Poppy is the author of "A Bard's Lament" and the Black Diamond series. She lives in Enoshima, Japan, with her husband and young son.
Creating Your Own Fictional Race
Creating anything fictional is a challenge, especially with world-building. You have to make sure that everything is plausible while being original, exciting while holding enough detail, and interesting without being confusing.
If you're writing fantasy, science-fiction, or any story in a made-up land or that features a new type of race or species, it's essential to develop these in detail, possibly before you even start writing the first draft. Here's a guide on things to consider when creating your own original race and how to do it in bite-sized pieces so you don't get overwhelmed.
Is your new race humanoid? Four-legged? Furry, scaled, similar to an animal? These are essential things you have to decide while creating your new race. Of course, if you're writing sci-fi set in far-off galaxies, the answer to this will be different to if you're writing a high fantasy set in medieval times.
Other things to consider when creating your new race's appearance include:
- Sub-species. Are they all the same colour/pattern/shape, or do they come in different types?
- Tribes, groups, and clans. Are they a united people, or have they split into different groups?
- Do they have horns, tails, scales, or fur? Or are they similar to humans?
- Height, weight, muscle strength. Are they similar to humans in size and strength, or are they ten feet tall?
What kinds of foods does your new race eat? Some things to think about:
- Carnivores, herbivores, or omnivores? Does your race hunt local animals? Or are they farmers who grow crops? Perhaps both?
- How about alcohol? Do they have wine, ale, beer, or rice wine, or does alcohol not exist in their world?
- Do they have tea? Tea and coffee is huge for many cultures across the world, so why not brew a leaf or herb-based drink for your new culture, too?
- What kinds of flavors do they have in their food? Does this race love spicy food, have a sweet tooth, or do they eat purely for nourishment and aren't open to exploring flavors at all?
- What about cannibalism? Or any kind of creepy, crazy, or unusual food customs that would spruce up your new race?
Not everything has to be mentioned in the story itself, but creating a rich backstory, even just for food, makes your creation that much more interesting.
All cultures and peoples have a history. You don't need to write thousands of years' worth of historical background, but starting with a basic outline of your race's history gives them a place in your fictional world and provides relevant context for the story. Here are some things to brainstorm:
- Wars, whether current or in the past. Who have they warred with? A neighboring or nearby race? Each other? Why? Is the conflict over now? If not, why not, and if so, how are relations now?
- Arrival to their homeland. Has this race been here since history began, or did they migrate from elsewhere? Did they conquer or come peacefully? Are they a product of breeding with locals or are they a "pure" race?
- Hardships. Have they ever suffered a significant natural disaster, such as a fire that wiped out a lot of their culture? How about famine? Invasion? Has it made them stronger or are they a weakened culture?
- Relations with other races. Have they been at war with others, or are they generally peaceful? Do they have trade routes with other cities/planets/lands, or are they wholly self-sufficient? How does this effect their attitudes to your main characters?
Your characters and races all need somewhere to live, and your rband new race/species is no exception! Think about the following to develop your race's homeland.
- Mountains, sea, swamp, desert, or city? This all depends on the general setting of your book. When thinking about your race's home, consider what kind of environment they live in.
- How their home affects them and their story. Are their problems on their planet/in their environment that will be addressed in the book? How does their home affect the local wildlife (and therefore their diet)?
Think about the hierarchy of your race. Chances are there will be a leader and perhaps sub-leaders (such as mayors, lords, etc.) This will also help you flesh out locations and who your main character will need to speak to when dealing with this race.
- Is there a Royal Family or a government, or perhaps both? Your race can have the classic bloodline-decided king and queen, or a more modern government-style organization that's in charge of the people.
- Are there smaller clumps of people who have their own leaders? If so, what is their role?
- Is there a rebellion or resistance against the people in charge, or are people generally happy with the balance of power?
6. Weaponry (If Applicable)
It makes sense that your race will have some sort of army, assuming there is drama and/or fighting in your book.
- Does this race use swords, bows, guns, spears, or a combination of all the above? Maybe they use a brand new kind of weapon your main character has never seen before?
- If the race has a history of war, their army and navy will be stronger. If they're generally peaceful, they won't have as much experience fighting and won't be as strong.
- How about armor? Long-range weapons? Beasts of burden on which to fight?
Most races have some sort of belief system, though this can be as detailed or as vague as you want.
- Is there a god/goddess? How about several of each? Does your race believe in one almighty being or is there a group of holy deities?
- Holy buildings. Do they have churches, mosques, or other kinds of holy places?
- Sacred lands and forbidden places. Has superstition or worship caused some places to be inaccessible to your main character?
- People of power. Religion holds power, so are there characters involved in the religion who hold control over others because of their position (such as monks, priests, or other religious leaders?)
- Holy books or items. Is there a Bible, holy amulets, or other sacred possessions?
- Are there different sects? You could weave this into your race's history; have people feuded over their religion, or perhaps several?
- How seriously does your race take its religion? Does the religion of these people affect everything in their daily lives, or is it more of an old-fashioned thing that the younger generation doesn't pay much attention to?
- Prayers, sayings, and curses. This is a great opportunity to make up some phrases for your book. Instead of saying, "Thank God," a character could say "Thank the Light Goddess" (whatever is relevant). They could also take a god or goddess's name in vain if they're to curse!
Your race will probably have their own language, or at least dialect, in your world. This will depend, of course, on whether they're from an entirely different country or planet or not. here are some things to consider.
- Do they speak a "common" language to easily communicate with others (including your main character)? If so, how do they know this language (from trade routes or emigration, perhaps?)
- Do they have their own language? If so, what is it like? Does it flow, grunt, snarl?
If it's the latter, make up some words. Don't get too caught up in linguistics or creating entirely new languages (most readers won't care about the small details), but make up some basic words they can utter in the story.
How to Keep Track of Details
Be sure to keep all the details about your race in one place. If you've found a way that works for you, that's great. However, if you're struggling to keep all your notes organized, I recommend either a Microsoft Word file, an Excel sheet (fantastic for organizing your details, especially if you're developing multiple races and characters at once), or on classic pen and paper if you prefer.
Write down everything, and if details change, make sure they change everywhere! The last thing you want to happen is to begin your story and end up confused (with different details in your outline than in the story itself).
When creating your race, you want it to be as detailed as possible. Bear in mind not everything will be included in the story (and avoid the dreaded "info-dumping" where you include irrelevant details for no reason), but having a deep understanding of your world brings it to life.
Don't pressure yourself to answer every single question on this list; they're simply there to ignite your imagination!
This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.
© 2021 Poppy