11.08.2016

Writing Effective Non-Human Characters


In the genre of speculative fiction, we see many non-human creatures. Yes, most of the time the supernatural creatures are humanoid and/or living in a human world. But there are also those beings from other worlds or those monsters hidden in the unseen depths of our reality that aren't human in any way.

How does a human writer go about effectively portraying such a character then? Here are five tips for writing believable non-humans.

1) The character's physical traits will affect a lot of how they behave. Your non-human may be an arachnid or an alien with no bones. No matter who we are, we are limited by our physicality and the environment we live in. What advantages and disadvantages would your character's body give them? Have they enhanced their strengths? How do they cope with their bodily limitations? How does that all work in their environment?

2) The ways the character deals with their physicality will help build their culture. Our human world is build for fragile warm-blooded beings who walk on two legs and have opposable thumbs. Most things center around the visual. What if your non-human doesn't have that sense? What sort of civilization will they have built? What if there was a world built completely upon the sense of smell? All information would be carried upon scents.

3) With culture evolves ethics. Non-humans aren't going to have a black & white view of the world. They might not even have a concept of good and evil. Your character's morals could revolve around their physical traits or some divine magic. It will be central to how that character thinks.

4) Non-humans aren't going to have emotions as we know them. How they react to a situation will depend on the three things above. It is possible they don't know fear or love. Figuring out the emotional state of your character (or the non-emotional one if it's a robot!) will guide you with how they will act and react within the plot.

5) Even considering all of this, our readers are still human. We must make them relatable to humans. We need something for the readers to hook on to, even if it's just one trait. See that sea dragon above? She wants to fly in the sky. We can all relate to a desire to be more than we are.

Have you ever written non-human characters? Care to share any tips?

12 comments:

  1. Hi Christine - I guess we use, to a point, what see around us .. the gargoyles, the cave art, the stone art ... and draw from their presence that we see today. Fun post to read and think about ... cheers Hilary

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    1. Thanks, Hilary! All that wonderful history gives great inspiration.

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  2. Awesome thoughts. I have written non-human characters, and you make a great outline of how to deeply characterize these beings. Definitely found some food for thought here.

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  3. Great tips! I often write non-humans. Ironically, it really helps us get in touch with our humanity.

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    1. That's a really good thought! Makes us think. :)

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  4. Great tips! I've written a few non-human characters, and they can be quite challenging.

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    1. Thanks, Cherie! And you do them so well. :)

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  5. Like the rest of us, I've written a few non-human characters. It's trying to make them as believable as possible, that's the hard part.

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  6. Ooo~ All good points. I'm going to have to remember this. I've actually been working on a story called Xenophobia that is from aliens' perspectives of humans, but I've made a point of making many of them very detail free (or at least revealing small details here or there) as their focus is more on mental and emotional reaction than physically based narratives.

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  7. The oddest character I've written so far is half-human, half-plant and looks like a bird with leafy wings. It was fun to give him characteristics of plants like photosynthesis and the ability to feel vibes via his stroma.

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  8. The oddest character I've written so far is half-human, half-plant and looks like a bird with leafy wings. It was fun to give him characteristics of plants like photosynthesis and the ability to feel vibes via his stroma.

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