August 21st, 2013

  • mbarker

Writing Excuses 8.33: Making Non-Human Characters Relatable

Writing Excuses 8.33: Making Non-Human Characters Relatable


Key Points: Making nonhuman character relatable is a classic problem in SF&F. We want to explore new beings and viewpoints, but the weirder they are, the harder it is to get readers interested at an emotional level. First, consider common desires or needs, and use those as points of congruity. Go back and think about why you are using a nonhuman character, what do you want to highlight about them? Give them features that allow humans to relate to them. Sometimes nonhuman characters or AIs are more human than the humans. Contrast the relatable part to the nonhuman part. Use a human character as a gateway/interpreter for the nonhuman.

Why include nonhuman characters? Because it's fun! To see ourselves reflected in the alien. To go geewhiz and OH! I see! at the same time.
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[Dan] I have an example that I'm going to extend into a writing prompt for you guys. In the Partials books that I've written, the Partials themselves are essentially human, but they have a pheromonal communication system that completely changes the way they interact with each other and with the humans. So that's your writing prompt. Come up with an alien species, some kind of nonhuman species, that has a distinctly different form of communication and then have them have a conversation with a human.
[Brandon] All right. This has been Writing Excuses. You're out of excuses, now go write.
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