A Pinch of Fire

So on March 21st I talked about creating a race/species, and covered all the basic physical stuff. Number of heads, eyes, arms, etc. This is good (obviously), but it’s really only the start. You also need to know things like:

  • How does it move?
  • What does it eat?
  • How does it defend itself?
  • How does it mate/attract a mate?
  • Where does it live?

These less obvious physical attributes of a creature are just as important as the actual physical appearance. This is what takes it from being a lump of clay, or a puppet, and makes it alive. Of course, you need a little more to make it a fully fleshed out creature, but that’s what the April 14th post is going to be about.

So where to start? Well, I like to give examples, and I really enjoyed my flying octopi creatures from the last post, so I’m going to continue using them. My basic physical overview is that the adults look like flying octopi, but I should maybe expand upon that a bit (which will double as my review of what I talked about last time).

  • They have a single head, four eyes, two ears (small, hole-like), a single mouth/beak, 6-20 tentacles, two wings, and “gills” on two of the tentacles. They are chromatophores/able to change their colour (to some extent)
    • As larva, they look like jellyfish or dumbo octopi. They are semi-transparent, with only two nubby little tentacles (with their “gills”), and two nubby little wings. They’re born with their eyes closed, and don’t open them for almost a full year.
    • As “senior citizens” they resemble nautilus octopi, having gained a hard, shell-like covering over most of their bodies. Their wings become weak and nubby, but they have upwards of 50 tentacles.

So now you should have a good idea of what they look like. Some of the physical characteristics should be prompting other tidbits of information about the species. Let’s go through what other things you need to figure out.

  • Mode of Transportation
    • Obviously because these guys have wings, I mean for them to be able to fly. Additionally they are able to “walk” using their tentacles and the small suction cups on the last 1/3 of most of them. This allows them to climb and walk upright, and they use their wings and their “gill” tentacles for balance.
      • Unlike real octopi, they have a skull-like structure made up of several different bones that connects with the wings and gives their bodies rigidity. Most of the bones are hollow, or they are actually cartilage.
  • Diet
    • The flying octopi (who need a different name) are herbivores. They primarily eat seaweed, but they will also eat small berries and flowers. If they are particularly hungry, they will eat grass and leaves.
      • They have a circular digestive system. Anything that they cannot digest ends up getting regurgitated, and the cliffs where they make their homes often have strange sculpture-like structures made from the regurgitated expulsions.
  • Vision
    • Two eyes are on either side of the head, with the remaining two facing forwards. They are semi-faceted, with a secondary eyelid that can lowered when the flying octopi dive under water. They are able to see colour, as well as heat signatures, allowing them to see in the dark. Their sight is very sharp, and their strongest sense.
  • Scent
    • They have a very poor sense of smell. The pheromones that they produce are fairly strong (humans can consciously smell them) and only used for identification purposes.
      • Mated groups change their pheromones slightly so that based on the scent, other flying octopi can tell what group they are part of (or even just that they are part of a group).
  • Hearing
    • They cannot hear very well either. Although fully sentient, they are unable to understand human speech (because it just sounds like a muffled buzzing).
  • Tactile
    • Due to lack of smell and sound, they have highly sensitive skin on the ends of most of their tentacles. These not only allow them to “taste” food, but feel vibrations in the ground and air. This helps them be aware of potential threats, and to “hear” things to some extent.
  • Mating Habits
    • Flying octopi have a complicated form of sign language that uses their tentacles, as well as their whole body. When attempting to mate, they put on “talent shows” whereby they “dance” and change colours. These are quite lovely displays, and usually re-tell stories passed down from parents to children.
      • The most popular story is that of a curious young flying octopi who travelled far from the shore and ended up fighting lumbering rock-monsters that had captured a beautiful flying octopi and were keeping it locked in a gilded cage.
    • They are all hermaphrodites (both male and female), and although they will form mated groups of 3-6, they mate for life. Due to the polyamorous nature of their relationships, if one of the group members dies, the others may seek out a replacement, but generally do not.
      • When first mating, they form pairs, but will not produce children until there are at least 3 members of the group. Occasionally a trio forms upon that first mating, but generally the third member is added 1-3  years after the pair forms.
      • They take turns giving birth to a single larva, and all work together to raise it. Although the larva isn’t mature until age 10, they reproduce roughly every 4-6 years.
    • Although they use the “talent shows” to attract mates, these displays are more bids for attention. After which the flying octopi engage in a type of “dating” and courtship for several months (and up to a full year) before deciding to become mated. Generally, incompatible pairs/groups break up within the first six months.
  • Life Span
    • They are considered larva until they are 10 years old, though at age 3 or 4 they lose their transparency and are able to start flying.
    • Average age of mating/childbearing is 15.
    • They have a gestation period of 4 weeks.
    • At age 45 they are unable to bear children any more, and have already developed a decent outer shell. From this point onwards, the shell becomes more complete and heavier until they are unable to fly at all. The wings begin to atrophy and eventually become sad little nubs. The shells cannot change colour, but they have 50+ tentacles by this point.
    • Average age of death is 70, but some flying octopi live to be almost 100 (they have very nice children that keep them fed).
  • Habitat
    • They live in “homes” built into cliff faces overlooking water. While they prefer salt water, they can live on freshwater cliffs.
    • Their homes consist of at least two rooms -a “front room”/entryway, and a bedroom where the mated group sleeps. As the family grows, they will dig out extra rooms using shells and crudely shaped stone tools. A birthing room is always added before the first member in the group becomes pregnant. These rooms have a wide platform around a shallow basin (that is usually at least a foot across) that is kept filled with water.
      • An extra bedroom may be built for the children, but they often grow up and live in the birthing room until they are 10 and set out on their own.
    • “Bachelor” pads are honeycomb like rooms and tunnels where unmated flying octopi live once they’ve left home. They are similar to apartments or dormitories, and siblings often live next to each other.
  • Predators
    • Large carnivorous fish, birds of prey, and opportunistic land carnivores will eat the flying octopi. Their homes protect them from most predators, and so the big threat is when they are out eating, socializing, and dancing.
  • Other
    • They only have “sex” for reproductive purposes. Mated pairs/groups give each other “massages” frequently though.
    • It’s inappropriate for non-mated pairs/groups to touch.
      • Family members will often “hold hands”, “hug”, and display other physical affection within their home, but never in public. (Siblings in adjacent “apartments” will sometimes have “sleep overs”)
    • Although they make/use tools, most of what they do has to be able to be accomplished with only their tentacles (as such their “sculptures” made of regurgitated food tends to be abstract with lots of swirls).
    • They have a rich story-telling history, but have never developed a method of writing. Some sets of sculptures are used to imply stories, but their language involves so much movement it’s hard/impossible to translate into something as stationary as writing/sculptures.

With that all laid out before you, I hope you can see how you can adapt it to whatever species your creating. (Just take each heading and answer/explain it as thoroughly as you can) In general, the more information the better. But you can go overboard. There’s still one more post about race/species building, so don’t feel like you have to describe everything right now.

Taking a break and returning to your race can help you spot problem areas, and it can help you keep things concise. (e.g., describing the detailed process by which the flying octopi digests its food is not something that I need to figure out)

Any thoughts or suggestions? Did I miss something that you thinks is important to have at this stage?


One thought on “A Pinch of Fire

  1. Pingback: With A Bit Of Clay | Scribbles in the Margins

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