Podcast Episode 5 (Part 3) – How to Create Species/Races

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Jan 172018
 

Episode 5, Part 3: Learn How to Create Species and Races

Continue learning how to create species and races, including how gods can influence them, how characteristics like morale, charisma, intelligence, wisdom, dexterity, agility, and more can create more depth, and their relationship with other species and world view. Conclude with where to start!

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In This Episode You’ll Learn:
  • How to choose which gods your species worships, regardless of which you invented first
  • How to create a vivid understanding of characteristics by first assigning numbers of a scale and then expanding on what this means
  • How world view can inform what our species does or how it’s restricted
  • What sort of government forms our species might take based on its traits
  • Why it’s wise to use species for human commentary and how to achieve this
  • Where to start
Coda

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Episode 5.3 Transcript
Intro

Hello and welcome to The Art of World Building Podcast, episode number five, part three. Today we conclude our discussion of creating species and races. We talk about their gods, characteristics, relationships and more. This material and more is discussed in Chapter 3 of Creating Life, volume 1 in The Art of World Building book series.

Do you want practical advice on how to build better worlds faster and have more fun doing it? The Art of World Building book series, website, blog, and podcast will make your worlds beat the competition. This is your host, Randy Ellefson, and I have 30 years of world building advice, tips, and tricks to share. Follow along now at artofworldbuilding.com.

Contradiction

As usual, I’m going to use the word species rather than continuously saying species or races throughout this episode. All of the advice applies equally well to either. If you’ve been following along with this podcast, we’ve already discussed gods in the previous episode. What we want to look at now is the species and how their gods can impact their lives. We don’t need to have already invented our gods, although that is certainly an option.

In my experience, it doesn’t really matter which one you do first because there’s going to be a lot of crossing back and forth between species, gods, and the world, and altering things continuously as we build up what we’re doing. Refining our vision is an inherent part of world building. Few people ever get a correct right out of the gate because there’s so much work to do and it will take weeks, months, or even years of work. Some ideas stand the test of time better than others.

We also almost certainly want to expand upon an idea as we go along. So some of the advice in this section may flip-flop between assuming you already have gods and are now trying to decide which ones your species worships, or that you’re creating a species first and are going to add the gods after the fact. It doesn’t really matter as long as you make a good decision.

Saying that reminds me of the expression, “it seemed like a good idea at the time,” but it’s just part of the process that we sometimes change something that wasn’t working out after all. Or if we have a better idea and replace something. The only time you’re really stuck with an idea is if we have already published it. However, this depends upon your ethics, for lack of a better word. There are certainly authors who have released a product that has contradicted a previous release. You can do this, too, but be aware that people tend to have a pretty good memory and will catch you on this. It really depends on whether you want to be known for being consistent or not. Rabid fans won’t care and will just love everything you do, but more casual fans will unfortunately feel some disrespect for your world building if you contradict yourself a lot, so just be careful.

One of the ways to avoid contradicting yourself is to keep everything written down in a file and have a system of files or even spreadsheets where it’s easy for you to refer to everything and make sure that you don’t contradict yourself later. This is infinitely more effective than just relying on memory.

So let’s get into talking about gods and species.

Your Species’ Gods

Whether we have the gods or the species first, one of the things we need to do once we have both of them is to align their characters. In episode 5.2, we talked about the concept of good versus evil, and I’m just going to use that terminology here for the sake of simplicity. There is a tendency to decide that evil species worship evil gods and good species worship good gods.

And this makes sense. A species that tends to go around murdering people is probably going to worship a god of murder if one exists. This is a little bit simplistic but it makes so much sense that it’s kind of hard to ignore. And I feel like this is one of those areas where we can be a little bit predictable and no one’s going to cry foul.

But what gets a little bit more interesting is if we have a god of good fortune and we have these murderous species also worship that god. Now why would that happen? Well, if I was going to go murder someone, I would certainly hope that my attempt to do so would go well, so maybe I would also worship the goddess of good fortune. Now that god or goddess of good fortune might not answer my prayers, but then again, who knows, we can make things more complicated than they appear at first.

The question that this scenario raises is whether this god of good fortune actually cares what sort of act is going to take place before deciding whether to bless that act. At first glance, it seems obvious that a god would care. After all, they don’t go around blessing every last action, right? At the same time, I’m not going to ask that god to bless everything that I do. You know, if I’m at dinner and reaching for the salt, I’m not going to ask the god of good fortune to make sure I don’t knock over a drink while I’m doing so.

Of course, I could do that, but if I was the god being asked for trivial things all the time, I would probably tune it out, wouldn’t I? So it’s reasonable to assume that the gods do pay attention to what’s being asked of them. Is a god of good fortune going to bless someone who is going to murder someone so that the murder takes place? Well, you’re going to have to answer the question for yourself because it’s going to depend on what you’re doing, but for a normal scenario, we would probably say no.

At the same time, if the god of murder is watching and trying to decide whether to let something happen, maybe that god doesn’t want a certain person murdered and therefore thwarts the murderer. Now we don’t need to discuss every last scenario because there are so many things that we would be sitting here for the rest of our lives, but the point I’m making is that gods are going to be paying attention to what is being carried out and decide whether it happens or not. And by the same token, the species are going to choose gods to worship based on the way that species is in general and of course the way that individual member of that species is.

Obviously, to determine this we have to have this worked out. For the rest of this discussion about this, I’m going to assume that you already know the dispositions of the gods and your species. That said, if you don’t, this is an opportunity to invent either the gods based on what your species are actually like, or the opposite of this. Now if you already have your species but you don’t have your gods, it can be relatively easy to invent gods that you imagine your species worship. Especially if you are new to world building, this might be the way to go. And even if you’ve been doing well building for a long time, you’ve probably created a lot of gods, and at this point you might feel like you’re just out of ideas.

On one hand, we don’t want to be redundant, but on the other hand, it makes sense that every world is probably going to have a god of war or god of death, or some of these basics. So when it comes to the gods, we don’t need to go crazy looking for a variety. It’s more when we’re inventing a new species that we want to do a species on one world that is very different from a species on another world that we’ve invented, because otherwise that will stand out as us stealing our own idea.

In that sense, you might want to put your priority and your focus on your species and their character, and its behavior, and make that unique, and then invent your gods to the species. So let’s assume you already know what your species is like. Well, it becomes relatively easy to invent deities that have something to do with the species. Not only do characteristics play a role in this, but so does their culture. If our species tends to live somewhere very humid, then maybe they focus on a deity that has something to do with the weather.

This is also true if they are heavily into agriculture because the weather is such an important part of that. This might also be true if they spend a lot of time outdoors because they are not sophisticated enough to build settlements and they therefore have no other choice but to either live outside or to take over abandoned settlements, and those are only going to be so well-kept obviously. Exposure to the elements is going to make the species care about the god who deals with those elements.

A warlike species is going to care a lot about gods who are involved in war. This can be everything from the god of war to a god of skill or accuracy or virtues like knighthood. Well, that’s not a virtue, but the virtues that go into knighthood. On the other hand, if the species tends to be very peaceful, then they’re probably going to be paying more attention to a god of peace, for example. Some of this is fairly obvious, but I’m just trying to give you basic ideas you can start off with and then refine as you go along.

What can really bring our species and our gods more to life for us and make it more vivid is when we find contrast like the one earlier about a species that tends to murder people but also worship the goddess of good fortune. This kind of contrast makes them more interesting. This sort of contradiction is a little bit easier to do if we already have our gods created first because one of the things we’ll end up doing is looking at our gods and, we’ll have a list of them and see all the things that they care about, and we’ll have our species, and we’ll keep thinking, “Well, which one does this species pay attention to?” And obviously they could worship more than one.

But let’s say we decided on a couple obvious ones and are looking at the list of other gods and we’re thinking, “Well, is the species really going to ignore all of these gods?” Well, that can get us into thinking about more interesting ways that we can find to associate them with a god. And the best advice I can give you for that is to have s list of deities and compare them. Think outside the box. Find another way to associate them with someone.

As mentioned in the previous episode, one of the ways that I did this was that I took a group of four gods and I merged them together into one sphere, as I called them, and this was done for reasons that had nothing to do with the species. It was done for the gods, but then I decided that these seven different spheres of gods had created my seven species on my world of Llurien. I also decided that, because a group of four gods had created a species, that the species was heavily influenced by those four gods. And this really helped me determine what the species are like. And of course it made it obvious which ones among the gods they paid more attention to. This is one of the benefits to having organized your deities. They can essentially do some of your work for you.

More Resources

Let’s take a quick break here and talk about where you can get more useful world building resources. Artofworldbuilding.com has most of what you need. This includes links to more podcasts like this one. You can also find more information on all three volumes of The Art of World Building series. Much of the content of those books is available on the website for free.

And the thing that you might find most useful is that by signing up for the newsletter, you can download the free templates that are included with each volume of The Art of World Building series, whether you have bought the books or not. All you need to do is join the newsletter. You can do this by going to artofworldbuilding.com/newsletter. Sign up today and you will get your free templates, and you will never miss an update about what is happening in the great world of world building.

Species Characteristics

Since we’re talking about characteristics, let’s continue with that. Anyone who’s ever played role-playing games has probably seen a list of characteristics like intelligence, wisdom, charisma, strength, constitution, agility, dexterity, and morale. This list provides an easy way to start thinking about what our species is capable of. This is one of those things that we might determine for our private files but we never mention to the reader. What it gets us is thinking about what they’re like and making a quick decision.

What I typically do is use a scale rating from 1 to 10 with 1 as the worst and 10 as the best. And I just quickly make a decision. I don’t spend five minutes thinking about whether the agility is a seven, eight, or nine. I just pick a number and I go with it. Obviously, I’m never going to tell the audience this, and even for my own purposes, it’s not enough.

What you really want to do when you choose a number like that is just quickly do that at first to get some sense of what this species is good at and what it is not good at. What we want to do next is write a sentence or two describing that ability. If we’ve decided that the intelligence is a nine, we don’t want to just write that they’re very smart because that’s kind of obvious. What we want to do is describe that intelligence.

For example, we could decide that they’re very good with book smarts so that they’re very good with architecture and sciences, and technologies in a science fiction setting. As a result, they’re one of the species who invent things. They will most likely be respected for this intelligence and their abilities. Now we’re starting to get into their relationships. Obviously, what we’re doing is starting to flesh out what they’re like based on this attribute.

For intelligence, we could also decide that this means that they are formally educated. They are not only the kind who attend universities but also teach at them, and author scholarly books and treatises, and anything we associate with higher learning. This in turn might mean that this species in general is relatively well-off. Since they are well-educated, then they are probably the sort who are in charge of governments. After all, there is often a “pay for play” kind of thing going on where the wealthy are the ones who end up in charge. We certainly see this here in the United States where I live, where there is almost an oligarchy of people who are wealthy running the country.

The reverse can also be true if we’ve decided that they’ve only got a three for intelligence. This implies that they are not educated and that they didn’t have industry and that they are probably relatively poor as a result of not being able to hold down high-paying jobs. This might also lead to things like more crime from them, if they’re trying to improve their lives in ways that are not legal.

This might also affect their morality, which is another one of the characteristics that I listed at the beginning. They may have questionable morality, which is not to say that those who are very intelligent have great morality because they might also be correct. Actually, you know what? I misspoke. I mentioned morale before, not morality. Even so, the advice still holds.

But while we’re on the subject of morale, this is something that will come up in combat, and arguably those of us writing science fiction and fantasy are going to have characters who end up in fights. Morale is basically an indication of whether somebody runs away or stays and fights, even if the odds are not great. Once again, we’re talking about the characteristics of the species as a whole, and that allows us to determine if a specific character is someone who upholds that or who defies it.

Wisdom is another one of our characteristics. The wiser people may be someone who is an advisor to the court, and the species could be known for this. They may either be the person who is in power or someone who advises them. An entire species can be known for this. They may also have decided to live a peaceful, humbler life where they eschew that kind of thing. Maybe they just tend to be farmers who are out in the country. Such a characteristic combination is something we’re going to make up as we go along.

Of course, it’s possible that these wise characters are the ones who are philosophers who are writing important and influential papers and are therefore sought out and they might also be teaching at universities. They may or may not be religious. It really depends on how you want to spin that.

Charisma is another one of our attributes and can affect everything about this person or the species. They could be someone who’s very charming and is therefore good at being an effective politician who rises to power. Or they could be someone who has more street smarts and has more luck charming people on the streets. This is its own kind of wisdom. It’s what we might call emotional intelligence.

The charisma also takes into account the physical features of a species. A species we find physically unpleasant would not be very charismatic to most of us, and vice versa. Do you see how it’s not enough to simply say that they have charisma? We really need to qualify that. This is where a sentence or two comes into play. We’re not just giving a number for charisma like eight. What we want to do is explain the number that we assigned.

Physical Characteristics

Let’s move on to some physical attributes, like strength. This is something that’s pretty easy once we’ve decided what the body is like. It doesn’t take that much thought. However, we can decide that while the species is kind of slight of build, that they have some sort of unusual strength. Maybe they frequently fool people into not expecting that. We have a certain amount of leeway here because no one from this world is going to show up and say that the species can’t really lift something that’s a certain number of pounds.

Then there is constitution. This is an indication of how hardy they are and how much endurance they have. We may decide to take the physical appearance into account when deciding this. For example, if we have a species that’s only 3 feet tall, then when they walk from one place to another, it’s gonna take far more steps for them to get there than someone who is twice their height. We may decide that they have more endurance so that they can travel the same distance, maybe not in the same amount of time, but they might reach a place in 10 hours instead of 6 or 7hours, but they still get there in the same day. What I’m getting at here is that we can use constitution to compensate for this.

Then there’s agility and dexterity. Both of them are and a measure of how effective they’re going to be in combat. Dexterity is going to affect the ability to manipulate anything with their hands. A musician would have a higher dexterity. In our world, we may decide that magic requires drawing elaborate symbols in the air or manipulating things in complicated ways with the fingers, and that this therefore requires dexterity. Assigning our species and low dexterity might mean they cannot do these things. They might also lack refinement affecting their ability to use something like a sword so that they end up using a more brute force weapon like a club.

That brings us to agility. If they have a high agility, then these might be our martial artists. If they have a low agility, then probably not. Having decided this will impact our decision on how they perform combat.

When it comes to getting started with making up some characteristics, we probably already have some basic impression of what they’re like. Next we just want to list these characteristics, assign a number, and then begin thinking about how to flesh out those with a few sentences that help us determine what they’re like. The number is just a starting point and something that we’re never going to tell anyone.

 

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World View

Let’s talk a little bit about the world view of our species. One of the problems we can face as world builders is that we might have only lived in one place for most of our lives. The result is that we have a certain worldview and we may assume that the rest of the world has a similar worldview even if we know better. The end result is that we might assign that worldview to our species. There’s nothing wrong with this, but if our audience is from the same place, then we’re basically presenting a fictional species just like humans. This is a mistake we should try to avoid.

Now if we had the chance to live in different parts of the same culture, or different cultures for an extended period of time, we may have a better understanding of the world view of different places. If our own assumptions about worldview have been questioned, this makes a little bit easier to detect the kinds of things that we might want to change. But without that, what do we do?

We can force ourselves to question everything. This can be difficult and there is no shortage of fictional species who are basically humans by another name and with a different face or appendages, or something similar. Personally, I tend to think of this as a failure of imagination. That’s not the kind of reaction we want, right? We’ll look at this a lot more in Cultures and Beyond, which is The Art of World Building volume 3 and some of the episodes there, but I wanted to touch upon this now.

One of the things we should want the most is for someone to react differently to things that we do. There are a lot of clichés that we can run afoul of even when we are writing for human characters on Earth. We certainly don’t want fictional species to react the same way as us.

For example, there is the innocent rant, as I think of it. This is when someone says something like, “You gonna kill all of these innocent people!” And the evil character says, “Innocent? They’re not innocent!” And the bad guy starts going off about how no one is innocent. This makes me roll my eyes when a human is doing this, so imagine a fictional species is doing that. We really need to avoid that.

Originality in the world view is going to be a lot more important than originality in what they look like, especially if you’re working in the TV industry because there’s probably someone else who is going to go ahead and design that species on screen, as far as their appearance goes. As a world builder, I think the most important thing we can focus on is the worldview of our species. One way to do this is to think of cultures on Earth that are different from the one we lie in and borrow ideas from them.

For example, we had the Vikings. They were known for being a seafaring power back when oar powered ships were the rage and we hadn’t really gotten that good at wind powered ships. They also did a lot of conquering. They were thought to be very fierce and strong. And they had a love for mead. None of this is their worldview, but these actions result from the worldview, which was that the world was a place for them to go out and conquer.

Why did they have that worldview? Well I don’t know. I haven’t researched the Vikings, but you certainly can and take that and apply that attitude to one of your species. This is what’s known as an analogue, which was touched upon earlier in this podcast. An analogue is when we take something from Earth and mold it to our fictional world.

The Europeans had a certain worldview when they were exploring the world and conquering places like what is now the United States. The Native Americans had a different world view. If we can’t think of a group like this, then we can take a famous leader like Genghis Khan and research who he was and the people that he led and what their attitude was.

Government and World View

The world view will also impact what sort of government the species typically has in their own settlements. Many of us don’t find discussions of government interesting, but I promise you that if you read Creating Places, which is volume 2 in The Art of World Building book series, I will change this for you because I go into quite a bit of detail about the difference between one government type and another, at least at the high level, so that you can make a good decision about what to do in your world.

Monarchies, dictatorships, and republics are all vastly different in the outlook of the species who has created that form of government. This is not to say that one species will only have one of these. For example, humans have all of them. If you create elves, for example, or something similar, they might have a monarchy in one place and a dictatorship in another. Now we don’t associate elves with having dictatorships, but anything is possible if you really want to be that way.

One of the things we want to avoid is having a monoculture where a species is their culture because they’re all the same. This might seem like a contradiction I’m bringing up because I am talking about creating generalizations, but we can create more than one generalization.

When it comes to both worldview and society, we should decide whether they respect human rights, as we call them here on Earth. Do they believe in personal liberty? This is again going to inform the type of government that they invent. Do they believe in marriage? Do they accept divorce? What is their view on homosexuality? How do they feel about the accumulation of wealth? Is this something they look to or do they try to have the wealthy spread that money to the poor?

Do they believe that personal liberty is so prized that they don’t have that many laws and therefore there might be more crime? That could in turn lead to certain people finding their sentiments desirable because they’re the kind of people who are up to something. By contrast, there might be goodhearted people who don’t want to live in such a place because they don’t want to feel like they don’t have that kind of protection. This could also result in weapons being allowed to be carried openly or a policy could be there to prevent that sort of thing, where people have to lock up their guns or their swords before entering town.

Sometimes to get at the worldview, we have to think of some practical limitations and how those apply. This is arguably what we’re really after because we don’t want to be writing passages about the worldview. We want the worldview to inform the behavior that our characters can get away with. Restrictions that they would run afoul of are also important.

We should also consider how they raise their young. Do we have a nuclear family where there is usually a father and a mother, or is it more of an open-ended kind of thing where it’s almost like animals where the child is born into society and for a few years it’s attached to the mother, but then it’s set free? This can have a huge impact on the society.

All of this affects the customs, such as birth, death, and burial rituals and things like weddings and divorce. This can affect simple things like whether we shake hands, or hold doors for people, or salute people. Do people trade gifts upon meeting? While this is a custom, it may come out of the worldview of wishing happiness on people, for example. There are so many things that we could do with worldview that it can be overwhelming, and that’s why there’s a whole volume on culture in this world building series. We will touch on this much more later but I wanted to get you thinking about the general worldview of your species.

And one of the biggest questions to ask yourself is whether they are a force for good or evil? Are they part of the problem or part of the solution?

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Human Commentary

The last thing I want to talk about here in this episode is human commentary. What do I mean? Well, one of the best uses for species is to offer a contrast to us. For example, if you think that humans are greedy in general, or that this is a failing of ours, then you can create a species who is very generous and craft a story where this conflict comes up.

I’ve read many stories where elves are either immortal or they live 1000 years or more, which of course is far in excess of humans. This has often been used to depict humans as being impatient. This is practically a cliché at this point, but you get the idea. This sort of comparison can make the audience relate to our work a little better. That really depends on our audience, but I think that even people in their teens enjoy reading something that makes them think a little bit while they’re being entertained.

Part of what we’re getting at here is the relationship of our species to everyone else. It’s a good idea to decide how our species not only interacts with humans, but with each other, if we are creating more than one of them. It’s a little too easy to just figure out how the humans interact with them and not think about the relationships with each other. But this is something to work on later after you’ve already got a pretty good idea of what the species is like. And what your second species is like.

In the free templates that you can download by joining the newsletter, I do have a section for working these out. As with everything, it’s designed to get you thinking and is not mandatory. Nothing in world building is mandatory.

We should decide if the species are enemies or friends and why. And do they have any legendary battles or animosities? Maybe they have some treaties. They might’ve been allies in the past but are enemies now. There should also be classic understandings or stereotypes that each has about the other. Humans may share some of these or not. Crafting all of this requires having a good understanding of worldview.

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Not Covered

There are several other issues that we can discuss when it comes to inventing a species or race. One of those is what languages are spoken and whether they have their own written language. The ability to read or write is going to have a huge impact on how sophisticated the society can be. The subject is covered in more detail in Creating Life, but I’m not going to cover it here.

I’m also not going to cover creating a history for our species and how this can make it more diverse. An even bigger subject I’m not going to cover in this podcast is the supernatural, which is not only phenomena and magic, but their use of godly powers, such as the ability to channel a god’s power through their own body. For those who read both fantasy and science fiction, we’re also not going to cover the use of technology or combat. Both of these can be found in Creating Life.

Where to Start

My final words on how to create a species or race is to talk about where to start. The top-down approach means inventing a species at the high level and working our way into details. For example, we could decide on a sea dwelling species and then start working into details such as whether they have gills, or whether they can survive out of water, or even if they can walk on land.

The bottom-up approach means working on the details and then slowly integrating them into a unified whole. Maybe we first decide that the species has sharp claws, a barbed tail, and it carries people off at night but is seldom seen doing so, and it leaves no trace of where it went. From these details and more, maybe we decide that it’s a sea dwelling creature and that the reason it’s got claws is that these are for catching fish, and the reason people disappear is that they are taken underwater to a cave or maybe even just drowned. This big picture is suggested by the details that we thought of first.

Regardless of your approach, there’s really no right or wrong way to do it and as mentioned before, we will crisscross back and forth on our species and other inventions, changing and updating things as we go along.

Closing

All of this show’s music is actually courtesy of yours truly, as I’m also a musician. The theme song is the title track from my Some Things Are Better Left Unsaid album, but now we’re closing out today’s show with a song from my album Serenade of Strings, called “Duo.” You can hear more at RandyEllefson.com. Check out artofworldbuilding.com for free templates to help with your world building. And please rate and review the show in iTunes. Thanks for listening!

Podcast Episode 5 (Part 2) – How to Create Species/Races

 news, Podcasts  Comments Off on Podcast Episode 5 (Part 2) – How to Create Species/Races
Jan 122018
 

Episode 5, Part 2: Learn How to Create Species and Races

Continue learning how to create species and races, including overall attitude and disposition, what some call “alignment.” Is good vs. evil a viable approach or too restrictive? How else can get this across? With their appearance, do we want them able to masquerade as each other or not? What do their physical features say about them? Learn the pros and cons of multiple races of a species and how this can improve depth and our options.

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In This Episode You’ll Learn:
  • When using “good” and “evil” are good ideas
  • Alternatives to these words
  • When it comes to disposition, why uniformity in a race or species isn’t great
  • Various ways to create more variety in outlook
  • How appearance can help or hinder two races of a species from masquerading as each other
  • The advantages of humanoids over non-humanoids
  • Issues impacting facial features and bodies
Coda

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Episode 5.2 Transcript
Intro

Hello and welcome to The Art of World Building Podcast, episode number five, part one. Today we continue our discussion of creating species and races. We talk about their overall attitude, deciding what they look like, and more. As this is a big subject, the podcast will be split into several episodes, each as number five, part one, two or three, for example. This material and more is discussed in Chapter 3 of Creating Life, volume 1 in The Art of World Building book series.

Do you want practical advice on how to build better worlds faster and have more fun doing it? The Art of World Building book series, website, blog, and podcast will make your worlds beat the competition. This is your host, Randy Ellefson, and I have 30 years of world building advice, tips, and tricks to share. Follow along now at artofworldbuilding.com.

Habitat

If you are following along with Creating Life, you will notice that there’s a section on habitat. One of the subjects discussed therein is this issue that comes up in fantasy especially, where we might have elves almost explicitly holed up inside their forests and only have a few of them out and about in the world. And even then, only temporarily. When the story is done, they’re going to go back home and maybe never venture out again. The same idea is often done with dwarves, who seldom leave their mountain home.

This trope comes up in fantasy quite a bit but can also be done in science fiction. This is not to say that this is necessarily a good thing or what we want to pursue, but there is this idea that the humans are the ones who are everywhere in equal numbers, and the other species are holed up in one location, and there are only a few of them out and about.

Personally, I think more variety can be done and I talk about this a lot in the book under the section on habitat. This includes the idea of joint settlements, and by that I mean a place that is built by multiple species together, as opposed to mostly being built by humans and there’s just a smattering of other species there. Or an elven city where it’s built by and for elves and the only others that are allowed in there are on a temporary basis. We may want to challenge this idea. And the reason that I mention this is that I’m not going to discuss this in more detail in this episode of the podcast or the blog at artofworldbuilding.com, but if you want to find out more about what I have said about this, just pick up a copy of Creating Life.

Disposition and Outlook

So what are we going to talk about? The first subject up is disposition, or the overall attitude of our species. Another word for this is alignment. Those of you who are used to playing Dungeons & Dragons or other role-playing games might be familiar with this. We usually say that someone is either evil or good, or neutral, whatever that means. And I think that this is something we should talk about.

I personally don’t like using the words “good” and “evil” in my stories because life is more complicated than that, and our characters will hopefully be richer, too. Now to some extent that depends on our audience. If we’re writing for younger people and teenagers we might want to go ahead with that kind of thing because there are people who like a simple breakdown into good and evil. As someone who is no longer a teenager, that sort of simplification tends to make me roll my eyes. Some of you hearing me say that are going to have the same reaction. Some of you are probably going to think, “Well, just get over it. It’s not a big deal.” But you have to decide for yourself whether that’s the sort of characterization you want to do. If it is, well then you’re set. If it’s not, then what other words can be used besides “good” and “evil?”

These other words get across the same point without making our audience feel like we’re talking down to them. Two of the words that I resort to a lot are “benevolent” for good and “nefarious” for evil. But we can get across the same idea without even going that far.

For example, I could just say that something is violent, uncivilized, uneducated, and just is generally not welcomed in society and that gets the point across. By contrast, a benevolent species would be part of a society and law-abiding and just generally thought upon fondly. This is not to say that no one will dislike them, but if they are living among the population and a character’s making minor complaints about them, that gets across that they are not really that bad. They’re not murderous. They’re not thieving all the time. Even saying that they feel uncomfortable around that species because they don’t understand the customs or something like that, or like the food, gets the point across that they are around in the society but there’s something about them that people don’t like, or at least this character doesn’t like.

That sort of characterization can be a lot more helpful than just calling them benevolent or nefarious. It paints a more vivid picture. It also gives you the opportunity as the writer to have two characters argue about that species, with one of them saying negative things and maybe the other saying positive things, like, “Hey, they’re not that bad. They did help us with this, that, or the other thing.” One of them can say, “Well, if you don’t like them, then why do you wear a piece of clothing that is inspired by them?” This could in turn allow us to observe that many people do that sort of thing and that this character didn’t think it’s a big deal. It is not some sort of endorsement of that species.

We can also say that the particular species doesn’t mingle with everyone else. They’ve got their own special quarter like the French Quarter in New Orleans. But maybe it’s the Elven Quarter or Dwarven Quarter, and that this is one of the reasons that some people resent them. If we feel like someone is not mingling with the rest of us, we tend to assassinate their character. It’s not great but it’s something that humans do.

So we could decide that if the elves are living apart from everyone inside the settlement, that does say that they are welcome here but that maybe the elves are the ones doing a little bit of shunning, and that people will say that, “Well, they think they’re too good to eat our food, or to live among us.” It’s a way of getting across that they are part of the settlement and the life there and maybe the culture, but there are still people who don’t like them, even though they’re basically a good or benevolent species.

By contrast, for an evil species, people can say that they are not allowed here or that they haven’t been inside since the last attack however many years ago. Or that maybe some knights are riding out of the city gates at some point, and are on the way to deal with some sort of uprising from the species. This still gets the point across that this is not a pleasant species. It’s more vivid. And this comes across better than just saying, “they’re evil.”

We can also make this point by describing the city layout, the walls, the guard towers, and the types of defenses that exist because some of those will be designed to repel that particular species. There might also be special weapons that individuals have. For example, someone could have a knife and say, “I use this to twist out the hearts of those little bastards.”

These are some alternatives to ever using the words “good” and “evil.”

More Resources

Let’s take a quick break here and talk about where you can get more useful world building resources. Artofworldbuilding.com has most of what you need. This includes links to more podcasts like this one. You can also find more information on all three volumes of The Art of World Building series. Much of the content of those books is available on the website for free.

And the thing that you might find most useful is that by signing up for the newsletter, you can download the free templates that are included with each volume of The Art of World Building series, whether you have bought the books or not. All you need to do is join the newsletter. You can do this by going to artofworldbuilding.com/newsletter. Sign up today and you will get your free templates, and you will never miss an update about what is happening in the great world of world building.

Good vs. Evil

This discussion on good and evil brings up another point that I alluded to earlier, and that is that humans, at least, are a lot more complicated than that. Now we do have some people that we have traditionally decided are wholly evil, such as Hitler and maybe Saddam Hussein, and by contrast, there are people that we’ve decided are basically good. Mother Theresa would be an example of that. Without getting into the specifics of any of those people or anyone else, most of us are not wholly good or evil. We are a mix.

However, people tend to oversimplify things and this is where that good vs. evil idea comes into play. I don’t want to get too philosophical about this because that’s a whole other subject, but there are people who believe and will say that mankind is basically good and that something has to happen to make someone go evil, or something happened to them when they were born, something was just off, or wrong. We usually want an explanation of some kind for why that person has done despicable acts.

And the types of acts we’re talking about here are obvious crimes like murder or rape. These are atrocious enough that it makes it very easy to say that this person is evil. But what about much more minor things like a traffic infraction or, well, I don’t want to say that driving drunk is minor because people are often killed from that, but there isn’t the intent to kill. Then there is smaller stuff like cheating or telling white lies. The point is that evil comes in different degrees of how awful it is. So even if we decide that a species is evil, we should have some idea just how evil they really are.

Is their big crime that when they drive cars, they never use their turn signals? Or do they go around murdering people? In the latter case, yes, we would just call them evil. In the former case, we might curse about them but they’re still going to be a member of society and they might get some tickets, for example, but we’re probably not going to consider them evil.

Uniformity

More to the point, we can have one person who does go around killing people and another who never does. Or at least, they only do it in self-defense or as part of law enforcement or the army, for example. The point is that we can have two members of the same species where one is basically good and the other is basically evil, so that there isn’t a uniform way of looking at all of them, just like with humans. This is arguably the single biggest reason not to go with that sort of characterization.

Is it realistic for most of them to have the same disposition? Unless we can think of a good reason, my answer to that would be no. After all, why would they all be the same? Did some magical event create all of them and then somehow infect all of them so that they have a certain nasty attitude? Because that would explain it. They could be a species that developed society far later than humans and as a result of this, they are considered kind of barbaric and are treated like third class citizens. This could, in turn, give them a healthy attitude that makes them be uncooperative and essentially evil. That’s another justification for them being this way.

Especially in fantasy, we could decide that gods who are basically evil are the ones who created that species and as a result, that species has inherited the disposition of those gods. This could explain them being evil. For example, I’ve been creating the world of Llurien for about 30 years now. There are seven species, each one created by a different group of gods. The gods of greed, deception, jealousy, and fear created one of the species, called daekais. This species inherited the combined attributes of the four gods who created them. These attributes heavily influence their outlook so you can imagine that they are basically one of my evil species. I don’t need to say that all the time. I can get it across in other ways, but that’s how I set that up.

And one point I would make there is that I decided that those species are heavily influenced by those attributes but they are not incapable of other ones because that would be too limiting. This arrangement has a side effect of making most of the daekais have a relatively uniform disposition. This means the other people on Llurien, like the humans, know what to expect from one of these, and as a result, they have a predictable reaction. This causes daekais to be largely shunned and not welcomed in society. They are also feared if encountered in the wild.

What this is good for is that my characters have something for them to be afraid of and try to avoid when they are traveling. However, it also caused a problem. I can never have this species of daekais living in a civilized society because no one would ever accept them, and this makes them very limiting. I don’t know about you, but I don’t really like having limits on my work and my opportunities when I’m writing, so what did I do about this?

The idea of a curse or something magical (or even technological in science fiction) creating an alternate version of a race of species is a basic idea that has been around for a while. So basically I have another version of them and they go by another name: morkais. Now if you notice my naming convention, one of them is called daekais and the other is morkais. So the species is kais, and then the two races are morkais and daekais. This allows me to make universal statements about all of kais and then universal statements about daekais and more such statements about morkais, where those statements are differing.

Now you could say that I’ve just duplicated my problem. Instead of one race with a uniform disposition I have two of them that are in opposition to each other. This is a fair criticism. However, it does get me out of the problem of having kais that are never part of a civilization because the morkais are allowed to be there and the daekais are not, so I at least solved one of my problems.

Now there’s still another problem in that people know what to expect and have a certain reaction to each one of them. The easy way around that issue is to have both races look physically identical. Therefore people don’t know which one they’re actually dealing with. This allows one to masquerade as another for infiltrating somewhere they’re not allowed to be. It also causes some people who are short on faith to not trust either member of that species. This can cause everything from minor interaction problems, where there’s just some distrust being exhibited or even said out loud, to outright accusations of crimes that a morkais, for example, would never do as a good species, but a daekais would, and someone is trying to say, “Well, that guy’s a daekais pretending to be a morkais. He’s actually this evil kind of person who would do this horrible thing that I’m accusing them of.”

Each race of this species could be aware of this problem and either try to minimize it or use it to their advantage. For example, the benevolent morkais might try to never give the impression that they have the character traits of the daekais race, so that no one accuses them falsely. This could make them feel that they have to tiptoe around suspicious humans, for example. This in turn might make morkais a little bit annoyed with humans because they’re the ones who do this sort of thing. Maybe humans are the only ones, but maybe not. As you can imagine, if you were a benevolent morkais, and you had to deal with people assuming you’re a daekais and up to no good, this might make you have a problem with the daekais as well, so that you want to participate in eradicating them or doing something to minimize the distrust with which your race ends up being viewed.

So now we’re ending up with a much more varied situation when it comes to the disposition of this species, rather than just saying they’re all the same.

Other Means to Variety

Another option we have is deciding that some of them are corrupt. For example, we could take a benevolent species and then have a certain group of them run across some sort of evil magic item or technology that somehow corrupts them and they are permanently turned into a more nefarious version of that species. This also gives us an entry in our history log of things that have happened in the past because this would presumably be a famous incident. It can also help us create an artifact, whether it’s magic or technology.

We can also decide that this was an accident or that someone evil did it on purpose. Or if it was a previously evil species and now there’s a good race of them, we might say that someone was trying to save them and they were a do-gooder who wanted to make the world a better place. And it worked, but it only worked once. Then we just have to decide how many of that group are there. Are there a couple dozen or an entire society? Has it been ten thousand years and that group has spread across the world and there are different colonies of them everywhere?

All of this gives us more options for deciding on the disposition of any species we invent. And more options is good.

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Appearance

Let’s continue talking about the appearance of our species or race. The ability of two races of one species to masquerade as each other is a great thing. But it’s certainly not the only thing we should consider. However, we probably do want to make a decision about whether we would like that ability before deciding on creating two races (of a species) that look so different from each other that there’s no way this could happen.

One reason to go ahead and make them look the same as that it’s a lot easier to create just one appearance than two. Whether we like it or not, people do judge everything based upon appearance. While this is certainly a human behavior, we find it believable that others do the same thing. Now we can take a physical feature and assign any sort of traits that everyone. One culture might decide that something is a negative while another might decide it’s a positive. We should probably think of a reason for this.

For example, there’s an idea that you don’t wear white after Labor Day, at least here in the United States. Therefore, someone wearing white after Labor Day is considered socially and fashionably clueless. This might make some people mock them while other people might have no idea that a fashion faux pas has occurred. While this is a clothing example, the same idea can apply to parts of the body. For example, someone could decide that having large hands means you are generous, or they could decide it means you like to steal things. This can be spun in either way.

If we have a species with wings, and someone’s wings are shorter than most people, we can decide that they are deficient in some other way. If the species prides itself on its sense of smell and some of them have really large noses, then this could be a positive. There were times in human history where larger women were considered more desirable because they were seen as better child bears, but today we’re all about the slender woman being more desirable.

Something all of this is alluding to is that culture can have an impact on how we view a feature. A great thing for us as world builders is that we can largely make these up. We can decide that a species typically has a certain feature such as a large nose and that certain members of that species do not, and now we have a comparison for characterization. So part of what we’re trying to decide here is what is typical of the species or race? We need to know this in order to decide that a certain character from the race is somewhat different from the norm and has been judged this way or that.

We should also decide how clean the species tends to be. For example, if they are generally kind of messy but our character is neat, maybe that person gets more respect from other species. And what does that say about him? Do his own kind find him arrogant? Does he care what they think? And why is he like this? Maybe he aspires to be better than them or he just feels the need to keep others from suspecting that this character is bad, because we sometimes do that to people. Maybe his appearance gets him some opportunity.

The reverse can also happen if a species is typically neat but he’s a sloppy person. Maybe his own kind think he’s a slob and they don’t want anything to do with him. Maybe another species thinks he’s more down to earth. We can decide he is too busy to care about his appearance, although this is a cliché, or we can just decide that he’s either clueless or indifferent. Either way, knowing how people in the species typically look allows us to characterize him. And this is always better than having no reason to decide a character is one way or another. If we just can’t make up our minds, this gives us a decision point. And quickly making decisions is good.

 

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Are They Humanoids?

One question we should tackle is whether our species is going to be humanoid or not. If so, then it’s pretty easy to decide that they have one head, two arms, two legs, and the usual other parts. But if they’re not going to be humanoid, then this raises other problems, one of those being that they can’t exactly masquerade as humanoid. The ability to shape shift could solve that for us, however. If that ability is not innate, we can give them a magic item or a technological one to do so. However, that still makes this ability somewhat rare.

Another issue here is that accommodations and eating utensils will be different. Maybe they cannot sleep in a normal bad. Maybe there are no places for them to stay when the characters are traveling, such as an inn or a tavern. They may have to sleep outside. They also may not be welcome inside.

One point here is that you will have to make additional considerations when writing for this non-humanoid species. You might have to do more planning in order to include one of them on a trip. If you have something like a giant spider, it’s not going to be able to get on the back of a bird or flying unicorn, for example. If your dragons are big enough, then it might work. Even a regular sized spider might be an issue, but at least they have an easier time getting around. This is a subject we’re going to have to put more thought into it if it’s a non-humanoid.

In a non-visual medium, it might also be challenging to quickly and successfully describe what this race will look like. We might think that we’ve got something good because we’re picturing it, but we don’t do a good job of describing it and the audience struggles. In other words, there can be more risk to this. Decide whether it is worth it and whether you really want this to be that way. What purpose are you hoping to achieve? And do you care about the limitations that this is imposing on your stories?

Facial Features

When it comes to describing facial features, we want to once again decide what most of the species or race looks like. However, just as humans can look different from each other, we might want to create variety. The only problem with doing this is that it takes time. We will want to consider everything about the face.

For example, the overall face can be round, oval, square, or heart-shaped. We also want to consider the brow, eyebrows, eyes, the iris, cheekbones, noses, mouth, teeth, and chin. In Creating Life, I’ve got a handy chart that you can read that shows you all of the options for these. However, one of the issues that it does bring up is that we sometimes cannot use the Earth name for something. For example, we have the Roman nose and the Cupid’s Bow. These are both referencing something on Earth. If our story is taking place on a world that has no knowledge of Earth, we can’t call them that. Our choices are either to omit it altogether or come up with another name, or just describe the feature.

One problem with inventing the face is that we could come up with features that sound like they work together but when someone actually draws them, they don’t work. But there is a way around this. I have found some online programs that I have used to create an avatar. What they can allow you to do is create a whole face. There are examples of this on artofworldbuilding.com but you can also go to pimptheface.com and try it there. And you can use another one called faceyourmanga.com. With these free programs, you can just experiment and have fun and not worry about it too much, but it can also spark ideas. And it’s pretty easy to swap out the facial features.

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The Body

Our body design work is largely done for us if we are creating humanoids. The first decision we’re going to want to make is how big they are compared to humans. If we are creating multiple species, we will probably want to create some that are smaller than us and some that are bigger. The differences can be large or small. Maybe we have a 9 foot species and a 3 foot one. Or maybe they’re only 7 feet tall and 5 feet tall, so pretty close to humans.

One of the things that this will affect is how formidable a species is in combat. Something big tends to be stronger. It might also have a harder time sneaking up on people as opposed to a much smaller species. Now when I say formidable, there’s no reason that a smaller species can’t be deadly. For example, I have one that tends to swarm like bees. They are certainly intimidating to anyone who runs across them. In fact, there are actually more intimidating than some of the larger species. Even so, you will note how I use the swarming technique to make them ferocious whereas the larger species don’t need that kind of help.

Another issue here is the clothing. A smaller species might not find clothing suitable for them if they are trying to steal from a larger species or vice versa. They might have to steal from children. On the other hand, a 9-foot-tall species will not have any options for this, or at least, not unless there’s some other tall species. If they’re incapable of the sort of industry that makes clothing, then maybe they are typically seen without it. Or maybe the clothing is very rudimentary, such as a cloth potato sack, for example.

If a smaller species does go around stealing clothes because they are not capable of making it, then most of what they have is probably going to be mismatched. This is a quick way to imply their lack of sophistication. We don’t actually have to tell the audience that they can’t make clothing. We can just show this. And if they can’t make that, there are probably also other things they can’t make, including weapons for their size. They can once again steal something if it’s appropriate, such as using a human short sword as the longsword, or if they are a truly large species, they may have no weapons that they can use except for the two-handed sword. Maybe this results in a fighting style that is largely brute force, using something like a club that is essentially a tree branch.

There is another option here as well. There could be people who design weapons for these larger creatures, even if maybe they shouldn’t have them. Who would do this? Well how about your evil overlords? And with that, we bring ourselves full-circle back to the subject that we started this episode with: good vs. evil.

I hope this is giving you some ideas. Our next episode will conclude our discussion on species and races.

Closing

All of this show’s music is actually courtesy of yours truly, as I’m also a musician. The theme song is the title track from my Some Things Are Better Left Unsaid album, but now we’re closing out today’s show with a song from my album Now Weaponized, called “Moshkill.” You can hear more at RandyEllefson.com. Check out artofworldbuilding.com for free templates to help with your world building. And please rate and review the show in iTunes. Thanks for listening!

What Are Your World Figure’s Relationships Like?

 Book Blog, Volume 1  Comments Off on What Are Your World Figure’s Relationships Like?
Dec 052017
 
Relationships

When creating a world figure, their relationships may not be that important to us if we’ll do little more than have a character name-drop their hero. This can be an area to skimp on until later, if ever, but should we decide to invent their relationships, this section may help. Some people are famous for who they kept company with, including who their enemies were.

Family

Parents, siblings, lovers, and children (and extended family) all provide benefit or add risk to heroes and villains alike, so decide who is in our character’s life. Or what happened to those people if gone. Did family die first, breaking our character’s spirit, or did family outlive him and mourn our dead character, possibly wanting revenge on a killer or responsible party? One of those mourners might be even more interesting than the person we started creating. A family of evildoers can be a lot of fun. A family of heroes can make us root for the lot of them. A family with both is even better.

If they have children, do they know about all of them? It’s a cliché to have an unknown child turn up, so you might want to avoid that. Television shows, especially soap operas, desperate for a surprise twist, have ruined that. The unknown sibling is equally cheesy, so if we’re going that route, make it good, interesting, and plausible. After all, it actually does (italics) happen, but we might want to only do that once in an entire writing career. If we need to introduce someone later, it’s better to admit our character knew that the person existed and it just didn’t come up in a story due to irrelevance (before now). Try to avoid playing the unknown relative card.

Has our villain been disavowed by relatives? This might be some or all of them. Some relatives might offer safe harbor at the risk of being cast out by the rest, or punished by society. What’s in it for them to risk this? Perhaps they truly love our villain and feel they can save him one day. A mother who can’t give up on her baby, now an adult, is overdone but understandable. Less common is a mother who has turned on their child. Potent emotions can be the reason our villain went bad in the first place.

Then there’s our hero, who might wish to make family proud but whose actions have put family members in harm’s way. Heroes have powerful enemies and there’s no telling what some will do to family. Has our hero hidden children or a lover to protect them? Do the protected ones chafe at this? What kind of stress has arisen between hero and family due to this? Has anyone died despite our hero’s attempt to protect them, and what effect did this have on them? Are they guilt ridden? Did they quit and let the evil they swore to stop go unchallenged, letting it win, and if so, what did it do to our hero? Destroy him? Is he a drunk now, unable to take all the guilt? Will he be redeemed one day? Are the children old enough to have a life of their own and cause trouble for their hero parent in other ways, as only teenagers can?

This raises a final point that is often overlooked—there are descendants of this person. Maybe one of our story’s characters is that descendant, whether one generation later or dozens. If other characters know that, it can be something they want to downplay. These relatives may have changed their name or done something to hide their association, and this may have worked for most people but not fooled everyone, possibly with consequences down the road. A common idea is of a deceased relative coming back from the grave to inhabit the body of a relative, so be clever if going that familiar route.

The Species

Since our character is famous, he’s likely famous outside of his own species. With each species having a different world view, each might view this person differently. A hero to some will be a villain to others. Be sure to think about this to give your character added dimension. While elves and dwarves might view the character positively, each might have gripes about it. By contrast, ogres and goblins might view the individual as evil but again have slightly different issues with them.

While creating deeds for our character, keep in mind that they may have run into conflict with one or more species while undertaking a mission. This can range from obvious encounters with ogres, for example, to enthusiastic help from elves and grudging aid from dwarves. Or the latter could’ve been openly hostile to what they wanted to do, not allowing our character to enter their lands, forcing him to take the long way around, for example. Make sure everything wasn’t easy for them or there wouldn’t be a reason they’re famous.

Where to Start Inventing a Species

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Nov 132017
 

A top-down approach to inventing a species means viewing a species at a high level and working our way into details. We might decide on a sea-dwelling species and then face more detailed questions, like whether they have gills or can survive out of water. Can they walk on land? Are they seen often or rarely?

The bottom-up approach means creating details first and then slowly integrating them into a unified whole. Maybe we first decide on a species with sharp claws, a barbed tail, and which is rumored to carry people off at night while seldom being seen, and there’s almost no trace of where it went. From this and other details, perhaps we decide this species is water-dwelling and the claws and tail are used for catching fish. The reason people disappear is that they’re taken underwater and drowned, or perhaps held captive in underwater caves that have oxygen pockets, and since our species quickly enters the water from docks, there’s no trail to follow. This big picture is suggested by details we created first.

How Does Your Species Fight?

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Nov 092017
 

Deciding on our species’ morale, society, personality, and body (including dexterity, agility, strength, and constitution), will help us decide on their combat skills. Learn more by getting a copy of Creating Life.

Nov 062017
 
Fantasy

In a fantasy setting, technology means things like forging steel weapons, plate armor, or chainmail—the trade of blacksmiths, who are held in high regard. There are more rudimentary elements that our audience is unlikely to care about, including plumbing, irrigation, aqueducts, water wheels, and general tools for farming (a wood plow vs. an iron one). These are generally assumed to exist, but the question here is whether our new species is capable of such industry. Do they have architects smart enough to build structures that withstand storms and earthquakes? Can they build fortifications? Is the technological level enough to create more sanitary living conditions?

If not, they’ll have to go without, live among those who do, or get these things by other means, whether stealing, buying, or conquering. They might have allies who’ll agree to trade and train them in how to achieve something on their own.

Science Fiction

In SF, we think of technology as being far in advance of our own on Earth, not the sort of rudiments mentioned under the fantasy section above. Is our species able to design and build machines of any kind, not to mention something far beyond current human capacity? This requires intelligence, education and infrastructure for mining, refinement, chemistry, and more. Do we envision that they’re chemists, engineers, and physicists? If not, they must steal everything, with it being more likely that they’ll steal an entire ship, for example, rather than the parts to assemble one; this would be true of most if not all other technologies.

Can we assume that some of these intellectual capacities and skills, like engineering, are needed to operate machines? That depends on our goal. Creators often grant spaceships advanced artificial intelligence (A.I.) that takes care of many functions. This gives a less than brilliant species far more opportunities, just as a gun allows a child to kill a samurai. Do the builders of these machines account for that and require more intelligence to operate something, or biometric security? A good approach would be a mix of these styles so that we can decide, based on our story needs, which option is in effect. For example, one species could make everything easy to operate while another does not. A third species that is contemplating stealing something would take this into consideration.

Decide what their life with technology is like. An ignorant and uneducated species can enjoy life in space even if they’re not in command, because every space ship needs janitors, for example. This subservient position is something to keep in mind because it greatly broadens opportunities for them. While they might be in unenviable positions, they can still get around, and there’s the mutiny idea of such a species taking over despite their limited technological skills. Maybe they bribe ship’s officers into helping them. With some ingenuity, we can find a way to empower a weaker species.

Maybe our species steals or captures ships and is smart enough to operate but not maintain them; if something goes wrong, the crew might be stranded. Are they known for having to send out distress calls over this? It would likely get them captured and arrested, but they probably know all about this problem and travel in pairs, for example, the still-functional ship rescuing the other’s crew before everyone flees. They might also set traps, taking over a ship that comes to help them, whether they really need that help or were just setting someone up.

More advanced species will be the ones inventing technology and trying to safeguard it. They’ll be the victims of ruses by those species who can’t create these things. How has this changed or hardened/softened attitudes and laws about theft and tampering? With biometrics, devices could be set to only work with one species. We can invent all sorts of safeguards and ways of defeating them.

Not every species’ society which lacks the ability to create technology will be “evil.” Some might need the protection of another benevolent species. They might be taken advantage of by a nefarious one. There can be attempts to exterminate them or make them slaves. Fear about such outcomes could drive them to seek alliances, which may carry risks of their own.

If our species lack a society capable of producing technology (of whatever sophistication level), they may still be part of a mixed-species society that does indeed have the sophistication to create technological wonders. In this scenario, the smarter members of our species might be capable of gaining education, unless the society forbids them from doing so; a reason for that restriction is preferred, such as misuse of advanced information in the past. If our species can gain skills needed, they could introduce them to their own society with one degree of success or another.

How Does Your Species’ Do Magic?

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Nov 022017
 

If our world has the supernatural, we should decide our species’ relationship with it. This includes not only magic but phenomena – and even the power of the gods coursing through them, like the healers of Dungeons and Dragons.

What Are Your Species’ Relationships Like?

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Oct 312017
 

Unless this species is the only one in our work, we need to decide how they relate to humans and other species of our invention, or any public domain species we’re using. Inventing this tends to be easier when we’ve created other aspects first, like appearance, habitat, and world view. Ideas can form during those processes. Giving this time and not forcing it can help, as can imagining interactions as if we’re writing scenes between them and others. Then think about why you have them acting the way they do. Use various situations that are likely to occur, such as greetings, farewells, dining etiquette, and how they react to various kinds of news that impacts their fortunes.

We must be sure to decide how two invented species interact. Using elves and dwarves as examples, it’s easy to fall prey to deciding how humans get along with elves and dwarves but not deciding how elves and dwarves get along with each other. A single paragraph is often enough to get started. We’re looking for high level ideas. Anything more detailed can arise while creating stories.

Are they enemies? Friends? Why? Are their legendary battles or animosities? Treaties? Are they allies now but some among them have bad blood? Every species should have opinions and prejudice about others, and humans should feel or think something stereotypical about everything we create (because we do that). There should be classic misunderstandings. Some of our characters should exemplify these ideas while others rise above them. It adds conflict and dimension. We can start with Earth analogues.

Is it normal for one to smash furniture on hearing bad news? Punch a wall? Or react stoically as if nothing has occurred? While these have nothing to do with relationships, the way others perceive them is certainly affected and in turn impacts relationships. If our species literally kills messengers, others aren’t going to send them, for example, unless wanting to get rid of someone that way. More to the point, the species would be see as temperamental by others and this will change how people deal with them. Reputations are born of such things.

Human Commentary

A well done species can allow the author to make commentary about humans, which in turn helps our audience relate to our work. We can craft our species to do this. Feel we’re dishonest? Make your species honest. Think we jump to conclusions? Make your species slow and deliberate in its evaluations to the point that it bugs humans. If you think humans are faithful to gods, create a species that is quick to turn its back on gods if not answered, making us look good by comparison. Maybe our species doesn’t understand the concept of property and just takes other people’s stuff like it’s no big deal and we accuse them of being thieves. Any social or cultural expectation of ours can be turned on its head, an opposite expectation given to another species to cause conflict with not only humans, but other species.

What is Your Species History?

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Oct 232017
 

We should decide on our species’ history to make them more believable. If they originated in one place and have spread far, this could have implications we’d want to leverage.