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

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.


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.

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 “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.

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