By Michael James Liljenberg.
Creating Fantasy and Science Fiction Worlds
And God said, 'Let the water teem with living creatures, and let birds fly above the earth across the expanse of the sky.' So God created the great creatures of the sea and every living and moving thing with which the water teems, according to their kinds, and every winged bird according to its kind. And God saw that it was good . . .
And God said, 'Let the land produce living creatures according to their kinds: livestock, creatures that move along the ground, and wild animals, each according to its kind.' And it was so.
Day 5 & 6: Let the Water, Sky, and Land Teem with Life: Biology
Having separated the sea and sky on the second day, then separating the sea from the dry land on the third day, God now populates these environments on the fifth and sixth day.
I've put together a PDF Ecosphere Worksheet that will allow you to condense all the info from this tutorial into a single reference page.
One of the 'fantasy clichés' beginning authors are encouraged to avoid is the tendency to make your fantasy world more exotic by giving the regular animals in it fantastic names: calling a duck a 'fizgig bird', for example. If it looks like a duck, walks like a duck, quacks like a duck, go ahead and call it a duck. However, there are exceptions to such rules. One place where this has been done well is in the 'Land Before Time' series of videos. The terminology they use: 'bright circle' for the sun or 'sky sparkles' for snow; reflect the dinosaur characters' primitive understanding of the scientific realities of the world around them.
On the other hand, one of the fun things about creating your own world is developing your own ecosystems. It is handy to have a working knowledge of evolutionary theory (even if you radically disagree with Darwinism). The idea is to make the animals in your world adapted to the environment you've developed. The more the biology in your world is based on actual biological theory, the easier it will be for your readers to enter into your world. Planets of bloodthirsty carnivores might seem to provide a great backdrop for an adventure story, but the reader will constantly have the nagging question, 'what do all these bloodthirsty critters eat when the hero's not around?'
FARP already has a very well done tutorial on creating individual animals, so I'm not going to go into that here. What I do want to talk about is building a whole ecosystem that is a part of a whole world.
So if you want to develop a full ecosystem you need to consider the food chain. Most food chains are relatively simple: a plant is eaten by a specific herbivore; herbivore is eaten by a specific carnivore. A 'plant' is an organism which takes it's energy from the environment around it: solar energy through photosynthesis, thermal energy from a volcanic vent, chemical energy from the soil, magical energy from the spirit of the earth. Plants are usually stationary because the processes for converting environmental energy to biological energy are relatively inefficient. An 'animal' is an organism that gets its energy from consuming plants, or consuming other animals. Since the plant has already done the hard work of converting the environmental energy into compact starches and sugars, the animal has a lot more energy. Carnivores have even more energy, because the animals on which they prey have already converted and compressed the energy into fat.
Usually a predator focuses on one prey animal and adapts specifically to catch it. Most environments have several parallel food chains. Large herbivores feed on the most abundant plant food and are preyed upon by the largest carnivores. There is usually a chain revolving around mid-sized herbivores, and an array of predators from hawks and tarantulas to weasels and cats that prey on small rodent sized herbivores, insectivores, and omnivores. There is almost always an herbivore who has figured out the secret to not getting eaten is to grow so large no predator would reasonably attack it, like elephants or those huge long necked sauropod dinosaurs.
Prey animals survive by using strategies like migration, herding, camouflage, rapid reproduction (think rabbits), defense mechanisms (like porcupine quills, or tree frog's poison)
Marine food chains tend to be longer than terrestrial food chains. Most plant life in the oceans is microscopic, single celled algae. So the animals that eat the plants tend to be as microscopic as the algae. So this leads to a many linked chain of bigger fish being eaten by even bigger fish. The odd thing is that the largest marine animals (baleen whales and whale sharks) actually skip most of the intermediate links and only eat the microscopic animals.
Warm-blooded mammals need a lot of food. It takes a herd of thousands of wildebeests and zebra to supports just a few prides of lions and a pack or two of hyenas. On the other hand cold-blooded animals like crocodiles or spiders with their super slow metabolisms can survive on much fewer prey animals because they eat so little. So you can have hundreds of square miles of African plains with only a few lions, and a river running through the same plain with a crocodile on the banks every 50 meters.
Let's just consider one animal, a zebra. The zebra is one of several grass grazers on the African plains. It's primary predator is the lion, though they are also prey to hyenas. But that isn't all. The zebra's carcass also provides food for a variety of carrion feeders. When zebra herds move through the grass their passage stirs up insects, so an array of birds follow the herd, often riding on the animals' backs, snatching those insects up. The birds also often act as sentries, watching out for predators. The point of this example is not to force you to write a major documentary on each species of animal you want to include in your world. This type of detail is rarely necessary and usually including it in some sort of exposition in your book will bore readers to tears unless it has very direct bearing on the story. The point is simply to show the interconnecting webs of relationships present in the real world and get you to think a little about your own world.
Recall how your world's magical/spiritual aspect works into the biology of your world. What creatures will be magical? Will it cause some creatures to be evil? Are some naturally aligned with the bad guys or the good guys? Will some animals be hunted to near extinction because they supply some special magical object (like a unicorn horn)? Are some linked to elemental types, like Poke'mon? Which animals will be sentient? Maybe all animals are sentient to a degree, but only magical/telepathic people can pick up on it. What animals are domesticated? What are their uses: transportation (steeds), food, clothing, etc.?
Animals on our world fall into a wide array of classes: reptiles, mammals, birds, insects, fish, etc. In your world you could limit or expand them. What if all the ecological niches in your world were filled with just insects or just reptiles? What if marine cephalopods, like octopuses and starfish evolved to live on land?
What special conditions will be present on your world and how will those conditions affect the animals that live in it? For instance if humans ever terraformed Venus one problem that would remain is Venus' day (1 full rotation is 243 Earth days long) actually longer than Venus' year (224 days long) This means that the actual day on Venus, from solar noon to solar noon, is years long. Since plants can't survive more than a few weeks without sunlight any wild animals would have to migrate constantly to keep ahead of the night, or develop some sort of hibernation cycle that would allow it to last without food throughout the Venetian night.
Look up animals in our world to see how they've adapted to specific environments: like Bat's sonar, or cheetah's speed, or shark's electro-sensory organs, or army-ant's organization. Extrapolate some of the bizarre ways the animals in your world have adapted to those special conditions. The fun is going as wild as you can, but you always need to keep it grounded in the rest of the world your building. Think of the ecological niche the animal fills, the environment it lives in, all the info you've gathered on the previous days. Maybe you need to go back and change some things or bring in some new ideas to make some animals work. Great! The key is to build a whole world. Here I'm treading on Ashley Lang's tutorial on creating fantasy animals. I suggest you go ahead and read that one now before you go on to the next day.
I've put together a simple Foodchain Worksheet in PDF format. It's designed primarily for charting the animal life on a land environment, but it can be adapted for others. It will give you a one page reference for all the animal life in a particular environment of your world.
Day 0: Theology
Day 1: Physics
Day 2: Weather
Day 3: Geography
Day 4: Astronomy & Planetology
PDF: Solar System Worksheet
Day 5: Animals
PDF: Foodchain Worksheet
Day 6: Man (& other races)
Part 1: Culture
Part 2: Economics & Government
PDF: Civilization Worksheet
Day 7: The Rest - of the Story
http://hiddenway.tripod.com/world/ an index of site for creating fantasy and science fiction worlds, from mapping software to academic papers on population growth.
How to Write Science Fiction and Fantasy by Orson Scott Card
One of the most popular books for aspiring Sci-Fi/Fantasy writers. Card suggests creating your story's word as a great starting point to developing your story.
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|4 Dec 2006|| Anonymous|
Does anyone know of a link, or even a book, that's similar to this, but much more detailed? Getting pretty scientific about the physiology of what makes creatures work?
Like, I just found out, while doing "research" for making my own beasts, that while seals and whales have thin, wide-surface area flippers projecting out from the body, which would seem to be vulnerable to heat loss and even frostbite, there's a system of counter-current blood flow in these areas that helps regulate heat.
Similarly, I read that many animals built for running (horse, wolf, ect.) have a longer "snout" because blood is cooled in the nose to help cool internal organs like the brain so the animal doesn't overheat while running.
This is the kind of detail that would go a long way in explaining what works in the biological world and how things could look in a fictional creature. Can anyone point me to such a resource? I'm sure I'm not the only one who would appreciate it. Thank you for reading this.
|6 Dec 2006|| Michael James Liljenberg|
I don't know of a specific single book, but there are lots of books on specific animals. Just visit the children's section of your local library. The books are full of pictures, really fast reads, but chock full of information and details like this.
At the Library you can also get copies (and back issues) of magazines, like Nature and National Geographic, which are constantly looking at the astounding techniques animals use to survive in different environments. Magazine's are fairly easy to search on computer.
Nature shows on PBS, National Geographic, or the Discovery channel also feature a lot of this sort of information. (It's harder to find specific information with TV, but you might be able to find videos or DVDs of them at the Library, too) I've heard a lot of these little tidbits on the "Nature Corner" with Uncle Bob, an old-fasioned Sunday School radio program.
|6 Nov 2007|| Michael James Liljenberg|
If you're making a manga, you need to pay even more attention to the animal's anatomy, since you're going to be drawing them. But how much detail you want to go into creating your ecosystem depends on how central it is to the story. In "Nausica of the Valley of the Wind" the Ohm and the "Toxic Jungle" are central to the plot. But you don't learn much about the huge variety of other bugs that Miazaki drew into his world. But you can bet he had a reference sheet for them all.
|1 Sep 2008|| Todd|
Nitpick on the pdf worksheet - insects need to eat too. Other than that, it looks like a very useful sheet. I’ll have to add a few details to the chart (inter-related critters, i.e. where insect colonies live on the backs of larger predators, and serve as a CAP to help hunt), but very nicely done. The sheet looks like something that could be done for a variety of critters, listing all medium predators in the circle, along with all the medium herbivores, etc.
One request would be a critter worksheet (similar to your culture worksheet), that details the critters preferred habitat, typical diet/prey, any predators, reproduction rate/gestation time, and interaction between that critter and others in its environment.
|23 Mar 2009|| Stephen alex mcauliffe|
i think it’s pretty damn cool, the whole article, it has helped me alot. so far i have created a grand total of 49 individual animals with their own profile sheets all in a binder book like you said. (actually mine are in one of those clear plastic sheet holder thingymobobs) i’ve got name habitat/area they live in, what eats them, what they eat, size, shape special features and behaviors, eye size etc....’i think the best part of writing a fantasy novel is creating all of the little details like the back story, the creatures, little stories that just pop up, all that kind of stuff. (i really want somebody to create a world bigger than tolkiens. i think it’sjust a matter of being bothered...)
|25 Mar 2009|| Michael James Liljenberg|
Actually if you follow that tripod link: http://hiddenway.tripod.com/world/ you’ll find links to a couple of world building projects that are bigger than Middle Earth. You can also google "world building projects" you’ll find links to projects to build whole galaxies of worlds like Orion’s Arm (http://www.orionsarm.com/).
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