There And Draft Again

A Fellowship of Fantasy Writers

Creating Your Fantasy Bible: Races August 11, 2013

Not every fantasy novel has to have different races, but if you decide to go that route, you should most definitely include all the details of the races you create in your fantasy bible. Why? To save you headaches and prevent continuity errors.

You might think you know the ins and outs of your world like the back of your hand, but as your world continues to grow, it is going to be harder and harder to keep track of each detail. Going from personal experience, I would actually say detailing whatever races you create is probably of the most importance.

I know, I know. How can creating a race of people be more important than outlining the governmental system under which your world operates? Well, because your characters might not come across every part of that system. But racial traits influence who your characters might be, and help to emphasize plot points as well.

Take, for example, the hobbits of Lord of the Rings. They are kind, simple, and gentle folk. It is in their nature to be warm and happy, which proves to be a stark contrast to how dark and depressed Frodo becomes under the influence of the ring. If he was as sullen as Aragorn could be, the heavy influence the ring has over those who possess it might not be as clear.

Another example would be the house elves from Harry Potter. They have their own rules they live by, which causes them to essentially become slaves to wizards. They are owned, and to be freed is shameful. But they are also incredibly loyal, which drives Dobby to help Harry time and time again. This same trait led to Kreacher’s ill demeanor, and is the cause for the insanity plaguing his mind.

If all house elves were meant to be warm and fuzzy, we wouldn’t have Kreacher. If all hobbits weren’t kind-hearted and loyal, Sam might’ve ditched Frodo at the first mood swing. The characteristics of their races help to define them as characters, and help them to stand out as well. Hobbits aren’t naturally brave, but the four we journey with sure are. House elves aren’t meant to question their owners, but Dobby does, and even punishes himself in order to do so.

So what are some of the things you might want to include about the race you are creating? A lot of the same things you might include about a particular character. Here’s a list of questions to ask yourself as you create your race, or even as you play around with that race more:

  • What are some of the physical attributes the people of this race share? (Ex: Hair color, skin tone, height, build, etc)
  • What are some of the physical abilities the people of this race share? (Ex: Heightened sense of smell, speed, agility, etc)
  • What kind of religion or rituals do the people of this race follow? (Ex: Human sacrifice, multiple deities, coming of age rituals)
  • What sort of laws does the society of this race adhere to? (Ex: Mixing with other races, competing for a hand in marriage by a fight to the death, etc)
  • Where (geographically) do these people originate from? (Ex: Another world, a desert land, mountains, etc)
  • What are some common personality traits of this race? (Ex: Compassionate vs cold and logical, animalistic vs etiquette, naive vs skeptical, etc)

You’ll probably find that some of these questions go hand in hand together. The religion or rituals they follow probably influence their society on the whole. Also, their physical attributes might influence their overall characteristics as well. I’ve created three races so far in my series, two of which I will use as examples here. One, the Athucreans, are a warrior race. They are very closely tied to animals (no, not werewolves), so they tend to operate a lot like a pack, which means they don’t welcome outsiders. However, the Baiul are essentially psychic vampires, feeding off the emotions of humans around them. So they are very open to socializing.

These are definitely things you need to think of because they influence how your story unfolds and how your characters interact with one another. A Baiul and Athucrean would make for a great Romeo & Juliet-esque love story (kinda bummed I never thought of that before now), or a nice antagonistic set of advisers (again, should’ve thought of that). But they wouldn’t be likely to become best friends. Kinda like a dwarf and an elf finding an unlikely friendship on the road to Mordor.

Answering these questions and solving your own mysteries surrounding the races you create will only enrich your story and your characters that much further. So what are your answers? What are some of the races you’ve created for your fantasy (or sci-fi, since the same rules apply here) worlds? How do they relate to one another?

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7 Responses to “Creating Your Fantasy Bible: Races”

  1. deshipley Says:

    Much of the story of my latest project hinged on racial characteristics.

    By design, it’s not explained until almost the last quarter of the book exactly what the races are, but by the time you get there, you’ve seen over and again how deeply the characters’ genetics influence their behavior, personalities, and relationships. It was an exciting (and occasionally vexing) challenge, figuring out how to clearly differentiate the categories of people, and working to both keep it consistent overall *and* allow for necessary individuality. I also had to do a lot more culture-building than I typically do, since I had more than my usual amount of diversity in that area.

    After weeks of leaving the project alone (following what amounts to years of working on it piecemeal), I’m looking forward to reading the whole thing through start to finish, to see if it all comes together as well as I have hopes it will. (:

    • I love watching races and cultures unfold as the story goes on. You are on the right track because you are avoiding the dreaded “Info Dump” fantasy writers (*cough*definitely me* cough*) can be guilty of. I’m looking forward to introducing the Baiul, but unfortunately I have two books to write before I do.

      • deshipley Says:

        Heh, isn’t that often the way it goes — “I can’t wait to show the readers all this awesome stuff! …two books from now!” 😄

  2. A really good post! It will help me because I have different races in my book. One race is a half-animal type and they are persecuted by the humans. I’ll have to remember these points 🙂

  3. This is overall a great summary of how fantasy races can be thought about. I like most of the points. But why do we need definite racial characteristics at all? Yes, physiologies differ, and yes, culture plays a part in shaping people’s attitudes. But why do we need the idea of there being common personality traits to a race, when all the other factors mentioned can do the job just as well without any unnecessary and essentialist complications?


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