Last time I talked about how to build your very own Alien species. I covered physical appearance and all of the individualized bits and bobs, and how they all come about.
Now that you’ve got an Alien species, and you’ve got them walking and talking, the time has come to figure out what they’re like, how they interact with each other, stuff like that.
If you’ll recall, my example species was the Krit-Tchik, a race based off the Devil’s flower Mantis. Now I know that insect-races have been used before, so I headed out to the TV Tropes website (insert link) to see what they had to say about insect races. The first thing to appear?
Ok, so I don’t want that. Why? Two reasons:
First, Mantids are loners. Yes, The Krit-Tchik have a society and social structures and just how much of a loner can you be when you’re living in massive cities…but there’s a difference between a large population and a swarm.
Second, and most important: “Everyone” has seen the big-bad swarmy insect race before, and I want something different.
Speaking of different, once you’ve got a handle on how your alien race looks, you need to consider how their world looks.
The Krit-Tchik are (on average) six feet tall and twelve feet long and have six legs. They don’t really sit like you or I would. Chairs might not even exist. That’s going to have an impact on what their houses and vehicles look like. It’s even going to impact their language. They might not even have a word for chair, or sit, or anything relating to those concepts. This might not sound like a big thing, but it’s important when one of my human characters says, “Have a seat” to a Krit-Tchik, and they have no idea what that human is talking about.
Likewise, let’s say that my humans want to hitch a ride in a Krit-Tchik vehicle, or starship. Where are they going to put themselves? Maybe the safety features don’t accommodate humans.
What would a State Dinner look like on either side? What kind of accommodations would need to be made (or intentionally disregarded) to prevent (or cause) insult?
Speaking of dinners, what would a 6-foot mantis eat?
I mentioned State Dinners, and other social interactions. You’ll want to have some kind of idea what your species calls itself, what they call their government, their family units, their children. What kind of cultural shorthand do they use in their day to day speech?
Finally, what do their weapons look like? What kind of design aesthetic is there to the culture? What kind of gods or goddesses do they pray to? Do they have a sense of divinity at all?
Realize that I’m painting with a pretty broad brush here. Individual members of your species may have vastly different opinions and habits and thoughts – much like you and I do.
By this time, I’ve been thinking about these people for a while now. They’ve been in my head for a good, long time and I can now turn to the important questions:
What do they think of the other races? What kind of prejudices held by the general population? What are a couple of cultural touchstones that you could point to and say, “This is from this culture/race.”
Now if you’re reading this and thinking, “Holy crap! That’s a lot of work…”
Well, it is. Certainly not helping my case is knowing that most of this development – this work – isn’t going to make it into your project in anything more than a passing mention – if that.
Despite that, I would submit that this IS work that is worth doing.
First, you never know what parts you’re going to need, or which parts are going to be important (remember that State Dinner – what if that (intentional or not) insult sparks an incident, or a war).
Second, the more that you know, the more that you can allow to drift in – cultural sayings, “inside” references, slang (Don’t forget to figure out a few choice cuss words, and what they mean, because even a 6-foot tall mantis can have a bad day).
The more grounded or “Real” you can make these people, the more parallels that you can draw with your reader. Even if your readers don’t happen to be Mantids of any size, if you can connect them to members of your race, they’ll become immersed in the story. That’s what will make all that work worth it.