Home    Workshops    Members Only    Contests    Join    Contact us                       RWA Chapter

Monday, June 10, 2013


author Isabo Kelly

Using Earth Biology to Create Otherworldly Creatures
by Isabo Kelly

As writers of paranormal, fantasy and science fiction romances, we spend a lot of time developing otherworldly creatures, be they supernatural or extra-terrestrial. But there’s no reason we need to stick to set parameters for these creations. (If readers required strict adherence to traditional myths, we wouldn’t have sparkly vampires.)  

With such rich and diverse examples of biology and behavior right here on Earth, we have a wealth of fun material to use. Incorporating real biology and real world behavior in your otherworldly creatures will not only add originality but bring those creations to believable life. 

Imagine a being that spends its entire life in the clouds—there are actually microbes that scientists believe live and breed in the clouds without ever settling on a solid surface or substrate (once thought to be essential to life). Perhaps your alien species requires a high pressure environment and if brought to a lower pressure setting would die, like so many deep sea creatures. Or perhaps they live at extraordinarily high or low temperatures and can’t survive outside these extremes. 

How about aliens whose breeding system is similar to the Anglerfish, where males are absorbed by females, becoming little more than vestigial lumps ready to release sperm when the female is ready to breed. Or forget sperm all together and use parthenogenesis—a breeding system where females’ eggs don’t require sperm in order to develop into a living embryo—and see what kind of interesting creature you can develop with that! (I love that word—parthenogenesis.) 

The strange and wondrous examples are plenty. Just a quick perusal of Earth biology will give you a myriad of things to incorporate into your creations. I recommend watching nature shows as a place to start. Then doing searches on the Internet for strange animal adaptations or behavior will give further helpful details. You can also find a number of books on interesting animal biology, such as Weird Life by David Toomey. Discovering the different ways life goes about its business here on Earth will provide whole hosts of possibilities for you. 

But I’m not suggesting you use the biological facts strictly. For example, in the science fiction television show, FARSCAPE, there was an alien species called the Delvians who looked humanoid but were actually plants and used photosynthesis to eat. Just because you find an interesting fact about how red-sided garter snakes form “mating balls” in which a female is swarmed by hundreds of males when she emerges from hibernation, doesn’t mean you have to give that trait to a were-snake species. Take that mating behavior and use it for your demons, for example. Or maybe your Fae can only reproduce if the females are swarmed by a multitude of males. Think of the plot possibilities! 

There are bacteria and fungi that live deep in the Earth’s crust and eat by synthesizing inorganic chemicals from the surrounding rocks. In my Naravan Chronicles series, I gave the native shape-shifting species on Narava a similar way of “feeding”—their cells pull the nutrients they need directly from the surrounding atmosphere, so when they’re in a shape other than their natural form, they can still eat. This way of feeding led to some complications that gave me great room to play with this species. 

In my short story, Mate Run, I gave my were-tigers the same background breeding issues that plague the Hawaiian monk seals—female numbers dropping for unexplained reasons, males so desperate to breed they gang up on females, sometimes killing them and making the situation even worse. Then I developed a solution to those problems that was unique to the were-tigers. Obviously seals and tigers are very different mammals with different behavior and biology. But I didn’t stick strictly to tiger biology when developing my were-tigers. Why? Because I didn’t have to. My world. My rules. 

One of the best things about writing in the FF&P genres is that we have such huge scope for our world-building. We don’t have to adhere to ancient myths or even parallel biology. In fact, the more unique you can make your otherworldly creations—without making them so strange humans can’t envision them!—the more interesting your worlds will be. Using things that really happen here on Earth will give you the needed authenticity while also providing a wealth of originality, creating otherworldly beings readers won’t be able to resist. 

So tell me, have you come across any strange animal facts that you’d love to use in your fiction? 

Isabo Kelly is the award-winning author of numerous science fiction, fantasy and paranormal romances. Before settling down to write full time, Isabo got her B.A. in Zoology with an emphasis on marine biology at University of Hawaii, Manoa and her Ph.D. in animal behavior from University College Dublin in Ireland. For more on Isabo and her books, visit her at www.isabokelly.com, follow her on Twitter @IsaboKelly or friend her on Facebook www.facebook.com/IsaboKelly



Author Nikki Prince said...

I loved this...thank you! You've sparked my muse!

Nikki Prince

Isabo Kelly said...

I'm so glad you like it, Nikki! Hope your muse takes you on an interesting ride. :-)

Reese Ryan said...

Fascinating piece, Isabo! I'll admit my first venture into paranormal or science fiction was earlier this year. I really enjoyed the series and am now expanding my reading horizons to include more.

You offered so many examples of how to use the strange biology of various species to enhance the development of paranormal characters. It's very similar to what we do with any other character. We borrow characteristics, phrases, or situations to breathe life into our characters. Recommending this to anyone who writes sci-fi or paranormal.

Isabo Kelly said...

So glad you enjoyed the post, Reese. You're right, this is similar to building characters.

Glad you've discovered these genres and hope you enjoy many more excellent books!

Jennifer (JC Page) said...

So happy I stopped by! Our animal kingdom has many facts to explore...thank-you for the interesting and informative lesson.