LESSON Creating Fictional Plants

Discussion in 'CREATING WORLDS & SETTINGS' started by Jorick, Aug 7, 2015.

  1. Plants tend to be useless background decoration, never given more than a sentence or two of description to set a scene. That's fine, but maybe you want to do a little more and make nature kind of immersive by giving it some real detail. Perhaps you need some kind of medicinal herb and you don't want to use something from real life because reasons. It's entirely possible you don't care about plants and are just reading this because it's here and it's the first workshop you've ever seen using the Flora prefix. Whatever the case may be, I'm going to teach you the secrets of making fictional plants that aren't completely awful and don't require a lot of creation time or botanical knowledge.

    There are only three things you really need to bother with for creating a plant: names, appearances, and uses (which can include edibility, medicinal or poisonous applications, of just looking nice). You can optionally decide on how they smell or taste, but that's all on you to deal with since trying to describe those senses via text is awkward and I rarely bother with it. Anyway, those three things are all you need. What's more, you don't actually need any real knowledge of plants in order to create fictional ones. Instead we're going to make use of something I like to call the art of bullshit: as long as you appear to know what you're talking about, other people tend to believe it. This is especially useful in writing fictional things because people come into it ready to suspend their disbelief and accept whatever information you give them, so they're primed and ready for your bullshit before you even start to dish it out.

    Anyway, on to the actual meat of the workshop.


    There are a variety of potential naming conventions that you can use to come up with things to call your made up plants, and any of them can work for you via the art of bullshit. Real life plant names are pretty goofy at times, and a lot of them follow the naming conventions I'm about to list out for you, so you can get away with all sorts of names for plants without anyone batting an eye at you. It's probably a good idea use at least a couple different sets of these naming conventions in order to avoid your names being repetitious and blatantly formulaic. Also, plants that are found in different areas often have multiple names, each given to it by people in a certain place, so you can come up with multiple names from different naming schemes if you feel like making use of that aspect of things.

    The first and easiest to use is simple descriptive names, which generally refer to the most distinctive characteristic of the plant. Something like Bitterleaf or Longthorn could work for this, for example. This may take care of part of the appearance of the plant, thus making the whole process a little easier.

    Another way to name them is in relation to their medicinal use. Sweetsleep would help people sleep, Vileroot could force people to throw up because it's so nasty, and so on. It's not very imaginative, but then neither is everyone who ever names plants, so it's fine.

    Alternatively you could name a plant based on more harmful traits, perhaps because they're toxic to humans and/or are used in the creation of poisons or really nasty potions. Anything dark and bad sounding can fit here, and such names may or may not be actually descriptive. Blisterwort could be a thing that causes painful blisters wherever a person touches it, or Widow's Blood could be an edgy name for a plant used to make a horrible poison. As long as it sounds evil, it can probably work for this naming convention.

    Plants can also be named after deities, saints, local folk heroes, and so on. The general formula for that is <name>'s <thing>, and the thing can be simply the type of plant or some fanciful sounding word that may or may not relate to why that person was revered enough to have a plant named after them. Names of this type could look like St. Augustine's Flower or Jeremiah's Heart. These kind of names are often used for mythical plants with supernatural powers, but you can use them for common plants just as easily.

    And finally there are the generic natural sounding names made up of a couple words. These ones can basically be anything involving a nature word like grass or sun or leaf or so on. For this one I like to think of the sort of names you might give stereotypical “I am one with nature” hippie elves, like Sunswift or Greenheart, both because it gives me an amusing mental image of a plant with an elf head and because it works. As silly as they may sound, those are the kinds of names you can totally get away with in fantasy plant naming.


    Most people have no idea what sort of appearances plants are limited to, and even if they did you'd have plenty of room to do odd things thanks to artistic license. This is pretty much the perfect scenario for making use of the art of bullshit. Nobody knows what your limits ought to be, and few would give a damn even if they did, so you can do pretty much whatever you want for the appearance of your plants.

    Generally speaking though, unless the in depth specifics of what the plant looks like are going to matter for the plot, you shouldn't bother spending a paragraph describing all the details. Another facet of the art of bullshit is that it's all about being lazy, not bothering to do real research because screw it, you can just make crap up. You can assume the reader has a very basic familiarity with plants and then exploit that to make your life a lot easier.

    One way of doing this is through metaphor. You can say you plant looks like some common real life plant, except for some distinguishing difference like an unnatural color of some part or it being way bigger/smaller or so on. However, doing this runs the risk of your reader not understanding what you're getting at. If the plant you're using for your metaphor is any less commonly recognized than a rose then there's a good chance a lot of people won't be able to easily recall what it looks like to be able to make that little shift in appearance you've described. Be cautious and only use this method with extremely commonly known plants.

    Another lazy description method is to just point out a plant's most distinctive physical trait. Everyone knows the general shape of a tree or a flower or a vine or so on, so exploit that fact. Instead of describing the color and shape and dimensions and texture of the trunk and the way the branches form and how the leaves are distributed and how each leaf looks you can just go lazy with it and say something like “a large tree with golden leaves.” Seriously, that's as much detail as you need. People will fill in the rest with their personal knowledge about trees, and each person will probably imagine something different, but that's fine. So long as you have that descriptive trait that you can refer to easily, it doesn't really matter what the rest of the thing looks like.

    Alternatively you could go ahead and describe every little thing about the plant, but see the second paragraph of this section for why I suggest not doing so. If you proceed anyway, it's really as simple as describing each part. Maybe go look up some examples of plants similar to the one you're making and stare at them for a while if you're having trouble explaining how it's supposed to look.


    The final bit of plant creation is to decide what the hell it's used for. You may have actually decided on this first because you wanted a plant for a specific use, and that's fine too because the order in which you do the three things is irrelevant.

    If the plant was just there to fill the scenery and look nice, congrats, doing the other two parts (or just the appearance part really) was enough for that use. You're done, enjoy your pretty plant.

    Is the plant edible? If so, you can decide on taste and smell and preferred cooking methods if you want. You could also just have people chow down on them without bothering with details. Either way works.

    Medicinal uses are a little more complicated, meaning it's time once again for the art of bullshit. Thanks to that lovely combo of low average knowledge plus willing suspension of disbelief, you can have plants do all sorts of medical stuff. Healing otherwise mortal wounds or bringing back the dead are probably not reasonable unless it's some kind of mythical magical super plant, but anything less than that is fair game. Quickly healing broken bones or major bleeding wounds also makes little sense unless it's some kind of magic plant, though just plain old “it's a magical healing herb” is enough there. For anything less than that, any symptoms other than obvious breaks and cuts, you can have a proper medical plant use (or a mix of multiple plants in some kind of potion or poultice or whatever if you wanna get fancy) fix it up in short time without any but the most pedantic of people questioning you. For all possible medical uses, keep in mind that the general expectation is that the more potent the medicine is, the harder it should be to get the ingredients and/or prepare them. Alternative medicine and natural remedies are questionable in real life, but in fiction they're totally fine.

    Toxic and poisonous effects are very similar to medicinal uses, just kind of in the reverse. Making cuts or broken bones be the result of someone ingesting a nasty plant or a poison made from it would be ridiculous if it's not a magical plant. The analog for resurrection or healing mortal wounds here would probably be a poison making a person literally explode. For anything else, any sort of nasty effect that's wrecking the internal organs, you can have a mundane plant/poison cause it without any confusion. Even more so than herbal medicine, poison has a sort of mystic awe attached to it, a deep misunderstanding and fear that makes people assume poisons are all powerful. You could say that a secret formula using a common garden weed and common cooking ingredients prepared in a special and extremely arduous fashion can produce a colorless, tasteless, odorless poison that is potent enough for a single drop to almost instantly make a person's throat clamp shut so they suffocate within a minute or two and people would probably believe it without question. If you want to use poison in some way, feel free to abuse the crap out of that ignorance for the sake of creepy and gruesome deaths.


    And that's all there is to it.

    Fun fact: I used the art of bullshit to write this entire workshop. I've only ever made fictional plants a few times, but here I pretended to be some kind of expert on the topic. Take this as a sort of motivational force: if I can write a guide on fictional plant creation with the power of bullshit, then you can certainly follow it and make fictional plants with the power of bullshit.

    Now go forth with your new wealth of thoroughly fertilized plant creation knowledge and, I dunno, make some herbs or something.
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  2. This was a fantastic read, and I can't wait to make ALL the bullshit plants I can come up with.
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