5 World Building Tips (Vol 1, #7): Undead
This is the seventh in a series of world building articles! Today’s theme is undead. This will get you started, but you can read more about this in Chapter 7, “Creating Undead,” from Creating Life, (The Art of World Building, #1).
Tip #1: “Decide If You Need To Invent Undead”
Creating new undead is challenging because so many useful types exist and are public domain, meaning we can use them. Inventing something similar to an Earth analogue is ripe for ridicule as “just a vampire with insert-minor-difference-here,” for example. Make sure you really need your need undead’s skills, appearance, traits, or behaviors before creating them.
Tip #2: “Determine What the Undead Wants”
Everyone needs a goal in life, or in this case, undead life. But some undead are in denial about their status, so decide if it knows it’s dead and how it feels about that if so, or why it’s unaware. This can determine whether it wants peace, revenge, or has unfinished business that keeps it here.
Tip #3: “What Type of Undead Is It?”
Determine whether it’s spiritual or if it has a body, and what state of decay that body is in. That will help determine the impact it has on those who see or encounter it. Don’t be afraid to create undead plants and animals. If it’s alive, it can be dead. And if it can die, it can return.
Tip #4: “Decide Its Origins”
Did someone create your undead on purpose or by accident? We can use phenomena, technology, or magic to do this. Also decide if the undead can create more of itself, such as the way vampires do. This will determine their numbers, which in turn decides how much experience people have with it. That will decide if they know how to kill it.
Tip #5: “Can It Be Killed?”
Whether or not the undead can be permanently destroyed is what the living will most want to know about it, so make a decision. Then figure out how and when this can be done. Feel free to be inventive, as everyone loves a good death, including things that are already dead.
Summary of Chapter 7—Creating Undead
Many types of undead already exist and are public domain, and it’s challenging to invent something new. Undead are often classified by appearance and behavior, but it is also their origins and how they can be destroyed that will help distinguish our undead from pre-existing types. The two basic ones are those with a body, like zombies, and those without, like ghosts. Those with a body might have a soul or not. We can decide on the mental faculties of our undead by deciding if the mind goes with the soul, but there are other factors that can impair the minds and even emotional states of undead. All of these affect behavior, as do their origins, goals, and what they’re capable of.