Guest post by Vanessa Finaughty, author of the Wizard’s End Series available below!
There are as many ways to create original fantasy creatures as there are creatures to be created. I still love my dragons and elves, and other familiar fantasy creatures, but it’s always good to add an original flair to your fantasy stories, something that has the potential to make readers sit back and think, wow, that’s cool!
There are no hard and fast rules to restrict your imagination, but here are some tips if you aren’t sure where to start:
Use existing creatures – fantasy or real life – and add fresh attributes. How much you alter the existing creature/being is entirely up to you. You could take the attributes of a lion or dragon, for example, and create a new physical appearance that looks nothing like the original creature/being. In my Legends of Origin sci-fi fantasy series, the magical ryokin’s physical appearance comes largely from the extinct sabre-tooth tiger – except the ryokin has golden fur with no stripes, and massive wings that enable it to fly. It’s also an intelligent, telepathic being despite its animal appearance. In the short story, Ereolon’s Day of Demons (part of the Sorcery & Subterfuge anthology), the main character is a winged elf – with ogre genes and the ability to bend others’ minds to his will.
Create something solely from your imagination. This can be difficult, but it’s definitely worth it if you do it right. You don’t need to add too many details either, if what you’re creating is a common animal that’s minor to your story. For example, I created a few animals for Wizard of Ends. There are gabbertok, which are dangerous night creatures with slanted yellow eyes that usually live in the woods. The females are protective over their young, but the males will eat their own offspring if the mother is not around. I also created ferocious hound monkeys, which have the bodies of hounds and torsos of monkeys, with sharp, curved teeth and deadly claws. They stand man height on all fours and travel in packs of ten. Each of these has a few more attributes, but nothing too detailed, because they are only there to add flavour to the story.
Visualise the creature or being you’re describing. It might sound okay as you write, but that doesn’t mean it won’t look ridiculous. Unless your story is humorous, you probably don’t want the visuals you give readers to make them laugh.
Consider how common fantasy creatures might evolve over a few million years and create the evolved version. You can use any creature/being from dragons and elves to ogres and unicorns, and everything in between.
When creating your fantasy creature or being, consider some of the following:
* Is it weak or strong? If it’s weak, how does its species survive? If it’s strong, does it dominate the region and, if not, why?
* What temperament does it have?
* Does it have any special abilities?
* What colour are its eyes and skin?
* What texture is its skin?
* Does it have hair? If it has hair, what colour is it, and is it soft or coarse?
* Is its kind social or solitary?
* How does it reproduce? Eggs? Live birth? Other?
* Where does it usually make its home?
* What does it eat?
* What do its teeth look like?
Also, when naming your creature or being, try to keep the name simple and easy to say. There’s nothing worse than reading a fantasy story only to be constantly interrupted as you battle to ‘say’ the name in your mind each time you read it in the book.
I hope this post helps some fellow fantasy authors. Happy writing!
Thanks Vanessa, good advice to get started! Vanessa Finaughty’s new series, “The Wizard of Ends” is out this month and you can get them through the links provided here.
A powerful sorceress wants the Queen of Ends dead, hoping her demise will render the king unable to defend his crown. Only the wizard Lashlor Leaflin is in a position to protect Queen Narraki Dragonsbane, but he avoids using magic – at almost any cost. With creatures of darkness hunting the queen, however, he may be left with little choice but to call on the power he holds within.
The Queen of Ends has been cursed into a rabid creature of darkness. Only Lashlor’s old flame, Rune Arcana, might be able to remove the curse. Lashlor believes he can find Rune in the Mountains of Eclador. The only trouble is – Rune now despises him, and, in all of recorded history, no one has ever returned from these mountains. Fearing the Wizard of Ends will not be able to bring help, the king goes against Lashlor’s advice by enlisting the aid of other magic users.
Vanessa Finaughty is an author of many genres who now focuses on fantasy and science fiction. She’s published 15 books, of which 6 are fantasy. Vanessa grew up in Cape Town, South Africa, and still lives there with her husband of fifteen years, her baby daughter and plenty of furry, four-legged ‘children’.
Vanessa has always been passionate about books, and knew from a young age that she wanted to write them one day. She loves animals, coffee and the smell of wet grass, and hates liars, sweltering weather and long queues. Her interests include reading, photography, the supernatural, mythology, aliens and outer space, ancient history, life’s mysteries and martial arts, of which she has five years’ experience.
Wizard of Ends, Book 1: 9 October 2014
Wizard of Ends, Book 2: Dark Creature: 23 October 2014
I never try to hide my methods: the horror of my interrogation chamber is so graphic it should probably come with a warning. Yet the victims keep trooping in- thanks this time once again to the offices of my good procurer, the Magic Appreciation Tour, we have ensnared Lori Fitzgerald making the rounds for her latest work, entitled The Dragon’s Message. I have eagerly anticipated her arrival, not just because I have a new branding iron I’ve wanted to try out, but for several other reasons. My spies inform me that Lori is a devotee of Medieval Lit (sooooo close to Medieval History!), has excellent taste in books and television, and even frequents Ren-Faires (one of the only places in the Alleged Real World where I can blend in). No more delay, let’s get cracking… and I do mean that literally
:: whip-cracking sound :: confess, benighted reprobate, and it will go easier for you!
Q: OK, first of all… a novelette, seriously? I was barely seated, just getting warmed up on this cool tale, and suddenly I’m nearing the end. Is this some new form of torture for your fans? Perhaps I should take notes! Or is there a devious method to this idea of yours. Tell us how you hit upon the notion of publishing something so bite-sized.
A: Finding a peaceful block of uninterrupted time during daylight hours in a household with two young children is quite the dropping of the gauntlet. In fact, can you untie me for a second so I can break up the light-saber battle going on in my living room? (Anachronistic, I know, but explain that to a 6 year old and an 8 year old.) Perhaps one day I’ll be able to concentrate on a lengthier work (I do have novel ideas), but right now I feel a great sense of accomplishment with my novelettes. I find snippets of time here and there throughout the day to write, in between errands or while dinner is in the cauldron. This type of “scheduling” I think lends itself better to a shorter form. Never fear, there will be more stories in the world of The Dragon’s Message. I have both a prequel and a sequel in mind. I would love to bundle all three stories together in a longer form, perhaps even a paperback.
Q: I can name one tale there had BETTER be a sequel to! At the risk of spilling all the magic beans, there be dragons here. I want you to rank these creatures in your world, along the following Eat-to-Greet scale: Tolkein’s Smaug = 1, LeGuin’s Sobriest = 4, McCaffrey’s F’lar = 8. Where do the scaly ones of your world rank in their relations to humans? (Ed. Note. The dragons of the Lands of Hope rate about a 2. On a good day.)
A: I would say that my dragons are most like LeGuin’s Kalessin. Although the details of their backstory is for another tale, I can tell you that dragons are scarce and mistrustful of humans generally because they have been hunted for the magic in their blood. Out of necessity for survival and to share their true nature, they have bestowed their knowledge to one human of each generation. One special human. In The Dragon’s Message, this is Lady Rhiannon, and she is the only human who knows their secrets and can decipher the language that is written in the Dragon Tome. Here be dragons (and an excerpt):
When Rhiannon was small and had just learned to read, her mother brought her into the hall one day when her father was on campaign, and led her to the large table upon which a great map of their lands lay. She instructed Rhiannon to read the words of the landmarks: castle, road, mountain, forest, village. The young girl touched words inscribed over a place where trees met craggy peaks. “What does that say, my love?” her mother prompted.
“Here be dragons,” Rhiannon answered, glancing up at her mother.
Her mother nodded, smiling. She knelt down in front of Rhiannon so they were at the same height. The lady’s hazel eyes sparkled as she whispered, “I have a secret to share. But I can only share it with a little girl with red and gold hair,” she pulled playfully on Rhiannon’s braid,” who knows how to read.” Rhiannon giggled. “Are you a little girl such as this?” Rhiannon nodded eagerly, and her mother laughed. She stood up and gestured at a tapestry on the wall. “Come, child, the dragon guards our treasure.”
Hand in hand they walked to the tapestry of the sleeping dragon. “Your great-great grandmother wove this tapestry when she was an old woman. It took her a long time to complete, with her hands gnarled so, like the twisted oak by the drawbridge.” The dragon was curled up in front of a turret, with stone dolmens in a semi-circle behind it, interspersed with trees and a mountain peak in the background and bright blue sky above. The dragon’s scales were crimson and woven through with glittering gold thread, and its curved horns and talons were gold. As they paused in front of the large tapestry, Rhiannon looked closely at the eyes of the dragon; she thought perhaps she could see a slit of gold, as if the dragon were only pretending to be asleep.
Rhiannon’s mother stood on tiptoe and moved part of the tapestry to the side, revealing a slit in the stone wall. With her free hand she reached in and drew out a large leather-bound tome. She motioned her daughter to come sit with her on one of the benches that lined the walls. “Look and listen well, my daughter,” she said, and ran her fingers along the smooth cover, “this book is our special treasure, and it contains many secrets within its pages. I am going to teach you how to read them.” She opened the book as Rhiannon snuggled closer to her, her mother’s loose red-gold hair falling over the girl’s shoulder and brushing the crinkly parchment pages of the book which she turned until she came to the picture of a girl.
“The first secret is a story…”
Q: I was very taken by the unfolding liaison between your two main characters. It’s an April-October relationship, quite touching- the girl who long ago gave a knight her scarf as a favor is now grown. We see a lot through Rhiannon’s eyes- what can you tell me about the knight Gwydion and his feelings? And importantly, how old would you say he is now? I wonder that he stayed unmarried in this society, especially as renowned as he’s become.
A: Gwydion is about my age…and no amount of torture gets a lady to reveal her age! In my head I have Gwydion around 15-20 years older than Rhiannon. When he takes the quest to bring Rhiannon to
safety he is simply fulfilling his liege-lord’s orders, although he has a fondness for Rhiannon from when she was a child, as readers will see from a flashback as well. However, on their journey Gwydion quickly realizes that she is not a child anymore and (luckily for him) is also quick to change gears and respect her as a lady. Once he sees her more as a peer he allows himself to fall for her. Sir Gwydion is the champion knight of Rhiannon’s father, basically his general, and so between fulfilling his duties to his lord and also running his father’s estate as the eldest son, he has had a lot on his trencher and thus never got married. And there’s also the dragon’s actual message to consider…you know, destiny and true love and all that written in flame can’t be ignored. It’s a scorching hazard.
Q: Yowch! Quite correct :: sucks fingers :: You’ve already given ample evidence of your guilt in this writing-fantasy matter. But now we come to the most grievous of crimes- you help to spread the word on the internet! Tell us more about your involvement with Once Upon a Fan.
A: I’m so proud to be a Staff Writer for the website Once Upon a Fan, the top-rated fansite for ABC’s show Once Upon a Time. One of the popular features of our site is the Origins articles, where we compare and contrast literary characters with their portrayal on the show. I’ve written Origins articles on Sir Lancelot, the Sword in the Stone, and Robin Hood, among others. I’ve tried to show how the symbolic landscape of the medieval mind comes into play in various aspects of Once Upon a Time as well. You can find the Origins library here. I really owe my publication to the show and the fandom. Once Upon a Time inspired me to create my own worlds again after 20 years (oops, is that an inadvertent clue?) in which I stopped writing to focus on my teaching career and having a family. The website and all the writers, artists, and crafters I met in the extremely creative Oncer fandom encouraged me that my lifelong dream of publishing could become a reality.
Q: Aha, confederates, we shall have them arrested shortly. Where does all this leave you for your writing schedule? Have one, much? I see evidence of two children in my spies’ reports. Egad. Do you have a sacred space with a locked door? Set times to jot your thoughts? If I could take away any money-trouble with a wave of my wand- no wait, that’s my cat-o’nine-tails, hold on- there, supposing you COULD devote full-time to writing, would much change about your writing life?
A: I would love to have a sacred space, but alas, my laptop and I are wandering minstrels. Sometimes I write at the kitchen counter, sometimes in the attic, on rare occasions in the dungeon where the library and playroom are located. I would prefer to have a set time and schedule to write, maybe a few hours every morning, but that just doesn’t fit with my lifestyle right now. Sometimes the kids wake up sick and the actual storming of the castle has to wait a few days (after all, that’s what sieges are for).
Q: If I had to use the old infiltrate-through-the-garderobe trick, a mother of little kids is the one I’d send. I suppose that will have to suffice, for now. So many instruments, so little time… You may go. But be certain that you leave ample contact information here- your book and web links for reader-interest, should we need to drag you back for further interrogation. Thanks, Lori!
A: Thank you, Will…I think! But it’s never truly torturous to talk to a fellow medievalist.
The Dragon’s Message, a Dragon Tome Novelette, is available on Kindle and Nook for $1.99.
A dragon writes a cryptic message with its ember breath in the evening sky…
Lady Rhiannon watches from the turret wall with an ache in her blood. She’s the only person who can decipher the message as the sole keeper of the Dragon Tome. When an old enemy threatens the castle, her father charges his knight with escorting her to a safe haven—the same knight Rhiannon had a crush on as a girl. But she must now convince him to change his plans, for she has her own sacred charge to fulfill…
So begins a journey to hidden ruins where magic slumbers in the stones and love lies in the heart, waiting to awaken. As Rhiannon and the knight face seemingly insurmountable odds, only the dragon knows if they can fulfill their destiny…
Here are the magic links:
Barnes & Noble: bit.ly/1epYuBC
You can also find me on Twitter @MedievalLit and on Facebook at my author page White Raven Writing.