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.