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Worldbuilding Week Day Two: Alien/Magical Races

Worldbuilding Week

Welcome to the second annual Worldbuilding Week at QSF. We’ll talk about all aspects of building a world for your story, including languages; alien/magical races; history and timelines; culture and politics; sex, marriage and reproduction; and tools and techniques. It should be a lot of fun.

Today we’re talking about alien/magical races, and J. Scott Coatsworth will be our moderator. Here’s my take:

This is one of my favorite topics of the week, because I love authors who are able to construct entire races of beings in an original and convincing way.

When I was in second or third grade (memory fails me, LOL), I started reading The Lord of the Rings. I still adore Tolkien’s works, because he was such a thorough and adept world builder. His Hobbits are one of the most wonderful fantasy races ever conceived, in my opinion. They have a warmth and liveliness to them, along with their own quirks (Elevenses, anyone?) and when I was reading the books as a kid, I wanted nothing more than to visit the Shire.

Alien races can be fascinating too. Many authors make their alien creatures very humanoid. I get that – it’s much easier to have human-type aliens interact with humans (especially when we veer into romance). And while tentacle sex has its adherents, it is inherently harder to make relatable to the average reader.

One of the most amazing alien race stories I ever read was Robert L. Forward’s Dragon’s Egg, where the action takes place on the surface of a neutron star, and the alien race, the cheela, who are the size of a sesame seed, and who evolve at a much faster pace than humankind. Forward builds an amazing world that’s both relatable and thoroughly alien.

I think that’s the key. To write truly unique races, we have to break out of our two arms two legs human blueprint, literally and metaphorically. For fantasy races, they may well still look like us. But it’s what’s inside that makes them radically different. And for alien ones, it’s often the outsides that are different, but a good writer can still help us relate to the insides – the way a character struggles with his life and loves and grand plans.

So my questions today: How do you go about creating an alien race or fantasy race? What kind of quirks do you include to differentiate them from humans? Are there any tools you like to use? And how do you ultimately make them relatable to the reader?

A few resources:

Writing Realistic Aliens (article)

Creating Believable Aliens (article)

Aliens and Alien Societies (book)

Writing Monsters (book)

Join the discussion.

Here’s the schedule for the week – each day will have a moderator to help keep moving things along and to supply their own tips and point of view.

Tues 7/26: Languages, Moderator: Loren Rhoads

Wed 7/27: Alien/Magical Races, Moderator: J. Scott Coatsworth

Thurs 7/28: History/Timelines, Moderator: Lloyd Meeker

Fri 7/29: Culture & Politics, Moderator: Roger Lovelace

Sat 7/30: Sex, Marriage, Reproduction, Moderator: A. Catherine Noon

Sun 7/31: Tools and Techniques, Moderator: Jenna Hale

It’s a freeform discussion – pop in and ask your questions or share your wisdom – or both!


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2 thoughts on “Worldbuilding Week Day Two: Alien/Magical Races”

  1. I’ve already commented on Facebook, but I had to mention one author and one work of fiction which did an outstanding job of describing alien races, as well as one of the most beautiful alien romances I’ve ever read. Has anyone else read ‘The Merro Tree’ by Katie Waitman?


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