We all want to make our readers marvel at the detail and beauty of the worlds we create, and one of the best ways to do this is to show the daily lives of the people who live there. In a rural setting, most of their lives will be dominated by farming crops and rearing animals.
Of course, it would be easy to just use the plants and animals of the real world – and many fantasy writers do, so there’s no problem with this. But a great way to make your world truly memorable and unique is to create a few of your own. And when you do, you should try to introduce them dynamically – with as little infodumping as possible. So instead of saying “the people of this country relied on the livestock of [insert place name] for their food”, show a war between two countries over this important resource. Or, on a smaller scale, have a character walk through the area and see the fields of farm animals – or plump crops bobbing in the wind. Maybe have a shepherd fight to the death to defend his prize animal – the one he depends on to maintain his family. Show the unique plants and animals of the world, and how valuable they are to the people who live there.
When the developers at Bethesda set out to make Morrowind, they gave themselves a goal they could sum up in a single sentence: “A stranger in a strange land.” And a quick wander through the open world of Morrowind shows us the developers thought a lot about their world’s plants and animals – and how they could use them to build the world.
First, we have the famous silt strider. They’re introduced perfectly: when the player first hops off the boat in Seyda Neen, they’re told to head to Balmora. How do they get there? “Well,” they’re told, “you could always take the silt strider.”
The player thinks “what on earth is a silt strider?”
The game doesn’t tell you, of course. It just plonks a silt strider on the outskirts of the village. A huge (like 100ft tall) insectoid creature with a hole cut out of its back… for you and the driver to sit in.
Now, if the game had made a character tell you what a silt strider was, it wouldn’t have been as effective. Silt striders are seen every day in Morrowind, they’re as normal as taking the bus. No-one would think to explain one because they’re an integral part of daily life. And having the name casually dropped in conversation makes the player want to find out what a silt strider is – urging them to keep playing (or reading).
There, you’ve got dynamic worldbuilding.
Plenty of other domesticated creatures appear in Morrowind – here are a few to fuel your imagination:
- Kwama. These are large insects who live in tunnels – like a huge ant’s nest. They lay eggs, and the eggs are tasty. So in Morrowind, its some peoples’ jobs to maintain and guard the nest, making sure the kwama are healthy and the eggs are harvested. They’re known as egg miners.
- Netches. The netch is a creature half way between a cow and a jellyfish. It has tentacles and a soft underbelly, hovers above the ground, and has thick brown skin. They’re kept by shepherds, who harvest jelly and leather from them – for food and armour, respectively.
- Guar. Guar are the mules of Morrowind. Stocky bipedal reptiles, they’re kept in herds by farmers for their hides and meat but are also used to transport heavy goods over long distances.
Introducing new flora and fauna comes with its risks – it can be really tempting to infodump. Try to introduce them within scenes where things are already happening. Have your protagonist speak to a netch shepherd who’s nonchalantly milking a netch for its jelly. Explain what the netch looks like, then move on with the plot. Later, have the character notice the huge stall of netch jelly in the market, or have someone serve it to him at a feast. Your keen-eyed readers will notice how important netches are to your world’s people without you having to spell it out for them.
Then, when a netch plague hits the kingdom in later chapters, they’ll understand why it’s such a disaster.