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Using a random generator to invent new alien ideas

Alien idea

Mark writes useful alien & story ideas at ScifiIdeas.com (This isn’t Mark BTW, it’s an alien idea called an “Ancari”)

This article was written by Mark Ball, who blogs at SciFi ideas.com

As a science fiction writer, and as somebody who tries to pass himself off as an “ideas guy”, I know all too well how difficult it can be to think up new and original ideas.

Science fiction thrives on originality and creativity, and I’ve been told time and time again that coming up with something that has “never been done before” is incredibly important. I’ve also been repeatedly told that “there is no such thing as a new idea these days”, and while I don’t think that is any more true today than it was when the first science fiction stories started to emerge over a hundred years ago, it only goes to show that coming up with that all-important original idea really isn’t easy.

Recognizing the need for originality is one thing, and when that magic idea happens to strike, recognizing its value is easy, but have you ever sat down and commanded yourself to think of an original idea? It can’t be done. Creativity just doesn’t work that way. If you don’t believe me, try it now.

SEE ALSO: Naming your character without looking like a twit

One of the most difficult (and most enjoyable) things I’ve had to do since I set myself the task of trying to inspire writers through the SciFi Ideas website is think up ideas for interesting and original alien races. There are so many different factors to consider when inventing a new species; biology and physiology, culture, technology, the environment in which they live, etc. Thinking out of the box when there are so many boxes can be a real challenge.

I think the problem is that we are surrounded by so many creative ideas – good and bad – that it can be difficult to see through the haze. This often leads us to fall back on the same old clichés; clichés like warrior races, insect people, and Romulans.

Of course, existing ideas can be very useful to us too. Many of the great original ideas in science fiction, and literature in general, have actually been inspired by their fore-runners.

Most of you creative types will already have realized that one of the best ways to come up with a new idea is to take two or more existing ideas and attempt to mash them together. This is how great inventions like the pencil-eraser, the spork, and the alarm-clock-kettle came to be. Mashing ideas together (or “marrying” them if you want to sound like you know what you’re doing) can be a great brainstorming exercise for writers too, but if you really want to beat the “there’s no such thing as a new idea” paradigm you really need to throw multiple ideas from multiple sources into the mix.

This is where random generators can come in handy.

Now, you can play spin the bottle with some random books laid out in a circle like some kind of sexy, geeky literature party, or you can look online. There are a lot of random generators on the internet, helping you create everything from character names to entire planets.

Example alien

Name this alien using the random alien species generator!

To compensate for my own lack of creativity in the alien department, I decided to set myself the challenge of creating my own online generator. The generator would think up ideas for new alien races for me, creating not only a name for the species but providing details of their physiology and culture too.

The values I programmed into the generator would have to be generic enough to avoid contradictions but interesting enough to avoid those rotten clichés. If this was going to work, I was going to have to be clever about it. So, off I went to the pub to get drunk and think up as many strange ideas as I could.

After a lot of head-scratching and the inputting of hundreds of weird and wonderful sci-fi ideas, the Alien Species Generator was born, and to my surprise, it worked!

Now, the Alien Species Generator isn’t perfect. Some of the races it creates are a little too wacky, some are still a little clichéd, and some of the descriptions are a little too short. It won’t create a complete and detailed alien profile for you, but what it will do is provide a starting point for your imagination, providing a mix of ideas and helping you to think outside of those dastardly boxes. As a writer, it’s up to you to join the dots, but it beats the hell out of trying to pull an idea out of thin air.

I invite you all now to try the Alien Species Generator and let me know what you think. Refresh the generator a few times to see what comes up, and if you find something you like, why not share it in the comments section here?

This article was written by Mark Ball, who blogs at SciFi ideas.com

  • pete

    great idea..some of the ideas it came up with had me howling with laughter..and some made me think..well done 🙂

    • Mark Ball

      Thanks. Yeh, it comes up with some funny stuff.
      It does contradict itself sometimes though, like plants who shed their skin