Sep 072017

5 World Building Tips (Vol 1, #10): Species

This is the tenth in a series of world building articles I’ll be sending you! Today’s theme is species. This will get you started, but you can read more about this in Chapter 2, “Species,” from Creating Life, (The Art of World Building, #1).

Tip #1: “Don’t Give a Species a Uniform Disposition”

Much of the tension in life, at least among us humans, is not knowing whether someone is good or evil, to be simplistic about it. Making invented species be uniformly one way or another makes them predictable, which is less interesting, but if we invent multiple races of them, this variety makes them more entertaining.

Tip #2: “Use Avatar Creators to Invent a Head”

A free, online avatar creator can help you invent faces that are typical of your invented species. This can help visualize something and be provided to an artist if we want someone to draw our creation. It also helps us avoid being unintentionally ridiculous.


Tip #3: “Create Races for Variety”

If all the elves, for example, look the same, that means a wood elf and drow can masquerade as each other. This gives us opportunities for mayhem that don’t exist if every race of a species looks the same. Besides, why not surprise other characters and readers alike?

Tip #4: “Decide How They Get Along With Everyone, Not Just Humans”

It’s easy to overlook how two invented species get along with each other because we’re trying to figure out how each gets along with humans. More thought given to this makes our world more believable and engaging. Envision each race’s viewpoint on how people should behave and then what they think of another race’s behavior. Read Creating Life to learn more.

Tip #5: “Determine Their View of Magic/Technology”

We should decide how educated a species is, as this may impact their ability to do magic or invent/use technology. If they can’t read and spells are hard to learn orally, they may be unable to cast them, unless they can do it without a spell, like a god. Even uneducated species can steal a space ship, for example, and those need janitors, too, so be clever in finding ways that the less fortunate can have power that maybe they shouldn’t!

Summary of Chapter 3—Creating a Species

Audiences are familiar with using “race” to distinguish between humanoids, especially in fantasy, but species may be a more appropriate term. This chapter explores the meaning and implications of both words, with some examples of which one to use, when, and why.

Creating a species is challenging and time consuming, but the risks and rewards can be navigated and achieved, respectively. This chapter helps us decide on our goals and if the effort is worth it. SF writers might have little choice but to create species because there are no public domain species available like the elves, dwarves, and dragons of fantasy. The benefits of creating something different can outweigh the investment and help our work stand out.

An invented species must compete with legendary ones like elves, dwarves, and dragons; this chapter helps us achieve this. Starting with habitat helps us decide on physical adaptations that affect their minds, outlook, and society, and what a typical settlement might be like and even whether or not they live in jointly formed settlements. Their disposition affects their relationships with other species but can also limit their usefulness to us unless steps are taken to avoid this. Characteristics like intelligence, wisdom, and dexterity all play a role in how they can be used in our work, as does their society and world view, both affected by a history we can invent to integrate them with our world. Their familiarity with the supernatural and technology influences their prominence and how they compare to other life in our world.

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