In my latest project i developed new species not far different from humanoids. I am making whole history, gender interaction, abilities, their psychology and trying to discribe their life and development from birth to adult person.

I even made patology report and developed special character, who made experiments from them.

My question is: "How far is good to go to discribe species its abilities and complexity for reader to be still interested in it?"

3 Answers 3


Treat fantastic, made-up facts the same as you would treat facts about our own world.

Do you describe the physiology of human beings when you write a book about people like you and me? No. Neither should you go into medical detail when you write about aliens – unless your protagonist is a scientist studying them. In that case, give us the same amount of detail as you would if you were writing an episode of Medical Detectives, that is, do go into detail, but keep it limited to what is relevant to your plot. Do not stifle the dynamic of your story.

But if you write about normal people habitually interacting with the normal aliens they live with, mention their physical characteristics only when they become relevant to the story, in the same way you would describe the color of the eyes of a person your protagonist is in love with, but won't usually report the whole spectrum of possible eye colors that men and women might have.

By treating fantasy the same as facts are conventionally treated in fiction, you make the fantasy more believable.

I assume you are writing narrative fiction. If, on the other hand, you are writing a Bestiarium Imaginarium, don't hesitate to give us the full Atlas of Alien Anatomy.

The above answers your question about how far your in-text descriptions should go. For yourself, as a writer, you should of course be clear even about details that don't make it into the text. If you don't know that humans have differing eye colors, you will miss the importance of eye color for a person staring into the eyes of their loved one. But this does not mean that you have to define all possible details of your alien anatomy before you start writing. Just invent the most important aspects, and make up some of the minor details as you go along. You will have to rewrite anyway, and will have ample opportunity to correct small mistakes.

  • I made "my" species based on humans.... a bit... Both of you are right in what you are saying. The main purpose is that i need as much as i can get information about them, but i will use small number of information for main story. I am thinking about main story and some sidekick story of the patologist and researcher who made patology research on them. Thanks both.
    – Ernedar
    Jul 22, 2015 at 8:13
  • +1 in general though I'd quibble over your statements that a writer should say just as much about alien biology as he would about ordinary human. I'd say you need to say more about a fictional alien's biology precisely because it is all made up. If I read a story that mentions ordinary humans, I take it for granted that they all have eyes and noses and ears and stomachs and two legs and so on, unless the writer specifically says that this person has lost limbs in an accident or was born with a deformity or whatever. But I can't assume that about a fictional alien. The reader has no idea ...
    – Jay
    Jul 23, 2015 at 5:38
  • ... what they look like, etc. If you want the reader to be able to picture the scene, you have to give some descriptions of your aliens. But all that said, the key point here I think is that it's not necessary or helpful to give a whole bunch of imaginary biology that does nothing to help the reader picture the scene or to advance the plot. Yes, tell me that the aliens have six legs and purple fur. But I don't want to read a long discussion of the arrangement of their internal organs unless this matters to the plot.
    – Jay
    Jul 23, 2015 at 5:41
  • @Jay I wrote: "habitually interacting with the normal aliens they live with". A story written from the perspective of someone who lives with dogs wouldn't go into detail about dog anatomy. You would just say enough so that readers know what kind of dog it is, and that's it. In a story that wants to give the impression that the humans are familiar with the aliens, you must do the same, otherwise you break your fictional logic. If you write a story about someone encountering aliens for the first time (or studying them, as in my Medical Detective example), you would go into more detail.
    – user5645
    Jul 23, 2015 at 6:25
  • There is a continuum between the two extrems, and where a specific story lies, and how much description is appropriate for it, is something that the author must decide for herself.
    – user5645
    Jul 23, 2015 at 6:27

Whatever point you choose on that spectrum you will have some readers who won't like the place that you have chosen. You will never get the balance exactly right for everyone.

I am sure some people would enjoy a purely anthropological study of another species, if it was well written and contained interesting insights - myself included. Equally, that would bore others to death.

Personally, I would aim to keep the details subtlety conveyed. I prefer to infer characteristics than to be told them directly. I like to have some gaps that make me wonder.

It also depends on the type of story you are telling, for example it would be difficult to naturally talk about the gender interactions of humans as a human. Whereas you could make a more naturally flowing story if you were talking about human gender interactions as seen from a non-human perspective.

It ultimately depends on what your goal for the story is, if you want a vehicle to convey the complexities you have created in this species then choose a story that helps to exhibit that. If you want the species characteristics to be incidental to the story you want to tell then work out how best to tell that story.

Decide on the story that you want to tell. The story that you would want to read. Write the story that you are passionate about, that you are excited to tell. Help the reader to understand what is so special about this species and they will enjoy the journey you take them on.

  • Yes. The story should come first. If the fact that the aliens' equivalent of DNA is built as a pyramid rather than a double helix advances the plot, then by all means bring it up. But if it doesn't, then leave it out. If you've come up with some real cool idea for an alien biology that you want to talk about, come up with a story where this is important. Yes, sometimes you can just throw in cool stuff you made up as a side conversation in a story that has nothing to do with anything, but too much of this and the reader doesn't say "oh, cool idea", but "come on! get back to the story!"
    – Jay
    Jul 23, 2015 at 5:47

When I try to write about new species, and they're part of the ordinary world of the novel - but obviously completely unknown to the reader, then I actually have to know all of their peculiarities much better than I would have had to know if they had been new, unknown species to the world of the novel.

Some of the things about people we all know well on a subconscious level, so we don't have to worry about having to describe certain objects, motivations or even physical reactions.

Same thing should apply with new species you create.

The problem is that with the new species only you know about, it's easy to forego millions of years of "their" evolution (and potentially even miss the lessons from the evolution of humans as something the reader will likely reference in their mind) to arrive at a completely implausible and flat concept.

Hence, I strongly believe it still pays to do this kind of work, but not for the story itself, but as part of research for it. Write it well and thoroughly, maybe take whatever is already part of the story and connects to the species, and write it down elsewhere in your "research" materials, expanding more on it.

Ideally, if you are serious about it, you will build a guidebook on the species, from history, to physical features, emotional composition, etc. etc.

Of course, you could always totally wing it too!

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