Any fantasy author will tell you that the world is one of the most important parts to this genre. Although characters must be relatable and the plot interesting, it is often in exploring unique worlds that both readers and characters alike can be fascinated and impressed. Recently I talked about Realistic Fantasy Governments. Now, I want to turn to a more fanciful topic: that of fantasy creatures.
Every fantasy novel has them to some extent, whether it is a blood-sucking vampire or a flaming dragon. But, honestly, it’s hard to know where to start in creating interesting fantasy creatures. So let’s talk about some things I find helps me write fantasy creatures.
I have mentioned before that inspiration comes from everywhere, and this is similarly the case when it comes to fantasy creatures. You might be watching a movie or playing a video game and see an interesting creature you want to emulate (careful, though, you wouldn’t want to plagiarize). Some writers see their creatures immediately. However, sometimes the world might be very clear but you don’t know where to start with finding creatures to drop into your world.
Mythology is a great way to start, and it is there that many authors find their inspiration. You can browse the web easily for mythical animals from all over the world, taking the parts you find interesting to create your creatures. It is often about taking something old and making it new (like how vampires always used to be portrayed as bad, and now they are portrayed as sexy—I mean, what a change).
Take, for example, dragons (a commonplace in fantasy novels). If you read any fantasy, you probably have seen a lot of dragons throughout authors’ pages. However, most authors handle dragons very differently. Sometimes dragons are merely evil creatures, burning villages. Sometimes they are good, wise mentors. Sometimes they can talk. Sometimes they can talk only in the mind. Sometimes they can transform into humans.
Similarly, mythology is only a place to start. You might be interested in the huge Timingila in Indian mythology (a massive aquatic creature who can eat a whole whale in one bite), but you also love the idea of Selkies from Irish and Scottish tradition (seals that shed their skin to become human on land). So, you might put them together by making a massive monster in the sea who sheds its skin to become human. See what I did there?
So play around. Look at mythology around the world. It’s fascinating.
I feel like I talk about this a lot, but a big part of world building is creating rules for your world (and the rules of breaking the rules). Similarly, there must be some rules for your creatures.
What I mean by this is understanding how their abilities work (what they can and can’t do) and if they serve some higher force.
For example, you have a dragon. It breathes fire and can fly. But also, there is a weakness. A chink in it’s armor, one might say. Smaug in The Hobbit by J.R.R. Tolkien has one of his scales missing, which enables the bowman to shoot and kill him. It is his weakness.
The whole point of every creature and character is that they have both strengths and weaknesses. You might depict a species all having an ability (like every dragon breathes fire), or you might have specific abilities per individual (like in Twilight each vampire has their own ability, such as Edward’s ability to read minds).
Deciding A Creature’s Position in the Story
So, you have your creatures and you know their abilities and weaknesses. Now, let’s take a look at the world in which they find themselves and their position in that world.
Often fantasy writers mash together positions for their fantasy creatures. Some are good, some are bad. You might have dragons being bad, but fairies being good. Or you might have some dragons being good and some bad.
You might have monsters who lean towards being animalistic, or you might have sophisticated, intelligent creatures. There might be a general consensus in the human world that all magical creatures are evil or vice-versa. Similarly, you might have fantasy creatures living in disguise or hidden from view.
On one hand, you might have a monster like the Loch Ness Monster (let’s say in your book it is real). It is an animal, possibly a dinosaur, and most people agree in doesn’t exist. On the other hand, you might have vampires like from Dracula. An intelligent, human-type character in disguise among humans. One hides away, while the other lives in plain sight.
Think about where you want to find your creatures in your world. Are they apart from society or in the middle of it? Do they aid humans or harm them? Are they revered or feared/hated? All these things will help you decide just where in your story fantasy creatures fit.
Finally, I want to talk about the visuals. In fantasy worlds, visuals are very important because these worlds often deviate from what we expect to see in reality. Thus, for yourself and the reader it is important that you know exactly what your creature looks like. If you are taking a creature straight from mythology, you might find multiple pictures online to use as inspiration.
However, if you are creating an entirely new, strange world (such as Alice in Wonderland), you might consider taking the time to sketch your creatures. I know, we all aren’t great drawers (trust me, I am horrible). However, the drawing does not have to be sophisticated. Instead, it merely is a rough idea from your head, put to a page.
When writing fantasy creatures, the most fun part is merely experimenting. You might try balancing sci-fi with fantasy, or make the creatures horrific or humorous. It’s all up to you. It’s all about figuring out where you want your book to go and how these unique and interesting creatures fit into it.
Let me know how it goes with creating your creatures. And, as always,
Best wishes in your life full of adventure,