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Okay, so I’m writing a post-apocalyptic story, and what’s a post-apocalypse without mutants? So, I decided I’d create a few. There’s just one problem.

So, after reviewing my writing for them, I feel that they resemble Fallout’s stuff to much, specifically, ghouls and super mutants.

Skinless are supposed to be necrotic creatures that look like zombified humans. They are extremely long-lived, and some emit low levels of radiation. Screamers are supposed to be genetically engineered humans. They are modified to have the strength of a male silverback gorilla, and an average height of about 8 feet tall. They’re also supposed to be immune to aging, disease, and able to withstand higher amounts of radiation. Basically, they’re supposed to be my answer to Super Mutants from Fallout.

As you see, they resemble them a lot. Today when I was thinking about it I decided I’d like to try and change them up. My question is, how do you come up with creatives ideas for creatures?

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    This might be migrated to Worldbuilding SE to get better answers there, since it could be filed under a creature design question. – Sciborg Sep 7 '20 at 15:18
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    @Sciborg "how do you come up with creatives ideas for creatures?" sounds more like a Writing.SE question to me. Worldbuilding would probably close this and possibly kick it straight back to us. – F1Krazy Sep 7 '20 at 15:45
  • @F1Krazy Fair point, if you look at it that way it does fit better as Writing SE. Was just curious if it would fit better there since they have a creature design tag. – Sciborg Sep 7 '20 at 15:46
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    What do you want them to do? Be menaces? Be puzzles that are menaces until the characters figure out their secrets? Be cosmetic background? – Mary Sep 7 '20 at 18:14
  • "Basically, they’re supposed to be my answer to Super Mutants from Fallout." So, to clarify, based on this line — have you basically started with Ghouls and Super Mutants from Fallout, and then tried to make them 'more unique', rather than creating your own mutants which have converged to the Fallout specifications by coïncidence? – Chronocidal Sep 8 '20 at 11:19
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One recipe to come up with unique creatures for your world is to start with their thematic role or roles in your story -- the more interesting creatures might be the manifestation of a couple of themes for your story.

As an example, zombies might represent rot, decay, disease, or damnation. They would be kind one dimensional creatures, and therefore uninteresting, creatively.

If you decide one of your creatures represent wrath and self-sacrifice, then you'd could start listing qualities of both themes

Wrath:

  • rage filled
  • angry
  • vengeful

Self-Sacrifice:

  • generous
  • principled
  • community focused

From your themes, you can come up with how they act and behave. Keeping in mind that the most interesting creatures will have the most contradictory traits unified into a coherent description; meaning that the complex behavior is arising from a unique combination of motivations, strengths and weaknesses and needs and wants.

Once you've created that part, its up to your imagination to think up the most unique creatures that meet those traits. You might get frustrated at the start because your creatures all look like a mix of zombie-alien-predators. That's OK. You can keep adding and subtracting traits until you stop recognizing their origins. Chances are that you will make up a dwarven-zombie-orc or SpongeJohn-Roundpants like creature and then have an insight about what would be really unique and interesting.

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Between two worlds:

This question seems to fall between worldbuilding and writing, so I'll do my best to answer with a response that falls between the two.

Mutations are typically defects, and for a series of mutations to result in a functional "mutant," explain why this thing works and didn't just die. Real mutants from an apocalypse would be weak, and their descendants would be dead. The 1950's idea of radiation creating super-monsters IS powerful, though, and seductive. You need to move your readers past disbelief by giving the details to justify such creatures.

To get at the functionality of mutants, remember that mutant is just a word for "different than what was." Often it is used in stories as a pejorative for a minority. Your mutants must make good sense biologically, and for that, I'd look for inspiration in nature, for species that do what you want yours to do. Why are the skinless skinless? Is it just because you want that as a theme of your story? If the point is to make horror, you at least should be able to justify a complex series of evolved traits.

Similarly, if you have screamers that are super-everything, how did they get that way? Why did scientists make such a thing, but have them be horrifying fiends? What niches do they fill in your story AND your world? Are they meant as a replacement for humanity? Why haven't they succeeded?

I liked EDL's answer about defining what you want from your mutants. I would have two columns: Story traits and worldbuilding traits. What mix of elements does each race need to fill? How did each trait get filled and what justifies it?

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The deep sea has some great examples of weird mutations through evolution

For example, the angler fish is heroically ugly (don't listen to a word of it anglerfish, we're all beautiful in our own way), and has a long tentacle arm thing with a light that dangles over its head to lure fish. Could your mutants have something like that? A part of their body that protrudes over their head and has a weapon on, if not a lure?

Or there's a jellyfish which ripples in rainbow colours on the edges of its skin. Or you could go for simple colour-changing abilities, like a squid or cuttlefish.

If you read a little more about weird creatures of the deep you'll find lots of weird and wonderful inspirations, and just modifying and adding one to your mutants could make them much more original.

I also like EDL's answer that the mutations should relate thematically to the story, you should definitely keep that in mind when choosing mutations, if you do go this route.

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