This edition of my “How To” series I’m looking at creatures & animals that populate your fantasy world – how to make them unique, how to make them fit within your world, and how to make them relevant to your story.
You don’t need to build every detail
One of the things about worldbuilding is it can become overwhelmingly complicated. Because the world is overwhelmingly complicated. You have everything from the tiniest insect up to the largest carnivores and everything in between.
So when you start worldbuilding, especially with deciding what creatures or animals inhabit your world, start small. Start with what really impacts your storyline, and then go from there.
Starter Creature pack.
I like to think of the first set of creatures and animals you come up with, the ones that impact your story line, are your “starter” pack of creatures. These are the ones that you are going to be using a lot in your plot, and in turn, will develop parts of your world from.
First creature that is needed in any good fantasy book is the travel creatures (or lack of). Does your world have horses? A horse equivalent? Or does it have technology instead of horses perhaps your world’s equivalent of a car? Or does the environment of your world impact your animals?
The next set of creatures or animals you need to consider are the dangerous ones. Are there creatures that lurk in forests that could hurt your characters? Are there dangerous insects that could be used to poison or maim someone?
Finally, the last set is the creatures that are important culturally. Are there certain animals that have a place in your religious structure? Or animals that have a cultural importance, perhaps they cannot be killed or touched? These points can be used as points of conflict during your story – what happens if your main character killed an animal they shouldn’t have in order to save their own life?
The next steps to building your creatures is asking why. Why is the animal the way it is? Is it their environment (in which case you need to take into account your world’s weather and geography). Is it their history (have they been bred in a certain way? For certain traits?).
Wikipedia is a fantastic resource for this kind of work. You don’t need to be a biologist or an expert, but understanding why creatures are the way they are can help you understand what you could change for your world. This means your creatures are unique to your world, but grounded in a sense of reality that allows your readers to understand them.
So you’ve built your creature starter pack, and you’ve spent some time digging around on Wikipedia for your why. Now you’ve got a selection of animals you can pepper through your story that drive your plot forward and make your character’s interactions within your world rich and exciting.
But what about the rest of the world? The ecosystem? Well, that’s where you can start to build your background characters. You don’t need to know as much detail as those creatures in your starter pack, but you can put them into your world in the background somewhere. Maybe your character sees a far off traveller riding a different type of horse that is only bred in one specific area of your world. Or perhaps there is a new regional cuisine for your characters to try, based from a particular type of fish?
Don’t feel like you need to go into loads of detail with these creatures – after all, the joy of being a reader is interpreting the author’s world. You can leave out all the details and keep in those that are important and that make your story better. The readers will fill in the rest with their imaginations.
What creatures would you put into your creature starter pack? Let me know in the comments below!
Photo by Ahmed Sobah on Unsplash
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