually. The chimeras in this world *do* have design flaws.. they were blended from compatible species, so they've since bred with one another. They're still chimeras, but they're evolving as well. There are rejects as the species is bred, and each one of them is different mixes of their base creatures. It really makes them interesting to write about. Their initial design still exists -- in basic essence -- but they're claiming their own place as a viable race, even though they were magically created from a mix of beasties.

But... I've also plotted out the species evolution from when it was created. It is a bit of an obsession in a way.

@stephmcgee That is an interesting mix! I don't use a lot of mythical creatures unless I create them because I don't want the association of the culture with my own cultures. (For example... a unicorn brings with it the legend of virgins and purity that I may not want...)
Alexander Hollins
Posted: Wednesday, April 20, 2011 6:07 PM
Joined: 3/13/2011
Posts: 416

hmm, now that I think about it, as much as I LOVE stories with fantastical creatures, the only time I've used any, they were dragons, and I don't have to worry about their biology, as they have all been killed off about 10,000 years ago.
Posted: Wednesday, April 20, 2011 9:45 PM
Joined: 3/13/2011
Posts: 224

@Alexander Hollins - Obviously your next work needs to include a new and fantastic beastie! Maybe they come back *gasp* It'd be like.. dinosaurs today....
Alexander Hollins
Posted: Wednesday, April 20, 2011 10:48 PM
Joined: 3/13/2011
Posts: 416

Oh, I do, I do need to make a beastie based story. when i have time...

and no, in that one dragons were intelligent, and magical, and were hunted down on this planet by the humans that migrated there, the inherent magic of the bodies of many of the race used to supplement technology and create items of wonderous power. The main "bad" guy is actually the spirit of the last slain dragon, seeking to return the bodies of his kin to the earth. As much as its a sci fi action story, at the tail end it suddenly turns into a classic ghost story! Its my story mentioned in the BIG FISH thread that I know I just don't have the chops to write. Yet.
Posted: Thursday, April 21, 2011 3:58 AM
Joined: 3/13/2011
Posts: 224

@ Alexander - Sounds like a fun romp at anyrate. You had me at 'ghost' and 'dragon'....
MB Mulhall
Posted: Monday, April 25, 2011 12:47 AM
Joined: 3/14/2011
Posts: 81

As with all world building I do, I tend to give just enough info that's needed for the story/plot. If I don't write about them eating, then I'm probably not going to mention that they are vegetarian or carnivore.

For one story, Red Dust, the love interest is a cat person. I describe the way they look and that the young go out on a hunt to prove they've reached adulthood, but only because that plays a role in the plot. In that same book, the MC rides on a Doublehead which looks just like our horses except that have two necks and two heads. I figured beyond that I don't need to describe them much because everyone knows what a horse looks like.

I feel like pointless info, or front loading the book with world building info often slows down the plot. Put it in when it fits in with the flow of the story. Don't give unnecessary info, etc.
Robert C Roman
Posted: Tuesday, April 26, 2011 1:09 AM
Joined: 3/12/2011
Posts: 383

I'm currently rewriting something with *evolved* (as opposed to mystical) shapeshifters. Putting them into the ecosystem has been fun, and plotting out the just so story of how they got that way has been even more so.

As for creating new species, if there's a need to, I do. If not, I don't. In one sci-fi novel, I needed fragments of an ecosystem, what might be left after terraforming. Essentially, the only things remaining were top end omnivorous predators and insect analogues. The predators were all octapodal, but other than that I could go to town, since I wasn't designing a *living* ecosystem, just the remains of one.
Danielle Poiesz
Posted: Tuesday, April 26, 2011 8:25 PM
Very interesting topic! I've never really thought about creating a species or how I would do it if I did. However, I did make a "comic book" when I was nine years old where my friend and I took two animals and squished them together, drew pictures and created "bios" LOL oh childhood.

But ANYWAY, I do sometimes have a hard time though when I'm reading a book that has a brand-new beastie I know nothing about. Usually because the creature isn't as clearly drawn as perhaps it should be. When using creatures known to mythology or some already existing trope, your reader likely has an automatic knowledge base--or at least can find one! But when you start from scratch, it's so important to make sure your reader has enough to go on, to make your creature believeable in it's fantastic nature--if that makes any sense at all LOL

Michele Briere
Posted: Thursday, April 28, 2011 2:46 AM
Joined: 4/28/2011
Posts: 4

When I create a creature, I need to make it believable. Every inch of it needs to have an evolutionary reason. These monsters in movies like Alien aren't believable for me because I think that in order for a being to gain space flight capabilities, to say nothing of a country or evolving community, it needs to be part of a cooperative species. The 'monster of the week' creatures are nothing more than semi-intelligent animals.
Posted: Thursday, April 28, 2011 3:18 PM
Joined: 3/13/2011
Posts: 224

@Ted Cross - So what attracts you to Fantasy, then? I mean, the criteria that you listed immediately removes Tolkien as something of interest, and there are many other fantasy novels that also apply. If fantasy deals with magic, new worlds and the kin, new creatures are closely tied to it.

I'm the exact opposite of you, I think -- I love seeing the creativity of someone who is willing to take it a step further and create new species.

I don't like new species in sci-fi because it isn't really all that scientific. (Where is the dead carcass that proves these creatures could exist... gimme the biopsy, sort of thing.)

But for me, sci-fi needs to be as realistic as possible for it to work for me, and the creation of alien species for the sake of alien species feels like it belongs in a fantasy for me, not in something based off of science.

But, I've always been weird like that.

It sounds like you like historical fantasy more than a lot of the offerings, if it needs ties to earth and earth mythologies?
Mike R
Posted: Monday, May 2, 2011 2:12 AM
Joined: 4/27/2011
Posts: 6

I love reading about and creating new creatures.

If I want something like a dragon, I use dragons and wyverns because anything remotely dragon-like will not be seen as new. But, Anything else I make up.

I just did a blog on this a couple hours ago. http://cowboysndragonscafe.blogspot.com/

@Ted, Much of Fantasy is other worlds. Would not new species be logical there?
Rik Roots
Posted: Monday, May 2, 2011 6:52 PM
Joined: 5/2/2011
Posts: 14

I tend to go completely overboard - for my first book I designed a non-terestrial biology into which various species had to fit ... and ended up barely mentioning any of them in the story (except for my barby rats, which I love).
Alex Hollingshead
Posted: Monday, May 2, 2011 9:25 PM
Joined: 5/2/2011
Posts: 61

I write very fantastical stories, so I don't do too much in terms of straight biology. My descents and dragons (I mix and match 'real' and 'created' mythological creatures), for instance, were both born of the hardened skin of the cephalopod gods of this world. When you start out with that, there isn't much point in explaining how they can fly or breathe fire in any real detail. I sometimes sketch them out, but I'm a dreadful artist, so it doesn't end very well. Bullet points tend to do me good. My main concern when creating a new creature is simply "does this already exist?" It's a tough line, between a new creature and an old one with some light modification. A lot of my earliest 'creations' could be described as "dragons who breathe water" or something equally inane. Now I make an effort to distance them greatly from any similar fantasy creature. Often by giving them more or less of something. Like eyes.
Posted: Monday, May 2, 2011 9:31 PM
I'm actually much more fond of creating a new race of people than species. This comes from a lack of education in creatures; environments and animals.... However, we have a lot to work with when it comes to inventing a race... We have huge histories of people; and it's a lot easier to combine/mix and match. Imagining an entirely new creature seems difficult to me, and I still feel like I'm creative... The closest I've come to inventing a species was a griffon-like creature that is a means of transportation in my trilogy.

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