No matter what kind of fantasy world building you do, there will always be some form of flora and fauna. Will they be something you see a lot in your neighborhood? Or will you create something from scratch? Either one is ok, just make it make sense or readers may have a hard time understanding the world they’re visiting between the covers.
Using Real Animals and Plants in Fantasy World Building
The vast majority of fantasy fiction includes regular flora and fauna people see every day in the real world. This is fine. Some would argue that it’s absolutely necessary so the people reading the story has some clue about what is going on. I mean, when you read about people standing under a pine tree, you can picture it in your mind. If you read about characters under a yoba tree, you might picture a pine, an oak, a 100-foot tall, silver-barked willow with purple spiky leaves.
The same goes for animals. The famous “Don’t call a rabbit a smeerp” entreaty tells you everything you need to know. If you have Earth animals, just make them Earth animals. Knights ride around on horses. Wizards have owls or ravens. The travelers startle a group of deer in the woods.
Taking real world animals and plants and twisting them for your fantasy world building makes sense too. In the above tree example, perhaps calling it a yoba oak would give the readers a clue but still make it seem unique and imaginative.
Making Up Your Own Flora and Fauna
There are three main things to remember when inventing species for your speculative fiction.
1 — They have to be relatable to the reader.
2 — They must fill an ecological or biological niche in their world.
3 — They must somehow affect the story or characters, or you might as well leave them out.
Let’s take a closer look at these three requirements. First of all, I call them requirements even though we writers know there are really no RULES about building fantasy or sci fi worlds. This comes about as close as possible though.
1 — Reader Relatability
If you make something TOO weird, people aren’t going to be able to understand or accept them. Douglas Adams pushed the envelope with his highly intelligent shades of the color blue. But that was a comedy.
“A Hooloovoo is a super-intelligent shade of the color blue.”
I think the weirder you go, the better you have to be at writing it. The last thing you want to do is tip over into ludicrosity (I didn’t know this was a word until I tried it.) or BTatW syndrome (book thrown at the wall).
2 — Ecological Niche Specific
Everything serves a purpose in the world. Food, protection, pollination, building materials, warm clothing, keeping populations of other things down.
Fantasy may be about stepping outside the box, but you still need a box. Just another box. An unexpected box, but a box none-the-less.
Fantasy world building is essentially creating the box for all your stuff to live inside. The plants and animals you make need to fit in the box somewhere or why would they ever exist at all?
MC looked out across the endless sands of DesertPlanetX, one hand cradled protectively around the last motpole (a magical tadpole). She needed to find water before it dessicated… on this dead, desert planet.
Sorry, the motpole would have been dead long before the entire planet turned to a desert. There would be no egg left for it to hatch from.
3 — The Story Needs Them
I’m a great believe in nothing doing into a story that does not need to be there. This “NEED,” however, can be as amorphous as “story flavor!” or “characterization” or “exotic setting.” If you put in a yoba oak or a pyjela (a small, antelope-type creature with webbed feet and gliding wings), they have to be there for a reason.
They stood under the yoba oak, out of the rain. MMC wished it was autumn when the nuts would be ripe. Old stories told of the yoba nut’s surprising effect on young women.
FMC snatched her broom off the cobbles and flailed it about at the next flock of pyjela gliding out of the orchard. As if the bees weren’t bad enough. It took her a couple of minutes before she noticed the bemused expression on the guard’s face.
In the latter example, the reader would really have no clue what pyjela are if you leave it like that. They could be anything from squirrels to bats to orchard workers who use large kites to reach the highest branches. (That would be interesting. Hmm…) They’d probably come into the story at another point.
Their purpose? The yoba tree shows the reader that MMC is hot for the young woman he’s with under the tree. The pyjela show that FMC was rather crabby and didn’t like living next to an orchard. They could hav…
(I have no clue why my blog post trailed off like this. Perhaps I was rendered unconscious by a flying pyjela.)