Making Beings

There was a creature thread, but not a beings one. Intelligent beings with mind, spirit, and soul are the most commonly used mains in stories. Sometimes its people, or elves or ewoks or gods… or anything in between.

But how do you create beings? There’s so many factors that go into it: language, traditions, clothing, housing, diet, reproduction, ethnicities, governments, jobs, and other stuff that all plays a (usually minimal but) important role.

How many of y’all have dipped your toes into this?

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I’ve got a couple of worlds with non-human beings. Their languages don’t come up often except in proper names for people and places, but I have a list of words for each language.

It’s not hard to do and have it be somewhat realistic. Make a spreadsheet with a list of nouns. Across the top, make columns for plurals, possessives, adjectival, etc. and show the case ending (so you won’t forget).

Noun Root Plural (+l/+il) "My" Poss. (+k/+ek) "Our" Poss. (+ki/+eki) Adjectival (+ng/+ang)
Fire Ris Risil Risk/Risek Riski/Riseki Risang
Dirt Mel Melil Melk/Melek Melki/Meleki Melang
Water Ene Enel Enek Eneki Eneng
Breath Ghas Ghasil Ghask/Ghasek Ghaski/Ghaseki Ghasang

So “wet” would be Eneng and “our land” would be Melki, for instance. For a word like “mud” (wet dirt), that might be Mel Eneng. But you might shorten it to Melen.

On another sheet, do the same thing with verbs, giving the markers at least for person and tense. Verbs don’t come up as often, though.

For the rest–governments, diet, and so on–I just have a fact sheet for each type of being. Nothing too in-depth.

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I’ve created a couple of worlds with intelligent life. I spend a lot of time creating their culture and such. It’s amazing how little is actually used, but I think it flavors the actions of the characters. At least I hope it does.

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I also spreadsheet my languages, but not in as much detail as you. I may try that.

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I get up in the science of the elves being able to breed with humans to create half-elves.
And then I want to know why half-elves haven’t taken over the world since they always get the awesome of humans and elves, but not the bad parts.
And where are the half dwarves? They’re that similar looking to humans (and elves) but they can’t interbreed? WTF?

TL;DR: all my races have common ancestry and can interbreed. Still need to get back to that story through. (need to create a story for that world technically)

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I love this stuff. I’ll dip my toes into biology, but my real love is culture, which is shaped by and related to so many other things. For me, the process of developing a species goes back and forth between ideas and questions. First, I’ll come up with some sort of premise or triggering idea. (e.g. “what if I had a species with blue skin?”) This will lead to some questions (“why is their skin blue?”), and answering those question leads to new ideas (“their blood is blue”), which in turn lead to even more questions (“what does having blue skin imply about their biology?”).

Sometimes the ideas are big ones, so the questions narrow things down. (e.g. if they’re ruled by a monarch, what are the powers of the monarch? what’s the monarch’s name? where does the monarch live?) Other times, the ideas are small, so the questions lead me to think about the broader picture. (e.g. if they’re ruled by Queen Angela, is a monarch their normal form of government? Is there some kind of parliament/nobility that Queen Angela has to deal with? Are female rulers normal or unusual?)

For actually mapping stuff out, I usually use Google Drive or OneNote to write down everything I know about the culture up front. (e.g. where they live, their magic system, any interesting things I’ve already decided about them, etc.) (actually this is often on paper first, but I transfer it to a digital archive sooner or later) Then I go through and flesh out whatever area catches my eye, keeping in mind that a decision on one part of a species or culture will impact other parts. (e.g. a decision about the military could impact how they interact with their neighbors, what kind of government they have, etc.)

I’m also big into conlanging, buuuut that’s a slightly detached hobby. I do incorporate conlangs into my worlds, but I’m a big believer in as little conlang as possible in an actual published work, so I don’t focus on it as a big part of worldbuilding. (besides, you can knock out a passable naming language in a half-hour)

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The WiP I started for 2017 NaNo involves numerous non-human races coming to live in the modern human world, in the aftermath of an invasion from that world of magical beings.

The primary facet of all of the beings I created, what I wanted to emphasize, was the beings having clear non-human, magical natures. Creating beings with appearances distinct from humans, giving them notable magical traits or quirks or abilities. Due to the nature of the story and many of the races’ presence in the story, most of them don’t have a bunch of lore and history created, since that information never comes up.

Most of what exists for the lore and cultures of the races in the setting is rooted in what was needed for the story, what arose in the writing of the story. (Woohoo pantsing!) Since the chrysidean race (butterfly/moth-people) plays a major role throughout the story, they have the most worldbuilding, with information about their home, their culture, their system of government, their magical nature. Other races have details about these sorts of things included as an interesting side-note, or when relevant. One race, the avalerions (bird-people), receive an explanation for how their government works; this information becomes important later in the story. And some details and even mention of races are thrown in just for flavour and worldbuilding; the almirans (illusionist rabbit-people) only get mentioned as part of one backstory paragraph.

It’s always good to think out and plan races of beings, but it’s also important to temper such worldbuilding that you don’t go far beyond what the story actually needs. (In fact, one of my problems is I keep inventing new beings that would be interesting for my protagonist and her friends to have fought…five years prior to the story and thus likely not useful to include in the story itself.) It all depends on the story itself how important the details about non-human beings are, and which ones are important for the story.

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Oooh, those are some nice ideas on details!

Interesting book I got about conlang: _ The Art of Language Invention: From Horse-Lords to Dark Elves, the Words Behind World-Building_, by David J. Petersen, if anyone’s interested in some of the basic ideas! (Available on Amazon.)

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Nice! I tend to come at it from both ends myself (the biology end and the cultural end) because some things I look at the biology and go, “Hey, that’s a neat idea! Now, how would that affect their culture?”, and some things I think, “Ooh, wouldn’t it be neat if their culture had ‘this’? Now, how would that work/how did that evolve?”

This is in part because I love biology, genetics, and the oddities thereof. :slight_smile: And because generally when I’m creating a race, there’s a purpose for it, and I love to work out how that purpose would work and what would affect it.

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Hi, I love worldbuilding. :heart_eyes_cat:

When I’m creating a new intelligent race, I usually take inspiration from some real-world creature (say a fish’s sex-shifting or cat’s vision or a bird’s talons) and mix it with humans (though humans certainly aren’t required!). Then I take that aspect of biology and try to figure out how that could affect culture. If a race of people can change their physical sex at will, how does that affect the way they see gender and sexuality? What are some ways a crepuscular race might develop differently than a diurnal one? How would a race of people with talons deal with the floors and shoe requirements of a modern city? And then I build from there. That forms the basis of all my development.

For language, I try to think of sounds that their race could create. Or, more specifically, sounds they’re more likely to create and sounds they probably wouldn’t be able to. So I have a race of snake-people that are heavy in sibilants. I have a race of mer-people who have no vocal chords and use bioluminescence to communicate.

Clothing and housing is directly tied to environment. The colder it is, the more clothes (or fat and fur) will be required. The hotter it is, the less. Places that flood often will need to repel rain and (depending on the type of flood) possibly be on stilts. Places that get a lot of snow need peaked roofs (and likely some good insulation).

I tie diet and reproduction into the create I took inspiration from. Most of my fish- and mer-peoples eat a lot of fish because that’s what’s available. I’ve already discussed my sex-shifting fish-people, but I also have races that spawn annually like salmon (which does squicky things to consent in sentient races, let me tell you), and lay eggs. A race of dryads I’ve created take in nutrients from the sun and soil and reproduce by seeds.

Governments and social structures I base a little bit on whatever I took inspiration from and a little bit on “hey, this sounds cool.” Societal structures and religious practices are the fun part of development for me. And then I tend to tie different ethnicities in with different cultures of the race, because I hate mono-cultural races.

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I have several different non-human beings. What really got me excited about them was going from “scaly humans” and “fuzzy, hooved humans” to “not human but still definitely people”. Language was a big one in that shift – not so much conlang as the different ways people can communicate with non-human biology.

Dragons, for instance, will sing to each other across long distances and when they’re together they incorporate their color-shifting abilities into their communication. While they can somewhat mimic human speech, it was easier for both species to use a form of sign language to communicate, since dragon hands and human hands are similar enough that they can make the same characters.

Unicorns, on the other hand, have a “command” language and a “philosophical” language. The command language is voiced, the philosophical works via a form of touch-telepathy, which has greatly impacted not only their culture but the way they interact with other species – there is a very formalized dance around who may touch who, and therefore who may communicate deep thoughts to who.

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Man, reading even these few posts makes me feel like I’ve underdone all my races because I didn’t make them a language and their cultures come to me in snapshots and snippets… I know some things, but not all things, and the prospect of coming up with an entire language or various facets of culture is more than a little daunting. Does that make me a bad writer?

Absolutely not.

As I said in my own post, it’s easy to fall into the trap of constant worldbuilding that doesn’t actually matter for a story. Some readers will like the hardcore in-depth lore and history for races, but others might be bored by such things. You can also end up derailing the story just to insert something that really isn’t something the reader needs to know.

With my current WiP, I haven’t thought up much for almost every race in the story. That’s because most of the races’ lore and backstory doesn’t matter at all. The races that do get fleshed out and most of the information provided ties into the story. On top of that, not only would the protagonist have no way of knowing all that stuff anyway, but I feel it adds to the otherworldly non-human nature of the magical beings in my story that things like how their language or “biology” works remain a mystery beyond simply “magic”.

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To be fair, I don’t actually conlang at all (everything is translated in-story, I’ll just describe differences in the way people are talking), and I’ve been working on my world for… many years. Develop what you need to, don’t worry too much about what doesn’t even come up in-story, and most of all have fun with it.

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Agreed. The biggest benefit from developing things you’ll never use is keeping the things you do use internally consistent. If many of the big cities in the southwest have -os in their names, while the ones in the north have -berg, that presents a cohesive structure.

You don’t have to know that berg meant “hill” and -os meant “city of” in some long-dead languages, but it helps.

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Absolutely not. Personally, I go into great detail about my worlds and the races and creatures found there even when I know that half of the information I’m coming up with may never be used in the book. At least, I’ll know where I’m coming from and where I came up with certain other things that do come up. I’ll understand what makes certain races behave the way they do and what types of ceremony they use. It may never come up in the plot line but at least I understand where I got it from and would be able to explain it to someone else if they ask.

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