1. Simpson17866
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    Simpson17866 Contributing Member Contributor

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    Favorite ways of developing non-humans?

    Discussion in 'Setting Development' started by Simpson17866, Oct 27, 2014.

    I've been a fan of sci-fi my whole life, both for reading/watching and writing, and I'm also starting to get more involved in fantasy.

    I have grown to love world-building as much as I have always loved developing individual characters, but one particular area that I don’t see getting a lot of attention on sites like this is xenopsychology: making non-human characters such that their drives and thought processes are clearly inhuman. There’s certainly talk that writers need to make non-human characters inhuman, but I haven’t seen a lot of advice on how to do that.

    I have a few ideas that I use the most, and I’m starting this thread in case anybody else has their own ideas that they think a fellow world-builder could also use.

    My own favorite process, at it's simplest, boils down to 2 points:

    A) define humans they way I define everybody else.

    B) make more background characters than I will end up using.

    Characterization, be it for groups or for individuals, only matters through contrast with other characterizations. If one species has certain tendencies, then another species should have markedly different tendencies, likewise for cultures within a species, likewise for people within a culture.

    I might only use 2 species, 2 cultures/species, and 2 people/culture in a particular work, and I might not even give screen time to all 8 of the characters that I’ve come up with, but I’ve still been forced to better flesh out the characters that I do use by forcing myself to contrast them with more than just each other. Now imagine what a writer could do with 3 species * 3 cultures/species * 3 people/culture.
    _____

    Does anybody else have tips they’d like to share?
     
    Last edited: Oct 31, 2014
  2. leFilou
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    leFilou New Member

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    I don't think I'm sure I got your idea, but if what you mean is that you don't wanna make non-human characters look like they behave, believe and think just like humans, since they are not humans, but to have it all different.

    Just like making a new color without using red, blue, nor green.

    Tricky. I don't think it's very possible to do this without making them looking like animals. If that's your point, the first thing you should look at is the perspective for life on every organism. Every organism does want to:

    Survive, Reproduce
    So if your non-human character is going to be alive, that's the first thing you're supposed to think of. If you're following my statement, than they must necessarily fear death more than anything else, for it threatens survival. When it comes to other values, such as "community", it comes from emotional bonds and logical thinking. Those are not instinctive, so the greater value is necessarily going to be instinctive survival. Get it?
    If "non-human" is alive, then -> Survive > Community
    If it's not alive, it's programmed and it's completely up to you to decide their values.


    But if you meant having different cultures, values, beliefs, philosophies, ethnics, morals, thoughts, behaviors, etc, etc., than all you need to do is to look under other civilizations. Reflect on the Asian tribes, on the American tribes, on steampunk societies, the Medieval society, the contrast between the societies during the Ancient Times. Reflect on them, think as them as colors, and then you mix them to create new colors. Follow me? Get different cultures -> Mix them -> Different cultures. And with cultures I mean an overall philosophy, behavior, religion, costumes, etc.

    If I weren't able to be enough specific according to your question, then explain me what you really meant. Hope I was able to help :)
     
  3. Simpson17866
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    Simpson17866 Contributing Member Contributor

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    Bingo
    Good point. There's been a lot of research into the differences between human and animal psychology, and those sources could be very useful for creating alien psychologies.
    For what it's worth, it certainly does seem obvious that people of any species would fear death, and I think that's why I've had such good luck with making one of my species seem inhuman and bizarre by not fearing death.
    Always good to remember :)
    Don't worry.
     
  4. leFilou
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    leFilou New Member

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    I'm with a project that will have the feature of some non-human characters as well, but not like aliens, instead like programmed robots, so they may behave very differently one from another, but what they really orbit is their purpose, which is defined by it's creator (since they are synthesized). I'll have to struggle a little bit with it as well, but your point is very... Unreachable.

    I mean, do not give up if you're really up to it. If you accomplish this, call me, I wanna know how. But from my knowledge, everything alive is actually a "program" with the need to survive and reproduce, and acts towards it without the dependence of nature to replicate it.

    Sorry if I'm talking too much of what is something alive and what is not something alive, but something that doesn't fear death is because either it'll be for a bigger cause that will benefit it's species survival, or because it is programmed not to care about it.

    When it comes to customs, behaviors, well... I have nothing more to say about these. It's like mixing colors to make a new one.

    Here's an article that talks about this topic, I didn't read it all, but a good part of it, and it may help you. If it doesn't, then it's more philosophical knowledge for your head. You write well, you'd probably like to read it. I don't know. I don't like reading as much as writing.

    http://www.sciencechatforum.com/viewtopic.php?t=1113
     
  5. LunarDrop
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    LunarDrop New Member

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    I'm currently writing a book with all non-human characters. It makes it tricky, but I love it. In my case the characters are machines, and to figure out how they would react to certain stimuli I simply find the most emotionless, logical response and see if that would fit. In the case of using machines I just think back to their programming, but with non-human organics you'd have to think about what makes one 'human' (i.e. our morals, religion, sense of community, etc) and change it up. Sorry this wasn't very helpful
     
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  6. GingerCoffee
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    GingerCoffee Web Surfer Girl Contributor

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    My story takes place on another planet where life evolved separately though there are no animals with equivalent human intelligence. But I'm looking to the principles of evolution to create the flora and fauna on the planet. Life will develop a means of locomotion and a means of sensing the environment. Communication, reproduction, eating/drinking and producing waste are all going to be found. Life will fill biological niches. Sight and flight evolved more than once, intelligence has a survival advantage but also a key social function in gregarious species.

    I think those should be the primary tenets unless you are going for complete fiction or fantasy.

    Cultural evolution for humans followed certain principles related to population size and density. One needs to look at those principles as well. But it can be misleading since we only have one species on this planet with advanced technology. So unlike biology where we have multiple examples of how nature solves some universal problems, I don't think we can assume the way human culture evolved is based on universal principles just yet. One needs to imagine what a society of non-primate species that evolved technology would look like. It's hard to do given our brains are already filled with how human culture evolved.

    Looking at human cultural diversity, one of the biggest places we diverge is based on the value of life. One thought I heard that has stayed with me is, the difference between Eastern thought and Western is the West assumes life is preferable to what may follow. The difference is especially striking for many of the fanatics currently fighting in the Middle East.

    The idea is to boil things down to the underlying principles and motivations, then grow your lifeforms from there.
     
  7. Simpson17866
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    Simpson17866 Contributing Member Contributor

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    @LunarDrop Welcome to the site!
    Don't worry about "helpfulness", this wasn't intended as a 100% goal-oriented thread ("I'm having a specific problem, what can I do to solve it?"). This site has a bunch of threads that are more about brainstorming a bunch of ideas than about looking for a "best" idea (http://www.writingforums.org/threads/how-do-you-choose-names.132426/, for example), and I love that @leFilou thought to include tips for created mechanical "life" where I'd been focused on evolved organic life.

    Good luck!
     
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  8. AoA
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    AoA Member

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    I make very few distinctions in characterization between humans and non-humans really. Different physical description more or less. Maybe different behaviors depending on how I think of the species. Basically, for the most part it's very similar to writing a story with different cultures in it in my opinion. Unless I want the non-humans to come off a certain way.
    I use the characters in the story I am working on at the moment (splitting my time between two stories right now) as examples. If I didn't describe them physically and outright tell you they aren't non-humans you'd have no damn clue that they aren't humans. Unless they're non-sapient, I don't believe in making aliens any different emotionally than humans on the whole. Individuals will have their own goals, motivations, etc.
     
  9. Keitsumah
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    Keitsumah The Dream-Walker Contributor

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    Personally, I look at the behaviors of animals I know, then work with their senses. They may not work with words but with images. Think cave-man style. How would a cave man describe something unfamiliar to others of it's community? Like a wolf that had seen colonists riding on horseback and with guns. They might say they smell like dust and fire. Blood and stone. They may not think of the travellers and their horses as separate creatures but as one being. So they would see a two-headed monster with thunder in it's jaws (the sound a gun makes). That not only would make things all the more real and terrifying for the reader, but they too would not understand something so simple if it wasn't explained outright to them. It puts them in the head of the character, or animal, that much more securely.
     
  10. Revilo87
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    Revilo87 Member

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    Don't get hung up on the "human" part of "humanity," because there isn't really anything all that human about it. Humanity is just another word for emotion, and emotions are universal to all species of animals in varying extant, some feeling as much as we do, some less, but in all cases emotions are tied to instincts and thus important for survival, but more importantly emotions also serve as motives for our actions and the actions of other species as well.

    The only way to write a non human species with no humanity is to purge them of emotions however then they would have no motive to do anything. They would have never had any curiosity to develop the means to leave their planet and stumble upon our doorstep. They'd never experience the desire to conquer us because the reasons humans usually conquered each other, god (spirituality), gold (greed), and country (nationalism), all are tied in with emotions.

    Even if you write a species that only has the bad side of the emotional spectrum, they are still all universal emotions, and thus human emotions as well and will be perceived to have elements of humanity
     
  11. Gigi_GNR
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    Gigi_GNR Guys, come on. WAFFLE-O. Contributor

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    I like to spiral out when I'm doing this, taking one specific trait that I consider "alien" and making something out of it. For example, like so:

    "Hey, what if this species has bioluminescent skin?" Cool, now you have a look that this species has, and an interesting question. Spiral out with it. What planet could they possibly come from where this has an evolutionary advantage? How did they evolve this way and what made them evolve this way? Maybe they come from a planet too far from the sun's reach to get much sunlight in a calendar year. Maybe they live on a part of the planet that doesn't get much sunlight. Maybe they're creatures that live deep in the ocean and need that skin to see. Pick one of those. Spiral out again. So they're from a place on the planet that doesn't get enough sunlight. What kind of intelligence do they have? Have they evolved enough to be humanoid in intelligence? If so, what systems of government do they use? Currency?

    Start with a tiny question, even one that's something as simple and irreverent as "hey, wouldn't this look cool?" and use it.
     
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