Inventing an animal or plant is easier if we base it on one or more Earth equivalents, of which tens of thousands exist. Analogues free us from becoming experts in botany, for example, because our lifeform has details that largely match an Earth life. By contrast, inventing from scratch means needing to understand more about what defines a lifeform type, though this chapter provided enough high level details for us to do so. Generally, we’ll want to portray our inventions to an audience in simple, non-technical terms unless the details are required, as in the case of an actual botanist trying to create a serum from something to cure a disease, for example.
Remember the rule of three when using an analogue: make at least three changes. Some items to alter are coloring, the number of appendages, whether an animal is trainable or not, and how the life form can be used by our humans and species (if at all). We can borrow traits from other things, like inventing cats who obey like dogs.
Be aware that many Earth lifeforms are different than we might expect. For example, in America we’re used to only seeing red tomatoes. We could create yellow ones, thinking we’re being different, when yellow tomatoes already exist here. Cats can actually be highly trained. We may be accustomed to seeing something portrayed a certain way when that thing is more complex or varied than we realize.
Research will often surprise us and it’s worth doing for our inventions and even personal enrichment, if you care about such things. Google any plant or animal that you want to start with and read about it, making a list of interesting attributes or things that could be mentioned when writing. The details can surprise us, and when we use those details, altered or not, to introduce our plant or animal, it’s more engaging. Consider this example: “A large, four-legged, herbivore with huge tusks, they mostly graze or eat leaves and other plants. Their tusks are prized. They can be tamed and are often used as pack animals, either carrying the load or pulling it.” That gets us thinking and picturing it far more than if we just said “elephant.”
Creating a List of Animals and Plants
There are so many things we could create that it’s advantageous to have a categorized list of possibilities to decide on. Start with analogues in each class. Below is a small list of staples we might want to invent, using the rule of three to make each different from its source:
Mammals: boar, deer, bear, cow, goat
Sea Life: shark, whale, ray, plain fish, flying fish, dolphin
Lizards: snake, crocodile
Birds: vulture, pigeon, falcon
Flowers: rose, nightshade, lily
Trees: oak, weeping willow, pine, maple
Vegetables: corn, tomato, potato
Other Plants: wheat, rice
Creating a Products List
Another approach is to make a list of products our characters might need or use and then determine their plant or animal source. Goats are used for cheese, for example. Potatoes make chips and fries. Wheat makes beer and bread. Grapes make wine. Trees are turned into all sorts of products and have typical uses depending on the tree. Research an oak tree and how it’s used (and why), and then give it some different properties and similar uses. We can write something like, “He dipped the bird-name quill into the sea-life-name ink and signed his name.”