One of my favorite things about writing fantasy is the shear amount of stuff I am allowed to make up. Characters, names, creatures, lands, magic, and of course the plot. Many of the creatures I use are standards, like unicorns and elves, but some of the others are made up.
One of the characters I made up is called a “vubricon.” The air that it exhales powers a carousel in the second book of my Martina Mackenzie series. The characters who built the carousel were unable to use wind magic to power it because elemental magic has been outlawed except when the user is granted permission by the council. Because the builders have dubious intentions for the seemingly innocent carousel, they decline to ask permission to use wind magic to power it and, instead, imprison the creature in the bowels of the machinery.
In the same book, the borgsten makes its first appearance, as a creature that appears when a magical amulet is used to call it. It is the unintended companion to the amulet, and no one is sure where it came from. The amulet was made by mistake long ago when a Rhihalva man attempted to create a magical amulet to develop a remedy for his sick son. He eventually succeeded, by the way, on his seventh try.
When you decide to make up a creature, there is always an element of imagination to it. You could go with something that came to you in a dream, or you can look at the situation the same way that an architect or engineer would. You need to reverse engineer it to determine what it will look like so it will fit what the creature needs to do in the story.
It may be simple. Maybe you just need something magical to pop out of the sea and recite a riddle. Reverse engineering the creature would lead you to use a body that can swim well and the top part of a creature that can sing in the tongue of your characters. Immediately, you may think “mermaid,” but there are multiple body types that can swim. Recall sea turtles, squids, manatees, eels, aquatic dinosaurs, and many others. What about the body types of single-celled organisms with their cilia or flagella for locomotion? This is how I make use of my biology degree post-college.
The same is true for the top half; however, keep in mind that you aren’t limited by the biology of what we have on Earth. Keep in mind that you could easily make a turtle or eel recite the riddle just as a human would. This is one of the many benefits of writing in this genre!
For the vubricon, I wanted something aquatic and ancient, so the body had to be something a little less developed. I decided to pattern it after a single-celled organism and a jellyfish. The vubricon, Morpheus, was a “large jelly-like creature” that “lives in the deepest, darkest part [of the Dusibia Sea] where the pressure is so great that it could easily crush a Rhihalva.” Bones wouldn’t work very well in that environment. I made vubricons “rare, due to their life cycle” and the location and incubation time for their eggs: “twenty years buried in the sand along the Dusibia Sea.” This meant that most of the creatures living on land would not have been familiar with it. The creature’s rarity also drove other parts of the narrative.
My borgsten is a land-dwelling creature, and I wanted it to have a build that would lend to being ridden. Quadrupedal creatures, those that walk on four legs, like horses, camels, or elephants are more likely to be good animals for riding (though Final Fantasy uses chocobos, yellow ostrich-like creatures, and they seem just as effective). Adult borgsten are brightly colored, in pinks, oranges, and yellows so they can easily spot their mates and have horns for protection, though they are fast runners. Some of their traits were simply the product of my imagination, like their large furry tuft around their neck and the huge gossamer wings that they unfurl only on rare occasions. I also pictured them like a sleek friendly bear- or monkey-type creature with warm, intelligent eyes that conveyed understanding.
Once you have designed your creature, you need to name it. You can go with any number of means for inspiration, such as the creature’s predominant feature or job, much the same way people used to earn their last names in some cultures.
I use BehindtheName.com to help me research the exact words I want to use, and I search based on the origin, using mostly northern European words like they all came from a root language shared with the Rhihalven. I have one creature named “atherdont,” which means “sharp tooth” and a venomous sea snake called a “beortlind,” which means “poison snake.” My vubricon’s name means “strong lung,” while the borgsten’s name means “stone protector.”
Typically, I change the spelling of the words based on similar sounds (this knowledge is thanks to my linguistics classes). I might substitute a “v” for an “f” in some words or a “t” for a “d.” Vowels are changed out sometimes, as well, based on how I think the word should be pronounced or to make a guess at pronunciation easier. You have to remember that the words can’t be too complicated because the reader needs to come up with the pronunciation on their own, unless you post videos of yourself talking about the world and saying the words so they know what they are.
Simplicity and creativity must join together for you to develop just the right words.
Developing new creatures, both magical and non, is one of my favorite parts about writing! And I absolutely love figuring out what they look like, thinking about how creatures on earth move and other aspects of a living thing’s existence.
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