Building your fantasy world #1 – Fantasy Creatures

It occurred to me this morning (only about seven weeks after I started this blog) that since I am a fantasy writer, I should probably write about fantasy. Yeah, no duh. *eyeroll*

There are so many aspects to take into account when building a fantasy world and most of them, in turns, are either overlooked or ignored by writers. After all, how much world building do you want to have to do? Some writers will just throw in a few orcs, or something that looks and walks like an orc but is called something else, which isn’t so much imagination as linguistics.

Today’s post is the first in a series on fantasy world building. I’ll try to make it some occultly significant number of posts. Me being me, the number will then increase.

Today – Fantasy Creatures.

We all think of the creatures, don’t we? Personally, as my Twitter profile will attest, I’m a HUGE fan of dragons. The power, the majesty, the untamed flame. All that stuff really gets my juices going. I LOVE it. Which is why my fantasy novel-in-progress has dragons in it. One of them is even a major character. He’s kind of my protagonist’s Samwise.


Dragons aren’t everything. Which is why I’ve got a whole bunch of other creatures, but where’s the fun in doing something that everyone else has already done? Last night I was eavesdropping (insofar as you can in a public forum) on a Twitter conversation between the Splintered Lands authors. One of them said inventing flora and fauna for the world was fine, just as long as it was something out of the ordinary, i.e. not your usual run-of-the-mill fantasy fare. Go and see the page on Dragons in the Splintered Lands to see what I mean.

You don’t have to go overboard on your creatures. Even a small detail can make a difference. For instance, my centaurs have a mane. That’s right, their hair grows on their heads, but continues right down their (human half) backbones to where the horse shoulders start. Just like it goes on a horse, down the horse’s neck. Someone else may have (and probably has) already done it, but I can’t recall any mentions. Besides, to me it makes them more equine. And pretty. I’m all about the pretty.

Kristin Cashore has monsters (go check out Fire) that come in every animal form, from mosquito to lion, but which are instantly recognisable because of their spectacular colouring. Genius! She didn’t have to change anything about the animal except its colour for her readers to instantly get the idea that a particular animal isn’t quite what it seems when it comes in a mad colour scheme.

Don’t overlook the small details. Anything can be changed. Think of Avatar – horses with six legs. Yes, they’re horses. They behave just like horses. But they’ve got six legs. Instant alien planet. Because we know that’s just not ‘normal’.

A fantasy world isn’t just about the fantastic. It’s about taking the mundane and making it exceptional. You can make fantasy out of normality by changing just one detail. To my mind, the smaller the detail that is changed, the more engaging the fantasy. Because you are bringing it closer to ‘normality’. There’s that feeling that if you just stretch out your fingers, you might graze the edges of this world which is so close, just barely removed from our own.


About Mhairi Simpson

Writer, dreamer. Magic, dragons, pink mice, cake. Come say hi!
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7 Responses to Building your fantasy world #1 – Fantasy Creatures

  1. Sam Adamson says:

    Great post! I completely agree, changing just one small detail can often spark my creative juices if I’m after creating a new beastie.

    Very kind of you to mention my Splintered Lands dragons, and apologies for shamelessly blowing my own trumpet there! Mind you, if you liked them, just wait till you see what I’m doing with the War Ferrets! ;D

    • HAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA!!!! I am now on tenterhooks to know how the War Ferrets turn out. And if you were just winding me up, you’ve shot yourself in the foot, because now you HAVE to produce!

      No problems about trumpet-blowing – I mention people and their stuff because I think they should be recognised for it. Now my readers know EXACTLY who came up with those dragons!

  2. Interesting advice! I like how easy you make it sound – one detail is manageable and doable! Thanks!

  3. gilshalev says:

    I’m busy building my world, and your advice found a home with this post 🙂

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