Back in December, I talked about flora: plants and why developing them in your world matters. It only makes sense, then, that I also have a blog post that talks about the group that naturally follow when you hear the word flora: fauna.
Now, fauna encompasses a huge range of things. After all, it’s literally animals. When you talk about fauna, you’re talking about all the animals that inhabit a given habitat. That can range from dozens to thousands of species, depending on the habitat. It goes from the tiniest insect (one might give an argument for bacteria as well, but let’s… not, for simplicities sake) to the largest mammal and the largest other creature you create.
What does developing fauna look like? When do our worlds need animals? When don’t they need animals?
The When and the Why
I’m actually going to split this discussion into two posts, the second which will follow next month sometime. In today’s, I’m going to focus on answering the important questions of worldbuilding, and then what I call “simple” fauna development.
Now. I’ve talked about this before (almost two years ago… fancy that), and there are two important questions in worldbuilding: how and why. Before I answer the how, I’d like to answer the why.
Why does developing fauna matter? The shortest answer I can give is this: there are animals all over our fiction. Want to know why developing fauna is important? Pick up a book – any book – and read it. You’ll find animals. These can range from flies buzzing at windows near wardrobes to mockingbirds in the backyard to dogs among redferns to bears on the far side of the mountain to dragons in caves and alien camels on desert planets.
If that wasn’t enough proof, animals are deeply entrenched in the human experience. Look around at your friends and families. Look in their homes, in their backyards. Unless you’re in an apartment complex and you’ve never been elsewhere, you’ll find animals. From fish and turtles in tanks to dogs and cats in backyards and living rooms to horses and cows and pigs in meadows and garden snakes and grasshoppers in the grass.
Animals are everywhere. It only makes sense, then, that animals also appear in our fiction. All good fiction attempts to create a sense of reality, and animals are a great way to do that.
For our historical and contemporary fiction writers out there, this is relatively easy. You examine your time period and setting location, find the appropriate animals, and use those.
Simple enough. It’s that easy.
For the speculative fiction writer, however, it’s a bit harder.
Simple Development for Simple Situations
One of the easiest things to do when you’re worldbuilding a science fiction or fantasy world is to get carried away. It’s extremely easy to spend hours developing one simple aspect of your world, to get it JUST right, and then barely use it in your actual novel. If you ever actually get to writing that novel, because two hours per tiny facet of your world adds up quickly and before you know it, it’s been two years of developing your world, and zero years developing a plot or characters.
So let’s start simple: I’m going to give three basic steps for creating the overarching ideas of what kind of fauna your story needs.
Step One: determine what sorts of animals are important to your characters and plot. Do you need an animal that the main character can have as a pet? A mode of travel? A creature the villain can throw his captives to and watch them be devoured? The needs of your story are always a great place to start.
When you know what your story needs, you get a jumpstart in your worldbuilding. It fuels your creativity and it helps you create things that are relevant. You don’t end up spending an hour developing a creature that lives in a desert two hundred leagues from the setting of your story that’s never brought up or seen or even addressed in a thought or piece of dialogue.
Step Two: consider the habitat you’re populating and examine the habitats in the real world that mirror it. You don’t want to break reality by putting creatures into water that don’t belong there. You don’t want a fish on land or a doggo in the middle of an ocean biosphere. Those tend to not work out well.
This is where a bit of research might be necessary. You might have to take your setting and go off into the real world, to see where parallels can be drawn. Doing this creates a sense of realism and immersion in your readers. It makes them go “oh, this could be a real world”.
It absorbs us.
Step Three: create unexpected details. When you find your broader set of types of fauna to develop, it’s time to get interesting. I’ll talk in the next one about the more complex side of fauna development, but I wanted to take a brief moment to address this here:
Never describe animals in boring ways. Your readers don’t want dimensions and weight, they want texture and sound and smell. They want details they wouldn’t have thought of by themselves. Sure, you have to give us basic size and color, but those are lesser in the minds of the readers. We want those out of the way (in other words, the sooner you give them, the better so we can focus on the real details) and we want to be able to learn all we can about this new creature.
When you give us a new animal, we become like toddlers: we want to run our chubby fingers along its rigged scales, pull at the tufts of hair on its head, wrinkle our noses at the aroma of flowers that it excretes as a form of camouflage. We want to listen to the burble in its throat when we scratch its belly and stare in awe as its skin changes color to match the grass it’s lying it.
Sensory, unexpected, relevant details are the key to a well of powerful creatures.
How do you actually create a creature?
Well, that’ll come next week.