Feb 212015
 

In another blog, I discussed whether you should create plants and animals for your fantasy setting.  Assuming you’ve decided to do it, here are tips for doing so.

New Ideas

If you already have ideas, you can just write them up according to a template like the one I’ve provided here:

The Template

Animal/Plant Name:

Type: (animal, plant [tree/flower], bird, fish)

Description:

Habitat:

Uses: (products, forbidden uses)

Earth equivalent: (is this based on something from Earth?)

Example

Item Name: Big Cat Name Here

Type: animal, mammal, feline

Description: this big cat has four legs and a long tail.  They are up to ten feet long including tail and 700 pounds. They do not have a mane and are often darkly colored with lighter spots.  Males are larger than females.  Both live 30 years.  They are loyal to their owner once bonded.

Habitat: they are found in all kinds of forests and mountain ranges and often hunt in open plains and grasslands.  They eat horses, animal 1, and animal 2.  Humanoid species are also prey items, but not if armed.

Uses: they can be used as personal guards and trained in battle to assist their owner or as a group like cavalry.  They will wear armor and can be trained to attack and defend armed opponents. They are sometimes pets, but rarely.

Earth equivalent: this is a large tiger, but it is like dogs for trainability and wolves in that they are pack animals.

Getting Ideas
Start with Earth
The bright leaves of the venus flytrap (Dionae...

The bright leaves of the venus flytrap (Dionaea muscipula) attract insects in the same way as flowers. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

If you need ideas, start with Earth animals or plants and begin modifying them.  I suggest several modifications for each one you create.  A horse with only six legs to make it different isn’t that interesting.

Some items to change are coloring, number of appendages, whether an animal is trainable or not, and how the animal can be used by your humans and species (if at all).  You can simply reverse some of these things, like making cats who obey like dogs.  In fact, many Earth things are different than you might expect.  For example, in America we’re used to only seeing red tomatoes.  You could create yellow ones, thinking you’re being different, when in reality yellow tomatoes already exist here.  This is where research can help.

Research

Google any plant or animal that you want to start with and read about it, making a list of interesting attributes or things you could mention when writing.  It becomes interesting if you say a character sees an animal name you made up and describe it like this: “A large, four-legged, tame 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.”  On the other hand, if you call it an elephant, it’s boring.

That’s mostly stock information, but it becomes interesting when you change details.

Create a List

There are so many things you could create that having a list helps, particularly if you’re starting with Earth animals and plants.  Then research each for the details and start altering them to create your plant or animal.  For example:

Mammals: boar, deer, bear, cow, goat

Fish: shark, whale, stingray, plain old fish, flying fish, dolphins

Lizards: snake

Birds: vulture, pigeon, falcon

Flowers: rose, night shade, lilies

Trees: oak, weeping willow, pine, maple

Vegetables: corn, tomato, potato

Other Plants: wheat, rice

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Products

These plants and animals will result in products made from them.  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 and you can write something like, “He poured tree-name syrup on his wheat-name pancakes.”

Epilogue

Creating new animals and plants can give your fantasy world and stories a uniqueness that keeps readers coming back for more – if you do a good job!  It can be fun and easier than you might expect, but beware of spending so much time doing it that you stop writing.

Creating a Fantasy City, Part 1

Without cities, towns, and villages, no fantasy world building project is complete.  In part 1, we’ll look at some things to consider.  Part 2 will be the template I use for creating a new settlement. Location, Location, Location No settlement stands alone.  A city has towns nearby, and towns have villages nearby.  However, when drawing […]

5 comments

Creating a Fantasy City, Part 2

Below is the template I use when creating a fantasy city during world building.  Feel free to adapt it your purposes. You can read Part 1 here. Download the PDF or Word template. City/Town Name General Alliances Independent city or part of a kingdom?  Allies? Identification Symbol and Banner: City Colors: Slogans: Famous For What […]

0 comments

Creating Fantasy Names For Your Fiction Stories

Depending on your ability, creating names for people, places, and beings in fantasy books can either be fun or a pain.  I’ve been doing this for three decades and will provide some tricks and thoughts to help. KISS KISS doesn’t really stand for “keep it simple, stupid”, but it’s a good principle to follow when […]

2 comments

Fantasy Species vs. Race?

What’s the difference between “race” and “species” and when should you use what in your fantasy settings?  I’ve taken a look into this myself and made the right choice for me.  Read on for ideas on making the right choice for you. Race What’s a race?  The answer can be complicated (but interesting reading), but […]

4 comments

How to Create Fantasy Races or Species, Part 1

In this three part series, we’ll look at creating races in fantasy books. This entry focuses on the physical considerations, while Part 2 will discuss the mental ones. Part 3 includes a downloadable template you can use. While using the standard elves, dwarves, dragons, and other usual suspects in fantasy fiction is fine, and maybe […]

0 comments

How to Create Fantasy Races or Species, Part 2

In part 1, we looked at some physical considerations when creating races in fantasy books, while building your own world. Now we’ll look at some mental aspects. Mental Considerations Worldview When I watch alien species/races on TV or see them in print, more often than not, I feel like they’re just humans in costume, for […]

0 comments

How to Create Fantasy Races or Species, Part 3

In Part 1 we discussed the physical aspects of creating races in fantasy books. Part 2 covers the mental.  Now we’ll look at a downloadable template you can use as a starting point to aid your creative writing. Download the PDF or Word template. The Template Fantasy Race/Species Name Here Nicknames: “” Famous For General […]

0 comments

How to Create Plants and Animals for Your Fantasy Setting

In another blog, I discussed whether you should create plants and animals for your fantasy setting.  Assuming you’ve decided to do it, here are tips for doing so. New Ideas If you already have ideas, you can just write them up according to a template like the one I’ve provided here: The Template Animal/Plant Name: […]

1 comment

How to Draw a Fantasy Map, Part 1

One of the fun aspects of fantasy world building is drawing maps. This blog provides some ideas to keep in mind and tools to help. Some of this is kind of obvious but worth mentioning anyway. Where to Start A good working unit is the continent.  Despite the term “world building,” fantasy authors usually write […]

3 comments

How to Draw a Fantasy Map, Part 2

In Part 1, we looked at where to start and basic continent considerations for drawing a fantasy map.  Now we’ll look at some geographical considerations. Remember Geography Having a basic sense of geography is important or your map won’t make sense.  Some of this is obvious but is still worth pointing out. Rivers For example, […]

1 comment

Should You Create Plants and Animals in Your Fantasy Setting?

When world building, I used to think there was no point in inventing animals and plants for a fantasy setting.  After all, they’re often just variations on real Earth animals, in which case, why bother?  For example, maybe you have a horse with an extra pair of legs, or a tomato that’s yellow and poisonous, […]

3 comments
Feb 212015
 

When world building, I used to think there was no point in inventing animals and plants for a fantasy setting.  After all, they’re often just variations on real Earth animals, in which case, why bother?  For example, maybe you have a horse with an extra pair of legs, or a tomato that’s yellow and poisonous, or a smarter lion.  You call the first a horse, the second a tomato, and the third a lion, but people will forget you altered it in some way unless you keep reminding them, which is unnecessary exposition and feels like housekeeping (for you and the reader).

Direhorse Avatar Six LegsIf you have to keep calling it a “six-legged horse”, that encumbrance isn’t much better.  If you don’t call it a horse, but describe it in such a way that people think, “Oh, it’s just a horse with two more legs”, is that really an improvement?

More importantly, unless the alteration matters in some way, why do it at all?

For these reasons, I resisted for many years, but then I changed my mind.  Below are some considerations that could help you make a decision for your fantasy setting.

Creating a Different Feel

If you create a variety of animals and plants, each with its own name (you can read more about creating names here), they can give your world a different feel.  By contrast, many fantasy books seem to take place in medieval or Renaissance England, for example, but with elves, dwarves, and dragons thrown in, plus an odd creature or two, usually fairly standardized, too, like a hydra, ettin , or giant something-or-other.

This is good for giving the reader the sense of comfort that familiarity brings.  It keeps them focused on your story.  But maybe you (and they) want something a little different.

How Often You’ll Use The Setting

If you’ll only write one book in this fantasy world, is the extra work worth it?  It takes time and you’ll only have so many opportunities to describe things.  If you’ll be writing many books there, it becomes more attractive as an investment that pays off for longer.  An excellent example is the Gor Series by John Norman.  At last check he had over 25 books on Gor, an extensively developed planet.  There’s no denying that all of his effort produced a very unique world.

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Time

It takes time you may not have to create unique plants and animals.  There’s no getting around this unless you invent things during writing.  Doing so is fine, but one thing to watch out for is creating items that lack depth because you haven’t thought them through or done some research.  You can make a note to yourself to come back to that later and touch it up if necessary, giving you the option to invent on the fly as needed and fix any conceptual details during editing.

If you want your creations to be inter-related, such as your animal eats your plant or they fight each other, it may help to create ahead of time.

Also, inventing at the time predisposes your creations to “window dressing”, meaning they are sprucing up your setting and story but are probably not integral to it.  This is fine but limits such work and might make you decide it isn’t worth it.

Do Your Creations Matter?

They might matter to you, but do they matter to your readers?  More importantly, do they matter to the story or world?  Some people love lots of new things while others are put off by them because they can distract from a story, or the reader has to constantly remember what something is.  This is where having an artist draw something for you can really help, if you have the option to include pictures within your book.

Making them matter is one reason to create things prior to writing your story, then incorporate their unique features into that story.  This is a natural way to bring attention to what’s unique about your creations so that readers don’t mind or struggle to conceptualize.  By contrast, if it’s “window dressing”, they are likely to just ignore it.

Harry PotterSuperficial usage is not the best thing, and if done, should be kept to a minimum.  For example, in the Harry Potter movies, there are sometimes scenes that seem to serve no purpose other than showing how different the world is.  This is a waste of exposition and poor storytelling.  On the other hand, the quidditch game is part of the plot.

Using the six-legged horse as an example, it might make sense to keep the “regular” kind of horse and then add the new variety.  This allows you to specify that that those two extra legs make those horses faster or have better endurance because the work load on their legs is spread out – and maybe your characters have to go a really long distance so that this matters.  You don’t even need to explain why there are two kinds of horses because we often have such varieties here and “mother Earth” has not provided us an explanation, though scientists will invent a theory.

How Much?

How many things are you creating?  Just a few plants and animals or dozens?  Will nothing be familiar about your world except humans?  Where do you draw the line?

For example, let’s say you create lots of animals but keep the standard horses.  Do the horses then stand out as something we have here while we have nothing else from this world of yours?  Do you care?  Will your readers?  You could conceivably call nothing by its usual name because you’ve altered everything, but then your book becomes bogged down in this stuff.  Taken to extremes, your work becomes virtually incomprehensible.

My Approach

I’ve found that I seldom want to mention my plants and animals while writing, which begs the question of why do it at all?  I most often mention them when describing a meal, in which case I can easily toss off names of veggies, meat, and rice all in a row without going into huge amounts of detail.  The question is whether I’d even bother describing the meal if I wasn’t using alternatives, and the answer is likely that I wouldn’t.  However, I find two sentences to be a small “burden” on the reader that likely adds vividness to the scene.

I also mention animals and plants while my characters are traveling through the wilderness and encounter them.  Again I use a sentence or two.

Then there are the times when my animal or plant is virtually a character, such as a leech plant I have that attacks people.  Or a plant that someone must go on a quest to obtain for whatever reason.  These are the times to go into a paragraph about it.

Another great use is products the characters use or encounter.  A descriptive clause here and there adds depth and color to your setting.

One thing to avoid is mentioning things simply because they exist, unless this is kept to a minimum.  As an author the goal is always to tell a story.  If you spend the time creating lots of things, it might be good to let time pass before you write a story using them so that the temptation to write a lot about them diminishes.

Epilogue

If you’ve decided to do it, another blog provides some tips.

Creating a Fantasy City, Part 1

Without cities, towns, and villages, no fantasy world building project is complete.  In part 1, we’ll look at some things to consider.  Part 2 will be the template I use for creating a new settlement. Location, Location, Location No settlement stands alone.  A city has towns nearby, and towns have villages nearby.  However, when drawing […]

5 comments

Creating a Fantasy City, Part 2

Below is the template I use when creating a fantasy city during world building.  Feel free to adapt it your purposes. You can read Part 1 here. Download the PDF or Word template. City/Town Name General Alliances Independent city or part of a kingdom?  Allies? Identification Symbol and Banner: City Colors: Slogans: Famous For What […]

0 comments

Creating Fantasy Names For Your Fiction Stories

Depending on your ability, creating names for people, places, and beings in fantasy books can either be fun or a pain.  I’ve been doing this for three decades and will provide some tricks and thoughts to help. KISS KISS doesn’t really stand for “keep it simple, stupid”, but it’s a good principle to follow when […]

2 comments

Fantasy Species vs. Race?

What’s the difference between “race” and “species” and when should you use what in your fantasy settings?  I’ve taken a look into this myself and made the right choice for me.  Read on for ideas on making the right choice for you. Race What’s a race?  The answer can be complicated (but interesting reading), but […]

4 comments

How to Create Fantasy Races or Species, Part 1

In this three part series, we’ll look at creating races in fantasy books. This entry focuses on the physical considerations, while Part 2 will discuss the mental ones. Part 3 includes a downloadable template you can use. While using the standard elves, dwarves, dragons, and other usual suspects in fantasy fiction is fine, and maybe […]

0 comments

How to Create Fantasy Races or Species, Part 2

In part 1, we looked at some physical considerations when creating races in fantasy books, while building your own world. Now we’ll look at some mental aspects. Mental Considerations Worldview When I watch alien species/races on TV or see them in print, more often than not, I feel like they’re just humans in costume, for […]

0 comments

How to Create Fantasy Races or Species, Part 3

In Part 1 we discussed the physical aspects of creating races in fantasy books. Part 2 covers the mental.  Now we’ll look at a downloadable template you can use as a starting point to aid your creative writing. Download the PDF or Word template. The Template Fantasy Race/Species Name Here Nicknames: “” Famous For General […]

0 comments

How to Create Plants and Animals for Your Fantasy Setting

In another blog, I discussed whether you should create plants and animals for your fantasy setting.  Assuming you’ve decided to do it, here are tips for doing so. New Ideas If you already have ideas, you can just write them up according to a template like the one I’ve provided here: The Template Animal/Plant Name: […]

1 comment

How to Draw a Fantasy Map, Part 1

One of the fun aspects of fantasy world building is drawing maps. This blog provides some ideas to keep in mind and tools to help. Some of this is kind of obvious but worth mentioning anyway. Where to Start A good working unit is the continent.  Despite the term “world building,” fantasy authors usually write […]

3 comments

How to Draw a Fantasy Map, Part 2

In Part 1, we looked at where to start and basic continent considerations for drawing a fantasy map.  Now we’ll look at some geographical considerations. Remember Geography Having a basic sense of geography is important or your map won’t make sense.  Some of this is obvious but is still worth pointing out. Rivers For example, […]

1 comment

Should You Create Plants and Animals in Your Fantasy Setting?

When world building, I used to think there was no point in inventing animals and plants for a fantasy setting.  After all, they’re often just variations on real Earth animals, in which case, why bother?  For example, maybe you have a horse with an extra pair of legs, or a tomato that’s yellow and poisonous, […]

3 comments
Feb 212015
 

Below is the template I use when creating a fantasy city during world building.  Feel free to adapt it your purposes. You can read Part 1 here.

Download the PDF or Word template.

City/Town Name

General

Alliances

Independent city or part of a kingdom?  Allies?

Identification

Symbol and Banner:

City Colors:

Slogans:

Famous For

What comes to mind when people think of this place?

Location

What continent?  Nearby land features?  How accessible?

Setting

Terrain?  Forests, mountainous, desert, plain, sea/river port?

Relations with Other Settlements and Places

Town 1

Town 2

Elven Forest 1

Important Features in Town

Is there a distinctive land feature?  City layout?

Notable Religious or Magic Sites

Other Special Sites

Fortifications

Walls/Gates

Is there a wall around it? How many gates?  Well guarded?  Ever breached?

Castle

Where is it and what condition is it in?  Ruined or intact?  What’s it made of?  How many towers?  Mote?  Ever been destroyed?

Local Lore

Any legends or mysteries about the place?

Products

This depends on geography.  Very useful when writing stories as you can refer to wine, for example, from a certain city or region.

History

Year Founded:

What events are important in the formation of this settlement?

Wars

Battles

Outcome?  Who attacked them?  Or did they attack?

The Inhabitants

Attitude toward magic?  Gods?  Supernatural?  Races?  Strangers?

Leaders

What sort of government is there and who is currently running it?

Who’s Really in Control

Is some organization really in control of the city?

Population

The overall population count and which races live here.  How do they get along?  Are they segregated?  What are they afraid/proud of?

Humans

Race 1

Race 2

Religion

What religions are taught/tolerated/shunned here?

Armed Forces

Is there an army?  Garrison?  Just local guards?  Militia?  Knights?

The Local Guards

How many?  Well trained?  Well equipped?  Who’s in charge?

Knights

Important People

Priests

Magic-Users

Are they in town or nearby in a tower?  Is magic tolerated?  Feared?  Can wizards cast spells in public or only in secret?  Are they a rare/common sight?

Heroes

Villains

Nearby Monsters/Creatures

Good or bad?  How many of what kind?  What is the effect on the inhabitants and fortifications?

Public Places and Occasions

Religious Temples and Sites

Festivals and Holidays

Taverns and Inns

Are there any?  Curfews?  Are they friendly/hostile to strangers?

Guilds

Equipment Shops

What kinds of items are available for purchase or trade here?  Is this place famous for making anything?  Two-handed swords?  Full plate armor?  Silk tunics?  Strong ropes?

Weapons

Armor

Clothing

General Gear

Special Considerations

Supernatural Phenomenon

Unknown

Are there are any secrets about this place, whether known to a few or not?

Creating a Fantasy City, Part 1

Without cities, towns, and villages, no fantasy world building project is complete.  In part 1, we’ll look at some things to consider.  Part 2 will be the template I use for creating a new settlement. Location, Location, Location No settlement stands alone.  A city has towns nearby, and towns have villages nearby.  However, when drawing […]

5 comments

Creating a Fantasy City, Part 2

Below is the template I use when creating a fantasy city during world building.  Feel free to adapt it your purposes. You can read Part 1 here. Download the PDF or Word template. City/Town Name General Alliances Independent city or part of a kingdom?  Allies? Identification Symbol and Banner: City Colors: Slogans: Famous For What […]

0 comments

Creating Fantasy Names For Your Fiction Stories

Depending on your ability, creating names for people, places, and beings in fantasy books can either be fun or a pain.  I’ve been doing this for three decades and will provide some tricks and thoughts to help. KISS KISS doesn’t really stand for “keep it simple, stupid”, but it’s a good principle to follow when […]

2 comments

Fantasy Species vs. Race?

What’s the difference between “race” and “species” and when should you use what in your fantasy settings?  I’ve taken a look into this myself and made the right choice for me.  Read on for ideas on making the right choice for you. Race What’s a race?  The answer can be complicated (but interesting reading), but […]

4 comments

How to Create Fantasy Races or Species, Part 1

In this three part series, we’ll look at creating races in fantasy books. This entry focuses on the physical considerations, while Part 2 will discuss the mental ones. Part 3 includes a downloadable template you can use. While using the standard elves, dwarves, dragons, and other usual suspects in fantasy fiction is fine, and maybe […]

0 comments

How to Create Fantasy Races or Species, Part 2

In part 1, we looked at some physical considerations when creating races in fantasy books, while building your own world. Now we’ll look at some mental aspects. Mental Considerations Worldview When I watch alien species/races on TV or see them in print, more often than not, I feel like they’re just humans in costume, for […]

0 comments

How to Create Fantasy Races or Species, Part 3

In Part 1 we discussed the physical aspects of creating races in fantasy books. Part 2 covers the mental.  Now we’ll look at a downloadable template you can use as a starting point to aid your creative writing. Download the PDF or Word template. The Template Fantasy Race/Species Name Here Nicknames: “” Famous For General […]

0 comments

How to Create Plants and Animals for Your Fantasy Setting

In another blog, I discussed whether you should create plants and animals for your fantasy setting.  Assuming you’ve decided to do it, here are tips for doing so. New Ideas If you already have ideas, you can just write them up according to a template like the one I’ve provided here: The Template Animal/Plant Name: […]

1 comment

How to Draw a Fantasy Map, Part 1

One of the fun aspects of fantasy world building is drawing maps. This blog provides some ideas to keep in mind and tools to help. Some of this is kind of obvious but worth mentioning anyway. Where to Start A good working unit is the continent.  Despite the term “world building,” fantasy authors usually write […]

3 comments

How to Draw a Fantasy Map, Part 2

In Part 1, we looked at where to start and basic continent considerations for drawing a fantasy map.  Now we’ll look at some geographical considerations. Remember Geography Having a basic sense of geography is important or your map won’t make sense.  Some of this is obvious but is still worth pointing out. Rivers For example, […]

1 comment

Should You Create Plants and Animals in Your Fantasy Setting?

When world building, I used to think there was no point in inventing animals and plants for a fantasy setting.  After all, they’re often just variations on real Earth animals, in which case, why bother?  For example, maybe you have a horse with an extra pair of legs, or a tomato that’s yellow and poisonous, […]

3 comments
Feb 212015
 

Without cities, towns, and villages, no fantasy world building project is complete.  In part 1, we’ll look at some things to consider.  Part 2 will be the template I use for creating a new settlement.

Location, Location, Location

No settlement stands alone.  A city has towns nearby, and towns have villages nearby.  However, when drawing a map, you don’t have to draw the latter and might choose to focus mostly on the larger towns and cities.  Still, you should consider whether nearby places are friend or foe.  Even places farther away might be an enemy that this settlement needs to fear – or wants to attack first.  Some places will be allies, too.

Art of World Building Banner

Nearby land features (forests, mountains, etc.) might be home to hostile races or creatures.  This is one reason to draw a map first and then start deciding what your city is like and what the residents have to contend with.  Are there any important land features inside the town?  This includes magical and supernatural places, or maybe a religious site.

All of these will determine what sort of fortifications you settlement has, from a castle to walls, archery towers, moats, and gates (number, type, and location).  It also determines if the settlement expects to be attacked and has cleared land around it of forests an approaching army can hide in.  Have there been any major wars or battles involving this place?  Has the city or a castle within been destroyed and rebuilt?

The number and type of armed forces are also affected by location.  Is there only a local militia, cavalry, knights, or a garrison for an army?  Are there enough wizards to aid in a defense?  Is the average person trained in how to use a sword just in case or are they sitting duck peasants that will get wiped out pretty easily?

Water Supply

Don’t forget that there must be water for your citizens.  Your basic options are a river, lake, or well.  The latter will significantly impact how big your settlement can get (forget about a city).  You don’t need to comment on this much in your writing but avoid putting your settlement somewhere that doesn’t have water.  An ocean doesn’t count as that water can’t be consumed without making people sick.

Races and Species

Which non-humans are living in your city?  Elves, dwarves, and even dragons might be welcome and have special quarters designed for them.  Or they might be shunned.  If there’s an elven forest or dwarven mountain nearby, this will affect how often that race is seen and what the likely attitude toward them is.  People tend to be more tolerant of something seen more often, unless there’s been conflict, of course.

Are “evil” races there?  Are they known to be there or do they generally sneak around?  Is the city overrun by them and all the decent races are the ones who must skulk around?

Who Rules

Authors often overlook what type of government runs a city, but you should have some idea, whether this has any direct effect on the stories you want to tell or not (it can just be a backdrop or something you decide not to mention at all, though that’s easier to get away with if your story/characters only pass through).  Equally important is whether someone else is truly running the settlement.  You might have a city council as the nominal head but a clandestine organization is really in power, whether through bribery, intimidation, or violence.  This can add a nice level of intrigue.

Important People

Your settlement probably has people important to either it or your story.  This can be the obvious city leaders to heroes, villains, warriors, and wizards.  When creating such a character, try to think of some reason they are either from here or living here now.  Is there something about this settlement that triggered their personality or drew them here?

If someone’s a villain, maybe they want to live somewhere out of the way to work in secret.  Or maybe they want a big population to do evil experiments on with a missing person being less noticed.  If you don’t find a reason, you’ll soon realize it’s no fun creating these people at all and you’ll just skip it.  This can be fine if you’re creating many cities.  Just fill in these people later when you feel like it.

How It Is Known

Every settlement tends to be known for something, such as a product.  Do they make great wines?  Weapons?  Are their knights amazing?  The wizards?  Or is the place just run down and a haven for bad people like pirates?  The reputation can help you craft an overall viewpoint that really adds character to a settlement.

Secrets

Figuring out what secrets your settlement has can be a lot of fun.  This can include catacombs, weird supernatural phenomenon, evil organizations, races, monsters, or people no one knows are there.  You can create the secret and then have your characters be the one to discover the truth, which is all the more fun if the truth is horrible and right under everyone’s nose.

How Many Places to Create

You may need to create a variety of settlements, but the number and type will depend on your intentions.  I decided long ago to create one setting and really go into detail, intending to set most of my novels there.  As a result, I made over 50 cities and towns.  When creating such a large volume, it makes sense to create certain items in bulk.

For example, I created the major product of every settlement at once.  I did the same with banners, city colors, and symbols.  This helped ensure variety.  I did this in a spreadsheet and then just copied the info over to each city file later.  If creating many, decide which cities have the biggest populations and which ones are oldest/newest.

Remember that products will have much to do with land features nearby.  A lake town will not be building a ship-of-the-line (you wouldn’t sail such a ship on one unless the lake is huge).  A mountainous town isn’t likely to be known for its horses (there’s nowhere flat for them to run).  A city not near a forest is unlikely to export furniture due to a general lack of wood to build such excess; it will instead be a place importing it from somewhere else.  This can even be a conflict, where the only available, suitable wood is near another city laying claim to it.

Epilogue

In Part 2, I’ll provide the template I use for creating a settlement.

Creating a Fantasy City, Part 1

Without cities, towns, and villages, no fantasy world building project is complete.  In part 1, we’ll look at some things to consider.  Part 2 will be the template I use for creating a new settlement. Location, Location, Location No settlement stands alone.  A city has towns nearby, and towns have villages nearby.  However, when drawing […]

5 comments

Creating a Fantasy City, Part 2

Below is the template I use when creating a fantasy city during world building.  Feel free to adapt it your purposes. You can read Part 1 here. Download the PDF or Word template. City/Town Name General Alliances Independent city or part of a kingdom?  Allies? Identification Symbol and Banner: City Colors: Slogans: Famous For What […]

0 comments

Creating Fantasy Names For Your Fiction Stories

Depending on your ability, creating names for people, places, and beings in fantasy books can either be fun or a pain.  I’ve been doing this for three decades and will provide some tricks and thoughts to help. KISS KISS doesn’t really stand for “keep it simple, stupid”, but it’s a good principle to follow when […]

2 comments

Fantasy Species vs. Race?

What’s the difference between “race” and “species” and when should you use what in your fantasy settings?  I’ve taken a look into this myself and made the right choice for me.  Read on for ideas on making the right choice for you. Race What’s a race?  The answer can be complicated (but interesting reading), but […]

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How to Create Fantasy Races or Species, Part 1

In this three part series, we’ll look at creating races in fantasy books. This entry focuses on the physical considerations, while Part 2 will discuss the mental ones. Part 3 includes a downloadable template you can use. While using the standard elves, dwarves, dragons, and other usual suspects in fantasy fiction is fine, and maybe […]

0 comments

How to Create Fantasy Races or Species, Part 2

In part 1, we looked at some physical considerations when creating races in fantasy books, while building your own world. Now we’ll look at some mental aspects. Mental Considerations Worldview When I watch alien species/races on TV or see them in print, more often than not, I feel like they’re just humans in costume, for […]

0 comments

How to Create Fantasy Races or Species, Part 3

In Part 1 we discussed the physical aspects of creating races in fantasy books. Part 2 covers the mental.  Now we’ll look at a downloadable template you can use as a starting point to aid your creative writing. Download the PDF or Word template. The Template Fantasy Race/Species Name Here Nicknames: “” Famous For General […]

0 comments

How to Create Plants and Animals for Your Fantasy Setting

In another blog, I discussed whether you should create plants and animals for your fantasy setting.  Assuming you’ve decided to do it, here are tips for doing so. New Ideas If you already have ideas, you can just write them up according to a template like the one I’ve provided here: The Template Animal/Plant Name: […]

1 comment

How to Draw a Fantasy Map, Part 1

One of the fun aspects of fantasy world building is drawing maps. This blog provides some ideas to keep in mind and tools to help. Some of this is kind of obvious but worth mentioning anyway. Where to Start A good working unit is the continent.  Despite the term “world building,” fantasy authors usually write […]

3 comments

How to Draw a Fantasy Map, Part 2

In Part 1, we looked at where to start and basic continent considerations for drawing a fantasy map.  Now we’ll look at some geographical considerations. Remember Geography Having a basic sense of geography is important or your map won’t make sense.  Some of this is obvious but is still worth pointing out. Rivers For example, […]

1 comment

Should You Create Plants and Animals in Your Fantasy Setting?

When world building, I used to think there was no point in inventing animals and plants for a fantasy setting.  After all, they’re often just variations on real Earth animals, in which case, why bother?  For example, maybe you have a horse with an extra pair of legs, or a tomato that’s yellow and poisonous, […]

3 comments
Feb 212015
 

One of the fun aspects of fantasy world building is drawing maps. This blog provides some ideas to keep in mind and tools to help. Some of this is kind of obvious but worth mentioning anyway.

Where to Start

A good working unit is the continent.  Despite the term “world building,” fantasy authors usually write stories on a single continent.  Even if your story will take place in a smaller region, it helps to know what is around it.  You can add additional continents later.

Even with a continent as your working unit, you may want to start with a few settlements (villages, towns, or cities) and a forest, river/lake, and a mountain range to go with them.  If you start by drawing the entire continent edge, you might later regret it when trying to fill it in with land features that you might not have room for without changes.  A good strategy is to draw a single coastline near where you are starting, then work outward and around.

Art of World Building Banner

Keep a list of what you want to include, such as a desert, jungle, bays, cliffs, volcanoes, and anything else less common than the standard mountains, rivers, lakes, and forests.  You’ll want to make sure you leave a place for them.  Nearby islands can be added any time.

When creating a continent, there will always be many more things on it than you can actually draw, whether rivers, forests, or settlements, because it would look too crowded.   For example, a map of the United States, which isn’t even a whole continent, is so big that only the largest rivers are shown.

Which Hemisphere is It In?

Is your continent above, below, or overlapping the equator (and by how much)?  Or is it directly over the north pole?  This will help determine where a jungle, glaciers, swamp or deserts are likely to be, if they exist at all.  Obviously a glacier is toward the poles.  Jungles are often tropical.  A desert can be almost anywhere, really.

This may affect what areas are accessible by ship during winter.  If creating sea and land creatures, their typical range will be affected.  If you’ve lived in the northern hemisphere all your life but are creating a continent in the southern one, remember that colder areas are south, not north.  An expression like “heading south for the winter” would get reversed.

Settlements

Historically, people build near water to have a steady drinking supply, to dispose waste in, and for transporting goods.  The biggest cities tend to grow from a particularly useful spot on a river, lake, or by the ocean.  You can’t drink ocean water, of course, so such port settlements often have a river emptying into the ocean there, too.

River Danube

River Danube (Photo credit: Istvan)

Of course, you don’t have to explain to readers where everyone gets their water from, but if you plop a settlement near a water source but not right next to it, people will wonder why; similarly, the oldest part of your city will be the one next to the water.  The size of that water source will also help determine how large a settlement can grow.  Lakes and large rivers support more people than a stream.  Since you’re drawing major rivers, put cities and towns by them.

Remember that any city will have smaller towns nearby, and the towns will have villages near.  You don’t need to draw everything, however.  I typically skip villages altogether when drawing a continent-sized map.  It’s only for a close-up that I might add them.

Epilogue

In part 2 we’ll look at some basic geography considerations.

Related articles

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Without cities, towns, and villages, no fantasy world building project is complete.  In part 1, we’ll look at some things to consider.  Part 2 will be the template I use for creating a new settlement. Location, Location, Location No settlement stands alone.  A city has towns nearby, and towns have villages nearby.  However, when drawing […]

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How to Create Fantasy Races or Species, Part 2

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How to Draw a Fantasy Map, Part 1

One of the fun aspects of fantasy world building is drawing maps. This blog provides some ideas to keep in mind and tools to help. Some of this is kind of obvious but worth mentioning anyway. Where to Start A good working unit is the continent.  Despite the term “world building,” fantasy authors usually write […]

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In Part 1, we looked at where to start and basic continent considerations for drawing a fantasy map.  Now we’ll look at some geographical considerations. Remember Geography Having a basic sense of geography is important or your map won’t make sense.  Some of this is obvious but is still worth pointing out. Rivers For example, […]

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Feb 212015
 

In Part 1, we looked at where to start and basic continent considerations for drawing a fantasy map.  Now we’ll look at some geographical considerations.

Remember Geography

Having a basic sense of geography is important or your map won’t make sense.  Some of this is obvious but is still worth pointing out.

Rivers

For example, rivers flow downhill and generally toward the sea eventually.  Avoid randomly drawing rivers going in various directions without a mountain, rolling hills, or possibly a lake as a starting point.

Similarly, rivers often feed lakes, which typically drain out their lowest side as another river.

English: Map of the course, watershed, and maj...

English: Map of the course, watershed, and major tributaries of the Mississippi River. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Lakes form in a low area surrounded by higher areas, even if we’re only talking less than a hundred feet of difference, so where you choose to have the river exit the lake means that area is lower.  As you draw, you are implying the general rise and fall of the land in an area.

There will be many more rivers than the ones you put on the map, so when it comes to drawing the map, we’re talking about the big ones here, like the Mississippi River.

Mountains

For mountains, remember that they tend to form a rough line, such as east to west, because two tectonic plates are at odds with each other and those plates have an area of conflict at their edges.  Mountains appear above this.  A line of mountains can be very thick, as in 20 miles wide, but generally, they are still in a line, as opposed to a circle, for example.  You could have a mountain range that is 20 to 40 miles east to west but forms a rough line 500 miles north to south.  There are no mountain ranges that form a figure eight, for example, and while that would be interesting, it would also be ridiculous unless you have a good explanation.

Some mountains are volcanos and you can put an isolated mountain anywhere because of this, but they often aren’t isolated.  If you have a volcanic range, the same “line” idea tends to be true.  The Hawaiian Islands are a good example.

If you have two mountain ranges on your continent, each is probably being caused by different tectonic plate activity.  Both don’t need to be north to south, for example, but if they’re 90 degrees to each other (one is north-south, the other east-west), avoid putting them next to each other because nature doesn’t generally draw an L-shaped range.

Other Features

Forests are everywhere and are a kind of freebie in map drawing in that you can put one anywhere, in any shape.  They stand alone, have rivers cutting through them, and go up mountains and over rolling hills.  For that reason, consider drawing them last.

Grand Canyon, Arizona. The canyon, created by ...

Grand Canyon, Arizona. The canyon is 277 miles (446 km) long, 4 to 18 miles wide (6.4 to 24 kilometers), and attains a depth of more than a mile (1.6 km)

A desert is caused by lack of rainfall and/or water, so don’t draw a river and then put a desert around it, unless you’re modeling it on the Grand Canyon, where there’s only green vegetation at the bottom near the water.

Don’t forget roads, whether solid ones that stand the test of time or dotted lines indicating it’s a road less well-kept, maybe due to being farther away from civilization or because it goes somewhere hazardous; either way, it’s less well-traveled.

Drawing When You Can’t Draw

I can’t draw to save my life.  Fortunately, I don’t really need to.  In fact, being bad at drawing might help because we’re not trying to draw land features with straight edges – that’s not how nature works and it doesn’t look good on a map.  Embrace your inability and exaggerate it to form gently flowing edges to land features.

Initially, I typically don’t draw individual trees or mountains, just oddly-shaped ovals (or whatever shape) to indicate the boundary.  These shapes ultimately give your continent or region its character as they accumulate.  Don’t sweat over it at first, either, as making it more artistic is usually a matter of tweaking.  If you draw a rectangle with rounded corners and call it a forest, you can make it look less like that shape be extending a corner or two, or “cutting out” a section.  You basically want malformed shapes that seem sort of organic.

One tactic is to take an existing continent (or island) and try to draw it while purposely changing various things about the coastline so people don’t automatically think, “that’s Africa,” for example.  Turning them upside down or sideways helps.

Drawing By Hand

You may want to first sketch ideas on unlined paper, using a pencil so you can erase often, because it’s easier than getting into a computer program from the start.  One drawback is that if you like the result and want to digitize it later, you’ll have to redraw it with a mouse.  If you can actually draw for real, this may be your best bet because it looks authentic.

Map Generation Software
Lorynn Kingdom

Lorynn Kingdom

A quick internet search will turn up several options for drawing maps.  I’ve only used one (Campaign Cartographer), but one thing to keep in mind is to save your work often as you go along.  It’s also a good idea to save a new file each time so that you can go back to a previous incarnation.  Let’s say I’ve saved it ten times, after ten major changes.  Then I decide I don’t like the last three and wish I could go back to version 7.  That’s impossible if I’ve been overwriting the same file every time.

You’ll want to add lots of names, including kingdoms, settlements, and those of land features like forests and rivers.  I’ve found that I can include more names without the result being ugly if I use a different style or font for each type.  I usually did this in a separate program like Photoshop, but your map making software might allow it, too.

Epilogue

While some of these reminders are obvious, it’s easy to start drawing a map without thinking it through and end up with something nonsensical. If you have any tips, please add them in the comments, especially if you’ve used other map generation software.

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How to Draw a Fantasy Map, Part 2

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Feb 212015
 

In Part 1 we discussed the physical aspects of creating races in fantasy books. Part 2 covers the mental.  Now we’ll look at a downloadable template you can use as a starting point to aid your creative writing.

Download the PDF or Word template.

The Template

Fantasy Race/Species Name Here

Nicknames: “”

Famous For

General Description

Overall Appearance

Include voice, posture, impression, sleep and eating habits.

The Head

Eyes, brow, ears, chin, jaw, nose, lips, hair styles (and colors), tongue.  Heart-shaped, round, square.  Bearded?

The Body

Discuss height, stocky/thin, details on hands/feet, athleticism, stamina, strength, common ailments.  Can include clothing.

Special

Anything unique about them.

Gods

Which gods created them, influence them, or are worshiped by them?  How does this affect them?

Characteristics

Intelligence

Wisdom

Charisma

Strength

Constitution

Agility

Dexterity

Morale

Specific Accomplishments

Wars Won and Lost

Inventions and Discoveries

World View

Culture and Customs

Do they work every day?  Take lunch naps?  Includes marriage, death, challenges.

Society

Do they build cities?  Scavenge or farm and hunt?  Live in tribes?  Marriage?

Language

Do they have an oral or written language?  Which languages do they typically know?

Relations with Other Races

Humans

Race 1

Race 2

The Supernatural

Magic

Can they do it?  What kind, how powerful, what limits?

Habitat

Where a race lives determines many of their characteristics.

Terrain

Where do they originate from?  Land with rolling hills?  Mountains?  Plains?  Forests?  The sea?

Climate

Hot or cold?  Temperate?

Settlements (Towns/Cities)

Name important ones and develop them using my template for creating cities (check here for that blog: http://randyellefson.wordpress.com/blog-history/).

Homes

Where are they located?  In trees?  Underground?  Underwater?  How are they laid out and protected?

Styles & Materials

What are their homes made of?  Wood?  Brick?  Straw roofs?

Combat

Do they fight at all or run?  How do they fight?  With what weapons and armor?  Do they use cavalry, dragons?  Any typical battle formations?

Ecology

Mating, birth

Epilogue

This is the template I used when creating the seven original species for my main fantasy setting. Check the home page of this blog or my site for news of my first publications using them, probably in 2015. In the meantime, good luck!

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How to Create Fantasy Races or Species, Part 2

In part 1, we looked at some physical considerations when creating races in fantasy books, while building your own world. Now we’ll look at some mental aspects. Mental Considerations Worldview When I watch alien species/races on TV or see them in print, more often than not, I feel like they’re just humans in costume, for […]

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In Part 1 we discussed the physical aspects of creating races in fantasy books. Part 2 covers the mental.  Now we’ll look at a downloadable template you can use as a starting point to aid your creative writing. Download the PDF or Word template. The Template Fantasy Race/Species Name Here Nicknames: “” Famous For General […]

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1 comment

How to Draw a Fantasy Map, Part 1

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In Part 1, we looked at where to start and basic continent considerations for drawing a fantasy map.  Now we’ll look at some geographical considerations. Remember Geography Having a basic sense of geography is important or your map won’t make sense.  Some of this is obvious but is still worth pointing out. Rivers For example, […]

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Feb 212015
 

In part 1, we looked at some physical considerations when creating races in fantasy books, while building your own world. Now we’ll look at some mental aspects.

Mental Considerations
Worldview

When I watch alien species/races on TV or see them in print, more often than not, I feel like they’re just humans in costume, for example.  They react to things just like humans would.  I don’t find that realistic.  It’s poor concept and lazy writing.  If you don’t want to think about how another race would react to things, then just use humans for everything!  Even humans in one part of Earth would react differently to many things, so different races (especially if from another planet) absolutely would.

Vulcan (Star Trek)

Vulcan (Star Trek) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

A good example from sci-fi is Vulcans from Star TrekSpock often reacts differently to events, from his expressions to what he actually says, both revealing a worldview different from humans.  His calm gets him accused of indifference.  His overly intellectual responses, devoid of emotion, get him called arrogant.  This name-calling reveals misunderstanding and a conflict between him and humans, not to mention flaws in humanity.  This is good stuff.

Pay special attention to mindset when creating races in fantasy.  You can start by using their habitat.  For example, a water-dwelling species likely has less contact with other species and could be more (or less) innocent or trusting. This is also true of a race predominantly underground.  A flying race likely has more contact with everyone and is very social, maybe acting as messengers or scouts in human society.

This brings up another issue – how they behave amongst their own kind and how they fit into another society.  It can be more fun to start with how you’re going to use them in human society and your stories, but don’t overlook their own society.  Taking the aerial messenger idea – if the entire race flies, then in their own society, they aren’t all going to be messengers, so it’s not realistic that only the messengers among them are in human society.

Capabilities

Some questions to ask yourself are below:

  1. Is your race intellectual?
  2. Educated?
  3. Wise?
  4. Do they read and write?
  5. Do they have their own language?
  6. Can they speak/read/write other languages
Human Relations

A well done fantasy race can allow the author to make commentary about humans, which in turn helps your reader relate to your work.  A classic example is that elves are depicted as immortal or with life spans over 1000 years, and since they have “all the time in the world”, take their time.  By contrast, they think humans are in a rush (often true), so many authors have used elves to comment on this aspect of humans.  This is good writing (though now a cliché).

You can craft your race to highlight us.  Feel we’re dishonest?  Make your race honest.  Think we jump to conclusions?  Make your race slow and deliberate in its evaluations to the point that it bugs humans.  If you think humans are faithful to gods, create a race that is quick to turn its back on gods if not answered, making us look good by comparison.  Maybe your race doesn’t understand the concept of property and just takes other people’s stuff like it’s no big deal and we accuse them of being thieves.

Inter-Race Relations

If you invented two or more fantsy races, think about how your invented races get along with each other (and humans).  Are they enemies?  Friends?  Why?  Are their legendary battles or animosities?  Treaties?  Are they “friends” now but some among them have bad blood?

Every race should have opinions and prejudice about others, and humans should feel or think something stereotypical about every race you create.  There should be classic misunderstandings.  And some of your characters should exemplify these ideas while others rise above them.  It adds conflict and dimension to your creations and writing.  You can start by taking real life examples from Earth and adapting them.

Art of World Building Banner

 

 “Not” Races

When creating my species, I didn’t want to be influenced by the work of others.  However, to truly avoid influence, one must be free to do things that are like those creations, too.  If you restrict yourself to not being like them, you’re still being influenced.

For example, if I want a fantasy race to have pointed ears and live in forests, then I’ll do so despite the fact that elves are like this.  If I refuse to do it due to the similarity, I’m being influenced.

I think of this as “not” races.  I didn’t want to create “not” elves – a humanoid race living in big trees that do not have pointed ears, do not have slanted eyes, and do not live long lives.  I wanted to create a humanoid race living in big trees that looked like however I wanted them to look, if I thought it made sense based on habitat, biology, and worldview and the resulting behaviors.  If it made sense for them to have pointed ears and slanted eyes, then so be it, even though elves are like that.  Fortunately, it did not make sense.  There’s no habitat-based reason I can see for that happening, so I didn’t do it.  No one will say my species are just elves with another name because they’re not.

On the other hand, I have a species living under mountains.  It makes sense that such a species is small – you know, like dwarves, who also live there.  Why?  Because in addition to whatever natural caves and tunnels they’d find, they will create more, and that’s hard work cutting all that stone by hand.  They wouldn’t make spaces any larger than needed.  The habitat would slowly affect their height and even upper body strength (all that hammer swinging), making the species resemble dwarves.  Similarly, it is generally cold down there (aside from when they’re near natural heat sources like magma) and beards make sense to keep the face warm.

Part 3

The final section will show a template you can use for creating races in fantasy books.

Related articles

Creating a Fantasy City, Part 1

Without cities, towns, and villages, no fantasy world building project is complete.  In part 1, we’ll look at some things to consider.  Part 2 will be the template I use for creating a new settlement. Location, Location, Location No settlement stands alone.  A city has towns nearby, and towns have villages nearby.  However, when drawing […]

5 comments

Creating a Fantasy City, Part 2

Below is the template I use when creating a fantasy city during world building.  Feel free to adapt it your purposes. You can read Part 1 here. Download the PDF or Word template. City/Town Name General Alliances Independent city or part of a kingdom?  Allies? Identification Symbol and Banner: City Colors: Slogans: Famous For What […]

0 comments

Creating Fantasy Names For Your Fiction Stories

Depending on your ability, creating names for people, places, and beings in fantasy books can either be fun or a pain.  I’ve been doing this for three decades and will provide some tricks and thoughts to help. KISS KISS doesn’t really stand for “keep it simple, stupid”, but it’s a good principle to follow when […]

2 comments

Fantasy Species vs. Race?

What’s the difference between “race” and “species” and when should you use what in your fantasy settings?  I’ve taken a look into this myself and made the right choice for me.  Read on for ideas on making the right choice for you. Race What’s a race?  The answer can be complicated (but interesting reading), but […]

4 comments

How to Create Fantasy Races or Species, Part 1

In this three part series, we’ll look at creating races in fantasy books. This entry focuses on the physical considerations, while Part 2 will discuss the mental ones. Part 3 includes a downloadable template you can use. While using the standard elves, dwarves, dragons, and other usual suspects in fantasy fiction is fine, and maybe […]

0 comments

How to Create Fantasy Races or Species, Part 2

In part 1, we looked at some physical considerations when creating races in fantasy books, while building your own world. Now we’ll look at some mental aspects. Mental Considerations Worldview When I watch alien species/races on TV or see them in print, more often than not, I feel like they’re just humans in costume, for […]

0 comments

How to Create Fantasy Races or Species, Part 3

In Part 1 we discussed the physical aspects of creating races in fantasy books. Part 2 covers the mental.  Now we’ll look at a downloadable template you can use as a starting point to aid your creative writing. Download the PDF or Word template. The Template Fantasy Race/Species Name Here Nicknames: “” Famous For General […]

0 comments

How to Create Plants and Animals for Your Fantasy Setting

In another blog, I discussed whether you should create plants and animals for your fantasy setting.  Assuming you’ve decided to do it, here are tips for doing so. New Ideas If you already have ideas, you can just write them up according to a template like the one I’ve provided here: The Template Animal/Plant Name: […]

1 comment

How to Draw a Fantasy Map, Part 1

One of the fun aspects of fantasy world building is drawing maps. This blog provides some ideas to keep in mind and tools to help. Some of this is kind of obvious but worth mentioning anyway. Where to Start A good working unit is the continent.  Despite the term “world building,” fantasy authors usually write […]

3 comments

How to Draw a Fantasy Map, Part 2

In Part 1, we looked at where to start and basic continent considerations for drawing a fantasy map.  Now we’ll look at some geographical considerations. Remember Geography Having a basic sense of geography is important or your map won’t make sense.  Some of this is obvious but is still worth pointing out. Rivers For example, […]

1 comment

Should You Create Plants and Animals in Your Fantasy Setting?

When world building, I used to think there was no point in inventing animals and plants for a fantasy setting.  After all, they’re often just variations on real Earth animals, in which case, why bother?  For example, maybe you have a horse with an extra pair of legs, or a tomato that’s yellow and poisonous, […]

3 comments
Feb 212015
 

In this three part series, we’ll look at creating races in fantasy books. This entry focuses on the physical considerations, while Part 2 will discuss the mental ones. Part 3 includes a downloadable template you can use.

While using the standard elves, dwarves, dragons, and other usual suspects in fantasy fiction is fine, and maybe even a wise idea, authors sometimes want to create their own races.  As someone who’s created seven species (I use that term instead), I’ve listed some considerations that may help you do the same.

If you’re trying to decide between calling them races or species, another blog may help you.

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Physical Considerations

One thing to keep in mind is whether any fantasy race will be able to masquerade as another. A giant spider can’t put on a cloak and sneak into a city as if it’s a human.  Less extremely, a seven foot can’t do this as if they’re a three foot one; two three foot tall ones can climb on top of each other and possibly imitate the taller one, but you get the idea.

Humanoid?

There’s a tendency to create races that are humanoid, like elves and dwarves, instead of spider-like, for example.  Humanoid species are fairly close to our own and we don’t have to figure out things like what they eat, how often they sleep, and other biological basics.  They mingle well with humans, being able to live in similar buildings, use horses, and need fewer unusual physical things.

Would a giant spider sleep in a bed, or eat with utensils, or consume the same food?  How would one travel if not on foot?  Such considerations might be needed if you go this route.  It could make things interesting in a hurry.

Chewie as shown in Star Wars

Chewie as shown in Star Wars (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

With a non-humanoid, the “weirdness” factor rises, so sometimes creators stick to only one for a prominent character, like Star Wars, where there’s only one wookie, Chewbacca.  Non-humanoids arguably work better in a visual media (film and TV) because we don’t have to keep reminding the reader what they look like.

If you’re building a world for many fantasy books and stories, you’ll have more stories to explore and show what they’re like, but if they’ve made your books weird, the weirdness can also be a turnoff.  If your world, and this race, will only be used once, being experimental is less of a risk.

The Body

Building a fantasy race starting at the body makes sense from an anthropological stance; our bodies come before our minds and habitat influences everything, especially physical features.  A water-dwelling race likely has gills and maybe webbed toes, even fins.  Something living in smaller trees likely climbs well, has an unusually strong grip, and might have a tail to help.  If living in giant trees whose branches can be walked on casually, like in Avatar, then maybe not

The race’s skin color might be affected, too, if camouflage from predators matters.  If they have little to fear, then perhaps the race is colorful in the manner of tropical birds.

Overall size and mass can help determine other aspects of your race, like strength, endurance, and capabilities.  Enemies and allies will be also affected. For example, if your race is three feet tall, does it just run away from something over six feet tall, or do they swarm?

Have a fairly complete description ready to go even if you’ll seldom use more than a few lines of it at once (to avoid too much exposition).  People sometimes prefer having a basic idea, not being killed with detail.  As they read on, they’ll likely form their own slightly different picture anyway.

The Head

You don’t need me to tell you that pointed ears, slanted eyes, hair styles, round or square faces, pointed or bulbous noses, square jaws and chins, and brow prominence are just a few of the facial features you can manipulate.  Try to have a decent idea before you just throw them together.  Delicate or blunt features tend to go together.  You don’t want it to seem like a mishmash that would look ridiculous if someone drew it, unless being weird is your thing.

It can be helpful to start with a known species and begin imagining variations.

Part 2

In Part 2, we’ll look at the mental aspects of creating races in fantasy books, including worldview and inter-race relations.

Creating a Fantasy City, Part 1

Without cities, towns, and villages, no fantasy world building project is complete.  In part 1, we’ll look at some things to consider.  Part 2 will be the template I use for creating a new settlement. Location, Location, Location No settlement stands alone.  A city has towns nearby, and towns have villages nearby.  However, when drawing […]

5 comments

Creating a Fantasy City, Part 2

Below is the template I use when creating a fantasy city during world building.  Feel free to adapt it your purposes. You can read Part 1 here. Download the PDF or Word template. City/Town Name General Alliances Independent city or part of a kingdom?  Allies? Identification Symbol and Banner: City Colors: Slogans: Famous For What […]

0 comments

Creating Fantasy Names For Your Fiction Stories

Depending on your ability, creating names for people, places, and beings in fantasy books can either be fun or a pain.  I’ve been doing this for three decades and will provide some tricks and thoughts to help. KISS KISS doesn’t really stand for “keep it simple, stupid”, but it’s a good principle to follow when […]

2 comments

Fantasy Species vs. Race?

What’s the difference between “race” and “species” and when should you use what in your fantasy settings?  I’ve taken a look into this myself and made the right choice for me.  Read on for ideas on making the right choice for you. Race What’s a race?  The answer can be complicated (but interesting reading), but […]

4 comments

How to Create Fantasy Races or Species, Part 1

In this three part series, we’ll look at creating races in fantasy books. This entry focuses on the physical considerations, while Part 2 will discuss the mental ones. Part 3 includes a downloadable template you can use. While using the standard elves, dwarves, dragons, and other usual suspects in fantasy fiction is fine, and maybe […]

0 comments

How to Create Fantasy Races or Species, Part 2

In part 1, we looked at some physical considerations when creating races in fantasy books, while building your own world. Now we’ll look at some mental aspects. Mental Considerations Worldview When I watch alien species/races on TV or see them in print, more often than not, I feel like they’re just humans in costume, for […]

0 comments

How to Create Fantasy Races or Species, Part 3

In Part 1 we discussed the physical aspects of creating races in fantasy books. Part 2 covers the mental.  Now we’ll look at a downloadable template you can use as a starting point to aid your creative writing. Download the PDF or Word template. The Template Fantasy Race/Species Name Here Nicknames: “” Famous For General […]

0 comments

How to Create Plants and Animals for Your Fantasy Setting

In another blog, I discussed whether you should create plants and animals for your fantasy setting.  Assuming you’ve decided to do it, here are tips for doing so. New Ideas If you already have ideas, you can just write them up according to a template like the one I’ve provided here: The Template Animal/Plant Name: […]

1 comment

How to Draw a Fantasy Map, Part 1

One of the fun aspects of fantasy world building is drawing maps. This blog provides some ideas to keep in mind and tools to help. Some of this is kind of obvious but worth mentioning anyway. Where to Start A good working unit is the continent.  Despite the term “world building,” fantasy authors usually write […]

3 comments

How to Draw a Fantasy Map, Part 2

In Part 1, we looked at where to start and basic continent considerations for drawing a fantasy map.  Now we’ll look at some geographical considerations. Remember Geography Having a basic sense of geography is important or your map won’t make sense.  Some of this is obvious but is still worth pointing out. Rivers For example, […]

1 comment

Should You Create Plants and Animals in Your Fantasy Setting?

When world building, I used to think there was no point in inventing animals and plants for a fantasy setting.  After all, they’re often just variations on real Earth animals, in which case, why bother?  For example, maybe you have a horse with an extra pair of legs, or a tomato that’s yellow and poisonous, […]

3 comments
Feb 212015
 

Depending on your ability, creating names for people, places, and beings in fantasy books can either be fun or a pain.  I’ve been doing this for three decades and will provide some tricks and thoughts to help.

KISS

castleKISS doesn’t really stand for “keep it simple, stupid”, but it’s a good principle to follow when building your own world and inventing names.  Unpronounceable names or ones with a billion syllables are not great.  As a general rule, the fewer syllables, the better, because many people have trouble pronouncing even slightly unusual Earth names if they haven’t heard them before – I can’t tell you how many people first try to pronounce my last name, Ellefson, as “Ell-ef-a-sore” instead of saying it like the letters “L”, “F”, and then “son”. Sometimes they blatantly stumble, trying 2-3 times before I say it for them, at which point they’re clearly relieved and emphatically say , “Thank you!” Imagine how they’ll do with crazy fantasy names.

If people want to talk about your characters, they’ll be turned off if they can’t spell anything (when tweeting, writing in forums, or whatever) or say it (at conventions, to friends, or wherever).  If you’re trying to kill conversation about your fantasy books, being obnoxious with names is a good start.

If you want your characters  or places to be memorable, choosing a good name, not a terrible one, will help. This is also true of any invented races in fantasy.

Appearance and Sound

I always pay attention to both the appearance of the word and ease of pronunciation (granted some will get it “wrong”, but as long as they think they’ve got it, that’s good enough).   Books are not really considered a visual medium, but the look of a word matters for style.  Adding silent letters can help with this while not interfering with pronunciation.

Adding Silent Letters

Taking a simple or even known word and adding silent letters is a simple trick.  “H” is great for this.  Galen becomes Ghalen.  Add an extra “l” to create Gallen.  An extra “n” makes it Galenn.

Vowel Substitution, Addition, or Subtraction

Vowels can be changed, added, or subtracted to/from existing words.  An extra vowel gets you Gaalen, though that can change your intended pronunciation, especially if you added another “e” in a different place to get Galeen.  Maybe Gaelen is better.  Or Galan.

Swapping a “y” for an “i” is one way to give familiar words and names a more exotic look of another world.  This works with other letters, too, like “y” for “e”.  Galen becomes Galyn.

Capitalize Another Letter

You can always capitalize other letters in the words, but try to stick with a total of two.  This works better in longer words, like GaLendria.  That might work better with an apostrophe, such as Ga’Lendria.

Castle2Switching First Letters

Sometimes I take known words and change the first letter.  Woman becomes Soman.  This computer I’m working on is a Dell.  So now I have Kell, or Xell.  Stare at your keyboard while doing this.  It helps.

Add Suffixes or Prefixes

Adding a one syllable suffix to the end of a word helps add style.  Galen now becomes Galenor.  Or maybe Galenda, which is almost my neighbor’s first name, Glenda (a vowel subtraction).

A prefix could create Dagalen, though that no longer looks like a prefix, but so what?  If you used a hyphen or apostrophe, then you get Da-Galen or Da’Galen.

Breaking Known Words Up

This is a bit harder, but sometimes I look at words on products around me and steal a syllable or two, maybe change some letter while I’m at it.  As I type this, “Galen” is on a product, which is how that got chosen.  So is “solutions”, which I can turn into “Lucion”.  This often produces very good names and is the most fun to me.

Avoid Too Much Weird Stuff

Doing things that are weird can immediately create a sense of style, but if that style is annoying, that’s not helping you.  This includes too many consonant together, like Ghlnalenkm. Try to avoid too many hyphens or apostrophes, too, even if you’re creating a region where everyone’s name is like that (this makes that easier to get away with).

Foreign Languages

I’ve often created names that look like those of other languages without realizing it.  Apparently I have a thing for Scandinavian names, so I sometimes google those names and just take them or start from there.

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Be Consistent, Just Not Too Much

Be somewhat consistent with names to create a sense of realism, especially when creating places in a region, or a group of characters from the same region. If you have one – and only one – name with a hyphen, for example, it will stand out.  In a way, that’s good, but it really just seems like you haven’t thought through any sort of naming convention.  If you find yourself tempted to explain that one name to your reader, that’s a bad sign.  If you really like it, be sure to create a few more like it and mention them instead of writing something like, “His name was hyphenated like many people in his region”, which is both lame and lazy.

One way to create a region’s naming style is to choose a few things and use them quite a few times.  For example, the suffix “or” for Galenor and Ravenor, or the “ae” combo for Laeryn and Novinae.  Then create a place with both: Daelinor.  And then add one that has none of those.  An exception is okay.

Combos

To create the naming style of your fantasy world when building a world, start combining some of these ideas and you’ll find a fun new hobby that elevates your fiction above the fray.

Name Generators

There are a number of fantasy name generators available on the internet, usually for free.  Personally, I don’t use these, finding the names to lack a consistent style and sometimes be lame, too.  Besides, it feels cheap.  Maybe I can find a “novel generator” too and let it write my book for me while I collect the royalties.

But don’t let my opinion stop you if you really want to do it.  Here are a few to try:

Steal a Name

FrodoYou didn’t really see me write that.

But seriously, do you know how many manuscripts are written every year?  Far fewer are published, but if you consider how many names of people, places, and whatever are needed for a single book, the odds of any author coming up with a name no one has ever done before, or ever will again, are pretty much zero.  No one will know.  Just don’t make a habit of it.  And don’t take the entire name if they have a surname, too.  If you can, change something.

If the name is famous, think twice about this.  You won’t get away with a guy named “Conan”, “Raistlin”, or “Frodo”.

Epilogue

Using a little ingenuity and some techniques, name generation can be a ton of fun.  Sometimes I get on a roll and just go with it, keeping a list somewhere so I can grab a name when I need it. As for “Galen”, I just used it for a prince, so go get your own names!

Creating a Fantasy City, Part 1

Without cities, towns, and villages, no fantasy world building project is complete.  In part 1, we’ll look at some things to consider.  Part 2 will be the template I use for creating a new settlement. Location, Location, Location No settlement stands alone.  A city has towns nearby, and towns have villages nearby.  However, when drawing […]

5 comments

Creating a Fantasy City, Part 2

Below is the template I use when creating a fantasy city during world building.  Feel free to adapt it your purposes. You can read Part 1 here. Download the PDF or Word template. City/Town Name General Alliances Independent city or part of a kingdom?  Allies? Identification Symbol and Banner: City Colors: Slogans: Famous For What […]

0 comments

Creating Fantasy Names For Your Fiction Stories

Depending on your ability, creating names for people, places, and beings in fantasy books can either be fun or a pain.  I’ve been doing this for three decades and will provide some tricks and thoughts to help. KISS KISS doesn’t really stand for “keep it simple, stupid”, but it’s a good principle to follow when […]

2 comments

Fantasy Species vs. Race?

What’s the difference between “race” and “species” and when should you use what in your fantasy settings?  I’ve taken a look into this myself and made the right choice for me.  Read on for ideas on making the right choice for you. Race What’s a race?  The answer can be complicated (but interesting reading), but […]

4 comments

How to Create Fantasy Races or Species, Part 1

In this three part series, we’ll look at creating races in fantasy books. This entry focuses on the physical considerations, while Part 2 will discuss the mental ones. Part 3 includes a downloadable template you can use. While using the standard elves, dwarves, dragons, and other usual suspects in fantasy fiction is fine, and maybe […]

0 comments

How to Create Fantasy Races or Species, Part 2

In part 1, we looked at some physical considerations when creating races in fantasy books, while building your own world. Now we’ll look at some mental aspects. Mental Considerations Worldview When I watch alien species/races on TV or see them in print, more often than not, I feel like they’re just humans in costume, for […]

0 comments

How to Create Fantasy Races or Species, Part 3

In Part 1 we discussed the physical aspects of creating races in fantasy books. Part 2 covers the mental.  Now we’ll look at a downloadable template you can use as a starting point to aid your creative writing. Download the PDF or Word template. The Template Fantasy Race/Species Name Here Nicknames: “” Famous For General […]

0 comments

How to Create Plants and Animals for Your Fantasy Setting

In another blog, I discussed whether you should create plants and animals for your fantasy setting.  Assuming you’ve decided to do it, here are tips for doing so. New Ideas If you already have ideas, you can just write them up according to a template like the one I’ve provided here: The Template Animal/Plant Name: […]

1 comment

How to Draw a Fantasy Map, Part 1

One of the fun aspects of fantasy world building is drawing maps. This blog provides some ideas to keep in mind and tools to help. Some of this is kind of obvious but worth mentioning anyway. Where to Start A good working unit is the continent.  Despite the term “world building,” fantasy authors usually write […]

3 comments

How to Draw a Fantasy Map, Part 2

In Part 1, we looked at where to start and basic continent considerations for drawing a fantasy map.  Now we’ll look at some geographical considerations. Remember Geography Having a basic sense of geography is important or your map won’t make sense.  Some of this is obvious but is still worth pointing out. Rivers For example, […]

1 comment

Should You Create Plants and Animals in Your Fantasy Setting?

When world building, I used to think there was no point in inventing animals and plants for a fantasy setting.  After all, they’re often just variations on real Earth animals, in which case, why bother?  For example, maybe you have a horse with an extra pair of legs, or a tomato that’s yellow and poisonous, […]

3 comments
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