25 February 2015

Wednesday Writing Exercise: Creating Aliens and Fantastic Beings

Note: This exercise was originally written for About's (now defunct) Creative Writing for Teens website. Although it was aimed at teens wanting to get better at writing, I hope it will be useful for all writers.

Creating Aliens and Fantastic Beings: A Creature/Worldbuilding Exercise

Instructions: Try to do the entire exercise in one sitting. You may find this helps your thought processes or you may find it overwhelming; if the latter, take breaks between numbered sections, but don't let too much time pass before going on to the next. There are notes at the end that may help you better understand the focus and point of the exercise.

1. Write an essay about your alien/creature as if it really did exist. Make it the point of the essay to describe the being to someone who has perhaps heard of it, but does not know what it is. Hint: analogy is useful for description and perhaps also for some of the "how it works" stuff. Don't go into too much detail -- just enough to let the reader get a decent idea of the creature.

2. Make notes as if you were a scientist studying the creature. Point-form scientific observations on biology, habits, culture and so on work well. These are notes you are making for yourself -- other people don't need to comprehend them, but make sure you will later. Sketches and diagrams may be useful. Begin by ordering things logically or by category (physiology, appearance, etc.), but don't be too strict. New ideas will come to you later; just add them at the end.

3. Think about how this creature might fit into a story. Jot down some plot ideas. Is it a creature that will be discovered during the novel/story? Is it already an integral part of the setting that is well-known to your characters? Will your being be a main character? A secondary character? Just part of the scenery? Answering these questions will help you decide how detailed you must be in your creation.

4. Write down some thoughts/notes/descriptions on how this creature may have evolved (or been created). This can be just as useful for fantasy creatures as for science fictional aliens. How does the being interact with its environment today?

5. If the creature will play any kind of significant role in your story/novel, try writing a first-person passage -- perhaps a full scene (not necessarily one that will appear in the finished story/novel) -- from the point of view of a member of that species. Get inside your alien's head, see how it thinks as an individual, how its species thinks, how its perceptions differ from human ones and also how they are the same. Try to keep writing in character for a few pages.

Notes: One thing this exercise should do is get you thinking about your alien/creature in context rather than in isolation. Creatures exist in environments and co-exist with other creatures. So should yours. Different creatures think and act and live in different ways. Explore this and see how what you discover can affect your thinking about plot, setting and other characters.

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