Creating fantasy and alien races is one of the most exciting aspects of developing a new project. Perhaps, even more exciting than creating a magic system! The abilities are fun, but who is going to use these powers?
When I am about to create a new world, I want to know who inhabits it. What are their issues? How did they get there? The possibilities are endless.
Though, the most essential thing; is the reader going to believe this species belongs in this world?
In my upcoming series: The Legend of the Elvines: Stone of Dragon’s Heart, I created two new races to fit the story. The first is elvines – they are most similar to elves of most fantasy, but also have cat-like features: fangs, claws, tails, and fur.
The other is tamalir; they are also similar to elves in appearance, and they have dog-like features: a snout-like nose, a strong sense of smell, and floppy ears.
In talking about writing fantasy races, I’m going to use these two races as my prime example. I know the intention behind their purpose and so can speak accurately on them. I am going to dive into fantasy races and Internal Consistency, biological pressure, racial coding, mythology, and how these elements play together to make the world come alive. First up:
Realism is not the most important element of developing fantasy races. In-fact internal consistency frames the unrealistic elements and adds a touch of believability. If the writing is consistent amongst your race, readers will quickly jump on board.
The unrealistic inspires awe and intrigue. It makes the reader want to know more, and they are willing to suspend their disbelief. There must be a through-line, usually starting with a cultural idea, or maybe a distinct feature. It must be original.
The elvines in my world started with an interest in eastern philosophy. I was reading up on Buddhism, Hinduism, and spirituality. I thought that the philosophical view on the interconnectedness of the world made a fascinating concept for a story.
The internal consistency for elvines is that I developed their world in a way that showcases these ideas. A reader will see the temples in Ul’rog and can feel their spirituality. Elvines spend time meditating, and their magical abilities are tied to their cultural belief. However, not all elvines share the same ideas in their gods and political views. There are still diversities.
The tamalir are more inspired by western culture. They have more trust in the economy and consumerism. They believe in the individual and are seen pushing their ideas on other nations. They aren’t necessarily evil – they think their actions are right and justified. Again, not all of the tamalir share the same beliefs, and there is political upheaval amongst themselves.
All people in a specific race cannot be one way. That is lazy writing and takes away diversity. For races to be believable, there must be differences from characters and the perceived stereotypes of that race.
Culture and abilities will arise from the basic needs of your race. These pressures generally fall into three categories. Feeding, Reproducing, and Surviving. It is essential to know how your race handles and solves these issues to add more realism.
First, let’s talk about…
Referring to what your race needs to eat, and how do they get it. The elvines feed on fish and meats. They have evolved claws and fangs to help them hunt their food. However, as they became more sentient, they also developed tools to make hunting easier. Elvines are light on their feet and can easily sneak up on their prey.
The tamalir are similar in what they eat; however, they are noisier. They developed snouts with a keen sense of smell to better help them find their prey. As they became more sentient, they developed tools and magic to help them attain their food. Next…
The next biological pressure that shapes a species culture and way of being is how they reproduce. Do they need a partner for mating? Or are they asexual and can clone themselves? These are important questions to ask because the answer drastically changes how your species fit in the society and world.
Elvines are sexual beings; they need a mate to reproduce. They do have courting rituals to try and attract the opposite sex (or, in some cases, the same sex). Elvines are similar to humans, where they use humor, and kindness to show their interest in a mate.
The tamalir are the same in this regard. They, too, have mating rituals; however, the key difference is they shower their potential mate with expensive gifts and jewelry. They try to show they can provide.
How does your species survive in their environment? If they live in an icy region, perhaps they developed a thick skin to keep warm in the cold, or they created clothing off the animals in the environment. What makes your species a dominant species that survives through time?
The elvines are a predator species; however, they live in loving kindness. They do not kill for the sake of killing, only to survive. They have prayers to help their prey pass into the spirit realm. Their biggest predator, however, are the tamalir.
The tamalir, are a predator species feeding off other creatures. They have developed wealth from the stones found in a mountain near their village, and they risk attack for what they have. They have developed spells to make it impossible for predators to attack their city. Many get lost and die entering the woods outside their walls.
Fantasy races are often inspired by real-world culture, and this is known as…
Often races are inspired by culture in our world, and it can be done well, but it also can be insensitive when done poorly. If you base your fantasy species on a real culture, it is important that you do so with sensitivity. The species must not be a walking stereotype with fresh paint.
According to Timothy Hickson from Hellofutureme, “Using the distance fantasy and alien races provide thematically is often most effective when the species face similar (in comparison to racial and culturural groups of real life) issues but are not identical.”
The elvines in my world are heavily influenced by eastern culture. However, they are not stereotyping of Indian (from India), Tibetan, or otherwise. They share similar beliefs and are oppressed by the tamalir, but they have their own culture and dynamics. They believe all life is connected and should be treated with compassion, and they eat meat and hide from the rest of the world.
The tamalir are inspired by American culture, and they also share similarities with the elvines. They learned meditation from the elvines and adopted their techniques into morphing magic into their own gain.
As species evolve through time, so too, does culture. As your species grows and becomes smarter, they will begin to form a…
Biological factors are an element in how a species culture is shaped over time, but change is also important. As a species becomes more sentient and dominant, their survival instincts get pushed to the side. They start to develop their own mythology and creation stories.
The core beliefs of your race drive mythology, and though, not all will follow, there is a majority that will. Who is your species god/s? How did they come to be? These questions will shape your species into civilizations and will determine what their cities look like, how their lives work, and how they develop.
The elvines believe their goddess Adna founded Ul’rog after she meditated on an island in the middle of a lake and discovered the three realms of reality. Because of this belief, the reader can see the impacts in the design of Ul’rog. There are statutes in the temples dedicated to Adna. Paintings of her likeness are seen in houses, and much of the elvine population wear mala in celebration of Adna’s discovery.
The tamalir, do not believe in Adna’s accomplishment and consider her a false profit. Instead, they believe Delark, their god, created the known world, and all progress should be made in his name. Delark promotes chaos and disorder, and the spells the tamalir cast reflect this. They raise corpses to fight their battles and create mass destruction with the power of their emotion.
Building a fantasy race takes a lot of different elements, but what is most important is that the species is internally consistent. They must not contradict themselves within your story.
All races have biological pressure that must be met for the species to grow and survive. Often these factors play a role in how your species develop.
It is crucial when basing your species off of real cultures that they do not become a walking stereotype, but instead aim at bringing light to an issue from a distance. They should not be the exact same as the actual culture.
And lastly, it is crucial to keep in mind your species mythology. Their beliefs will shape how they intersect with the world.
If you liked this content or would like to add more to the discussion, feel free to leave a comment. I would love to hear your thoughts!