If you’re inventing creatures for your fantasy or sci-fi world, you might be wondering: How can I make them feel more real? How can I make them come alive in my readers’ minds?
Much like character creation, creature creation becomes richer and deeper the more details you add. The following twelve questions can help you develop creatures that feel believable, and even real.
While this exercise may not be necessary for every creature in your world, it will certainly give you more clarity when writing about the really important, prominent ones that show up a lot in your story.
As you go through these questions, I encourage you to write down your answers and ideas. Then, keep them somewhere easily accessible as you work on your novel.
1. How are your creatures classified?
What kind of creature are they? Mammal? Reptile? Insectoid? Having a general framework to start with will make it easier for you to fill in the details, and easier for readers to wrap their minds around the creature.
2. What do they look like?
Spend some time really establishing the details, even if all these details don’t end up in your final book’s description. Write down colors, patterns, textures, facial structures, limb shapes, weight, height, and anything else that comes to mind.
3. How intelligent are they?
Are these common animals, or are they as smart as humans? Or smarter? Or somewhere in between? Find a framework for clear reference. “My creatures are as smart as ____.”
4. What do they sound like?
Do they bleat, roar, growl, hiss, chirp, or chatter? Make a list of the sounds they make for different situations or emotions.
And if they are intelligent, do they speak a language? What does it sound like?
5. How do they react to emotions?
What do your creatures do when they’re angry, afraid, sad, or happy? Does their fur stand on end? Do they bare their teeth? Does their tail whip back and forth? Do they hum or purr? This will be fun to reference when you’re writing emotionally charged scenes!
6. What’s their environment?
Is it hot? Cold? Muggy? Arid? Dry? Wet? How have they adapted to their environment with natural selection and/or intelligent usage of tools, clothing, and natural resources?
7. What do they eat?
This will certainly be influenced by their environment and by what kind of creature they are. Don’t just think about what’s available to them, though. What do they like? What do they hate, as a species? What is healthy for them? What would kill them?
8. How do they reproduce?
Are they sexual or asexual? What is their courtship process like, if they have one? How long does their pregnancy last? Do they give birth or lay eggs?
9. How do they raise children?
Are both parents involved? If so, in what ways? How long does a child stay with its parents? Do they typically raise multiple children at once, or always just one?
10. How do they organize as a species?
Are they social creatures (like gorillas and humans) or solitary creatures (like tigers)? How does this affect their behavior?
11. How do they interact with each other?
If there are multiple types of creatures in the same region, how do the different species get along? Are any of them predators or prey to the other? Do they fight frequently or live in peace? Why?
12. What’s their origin story?
If your creatures evolved, how did they come about? Who are their ancestors? How does this affect their physical functioning and psychology?
If your creatures were designed, who made them? A god? A genius scientist? What was their creator’s purpose in making them? Did they turn out according to their creator’s original plans?
Also, have they always lived where they live now? Did they ever move or migrate from different regions in your world? How does this history affect their current culture and behavior, if at all?
Bonus: What are some similes that describe them?
One of the best ways to help readers to quickly imagine a made-up creature is to use relatable similes. Answer this question: “My creature is like ____.” Think about similes that can describe their appearance, their shape, the sounds they make, and the ways they move. Write all of them down separately.
Making associations with animals and objects your audience is already familiar with is also a powerful way to control how they feel about the creature. Should they be afraid of it? Endeared by it? The comparisons you make will direct their emotional responses.
What kind of creatures are in your fantasy or sci-fi world? Share in the comments below!