I have a very specific goal in terms of exposition: a drip feed so subtle that the reader doesn't even notice they're learning about the world. It's an aspiration, rather than a reality, but I'm trying.

It doesn't seem to be working on my race descriptions tho! I set myself a stupidly hard challenge by making my first novel about three original races with no humans around to describe them, and beta readers don't seem to be getting it.

This is a link to the first encounter with the three races. The antagonist (a yarazahn) looks at his lover (also a yarazahn) and one of his officers (a zahn). Then the protagonist (a zahn) looks at a laj child's corpse and at one of the town's other sheriffs (a laj). There's more drip-feed throughout the novel, but these are the bits where the reader needs to get the general idea of the body types.

For your convenience, under the spoilers are utterly artless descriptions of the three races.

Yarazah — Resemble kirin or horses. Major differences from horses are long, backwards-facing, gazelle-like horns, omnivorous teeth including large fangs, and three-clawed feet (RL horse ancestors were three-toed, though the other two toes are vestigial in modern horses). The claws on the forelegs are opposable, allowing them to grasp and manipulate items while sitting or lying down. They cannot hold things while they run. Geldings are common (for reasons outside the scope of this post) and treated as a third gender using they/them pronouns in my English translation of the source documents.

Zahn — The smallest of the races, a cross between wolves/foxes and lemurs. Basically look like canines, but with fingered paws with opposable thumbs on all four feet, making them good at detail tasks and excellent climbers. They are marsupials, so the females have pouches. Females are about half again as big as the males. They are capable of walking on their hind legs while holding things, though it slows them down a lot.

Laj — bipedal gorilla/rabbit things. Rabbit-like heads, including-sideways facing eyes. Local laj culture has a tradition of cropping their ears and weighing them down with jewelry as informal mark of social role. They are about as tall in overall height as the yarazahn are at the shoulder, making them the middle-sized race. The advantages gained by their bipedal stance are somewhat offset by the fact that they have only panda-like sesamoid bones for thumbs. To compensate, they construct artificial thumb-extensions for various purposes, and, until recently, kept zahn slaves to help do tasks that required delicate work. A peace treaty with the other races, and advances in mechanical thumb technology, have made this less necessary. They excel at building and digging, and their self-sufficient fortress cities are practically impregnable.

What can I do better here?

Original link


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