My name is Marlena. I’ve always considered myself a bit of a black sheep in the culture I live in, but I still try to be involved in it. I have gone through many trials, and I used art and writing to get myself through it. It is such an important aspect in my life, and I love it dearly.
With that little introduction out of the way, let's talk about one of my favorite aspects about writing, fantasy creatures!
Creating creatures for a fantasy world can by simple, and yet complicated at the same time. It isn’t just about making something that looks interesting, or is a simple obstacle for characters to overcome. It’s about making something that could truly live. Something organic that will reside in your fantasy world. I have three steps that I follow without fail each time I create a new creature.
1: Think about where it lives.
An environment shapes everything about the things that live there. Such as how they eat, move around, behave, and just survive in general. A humid bio will produce creatures with less hair. A mountainous one will require creatures with a lot of mobility. Creatures in a deep cave will need special ways to see in darkness. All of these things need to be considered, and researched. Go look at the places in our own world and the creatures that live there. What abilities do they have? Our world isn’t as mundane as we sometimes think, and the animals of it have done amazing things to adapt.
You should also consider what might happen if your creature is forced to leave its natural habitat, such as a creature who has adapted to a wet biome who is taken into an arid grassland. It would be seeking water and very agitated or fearful. Like I said before, environment will shape everything. It is your foundation.
2: Biology and Anatomy.
Didn’t think we’d be getting so scientific, did you? For a fantasy creature to have any sort of realism, then it must be based out of reality. A creature with wolf forelegs and deer hind legs looks cool, but how does it walk or run? Give it wings, and how does it fly? These details are rarely needed for your readers, but they are essential to you, especially if you ever plan to have these creatures become injured, and then those details are priceless. As an artist, I studied anatomy and biology rather extensively, but I find I use it in writing just as much as I do in my art
Also consider how this creature reproduces. This will shape its behavior. Looking at the creatures in our world can give good references for the different means of reproduction.
There is science to be found in magic as well. It may be easy to say, “My dragon breathes fire because of magic,” but it is also flat. Perhaps your dragon has a sparking ignition seen when welding. Something that when clicked, it creates a spark in the dragon’s mouth. This is used to ignite a substance that the dragon sprays, like spit. There’s a special pouch in its cheeks that stores this flammable substance; substance that gained from eating a specific plant in its biome. This then creates a behavior for the dragon it wouldn’t have otherwise had; to roam where these plants grow and eat them, and it also give the dragon a weakness that if it hasn’t eaten this plant and stored up the substance then it cannot breathe fire. Everything is connected.
Not to say that you cannot have creatures with magical abilities, but things that seem impossible need to be grounded. A unicorn, for example, stores it’s magical ability in it’s horn, and will die if that is removed. When giving creatures magic, just be sure that it is grounded in something tied to anatomy, or biology.
One thing to write down and paste in front of your face is that when giving creatures magical abilities. You MUST obey the laws of the magic you have assigned to the world. Some might say that magic breaks the laws of reality, but this isn’t true. It simply adds new laws. But magic is a completely different subject to be addressed later!
So now that we have the Biome for our creature and its abilities, let’s consider its culture. This isn’t limited to civilization, though that it what it commonly refers to. That is something for you to decide. How civilized is this creature? I break down the levels of culture into three categories. Survival, Tribal, and Civilized. Each of these could honestly be a discussion by itself, so we’ll just go over the basics. I define these levels of culture by how compelled the creature is by its base instincts, like the need to eat, sleep safely, and reproduce. Since I won’t be going into depth for each of these, I suggest looking at real world equivalents to get a basis.
Survival stage is completely driven by the base instincts. It dictates almost all of their decisions. These are the fearful deer of our world, the pack driven wolves, and the lone hunters such as tigers. It is not a complex culture in itself, but one with many options for different creatures.
Tribal stage is largely driven by the base instincts. These creatures generally have a form of complex communication, such as language or writing, but this is used for essential information more than expression, so things like art and music are only just starting to emerge as they focus on relationships a little more than base instincts.Society has formed, but it is a simple one, as a large amount of energy still needs to go into eating, finding a safe place to sleep, and reproducing. Look at ancient civilizations in our own world for references.
Civilized stage is only barely driven by the base instincts. They have complex forms of communication, many for other purposes than conveying essential information. Creativity and free thought are commonplace and there are complex forms of government. Humanity as a whole is a good reference for this.
Lastly, in any stage, consider the relationships your species can form. How do parents treat their young? How do adults treat each other? What bonds can they form? This varies greatly from stage to stage, but these basic questions still need to be addressed.
Those are the three core steps to follow when you are first creating a creature. As I said before, it is a complex thing, but once you get the steps down, and if you are organized, it can really be a simple thing, and a very fun activity to exercise creativity. A world is as developed as the things that inhabit it, and so the more detail you give to these creatures of your creations, the fuller it will feel. I hope you enjoyed my discussion, and I really hope you find it helpful!
All pictures provided were drawn by me, Marlena Money
We're all writers, we're all moms, writing our way through the "brambles" of life and our stories.