Things To Think About & Consider When Writing Tiny/Miniature People

Are you considering writing about tiny faeries, mouse people, or something in that vein? Here's some stuff to ponder and possibly incorporate into your work when writing this kind of thing!

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Toys and doll items wouldn't be all that useful.

Fiction involving tiny/miniature people often has them using doll items, but their actual usefulness is highly questionable when you think about it.

Items made for dolls and dollhouses are designed either to be put on display or to be played with by children, and as such are not designed with functionality in mind. For example, many beds designed for dollhouses don't even have soft mattresses; what you might have instead is a piece of fabric glued onto a small piece of wood to look like a mattress.

Objects made for decorative dollhouses might not stand up to washing, either; the materials, adhesives, and resins they're made from might not be waterproof. Both decorative and play dishes might not be made from food- or heat-safe materials.

Doll clothes would likewise be nearly useless. The odds of doll clothing actually being the right size and proportion for your miniature people is very low, as dolls are almost never made to perfectly mimic human proportions. (And even if your characters don't have entirely human proportions, it's still unlikely that the clothes will actually fit them, because odds are, whatever doll or dolls they were designed for are proportioned differently from them, anyway.) Furthermore, doll clothes are not usually made from materials that would even be comfortable for a miniature person to wear, and the inside seams would almost certainly chafe a lot.

And of course, toy cars would be virtually useless. Doll cars don't have engines, and any sort of apparent control system inside an RC vehicle is going to be for looks only. (And in reality, most RC cars aren't even designed with opening doors, let alone have insides that anyone could actually sit in.)

On the other hand, lots of useful materials might be lying around almost everywhere.

Depending on the time and place your story is set, there might be a lot of useful materials lying around for the taking. Here are some possible examples:

Aluminum foil. Thin, waterproof, and malleable, aluminum foil is extremely versatile. It could easily be shaped into containers for food, drinks, and other things, be used as a waterproof covering, or be used as a light reflector.

Cardboard. Cardboard is strong enough to make fairly sturdy furniture from on a small scale. Although it will get damaged if it soaks up water, its availability makes cardboard objects relatively easy to replace.

Paper. Like cardboard it will take damage if soaked with water, but it's a fairly easy material to work with and can be used to create disposable items, or items that aren't expected to get dirty or be exposed to moisture.

Plastics. Various plastics lying around could be used for a variety of things depending on their thickness and flexibility. Applications of heat could make it flexible enough to bend into necessary shapes. (It's not hard to imagine someone making a bow out of Q-Tips the way some people make bows out of PVC pipes, for example.) However, it must be noted that plastic tends to absorb whatever it's directly exposed to for a long amount of time and will leach it out into the air or into whatever substance is put into it later, making some plastic unsuitable for certain uses. (Making a shelter out of a bleach or laundry detergent bottle would not be a good idea, for example.) Likewise, some plastics (particularly PVC, unfortunately) leach off toxins particularly badly. Mesh fruit bags could be turned into climbing nets.

Clay. Perfectly ordinary right-out-of-the-ground clay can be made into sturdy and snug shelters, particularly where heavy rainfall isn't a concern. Some cities made of mud brick have been standing for centuries and the mud nests built by rufous hornero birds can last for several years. One could only imagine what a bunch of tiny people aiming to build something similar to an Earthship could do!

Styrofoam. Lightweight, waterproof, and easily cut, Styrofoam (depending on its thickness) could be turned into seating, shelving, walls, and even insulation.

Glass. Glass shards and splinters could make extremely sharp blades. Larger pieces of glass could be used in windows, or even as shelves or tabletops if the edges are worn down smooth.

Twist ties. Easy to find pieces of wire that can be used to hold things together, make into metal handles, and assorted small tools.

Dandelion and milkweed fluff. These could be gathered to use as insulating materials, or to make into threads to weave or knit.

Fewer people should be treating them like vermin.

It happens in fiction that the default reaction to tiny people of some sort is to treat them as if they're vermin and try to eradicate them. This comes off as a little odd when you think about it, especially if the tiny people in question look human. Miniature humanoids don't look remotely like bugs or rodents. If anything, humans might mistake them for dolls, action figures, or figurines as long as they stay very still and don't get too close; and they'd probably be more likely to take them for some sort of faerie creature if they were close and/or moving.

Another problem with the "they'd squash us like vermin!" approach is that it usually misses the actual reasons people have been so keen on getting rid of vermin throughout the years. It's wasn't out of some irrational hatred of all things small; it was because vermin were legitimately dangerous. They could carry deadly diseases and completely ruin food and clothing. (Remember, mice and rats will urinate and defecate absolutely everywhere they go.) So unless they have reasons to think that these tiny people are equally dangerous, there's no good reason for them to react with revulsion.

There are a number of things that might happen if humans met tiny little people. Some might take them for domestic faeries of some sort and maybe leave food out for them. Some might suppose that they're something less supernatural, but be curious to find out just what is going on. Some might try to do so diplomatically; others might not be so kind and might try to set traps to catch them for observational study. There are all kinds of ways people might react, but it must be remembered that these reactions need to be grounded in some kind of actual personal belief or personality trait; they can't just be transferred over from another situation that really isn't that comparable.

If they are actually mice or some other small animal, do they wear clothes and carry little tools? That alone could be enough to make someone realize that something extraordinary was going on. What people make of it depends on the person, of course. Maybe someone immediately supposes that mice are actually intelligent. Maybe someone supposes the next door neighbor is catching them, dressing them up in tiny outfits, and letting them go. Maybe someone supposes that they're domestic faeries in mouse form. Either way, it would be pretty hard for people not to notice that the mice are wearing clothes and to not recognize that it's significant in some way.

In any case, there are certainly a lot of ways that people might potentially react upon seeing tiny people, but "ack, vermin, must destroy!" is usually one of the least-plausible because it typically requires them to completely overlook some pretty big details.

Good news: gravity isn't as much of a concern.

Let's say we have a six foot tall human who falls from a forty two foot height - seven times the height of the six foot tall human. We know that this person is going to have serious injuries. Therefore, it's easy to presume that if a six inch tall person falls from a height of forty two inches, that person would be similarly injured.

Fortunately for our hypothetical tiny person, probably not! The thing is, it's not the proportionate distance that kills. It's how fragile the stuff you're made from is compared to your total mass. And this is where we get into the square cube law.

Here's a quick way to demonstrate it: Imagine you have a bunch of wooden blocks, all the same size. You have one block. You want to make a shape that's twice as tall and twice as wide as the original block. You can't accomplish this with one more block, even though two blocks add up to twice the amount of the original. You need no less than eight blocks to create this shape. So despite the fact that your new shape is twice as big, wide, and deep as the original, it's eight times as heavy. If you want to make a shape that's three times as big, you're going to end up with 27 blocks total.

Now reverse this. You want to make a shape that's only one half the size of the original? It's going to have only 1/8th the mass. And a shape that's only a third? It's going to have only 1/27th the mass! In a nutshell, this is why a jumping spider can scuttle away unscathed from a fall that would seriously injure a tarantula, and why a mouse can dash off from a fall that would be pretty painful for a human. Tiny people, therefore, would be so light weight that they could fall from a few feet up with little to no concern, and they'd also be able to climb up things fairly easily.

Another implication this has is that tiny people would be able to lift relatively heavy objects. You've probably heard about how ants can lift many times their own body weight - part of this is simply because they're so small. They'd also be a lot nimbler and quicker.

(And yes, realistically the square cube law would also mean some pretty bad things for actual miniaturized human, but if you're writing fantasy or soft sci-fi, you have the right to give realism the stink eye and do whatever you want.)

And let's talk about food for awhile.

First off, it's absolutely possible to cook on tiny scales. Even a votive candle can be used to heat a burner, and if your tiny people have electricity, they can definitely use that, too. YouTube channels like Miniature Space and Bistro Miniature have many videos demonstrating tiny cooking in action.

Now with that gone over, it actually doesn't make a lot of sense for tiny people to be eating exactly the same things the humans are eating all the time. Some fiction (EG, The Borrowers) shows that the only way to get certain items is to steal them from humans, which puts them at risk of being exposed to them. This definitely creates drama, but when you think about it, there are plenty of ways to get food without risking exposure - mostly, by going outside and taking advantage of what's out there.

Bugs are rarely hard to find, and tiny people could quickly get a decent haul just by going to the closest anthill or looking under detritus for pillbugs. Slugs and snails could be eaten as well, though they should be cooked thoroughly for safety reasons. (And optimally, gathering bugs and the like would be done away from any place pesticides are likely to be used, and away from other possible sources of pollution.) Many plants have edible leaves, fruits, or seeds that are simply too small to be a practical food source for humans, but would work very well for tiny people - while conversely, many plants that humans eat would be impractically large and cumbersome to deal with.

(In some cases it could be argued that the risk of exposing oneself to humans is better than risking being eaten by a predator outside, but it must also be taken into consideration that the predators outside can't call up all their friends and tell them to start looking out for you and beings like you specifically, nor will they get a notion to track you and your kind down at all costs. And these days, many people carry around cellphones equipped with cameras, making it extremely easy for them to get hard-to-deny evidence of your existence.)

Something else to consider is what kind of storage methods will be available to them. Do they have the ability to refrigerate or freeze their food? What about canning it? If not, they'll have to rely on dry storage more, and on foods that won't spoil quickly; and they'll have to make sure they use up anything that will easily spoil before it goes bad.

Put some thought into how their homes and home lives work.

There are many domestic concerns that are easy to overlook, but might need a little thought put into them for plausibility. For one, where do they get their water from? How do they make sure it's safe? How do they deal with waste? Are their homes ventilated enough that the air inside won't grow noxious over time, or that they won't burn up all the oxygen if they light a candle? What do they store their food in, and how do they keep bugs out?

How do they spend a quiet evening? Do they play games or read? Do they work on crafts or hobbies? What kind? What do they write on? How do they write?

How about the location of their home? Is it at risk of fire, flooding, or some other disaster? Is their home actually that sturdy, or could a stiff breeze knock it over? And how close are they to others? How often do they have company or visit others?

One thing you could do is make out a list of the things that you do or have to deal with, and ask yourself how they might be doing or dealing with it. Don't take anything for granted - stop and think out everything, even things as seemingly trivial as measuring lengths, keeping your teeth clean, or walking through the snow. The world is a very different place when you're very small, so there's a lot to account for!

To recap!

And these pages might be relevant to you:

Tips to Create Better & More Believable Fantasy & Science Fiction Species
Fantasy & Science Fiction Creature Development Questions
Tips To Create Richer & More Realistic Fantasy & Science Fiction Cultures & Civilizations

Things To Know If Your Character Will Be Augmented Or Experimented Upon
A Few Things Writers Need To Know About Plants & Herbs
Things Writers Should Know About Animal Behavior

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