1. Mouthwash

    Mouthwash Senior Member

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    Should I use real animals in my setting?

    Discussion in 'Setting Development' started by Mouthwash, May 4, 2018.

    I'm currently writing in a world without humans in it - or anything related to humans - in order to give an alien feel to the world and its races. But it's hard to decide whether to include real-life animals.

    EDIT: It's a fantasy world, and contains intelligent races and civilizations. Just no humans.

    Points in favor:

    1. Real animals can be easily recognized and placed in context by the reader. If you think of horses or wolves, there are immediate associations with natural habitat, behavior, relationship with other species, uses... whereas invented creatures demand a lot of cognitive work on the part of the reader, work which might be better used for understanding cultures or events.

    2. Animals have mythological and archetypal significance. A valiant charge on horseback evokes feelings that a valiant charge on arbitrary herd animals does not (no matter how thoroughly you describe them). This doesn't apply to fear, though, since the unknown and bizarre is naturally frightening.

    3. Is easier and would probably result in faster overall progress.

    Points against:

    1. Imaginary animals can easily be stand-ins for real ones. You can just describe their use/behavior, which draws parallels to mules, horses, lions, etc. Every niche can be filled like this, but I'm wondering if removing ALL real-life animals from the setting is akin to kicking out the supports from under a building: leaving the reader with no easy point of reference.

    2. Would fit the theme better.


    Now before you come in and list a dozen examples of good stories that used only the weirdest and most alien creatures imaginable, ask yourself if those creatures weren't actually part of the point. Some stories are based upon exploring strange places, in order to contrast them with the world we know (e.g. Gulliver's Travels). That's not what I'm aiming for.
     
    Last edited: May 4, 2018
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  2. deadrats

    deadrats Contributor Contributor

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    Something you might want to look into are the animals that continue to live and adapt in Chernobyl. I've seen a few documentaries that focus on the animals living there with no people. The environment has played a major role on how some of these animals have evolved and others not so much. It's very interesting. If you watch some of these, you can really get a feeling of a place where animals are the only life form. It might really help with your research and figuring out the best way for you to work these animals or other creatures into your story.
     
  3. Spooky Ghost

    Spooky Ghost New Member

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    If you're going for an alien feel, you could explain that some of the real animals are left overs from Earth, or however you want to do that if you catch my drift? You can also expand on that idea; the "aliens" need to keep the population of the animals alive in order to eat and surivive, so they mated the regular animals with some of their alien animals to keep food supplies flourishing. As a result, the world is inhabited by a mix of real animals and alien animals.

    Ultimately, the decision is entirely up to you. Using actual animals would be easier, but leaves less room to expand on the animals. Using fictional animals would be, how you said, not an easy point for reference, but you would be able to expand and create many fascinating creatures.
     
  4. Mouthwash

    Mouthwash Senior Member

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    Okay, I may not have been clear enough: I'm not talking about an animal-only world, just one without humans. There are lots of sentient races. Nor am I setting it in the same universe as Earth. So far as the story is concerned, humans never existed. Finally, my use of the word 'alien' was entirely metaphorical (it's a high fantasy, not sci-fi).
     
    Last edited: May 4, 2018
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  5. Spooky Ghost

    Spooky Ghost New Member

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    I would go with made up animals then, make them how you want them to fit in with the people. Intelligent animals that are similar to their real life counterpart, such as dogs or other animals known for their intelligence, that reside with the people in peace.
     
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  6. Necronox

    Necronox Senior Member

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    Personally, I always prefer 'made up' animals as it is refreshing, nice and interesting to see different ideas or concepts being put on the page. Some writers come up with some very interesting and intriguing ideas. I also think that a good, well done, made up animals makes the story so much more interesting then simple 'normal' animals or stand-ins.

    That said, I also find that using made up animals is very risky. If somehow you it is not delivered, written, or thought out correctly or well, it comes of as a second-grade attempt and just makes it so much worse then simply using normal animals. So... I would say it depends on how confident you are in your creativity and ability to come up with good, intriguing and convincing animals.

    In summary, I consider using made up animals a 'gamble' that can pay off massively (or reversely, be significantly worse) whilst normal animals is the 'safe bet' with lower potential rewards.

    Also, you don't have to have just normal animals. For instance, you may have horses, but you may also have some imaginary breed of horses or something. Also, nature on earth has come up with some very interesting creatures, and I think that introducing some that have since been extinct may give off that interesting vibe but also be a bit of a safe bet as well.

    In regards to you book, and the fact you're stating that you are not focusing directly upon these creatures, I would say that perhaps some hybrid (using mostly normal and natural creatures, but with a few fantasy ones spiced in there - and convincing/'good' ones) would be the best. Just my opinion...
     
  7. Quanta

    Quanta Member Supporter

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    Life tends to resemble itself wherever it is evolving. If you look at the Australian fauna, which has evolved separately from the rest of the world, koalas look like little bears, the Tasmanian tiger resembled a wolf and the Tasmanian devil is weasel-like.

    I would find it easier to imagine some humanoid, equine or canine/type creature than completely made up ones, which you'd still have to describes with known elements such as feathers or scales... If you decide to make them up, I think less-is-more might apply when it comes to descriptions, as my imaginations would find it easier to fill in the blanks than trying to conform to your exact vision.
     
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  8. Mouthwash

    Mouthwash Senior Member

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    Hmm, what about naming? Should they evoke the animals they're based on or be completely different?
     
  9. Mckk

    Mckk Moderator Staff Supporter Contributor

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    You only need to worry about the animals that will actually feature heavily in your book, or better, animals that actually have something to do with your plot. And for those, design the animals how you like, according to how they fit within your plot.

    All the rest of the animals that pepper your world and gives it flavour - honestly, none of those really matter. They will probably pop in and out in passing - for those, I'd just make something up on the spot. How often were you planning on having your characters talk about these animals anyway?

    In other words, unless you're doing this because you love world-building, I say design one or two animals according to their relevance and function to the plot, and move on. Because 99% of this will never feature in your book.
     
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  10. Lawless

    Lawless Member

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    Unless your world is really extremely strange, I think some real-world animal names are all right.

    For comparison, I have a number of species with invented names (mostly jungle trees and birds) in my current novel, but I also have dogs and horses. It simply makes sense that an intelligent species has domesticated something like small carnivores for protection and big herbivores for riding.

    By the way, calling an animal "horse" doesn't mean that it has to be exactly like real-world horses. You can still say that the horses in your world are blue. The word "horse" simply informs the reader that the animal has more or less the same function as horses have in the real world.

    Ask yourself how much explaining would it require to make the reader understand what one or another animal is like. If the words-to-information ratio is too large, it is better to use real-world animal names rather than overwhelm your readers with a lengthy explanation only to bring them to the realization "oh, the author is trying to say it's the local equivalent of a mouse". As a reader, I wouldn't raise an eyebrow finding mouses and snakes and such even in a quite alien world.
     
  11. Antaus

    Antaus Active Member

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    I use both, and with good reason. Real life animals give the reader something they can be familiar with, and fictional animals can be interesting and exotic.
     
  12. raine_d

    raine_d Active Member

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    So true. A good book or online list of cryptids can be very inspirational (not to say hours of fascinating reading, if you're like me)
     
  13. soupcannon

    soupcannon Active Member

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    1. noun; the act or process of locating.
    I feel like, if this world is in a universe completely removed from Earth and humanity, then going with entirely made up animals (with made-up names) will reinforce the alien-ness of the place. The more you rely on human words and terrestrial animals, the less alien your setting will be.
     
  14. TheRealStegblob

    TheRealStegblob Kill All Mages Contributor

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    As someone working on their own extended fantasy canon, I agree that a good mix of real animals and invented ones are really the best kind of course. My partner originally insisted that every creature in our world be made up/original somehow, but that quickly ended up not working out just because it's a massive feat to make up that many different things that aren't just "a lizard but giant" or something.

    Of course you could go the route of having all your creatures be different and non-real. It'll be a lot more work, but I don't necessarily think it'll make it objectively better or anything than if you defaulted onto using things like horses, rats, bats, snakes, etc.
     
  15. hvysmker

    hvysmker Member

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    I don't like to sound like I'm blowing my own nos--horn, but I do have hundreds of stories written. One is a novel where Puritans sailing to the New World shift into another dimension during a storm. They arrive to find no humans in the Americas. However, huge intelligent rats have taken over. I use that dimension shifting in another Sci Fi novel, bringing a military ship into another dimension.

    What I'm getting at is that in another dimension humans might not have evolved while other creatures have. Good choices would be the venerable cockroach, great apes, dogs or cats, take your pick. That way you can use real animals and avoid bringing aliens into the picture. Of course, you still can have aliens land and either attempt or actually take over. It's your imagination.

    Oh, and real animals CAN be exotic in a different Earth dimension. They can evolve differently while still keeping many real attributes. Why can't a bear grow horns as a survival trait?

    Charlie -- hvysmker.
     
  16. triagain22

    triagain22 New Member

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    I would propose a merge, but first must ask a question. If there are no humans and no Earth (in your universe), is there a logic for why there would be Earth animals? If humans have never existed, why would the animals that cohabited the Earth with them exist?
    To portray them in exactly the same way as we see on Earth might cause confusion or annoyance among your readers if there isn't a good logical reason that you explain. I do agree that to draw from common knowledge species makes things easier to describe and move along, however, you have to feel that they belong in your story.

    So, do you feel that run-o-the-mill black Friesen horses - graceful and majestic though they are - belong in your story's world? Or do you feel that great six legged beasts with pawing claws of steel and long flowing manes of silk (just an example) are more apt?
    Either way, basing fantasy creatures on actual animals helps readers connect as well, and saves you having to entirely create and describe your critters. But it's up to you. Maybe you want prehistoric/extinct animals instead, because maybe in your universe, they were never wiped out. That way you have animals that readers can recognize, but still feel foreign.

    Only you can decide, but from what you say, it would be my vote to at least put a twist on our average Joe animals for your story.
     
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  17. Privateer

    Privateer Active Member

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    Well, think about it this way; it's not literature, of course, but Morrowind had alits, guars, siltstriders, kaguti, kwama, nix hounds and the thrice-accursed cliffracers and people loved it for its exotic, alien feel.
     
  18. Homer Potvin

    Homer Potvin You're nearly a laugh... Contributor

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    Yeah, works in a video game with a visual cue that is easily repeatable, but, like you said, it's not literature where the cues have to be established in writing and then recalled (in theory) without rewriting what they represent each time they reappear.

    What I would say about all this, real animals vs. invented ones, is that if you can create alits, guars, kaguti, et al in a way that the reader will recall and visualize them without needing added reminders (extra explanation) as they do cats, dogs, and deer, then, great. Do it up. If not, it might save you a few headaches to lean on previously established symbols. Whatever works for you.
     
  19. Lawless

    Lawless Member

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    It just occurred to me that in the preface to their superb novel "Nightfall", Mr. Asimov and Mr. Silverberg say something that might be somewhat helpful in answering the OP's question:

     

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