Often, when you are worldbuilding, or creating a character, a supernatural race, or whatever, you know what you want or need for the story or the world to work, but these elements must be an organic part of the whole, not just something stuck in.
For these elements to make sense to the reader, you have to work backwards to find the causes that fit your results.
I’ve used this method many times to discover what happened in a character’s past that makes a character like he is, to build back plot, or to world build.
When I started writing STAR-CROSSED, my science fiction romance, I had a few ideas about my alien world Arden that were dictated by plot necessity.
Its gravity would be slightly heavier than Earth’s so my Earth men wouldn’t be as strong as an Arden woman whose muscles developed for that stronger gravity.
It would be fairly close to Earth in living conditions and weather because I didn’t want to emphasize day-to-day differences. Instead, I wanted to focus on the difference in the culture to ours.
The dangerous wildlife would make it almost impossible for a human to survive on his own in the wilderness so escaping from captivity would be a slow death sentence.
Beyond that, I really didn’t think out the specifics of the planet’s wildlife.
In the first scene with my heroine Mara, I decided to give her an alien pet to make the scene more otherworldly, and I decided on an animal similar to a cat but with long rabbit-style ears. I chose a kind-of-a cat because I wanted the pet to be relatable to non-science fiction readers.
Floppy, the rab-cat, hopped up onto Mara’s lap and promptly told me he was as intelligent as a human, he would take care of Mara--no human male needed, and he was in the story until the end.
Being well-trained by my pets to be obedient, I agreed with his assessment of the situation, and I realized I needed to work backwards from Floppy to make sense of rab-cats in relation to the other parameters I’d set up for myself for the world.
I ended up writing an interview with Floppy which details my choices, and since it is more entertaining than a bland recital, here it is.
Floppy, the sentient alien kitty, from STAR-CROSSED was kind enough to let me interview him. His interpreters were busy, but, fortunately, he is quite proficient at writing human Basic so he typed his answers on my laptop.
Floppy is a bit larger than the average Earth cat, and has a solid black, smooth coat, emerald green eyes that dance with intelligence and mischief, and elegant long ears that resemble a rabbit's. Those ears move with grace as he speaks in his own silent language.
"Thank you for letting me interview you."
I am always happy to talk to my biographer.
"Biographer? STAR-CROSSED is Mara's story."
No, it isn't. It's the story of how I helped her find happiness with a true mate and children of her own.
"I guess it is. My error."
She deserves every happiness, and I could not find my own happiness until I knew she was happy. I kept her safe through our adventures.
"I thought Tristan did that."
He helped as did others.
"Very gracious of you. I'll start with some questions others have asked me about you. Here goes. What's with the bunny ears? Cats don't have bunny ears."
Humans call my race rab-cats, but we are not Earth cats, and we're not rabbits. We're the sentient cat race on the planet Arden.
"Cats from another planet? That's ridiculous."
The cat is the perfect predator. Why shouldn't it evolve on more than one planet? Many planets have a vermin similar to a mouse so many have some form of cat to keep it in check.
"That still doesn't explain the ears."
The most feared predator on my world is the tyrlin. Tristan compares it to the Bengal tiger on Earth. It kills and eats every creature which crosses its path, and if it is not hungry, it kills for the pleasure of it. It hunts more by sound than scent or sight.
"So its prey evolved into absolute silence."
Yes. No cries or songs, and stealth in its movement.
Rab-cats also hunt prey so we had to evolve with excellent hearing as well as sight and smell.
"So the big ears help you hear quiet mice?"
Exactly. We also developed intelligence, and we created a silent language by using our ears.
"Clever kitties. What do you think of Earth cats?"
Mara is owned by a cat. Sheba was very kind to me when I first came to Mara's house from the vet hospital. She licked my face, purred, and slept curled around me to comfort me.
"You were nearly killed by a tyrlin when you were a kitten."
Yes. It killed my mother and was trying to kill me when Mara lured it away and blasted it. She took me to human doctors then brought me to her home to live.
"I'm sorry about your mother. Why were you two alone in that meadow with tyrlins about?"
An earthquake destroyed our home and killed my father, my brothers and sisters. There was nowhere safe to live or seek refuge. The earth would not stop shaking so no den was safe.
Our only choice was to cross that meadow and reach the rab-cats who lived in the hills beyond. My mother hoped the tyrlin would be busy looking for the dead of the quake.
"How horrible! I'm so sorry."
It was a long time ago, and my heart mother healed me and loved me after my fur mother died.
Her heart chose me although she is not rab-cat.
"Back to Sheba and Earth cats. Do cats talk? And what do they say?"
They are not as evolved as we are. They talk, but they have little to say to others. Feed me. Hold me. Leave me alone. That is all they feel they need to say to humans. They speak with their voices and with their bodies. A slight twitch of the whiskers and a flick of the eyes in a certain direction can say volumes.
"I know. Pan, the cat who owns me, will twitch his ear to beckon me toward him, then glance down at himself then up to me when he wants me to pick him up and hold him. He's only vocal when he's starving to death after being away from his food bowl an hour or so. If he's silent, I know he just wants to be held."
He doesn't need to be vocal for most of his needs because you read his body's language. Some humans only understand a loud meow, and others don't even understand that.
"Some humans are pretty blind."
Yes. You did not know I was sentient when you began my story.
"No, I didn't. I thought you were an alien pet, there to make Mara's first scene obviously not on Earth. But you set me straight when you jumped up on Mara's lap and took over the plot."
I do my humble best to set humans on the right path to happiness.
"One thing I don't understand. After I realized you were sentient, I wanted to change your name to something more dignified than Floppy. Why wouldn't you let me?"
Floppy is a perfectly dignified name. In fact, in my native language, my kitten name meant almost the same thing. My ears were quite long, and I hadn't quite developed the strength to control them completely.
My parents never lived long enough to give me another name so Floppy I will stay to remember them.
"I can understand that. It's amazing that Mara chose a name for you so close to your real name."
Mara sees with her heart so she sees truly. I forgot that for a time when Tristan entered our lives.
"She is an extraordinary person. Thank you for this interview."