CRITTERS IN YOUR FANTASY WORLD
I know many of you aren’t fantasy writers. This article will probably make your eyes glaze over. However, if you ever decide to one day take up the genre, maybe it’ll help you in some way. For those of you that are already entrenched in the subject, if this isn’t old hat and even if it is, read on.
For some sub-genres of fantasy, there are no critters (or icky bugs) in the story. In the intrigue style of fantasy, the story is all about people. The only difference is it’s set in a medieval type world which could be a different planet or our same basic Earth, for that matter, just in a fictional world. What might make it fantasy are a few mystical trappings rather than something overt. No need for monsters and mayhem.
For most other sub-genres at least some critters are to be found. Whether they’re the standard unicorns of Greek mythology, Elves, Dwarves or Orcs of Tolkein, or more exotic beasts out of the D&D Monster Manual, these icky bugs come from somewhere.
Some would argue that to make your world your own, you should make your own critters up from scratch. The other side of the coin is that if you’re writing a particular sub-genre, to comply with certain rules of that genre, you must utilize a certain number of mandatory beasties. If you break those rules, you throw the reader out of that reality and they’ll call you on it. I don’t necessarily buy that, but if you’re pitching your story as a particular style, you’d better stick to it.
The point is that no matter what sub-genre you are writing for, no matter how hard you try, it’s been done before. Trust me on this! Sure, try to be as original as you can, but don’t kill yourself to be completely unique because it’s an almost impossible task. Since man first put pen to paper, typewriter key to platen, computer keyboard to floppy disk, every critter imaginable has been dreamed up in one variation or another. What you can do is put your own spin on it but I’ll almost guarantee that whatever you come up with, someone somewhere has done it, or something similar before, either in fantasy, science fiction or horror. Don’t beat yourself up about it. Keep adding your own flavor to your critters and press on. Give them your own names, build your own model Chevy’s.
In Meleena’s Adventures, I make no secret that my world was inspired by D&D. However, when it comes to my monsters, critters, icky bugs, though many were admittedly inspired by the Monster Manual, and Tolkein, I added my own twist to each one. Two creatures specifically were inspired by monsters from the D&D monster manual. I did my own take on them. Other critters came from science fiction novels I may have read sometime in the past, the Elves and Dwarves, of course, came from Tolkein, and other critters may have come from TV shows such as The Outer Limits, Star Trek and maybe even The Twilight Zone. All act differently and have my own twist. They’re all an olio of my own tastes and my own descriptions. I make them my own.
There are icky bugs I made up completely from scratch, though I’m sure they have been done by someone, somewhere before. So what? I did the best I could, it was mine at the moment, I’m happy with it. Case closed!
To keep things simple, let me take my Elves, for instance. Mine don’t quite look, act or have the same culture as the Tolkein Elves. The same goes for the D&D Elf rules (which I believe were rooted in Tolkein lore). My Elves are my own take. The same rules apply to my Dwarves. They’re basically the same, but not quite.
When you build your world, if you’re not toeing the line with a specific sub-genre, such as the Tolkeinesque fantasy sub-set, you don’t have to follow any specific guidelines. Remember, it’s your world. Make it your own. Just remember, as I’ve stated before, once you make a set of rules, follow them! If you break a rule, it had better be obvious, deliberate and for a plot point!
Where do you get your critters from? Do you make them up or do you use a source?