When creating characters for a story, it’s easy to identify them as just “that (fill in the blank with some kind of mythical being)” and then make up the rest of their traits like they are human, but this leaves out a lot of potential story material. In this article I am going to cover some of the things that I like to take into consideration when making a mermaid character.
- Are they born as a baby from mermaid parents? Or is it some sort of curse/magic put on an adult person?
- What does the child of human and a mermaid look like? Does it transform back and forth between being human and mermaid? Does it have major health complications? I would imagine that some sort of cross like that in real life wouldn’t live very long, but perhaps it could. What would happen if it had the body of a mermaid, but no gills? Or gills with the body of a human?
- What do they eat? This can be as simple or interesting as you want it to be. Here are a few of my ideas: they could eat both sea creatures and plants, just plants (this might be a good idea if they are friends with sea creatures), or, if you want to go into a more gory territory, they could eat the people they lure into the water.
- Does your mermaid use magic?
- Yes: how is it used? How often is it used? How does this affect the appearance of the character? (Would they have more humanistic features in order to be more attractive? Would they change their form depending on what they think will be more likely to attract their victim?)
- No: Is it because it does not exist at all, or because only certain characters can use it? Does this affect how your mermaid character looks? (Would this make them more fish-like so that they are better suited to living in the water?)
Where do they live?
- Body of water:
- There are a lot of possibilities here: Swamps, rivers, lakes, oceans… but some have more drawbacks than others, I’ll get into that in the next few sections.
- I bring up this topic mainly to talk about the idea of mermaids that live in the deepest depths of the ocean. Have you looked at pictures of how amazingly terrifying the fish that live down there look? Would deep water mermaids be feared for their looks? Can they come up to shallower waters without dying? A lot of fish that live that deep die when they come up to shallower water because of the pressure change, basically without all of the water pressure holding them together their insides pop out (On the opposite note, there are also deep sea creatures that are just fine with the pressure change, so it could be equally believable that a deep sea mermaid could come up to the surface). How different would life be for a deep sea mermaid, compared to a shallow water mermaid?
- What about mermaids who live in really shallow waters, something like a lake or river? If they did live in a lake, how did they get there? Traveling from the ocean to a river makes sense since they are connected, but lakes are usually cut off. How do shallow water mermaids deal when the water dries up? Are they doomed? Or do they have ways of picking up and heading off to the next best place?
- Climate underwater can be quite different from how we have it on land. Once you go deep enough, it does not matter if the land temperature above is nice and beachy, the water gets cold. I’m talking near freezing temperature once you get deep enough. Could this cause problems in your story?
- The idea of how domestic mermaids build their houses and make clothes has always fascinated me. When putting this part in my story, the deciding factor of what materials will be used usually depends on if humans exist in the story:
- If they do: Sunken ships would make cool houses and buildings. Their contents, things such as metals, plastics, ropes, and some fabrics, would be more useful and durable than most natural objects that they would have available, like seaweed and driftwood.
- If they don’t: Making buildings out of rocks and caves could be a good starting place. Bones could be useful material for many things. I don’t suppose that a seashell bra like Ariel’s would be out of the question. Coming up with clothes ideas for this one is usually a bit more difficult for me, so I cheat and give my mermaids a more fish like appearance to avoid the topic of “do they just swim around naked?” in case anyone asks about it (but in a world where no one has ever worn clothes, I don’t suppose having everyone swim around naked would be awkward for the characters, just for the readers).
Relationship with humans
- How do your mermaids handle humans, if they exist in your story? It’s kind of hard to just ignore them, they’re always trying to find new ways to explore the ocean, catch large amounts of fish, and pollute the waters. They could make for a difficult and interesting hurdle for your mermaids to have to deal with.
- Do they lure humans in any sort of way? What do they do with the humans that they have lured (into the water, I assume)? Do they kill them? Let them drown? Or something else, like give them the choice to join the underwater world? Why do they do what they do? What are the pros and cons to it? (“the more humans we kill in this area, the more of them that come to search for the bodies, and the more of them that are searching, the closer they get to finding our homes”)
- Longer, shorter, or the same as an average human? This is something interesting to consider because many sea creatures have very long lifespans compared to humans, but other fish also have very short ones. They could also live the same length as a human, of course.
- Are your mermaids only crosses between fish and humans? What about other ocean dwellers? (I’m imagining Ursula from The Little Mermaid on this one) Octopi, lobsters, sea horses, and shark mixes would all make for an interesting bunch. How are they separated in society? Do they all stay in their own kingdoms, or do they mix in one or two big kingdoms? How are each kind stereotyped? Do they each play their own role in society? Like maybe the shark hybrids are guards because they are fast and deadly, and the octopus hybrids are good spies because they can blend in with their surroundings.
There are a lot of interesting things to consider when writing about mermaids. Hopefully this article got you to thinking about a few of the interesting possibilities, but if you think of something that I missed let me know about it in the comments!