5 World Building Tips (Vol 1, #3): Species
This is the next article in a series of world building tips! Today’s theme is species. This will get you started, but you can read more about this in Chapter 3, “Creating Species”, from Creating Life, (The Art of World Building, #1).
Tip #1: “Decide Whether to Create Them”
Some SF and even fantasy (like Game of Thrones) has nothing but humans, so you may not need to invent a species at all. Or you might be writing a genre with public domain races you can use, like elves. We can do a mix of these, using the latter while inventing a few of our own, but this has risks, too. Read Creating Life to understand why and how to manage them. The best reason to invent is arguably that you have a great idea.
Tip #2: “Decide If They’re Species or Races”
We have leeway to call our humanoids species or race, but it might be best to use both terms and create a hierarchy that makes it easier to understand relationships. Decide which ones inherited DNA from others or which ones developed on their own, or were independently created by the gods. This is fundamental to creating relationships. Volume 1 explains how to structure humanoids for the best of both worlds.
Tip #3: “Determine How You’ll Use Them”
A race that’s just a monster in the woods is easier to create than one that must have a full culture and stand alongside classic races as a well-developed humanoid. Consider how your invention can be used to discover benefits and limitations that you can either accept or overcome. Maybe the “monster in the woods” version isn’t allowed in cities, so you create a tamer race that is accepted; this can cause complexity, realism, and fun plot points as characters aren’t sure which one they’re dealing with until too late. See Creating Life for more ideas.
Tip #4: “How Integrated Are They?”
A species that keeps to itself in mountains or forests will have different attitudes about others than one that gets around. Is it realistic that they’re so isolated? Invent a good reason if so, such as troubling history with others. Consider having them frequently live among humans and others, as this can create even more conflict than hiding away. A tension is where stories lie.
Tip #5: “Determine How Environment Affected Them”
Like dwarves, anything living underground is bound to be short. A forest dwelling species might not run well, while one on the plains likely does. Physical adaptations are probable unless the race lives everywhere, like us. Once this is decided, we can determine how that environment affected their culture, too. Giving thought to this makes our species more cohesive.
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.