Race Building Part 1: Appearance

Race Building Part 1: Appearance

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Every fantasy world, especially worlds you build, need to be filled with people. What kind of people, though? How do you race build and where do you even start? Well, I’m here to help you with ideas and walk you through my process, as well as other creative ways to invent fantasy races!

Now, my process for building a race is similar to my process for building worlds. I start with Pinterest. They have a myriad of images for different alien races. You can search: fantasy races; fantasy women, fantasy men, sci-fi aliens, sci-fi races (because sci-fi races work just as well). You can even look up fantasy races for dungeons and dragons – it’s a world and race building game so they have a lot of content. Remember that the actual picture belongs to someone else, but as long as you’re using it for your personal use and not selling it with your book or something, you’re okay. I usually look at a picture and typically, I’ll save it to my fantasy races board until I come to a point when writing a story when I need a race and then I’ll scroll through my board and find the good ones, haha. But if you’re building, I’d recommend finding a picture that inspires you. What do you see when you look at this picture? Then start with the what-if question again.

What if that necklace on this person that I see in the picture is built in? What if that’s how they have energy to do things? What if it connects them to nature? What if the tattoos on their skin that I see in the picture are really magical runes that give them elemental magic? Look at the picture and use the drawing to inspire your inspiration. Take everything in, from their clothes to the tattoos that might be on them, jewelry, their hair color, style, eyes, face, shape, appearance, what is this race?

From there, you can tweak their appearance to fit what you want. If that’s similar to the picture, then fine. Spend time writing and describing your race’s basic traits. Think about nationalities from our world today.

Americans and most people from Europe are white skinned. Africans have black skin, which is their dominant trait. Asians all have almond shaped eyes. Native Americans have almond-shaped eyes, but they have tan skin, whereas Asians are often pale in complexion. Asians tend to be skinny, whereas Americans tend to have a more curve to their body. Mexicans are tanned, but they also can have curvy bodies, but they often have dark hair and dark eyes. If you want to get specific, Japanese people have narrower features compared to Chinese who have rounder features. Both of them tend to be pale in complexion, but if you find Koreans and other Asians they tend to have darker skin than Japanese or Chinese people. Indians are dark complected with black or brown hair and typically are skinny. Native Americans have various body types, but aren’t always skinny, like Japanese people.

Take these traits as examples. Does your race all have blonde eyes and hair? Do they have various hair colors and eye colors? What if all your people have different combinations of eye colors and hair colors and there are so many combinations, everyone is unique (like tiger stripes). Maybe their tribal tattoos are actually part of their skin and it’s all unique and allows the people to tell each other apart.

When you’re working on this process keep in mind that we humans can’t come up with something out of nothing. We can’t comprehend something we have never seen before, so anything we come up with is always a combination of things we have seen or experienced before.

Elves are humans with pointy ears that stay young for a long time.

Dwarves are literally shorter humans.

Centaurs are literally humans combined with horses (which you can do other combinations too; centaurs that are half human half tiger or half giraffe or half other big cat like lions, cheetahs, and jaguars, others that are half rabbit or half kangaroo – okay that would be cool. Maybe they could even have pouches and bounce like one).

Mermaids are half human half fish. There could be other types with this as well – each different one could have different types of tails – mermaid goldfish, mermaid whales, maybe they could even be larger, mermaid sharks, mermaid octopuses, mermaid jellyfish, mermaid squid, etc.

Horses that have wings are Pegasai and horses with horns are unicorns. Maybe you can combine horses with something else – horses with dragon scales that spew fire from their mouths are a different race.

There is an endless amount of combinations that people come up with, so you just have to make your own combinations and find out what works. If anything, you can start with basic fantasy races that are used in a lot of movies and books: elves, dwarves, centaurs, even dragons and phoenixes, shapeshifters, werewolves, and vampires. Give them your own twist, give them a different culture, and end the cliche and make them you’re own.

Another way you can make a race is to literally start with just a typical human being and try throwing in tiny tweaks that make them different. Humans with pointy ears are elves; shorter, fat humans are dwarves; short humans with hairy feet are hobbits. See how many various traits you can come up with. Humans with three eyes? Humans with wings? Humans with unicorn horns? Humans with backwards feet or hands? Humans with tentacles for hair? Humans with four legs/arms? Humans with antenna that come out of their shoulders? The list goes on and on. See what you can come up with!

Another idea is to simply use humans. After all, everyone on earth is human but we all have extremely different cultures. Name them and work on how their nationalities are different. Humans in Kingdom one could be called Hammoraese versus humans from kingdom two that are called Oramsi. Then you can work on differing their culture (which we’ll elaborate more on in part two). Maybe one lives in the northern deserts so they have a nomadic culture versus the other that lives in the southern islands, so they have a Hawaiian like culture. After all, Game of Thrones is an epic fantasy loved by many people worldwide and everyone in it is human. George R.R. Martin simply let them live in very different kingdoms with extremely different cultures and societies. You could do the same.

Or you could go all out and make each race you come up with not look anything like human at all. Pinterest is a good start with that, like I mentioned before, or you could be super creative enough and come up with it right off the top of your head (maybe you’re even an artist so you can draw your own race, which would be super cool).

Another type of way you can make races is to make them human with magical twists. Or twisting mythological creatures that already exist.

When you have your race’s appearance, whether they’re human looking or something out of a Star Wars movie, maybe you want to divide your race into different nationalities. Say you want a race that looks just like humans but they all have wings. Maybe one nationality of them have two wings with pale skin, but another has four wings and their skin tone varies. Maybe another one has two of wings but they tend to be curvier and plumper, versus another one that tends to be dark skinned and slender. Maybe another has six wings and they’re all redheads or variations of having red/orange/yellow hair. Each one could have a slightly different culture, despite that they’re all the same race.

Take some time and write out what your race’s common traits are and when you figure that out, then start with thinking of possible ways each person in your race is different. Obviously, this is a large list but just name a few. If your race all have wings and maybe one nationality has two wings with pale skin, maybe their hair color, eye color and even their wing color all often vary. Maybe some can be fat while others can be slender. Maybe this race is predominantly beautiful or maybe some have natural bumps on their skin.

Part two will be about culture and environment, so stay tuned!

Photo by rawpixel on Unsplash


Joanna White

I'm a Christian author with a Bachelor of Fine Arts in Creative Writing for Entertainment. I love God and my family and am passionate about writing Christian Fantasy. I'm a total nerd; I love Star Wars and video games and many other TV Shows.

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