A Dash of Life

So twice now I’ve written about creating a fictional race/species. The first, on March 21st, was about the very basics. The second, on April 2nd, was about fleshing out the rest of the physical aspects. Today I’m going to talk about the finishing touches.

What exactly does that entail?

Well, what are the social structures? How does the race teach its young? What sort of jobs/occupations/responsibilities are there? How do they decide who gets which job? How do they treat their young, the old, and the infirm? Do they have a system that recognizes status?

All of these questions can apply to every type of race/species you create.

But how do you go about tackling them?

Well, that becomes a little more complicated. You look at the mess of questions up there and it feels like its a great big blob of complicated answers waiting to be tortuously withdrawn from your creative subconscious. And it is. Sort of.

But you can also break things down. Now, rather than giving examples of each for how it applies to my flying octopi (still trying to think of a better name for ’em), I’m just going to list the categories/questions. You should be able to fill in your own answers without my giving examples.

So let’s get started!

  • Society
    • How are relationships formed?
    • What relationships are deemed important?
    • Who is in charge? Why?
    • If someone not in charge has a problem, how do they go about addressing it?
      • Does this change if its a problem with an authority figure?
    • What sorts of crimes does the race see?
      • How do they punish criminals?
    • What is considered “normal”?
      • What is considered “abnormal”?
        • Note: “normal” and “abnormal” do not need to be either side of a line. Think of it like this: (normal)      (abnormal). There’s behaviour that falls between either -things that aren’t encouraged, but they also aren’t considered inappropriate, risque, taboo, or dangerous.
  • Education
    • Who teaches the young?
    • Does learning continue into adulthood? If so, who teaches the adults?
    • What is considered important to teach? (e.g., do they need to know math? hunting skills? how to paint? etc.)
    • What is considered optional, but still beneficial to learn?
    • Are there formal forms of education (schools, apprenticeship), or is it mostly informal (parents, older relatives)?
    • What happens to the young and their parents if the young isn’t taught?
  • Jobs
    • What types of jobs/responsibilities are considered important?
    • Are jobs gained through strength, skill, personality (e.g., voted in), or some other method?
    • What jobs are there for the young, those just entering adulthood, the elderly, and those who have some sort of disability?
    • What happens to those who can’t work because of age or disability?
    • Are there jobs that are viewed as “lesser” (regardless of how necessary they are to the smooth functioning of the society)?
      • How are people chosen/convinced to work such jobs?
  • Status/Rank
    • Does the race/species recognize any form of rank or hierarchical system?
      • Who is at the top? Why?
      • Who is at the bottom? Why?
      • How is position determined?
      • What benefits are there to holding each rank?
      • How easy or difficult is it for someone to move up (or down) in rank?
    • If there is no hierarchical system, why not?
      • How do they enforce the equal status of everyone?
      • What happens if someone tries to become more important than other people?
      • What do they believe is the benefit of complete equality?
      • How do they make decisions if there is no one “in charge”?
        • If they vote, does it have to be unanimous, 51%, or a higher percentage to reach a decision?
  • Justice & Law
    • What rights do everyone have?
      • Are there some people who have more or less than everyone else? Why?
    • What expectations go along with these rights?
    • What laws exist?
      • What are the punishments for breaking these laws?
      • Are there “levels” of laws (e.g., misdemeanours vs. felonies)
        • Do the punishments differ based on the level of law broken?
    • Who enforces the laws?
      • What happens when a law enforcement member breaks a law themselves? Are they treated easier or harsher than the general public?
  • Fringes
    • How are the young, the old, and the infirm treated in relation to the general population?
    • Is it possible to be on the “fringe of society” and not be mistreated? (e.g., war veterans who are honoured and given positions of power, but no longer expected/allowed to mingle with the general population)
      • Does the common population think these members are being treated well, but in actuality they aren’t?
        • Is the reverse true -they think they’re being mistreated, but the “fringe” members are actually happy with the way things are?
    • Are there support structures in place to assist “fringe” members to integrate with regular society? (e.g., welfare, work placement, counselling, etc.)
    • Are any other groups of people considered to be outside “normal” society? (e.g., immigrants, holders of a specific job, children born out of wedlock, etc.)
      • How are they treated?
    • Do “fringe” members have their own hierarchical structure?
    • How many “fringe” members are there?
      • Note: there could actually be more “fringe” members than “core” ones. It’s all about who holds the power, and what they think makes someone a valued member of society.
  • Art & Culture
    • How does the race/species remember and share its history?
    • How do they share other ideas?
    • What types of artistic expression do they participate in?
      • Are there any types that are illegal, taboo, or otherwise looked down upon?
    • How does the general population view those who create artistic works?
      • Is it dependant on the type of work being created? (e.g., painting vs. music)
    • What does the race/species try to present as their cultural persona?
      • How is this different from how their culture actually works?
    • Where does the culture/artists receive influence and inspiration from?
      • Do they inspire and/or influence any other cultures?
    • How does the various forms of art reflect status in the society? (e.g., owning a painting is a sign of wealth, but watching a play is considered a sign of a low birth)

Once you’ve answered all (or most) of the above questions, take a look at what you’ve come up with from start to end. Does the creature feel consistent? Are there parts that would be hard for someone else to accept (like your flying tentacle beasts that like to sit by a fireplace and drink ancient wines)? Are there any parts that you feel need to be explained better?

Take this time to adjust your race as needed so that they feel like they could be real. Don’t be afraid to ask for a friend’s opinion. And taking a break can always help bring new perspective to a project!


One thought on “A Dash of Life

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

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