Creating a Non-Human Species From the Character Up

I did a similar post several years ago, but due to the fact that I have no had more experience creating non-human characters and species, and thus have a more streamline process, I figured it was worth doing a follow-up.

(Quick note: there shouldn’t be any spoilers here for either A Greater Duty or A Looming Shadow.)

As before, there are three main criteria to bear in mind when creating a new species:

  1. It needs to in some physical way be clearly non-human.
  2. It must, in some psychological way, have a different outlook than the average human.
  3. The species should not be presented as a monolith; there can of course be general trends regarding their attitudes and attributes, but its members should be individuals.

The species whose creative process I will be going through today is the Nihluran species, one which was briefly mentioned in A Greater Duty, but had little screentime.

For A Looming Shadow, I wanted to introduce my first viewpoint character that was not in a position of power, as all three main characters in A Greater Duty were, and it seemed like a good opportunity to develop one of the less prominent species.

As always, I started with the character, Ayil (don’t expect any insight on creating character or species names; sometimes it comes easily, sometimes it’s a struggle.) Early on, I decided to have her be a smuggler-type, living on the edge of the law type of character, as they’re always fun, and I wanted to be sure that the species itself played in to a more irreverent, fun character (while not falling into the comic relief trap.)

I also wanted the species to be humanoid, but still very visibly alien, and I started thinking about a way to link the physically alien aspect of the Nihluran species with the physical–while also, as mentioned above, making it something that would work well with the character’s personality. Secondarily, I wanted to make the Nihluran species a fairly prominent, if spread out, one in my galactic setting. So I got to thinking. What sort of evolutionary developments would a species develop to become very prolific, and lead to interesting cultural and character dynamics? The idea I ended up going with was that, in the species, females are always born as twins, leading to a constant 2:1 female to male ratio. This, of course, logically lends to a societal norm of bigamy, with each male taking two wives (generally of the same twin pair.) In addition to this being an interesting concept that I, at least, have not seen before in fiction before, it immediately prodigies a pair of characters for Ayil to play off of, her twin and their mate.

Now, I’ve yet to discuss the physical attributes of this species, as well as their psychological approach to things. While I knew I wanted the species to be generally humanoid, I also wanted to give them a unique look. For that, I went back to the initial concept of a species designed to ideally reproduce and spread at a high rate, and built a fun concept into that (that would also play into the character types I wanted to introduce). Put very simply, Nihluran females are capable of having sexual intercourse with most other species (though can only properly reproduce with a Nihluran male), and in that act, their bodies are able to absorb genetic material from those species, which their own bodies would recombine with their own reproductive cells, giving their offspring traits inherited from those species. (The closest comparison I could make is to the Asari of Mass Effect, except that with Nihlurans many of those alien-inherited traits would be visible. This would also give Nihluran females a unique way to look at those around them, noting species with desirable traits for their future offspring, which would in turn make their own offspring more desirable–especially if they can get traits from less common species. As one might expect, this leads to the females of the species to generally be more flirtatious and forward with others, something that also works well for the story given the primary viewpoint character that she and her companions will be spending a fair amount of time with.

I haven’t had to truly address the third criteria yet, as we haven’t seen much of other members of the species yet, but you can bet that when we do, they won’t all act the same.

I think the species came out well, and will both fit the story and be an interesting species that I can further explore. And more importantly, while Ayil doesn’t have a huge role in A Looming Shadow, my upcoming sequel to my debut novel, A Greater Duty, she will have a larger presence later on, and if the reactions of my writing group were any indication, the parts of this story in which she is involved will be fun for you to read. I sure had fun writing those scenes.

That’s all for now; if there’s anything I missed here, or if you have any questions, don’t hesitate to leave a comment. I do my best to reply to them all. Coming later this week, I should have an exciting announcement, as well as some other posts.

And, of course, now is the ideal time to pick up my debut novel, A Greater Duty, so you can read it in time for the release of A Looming Shadow next month!

And, of course, if you sign up for my mailing list, you will receive, in addition to important updates, free short fiction on a hopefully regular basis.



4 thoughts on “Creating a Non-Human Species From the Character Up

  1. This is very interesting; I don’t know if it’s due to the picture you included or something in the description, but when reading about your Nilhurans I immediately think of Star Wars Twi’leks. That may be due to the way they ended Star Wars Rebels, but I am curious to know if Twi’leks inspired these particular aliens.

      1. The Asari from the Mass Effect series were also a significant inspiration for the species, along with a couple other interesting aliens.

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