Especially in fantasy, writers have the incredible opportunity of creating creatures. But where do you start? The purpose and the type of creature you are needing may be the first things to consider.
Creatures as Characters or World Elements
A creature may be anything from a micro-organism to a form of deity. This means that your creatures may be fundamental characters in your story, or just part of the world. In developing characters, whether it is human or anything else, keep in mind the basic elements of character found here.
Purpose of Creatures
The purpose of the creatures has a number of different levels. First, as mentioned above, the creature may be an element of the world, or a character filling a role in the story. The next purpose to consider is the purpose of the species. Such as how mermaids sing to cause shipwrecks.
The reason for defining the purpose of a creature is to identify the characteristics common among all of the same species. Mermaids lure sailors to their deaths, so each mermaid should have a beautiful singing voice. If the purpose of dwarves is to mine for precious metals and jewels, then they should be incredibly strong and small enough to complete the work effectively.
I have found that a number of features express a certain emotion or feeling. For example, scales=scary. If anything has scales, I automatically assume there is a scary or creepy quality. Think of snakes, crocodiles, and mermaids, they all have a sneaky scariness to them.
Fur seems to suggest friendliness, like dogs and kittens. Of course, this has an opposite with lions, bears, tigers, and other mammals that want to eat you. But the fluffiness of fur seems to have a cuddling ability to it. Large cats have been known to behave like house cats, and bears have been trained to dance.
Expressing a majestic feel may be done well with feathers. Since that usually means a creature can fly, feathers tend to have a “higher than thou” air to it. Perhaps this is because it is almost a cross between scales and fur, the friendly-scary comes off as a noble presence. So, furry scales may be the right fit for your new creature.
Method of Travel
Going along with the feathers expressing majesty, wings give authority and power to a creature. Who gets the last word or the last laugh when one party can take off into the sky and disappear from reach and sight? The sky is the limit for a creature with wings. This makes sense why dragons are often the top of the fantastical food chain.
Long legs have a noble quality, being high in the air, and able to cover a large distance with minimal effort. Short legs suggest mischievousness or sneakiness, you have to be when everyone else can reach higher and move faster (I’m not short at all). No legs at all, like snakes and worms, clearly can’t be trusted, but they’re going to be strong to be able to move by pure muscle.
Of course, a large stature offers intimidation. Small size is cute and lovable. A normal or same/medium/average size is equal in threat, or seen as a match in combat, or equal in respect or authority.
Language is tied to intelligence. A basic and limited vocabulary or ability to communicate is indicative of minimal intelligence. Next higher is a language, then it goes up to communication in multiple languages with telepathy as the highest level of intelligence.
Humanoid creatures, such as Tolkien-type elves, is valuable for stories with themes of racial equality, or other reflections on humanity.
With only a brief consideration on mostly physical characteristics, this really is only a starting place in creating creatures. I haven’t even mentioned abilities, weaknesses, habitats, or possible magical powers. The best part about this, is you can switch everything against the assumption. That’s the power of creativity, your scaled and winged, giant dragon may have the personality and mannerisms of a church mouse. Or, like in Marvel, what looks like a house cat might be a terrifying monster to be respected and avoided. Have fun with it, and become a creature of creation!