How to Use Animals Effectively


As with plants, humanoid species use animals in many ways, including as food, pets, transportation, entertainment/sport, guards, domestic work, and for materials such as hides, bones, and even fluids. Other humanoid species can also be used for these things, as distasteful as humans usually find the subject. We can use Earth animals or invent our own, which can be inspired by a desire to do something new or have an Earth animal do things one on Earth doesn’t do. Maybe the only horses available for riding are similar but much harder to control or train. Or maybe they are carnivores and sometimes eat their riders. Maybe we can ride one but never with a saddle. Each of these might pose a problem for characters, adding dynamics to a story. We’d probably want to call this something other than a horse, changing physical attributes while we’re at it.


Domestic work like pulling wagons isn’t very thrilling, but such animals are likely to be more commonly experienced by characters in urban settings. They can be mentioned during scenes directly involving them or just in passing as they contribute to smells, filth, and other delights only animals can add to life. In SF, machines may have replaced such uses, at least for those wealthy enough to afford them. World-hopping characters may visit a world without such technology and have an inability to deal with animals like this, struggling to ride them, for example.


Humans often use animals for sport, whether hunting them, fighting them against each other, or racing them against each other. Some see animals as trophies and the hunt a sign of their virility. This can be used to characterize our characters. Inventing unique attributes for an animal can make this conquest worthwhile. While making it faster, more ferocious, or just rare is good, consider granting abilities like teleportation, hiding/disguising of its tracks, or greater intelligence and cunning than we expect of Earth animals. The name of such an animal can become a nickname for a ship or character.


Animals used as food are either hunted or kept in a pasture. The former is a more entertaining use in our work and requires preparation, skill, knowledge, and the right tools. This also exposes our characters to risk if the animal can fight back. Even if they can’t, hunting typically means the wild, where other animals, species, monsters, and even supernatural phenomenon could impact the hunt. Dinner scenes can be spiced up with brief mention of the taste, feel, and desirability of what’s being consumed. Animals can also produce eggs, milk or other fluids that others imbibe.

Animals kept in a pasture or pen are usually more docile, but not always; think of a bull. They can be docile until approached or threatened. They can also go wild if a predator comes near, howling with fear, which can aid a scene in which characters hear a bellowing animal and realize a threat to it—and them—is encroaching.

Ferocious animals are usually not considered food on Earth because the dangers they pose aren’t worth the trouble, but maybe our characters have no choice or enjoy the challenge, even considering the eating of a docile animal a weakness, while the eating of something aggressive is strength; if that’s the case, they probably want to hunt it, too. Such a scenario can suggest a cowardly character who dines on this beast to appear strong, but loses others’ esteem when it is revealed he hasn’t hunted them, but eats caged ones. This is one way we can use such animals.