Creating New Races in Fantasy Fiction
Using Classic Fantasy Races in Fiction
All fantasy fiction fans recognize the standard races that make up the genre. Humans, dwarves and elves top the list, with orcs, goblins, and various halflings coming next. Others include giants, centaurs, mermaids and fairies.
These classic fantasy races come from myth and legend of long ago, but are also represented in modern books and movies. They are easily recognizable and comfortable to fantasy fans.
There is nothing wrong with using them to populate your fantasy fiction book.
Creating new races for fantasy fiction can be enjoyable, however, and add a depth of uniqueness and interest to your work. Just as elves, dwarves and orcs have specific histories and niches, so must any new race you devise.
What Does a New Fantasy Race Need?
Every new race or creature you create for fiction must do three important things:
- Occur naturally (or unnaturally) for a reason
- Have common traits within the species
- Fill a niche in the fantasy world
If you look at any of the standard fantasy races listed above, you can see these three rules are followed. For example, depending on the tale, elves may come from natural magic or fae worlds, all have pointy ears and ethereal beauty and play the role of wise mystics in your tale.
The race of beings you create for your fantasy fiction must do these things as well. There must be a reason why they are in the world.
There also must be a reason why they are not another race. Making a new race and giving them all the same qualities as humans, or the commonly accepted traits as one of the usual fantasy races, will make a new one unnecessary. If you create blorgan as short, stout humanoids with long beards, a love of ale and axes, and a propensity for mining and greed, readers will wonder why you just didn't call them dwarves.
3 Dimensional Fantasy Races
Elves, described above, are naturally magical, pointy eared mystics. If that is all they are, however, the use of them in any fantasy fiction would be cardboard, or flat. A good writer prevents his fantasy races from being cliché or commonplace by giving them depth.
How do you create a 3 dimensional fantasy race?
Besides a reason for existing, common traits and a niche in the world, races need much more in order to be living parts of your imaginary world.
- Society structures of hierarchies
- Common attitudes
- Opinions about other races
- Laws or rules
This list covers some really large topics and, if a member of your fantasy race simply comes along on a quest, you won't need to fabricate an entire cultural history or language. All these things can, and will, make your new race more believable and more comfortable for readers.
Let's Create a Fantasy Race
An example of a created fantasy race can give a better idea about what each needs to be represented successfully in a novel or short story.
Let's call our fantasy race the Blorgans.
The first step in creating a fully-fleshed-out race, is to decide what you need them for and their general traits. In most cases, form follows function. If you want a Blorgan warrior to accompany your hero on his quest, Blorgans must be able to travel, communicate and assist the hero in some way.
So, Blorgans are vaguely humanoid. Let's make them short and stocky with large, leathery wings they keep tucked in a skin-covered bump on their backs.
Their form follows their function in the story. Short, strong humanoids with wings would make good fighters and scouts for a journey.
Making the Blorgans 3 Dimensional
If we leave the blorgan as just some short guy with wings, his character could be turned into a human, elf or dwarf easily with not much editing. While they can't fly, they can still fight and scout.
When creating a new fantasy race, it is important to have a reason for that fantasy race. It must be important than the character is a blorgan and not an elf. Blorgans must be important in your world in some way.
That is where the things listed above come in: history, society, culture and common attitudes.
If blorgans come from a militaristic society rules by a despot king, they will act and react much differently than if they come from an agrarian society rules by a committee of the best yam farmers. Blorgans enjoying blood sports for recreation will be much different than if they are the master weavers of the fantasy world.
Creating culture and even religion for new fantasy races adds more depth to the characters. Although there is no need to fabricate an entire language, a la Tolkien, adding in a few key phrases, especially if you have to blorgans talking to each other, can add verisimilitude to your new fantasy race.
How Background Creates Behavior
As mentioned above, a military-ruled blorgan will act differently from a farmland blorgan. Culture leads to behavior. It also creates a more in-depth character that readers can relate to.
For an example, let's say blorgans live in a hot climate where farming cotton and flax is very prevalent. They are also excellent hunters, working from the air against predators with bows and spears. The government is run by the elders, who decide disputes. Instead of a code of law, they use wisdom to determine who is right or wrong in each case. Corporal punishment is common. They have noisy ceremonies to the spirits of the wind and rain every full moon.
Family life for the blorgans is male-dominated, with the multiple wives subservient but not downtrodden. A woman's worth is judged by her skill in weaving and needlework. They are, in general, a congenial folk with lots of singing and drinking of fermented fruit juice.
With that information, it is easier to know how a blorgan will react in certain situations.
- A blorgan on a quest will most likely have a spear or bow
- He will be able and willing to fly to scout or travel
- He would submit to a wise leader's decisions
- He may look on strong women in the group with some discomfort or confusion
- Songs or full-moon prayers might be a part of his regular habits
- He may be especially uncomfortable in the cold
Another important question to ask is why a blorgan would end up on a quest to begin with. Outcasts do not have to follow all the 'rules' of their former society, but some mores will still be ingrained.