Building your fantasy world – Fantasy Creatures part 3

I know – surprise!! We’re still not done with fantasy creatures, although I think this is the last post I will be doing on them. This one is about their habits, which I mentioned briefly in my last post on the subject. These are their in-built customs that enable them to survive in their natural habitat.

Again, as I mentioned in the first post on fantasy creatures, just changing one detail can take an animal from normal to ‘fantasy’ in an instant. If you are stuck for inspiration, as before, look around you at the world we live in here and now. What is ‘normal’?

For instance, there are two reactions to a fear stimulus: fight or flight. Do you bare your teeth and lunge for the throat, or show them your rump and put some distance in between you and the threat?

Horses are almost 100% flight. The only time horses fight in the wild is when, predictably enough, there is power (leadership of a herd) or a woman involved (mating season). This is true of many other animals, particularly those living in groups. Some things don’t change, regardless of the species.

If a horse is frightened its instinct is to run away. If one horse takes off, generally the entire herd will follow suit. But what if they turned and fought instead? What if horse herds had a hive mind and would work together to pummel an attacker into the ground?

Some practical considerations should be taken into account when looking at the development of fantasy creatures. For instance, many small animals nest underground and will run for their burrows when the going gets tough. For a ‘realistic’ fantasy, you probably wouldn’t want your claw-toed elephants to dig a burrow for security – the process would take far too long and the resulting hole in the ground wouldn’t exactly be discreet. However, for comic fantasy the effect could be exactly what you were going for.

This is where both your genre and your style of writing come into play. You need to consider, very carefully, exactly what it is that you want to achieve in this story. If you want your readers to laugh, you are far more likely to achieve this with a world that gives you multiple opportunities for mirth. It certainly makes it less work. (Consider Terry Pratchett’s swamp dragons.) I don’t know about you, but I find the idea of six foot wide burrows funny, especially when you consider how many things can fall down them. And what if a colony of burrowing elephants decides to set up home under a large city?

The creatures in your fantasy world will give that world an extra dimension. Although some work needs to go into the planning of them, once that is done, they will offer you countless opportunities for humor, conflict, sadness and/or heroics. It all depends on what you do with them.


About Mhairi Simpson

Writer, dreamer. Magic, dragons, pink mice, cake. Come say hi!
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10 Responses to Building your fantasy world – Fantasy Creatures part 3

  1. Michael says:

    Horses with a hive mind is an interesting idea.

    • If you want to use it, go for it. Given previous comments about no two writers doing the same thing with the same prompt, I’m sure if I ever use this idea for anything the end result will be completely different 🙂

  2. alberta ross says:

    I hope I shall dream of these creatures, they sound fun – I wonder how difficult it is to write fantasy?

    • It doesn’t have to be any more difficult than any other genre. I think it’s mostly a question of believing in and being totally familiar with your world while not forgetting that you will need to describe it to someone who has never encountered it before. There’s a balance required that can be tricky, but doesn’t have to be. Terry Pratchett did a fantastic job with the Discworld.

  3. Misha says:

    A great way of looking at it. 🙂
    I tend to struggle with these aspects to my fantasy world, because it’s very similar to ours. Yet there are differences. Describing those can be tricky…

    By the way, you won an award on my blog.

    • Try comparing the things that are different to the things they are different to, if you see what I mean. Of course, I have no idea what your differences are, but if you have purple stinging insects that collect honey, compare them to bees. Don’t worry about getting the comparison exact in every detail. If you can just narrow it down to a general field, the reader’s imagination will fill in the blanks. A beta reader might have some suggestions – if you need a reader, I’ll take this opportunity to volunteer 🙂

      And thank you very much for the award! I’ll be right over 😀

    • About the award; I popped over to your blog but I couldn’t see where you had named names 😀

  4. lbdiamond says:

    Like you say, adding a unique detail to “real” creatures really makes them magical! Great tip!

  5. Zoe Farris says:

    I like the idea of horses with a hive mind and fighting instead of fleeing. In counselling they talk of three fear reactions, Fight, Flight or freeze, for example feinting goats, or “deer in headlights” reactions. SO what if Horses had teh freeze reactiona nd the whole herd froze as one big block? How wouldthat look to a preditor?

    • I’m no expert on predators but I believe that if they can’t single a particular one out (which would be harder if they aren’t moving) they often don’t attack at all. But that’s an awesome idea – I’d love to see how that one worked out in a story!

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