Your World: Plant Life 
EelKat's Guide To World Building - The Squidoo Series

Your World: Plant Life | EelKat's Guide To World Building - The Squidoo Series

  • What kind of plant life is there in your world? 
  • Lots of lush greenery? 
  • Are plants rare? 
  • Plentiful? 
  • Fruit bearing? 
  • Thorny? 
  • Pretty but deadly? 
  • Edible? 
  • Poisonous? 
  • Are plants "alive" and eat people?
  • A little bit of all of the above?
  • Are there many forests or is the woodland quickly disappearing? 
  • Or is it a place where trees could never grow at all?

Life as we know it, requires plants to survive. We need them for food, vitamins, minerals, shelter, and even the air we breath. Plants are what create the oxygen in the air we breath.

Let's say for example you've create a barren world with no plant life at all. If your world doesn't have plants then it also doesn't have how do people breath? Did you think of that? You need to, because you can be sure your readers will think of it and if you don't explain to then how your people can live on a world devoid of planets, and therefore also devoid of oxygen, then you've lost that all important level of reality you need to keep your readers, reading to the end of the book. Either your people don't breath oxygen or they are wearing space suits that provide oxygen, or they have encased their city in a glass bubble and have machines making oxygen, or something else. However you explain it, it MUST be explained or you'll lose your readers fast.

You see quickly how important plants are when you realize that without them, we Humans would die from suffocation due to lack of oxygen.

We are dependant upon plants for our survival and the type of plants in your world will determine the type of humanoid life can exist in that world.

A world where plants are rare, will eat mostly meat. A word where plants are plentiful will be largely vegetarian. A world with an even mix of planets and animals will be omnivores.

Fewer plants also means fewer insects, fewer birds, and fewer animals Fewer plants is likely caused by lack of water or lack of rain.

When using familiar species of flora and fauna from Earth.

>>>When using familiar species of flora and fauna from Earth.

>>>If I'm writing a fictional world with a totally different map that has magic in it, and I use a real life flora species in my fiction book, do I have to stay true to irl growing conditions like: it can only grow with lots of sunlight (and my fictional country is really gloomy and cloudy all the time)? Like I wanna use this plant but it can't technically grow here because of no sunlight.

>>>Should I just come up with my own fantasy names instead for the flora?

Many, many, many decades ago, way back when I was a teenager... I got hit with the "world building bug", and I spent several years not writing any stories, because I was too busy writing descriptions of everything in the universe... yes... universe.

I created a universe, with multiple solar systems, and at least 3 inhabited planets in each solar system, well over 100 different alien races/species, and built maps, and continents and countries and cities.

In some cities I made very detailed road maps with all the street names and houses and shops on the map, and every house had the name of who lived there, wither I ever intended to write about that person or not;

I started to create but didn't finish 3 "new languages" for 3 of the alien races; I spent weeks at the local hospital researching the medical books in the doctor's library that normally people aren't allowed to see, but I got permission from the staff because I was a published author doin research, and I created several new fictional illnesses based off real world illnesses;

and on 4 planets, I went so far as to start creating animals, birds, plants, bugs, flowers, trees ... in total I filled up 750+ 3-ring binders of lined college ruled paper and I still have those ring binders today, nearly 50 years later.

Was it a waste of time? No. Because those ring binders today are my most used reference books for the series I write, which I started publishing in 1978 and today spans 138 novels and 2,000+ short stories that are all set in that world which I built 50 years ago.

But here's what I learned over the years of publishing that series (which applies in your situation):

  • * I never use the the 3 invented languages 

  • * I don't use about 98% of the flora or fauna I created

  • * out of several hundred plants I created, only 2 plants have ever appeared in any of the stories or novels (both are based off the real world plant: Monotropa uniflora – Ghost Plant, Indian Pipe, which grows locally to where I live, and can survive in our deep north, deep freeze, heavy fog, months of no sun, weather conditions. You will probably want to look up this plant as, from what you say, it may fit well into your story as it needs no sun, no light, no warmth, in order to grow. I chose it for my plant inspiration because I needed a plant that could grow in caves in an artic region, where snow and months of darkness prevail

  • * out of more than a hundred animals/birds/fish/bugs/beasts created, fewer than 10 ever appeared in any story

  • * while I don't use most of the fictional illnesses, one did go one to be a primary plot point that ran through the bulk of the series
  • * I created a mind-bogglingly huge and detailed magic system, and while the main character and both of his 2 lovers are all 3 wizards who use this magic system, I almost never write them ever actually doing/using magic on the page. The series focuses on their daily life activities, and they don't use magic often in every day life, so while readers are told they CAN do this or that magic, the readers never see them actually do any magic, which ends up making all my charts and rules for the magic system, kind of pointless because I never have a need to use the charts to write any scene

Well, here's the thing...

Early on in the first few novels and short stories, I DID frequently mention the made up plants and animals, BUT, it never "felt" right when going back reading the stories. It felt like hey were just thrown in for the sake of throwing them in, and they never really did anything for the story or the plot. 

In short: they just plain felt out of place, like they didn't need to be there.

I'd say what the thing was "He saw a katopa run by" and than, I would have to stop the story to write a few paragraphs explaining to the reader, what the hell a katopa was. THAN, after pulling the reader out of the story immersion to tell them what a katopa was, now, I had to hope they still had enough left over immersion from before, to pick up the story where we left off and keep on reading from "He saw a katopa run by".

So, after 3 or 4 novels into the series, I started using them less and less and before I knew it I would just be saying generic things like "the forest" (let the reader imagine what trees are in there real or alien) or "the big old pine tree" (the reader knows what a pine tree is, no need to explain) or "he picked a red flower and gave it to her" (the reader knows it's a flower, they don't need to know what kind, real or fictional, they can imagine it themselves) or "he saw a blue striped gazelle like create run by, the locals called it a katopa" (tells the reader it's basically a blue gazelle, but it's alien, and let them imagine the rest) and just kept going. No more infodumps explaining what things were, no more pulling the reader out of immersion to introduce a fictional plant or animal complete with it's encyclopedia description. 

In the end, my older work, read pretty clunky BECAUSE of all the fictional plants and animals peppered into it, while my newer work flows a lot smoother and uninterrupted with out the fictional plants and animals, and just using generic real plants instead.

>>>When using familiar species of flora and fauna from Earth. If I'm writing a fictional world with a totally different map that has magic in it, and I use a real life flora species in my fiction book, do I have to stay true to irl growing conditions like: it can only grow with lots of sunlight (and my fictional country is really gloomy and cloudy all the time)? Like I wanna use this plant but it can't technically grow here because of no sunlight.

Here is a link to info and pictures of the plant I mentioned above, it may well be exactly the plant you are looking for or will inspire you (as it did me) to create a fictional version of it to fit your world:

>>>Should I just come up with my own fantasy names instead for the flora?

I would say yes and no.


Make them.

Learn about your world.

It'll help you write. It really well. 

I wrote tens of thousands of descriptive words about my world, and none of those words will ever appear in any story or novel, but, they helped me to better visualize my world, so that I was better able to write the stories add just see the characters interacting with their world, without having to stop writing to ask "Does this look like that?" I just knew what things were and where things were, because I had spent so much time writing about them in the world building process.

I know there are a lot of people who say that detailed world building is a waste of time because you'll use so little of what you write, and maybe that is true on some levels, but for me I spent almost 10 years doing nothing but writing detailed descriptions of the world, and not writing the stories, and for some that may look like I wasted 10 years where I could have been publishing, but, to me, looking back at that, I don't feel those 10 years of world building were wasted years, because, I learned so much about my world, that now I am writing the novels set in it, I can move through this world, in my mind, like it was real, and I am able to write a smooth, uninterrupted flow as my characters move through this world. I wouldn't be able to do that had I not spent so much time world building before I started writing the actual stories set in it.

But at the same time. MOST of what I created for the world, I never use. I have a handful of things that I fall back on and use over and over again, but the rest, just sits there untouched, waiting for the day when someday, maybe, I might, possibly, use them in a story.

So, I also say no, don't make them.

Make the things you are pretty certain you have a high chance of using, but don't make things just for the sake of making them.

That was the trap I fell into with my world building. I got addicted to building every detail of the world, when most of the story is set in one small region that is barely 15 miles across.

The bulk of the story is set in a frigid deep north, a couple hundred miles south of the polar ice cap, and so, it's buried in snow, most of the year with only 2 or 3 months where the snow melt enough to let flowers bloom. And very few animals can live in the harsh year round blizzard conditions. 

And yet, I created dozens of plants and animals for deserts, dozens more for tropics, dozens more for prairies... you get the idea. I'll probably never use them, because I'll probably never write about the deserts or rainforests or prairies of my world. So, only the artic creatures and plants ever appear in the stories, and I really had no need to create the ones for the other reasons.

Do I regret creating the others? No.

I sometimes find a way to use them. Like one day a character is visiting a retired big game hunter and sees a blue and white striped gazelle like creature standing stuffed in his living room, and the MC asks what it is, and the old hunter tells the story of how this was "the last katopa" a creature from the savanna plains that is now extinct, but the last one is preserved as a record that they once existed, and this leads into him telling of his trip to that region and how he came to get this stuffed animal trophy he now has. The main characters don't ever leave their arctic region, but they are given a flashback story about another region in their world, and so once in a while, these other regions and their creatures appear in 1 or 2 novels of the series.

So, if you are writing a stand alone or a trilogy, than maybe just create what you need to use in the story and not go crazy overboard creating the entire plant system of the whole planet, like I did.

So, yeah, I'd say go for it, create new flowers for your world.

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