Ever looked at an image of a virus, or bacteria, or amoeba? They look strange and otherworldly, and with some you could be forgiven for thinking they look like aliens or spaceships. When it comes to your own creations, who’s to say every creature you write into your books has to have 2 arms, 2 legs and 1 head? Don’t be afraid to conceive characters who have an unusual form. For example, I created a completely amorphous hidden within a dome in one of my novels; it had no head, no arms, no legs, instead it existed within a shell and only generated electrical pulses – but it was still powerful, it had a purpose and had a story to tell. Such creatures could also be the basis for “vessels”, “ships”, “transporters”, etc. that are used by your characters. But resist the urge to create a snot-monster the next time you catch a cold.
The same can be said of the insect world. If you look into the life-cycle of a ladybird, for example, you may be shocked to hear that these beetles with their dainty name are voracious predators, will happily eat their own eggs and breed like rabbits (well, actually, they breed far more successfully than rabbits). Many fantasy books use the insect world for inspiration (a great example of the use of ants can be found in Raymond E Feist and Janny Wurts’ “Empire Trilogy”). Ant, wasp and bee-type creatures often star in books because their lives revolve around a single “queen” and their tenacious efforts to ensure the survival of the hive – it may be alien to us in one way, but you can still understand and empathise with such creatures as well.
Although creatures that aren’t anthropoid or “like us” often tend to end up as the bad guy in fantasy, there’s nothing to say you can’t make them honorable in some way even if their ways are different, violent in nature or grotesque. A ladybird may be a bit “out there” as inspiration for your characters, but there are many others to select from that may provide the right angle for your book, such as: centipedes, spiders, prey-mantis, millipedes, ticks, leeches, hover-flies, maggots, worms, etc. Just thinking about them can make your skin crawl as you reach for the fly-spray, but if you take a simple insect and extend its abilities, size, beliefs, culture, reasons for violence, etc., suddenly you have a very interesting character to play with. It’s not cuddly, but it definitely has potential.