1. Ethroptur
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    Ethroptur New Member

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    Is It Possible to Relate to Alien Characters?

    Discussion in 'Character Development' started by Ethroptur, Apr 18, 2014.

    So, I've had an idea for a novel for a very long time now. It's set in a mythical galaxy filled with dozens of worlds, with a vast history and mythos. I'm still planning it, and I want to make this universe as large and expansive as possible before I write the story. I already have the story mapped out, but I haven't put the metaphorical pen to paper yet.

    However, there is one aspect of this whole thing which I'm not sure whether it will work or not; all of the characters are aliens. There are no humans. Most of the characters are humanoids, but they're all clearly not human. One thing that has been bothering me is whether this will prevent them from being relatable to the reader or not. So, what do you think?
     
  2. Michael Collins
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    Michael Collins Contributing Member

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    I think it really depends on how the whole thing is written, and the term alien is so vague and full of possibilities that it's really hard for me finding a question to your answer.

    Could I relate to a Xenomorph type alien ("Alien" film series)? Probably not, because it's just a predatory hive-minded insectoid.
    Most humanoid aliens in fiction are not so far from human culture and folklore. Most characters in the Star Wars series are not human, but they talk, act, eat and love as human beings.

    I think it boils down to how the writing is done, and how you can convey feelings and other traits a reader could relate to.
     
  3. Smoke Z
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    Smoke Z Active Member

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    Alien creatures can still possess some human-like traits that we can relate to.

    If you look at Star Trek. We have the Ferengi who are greedy and sexist, but that part is explored in Deep Space 9, and we see where they do love their families. Vulcans are logical and claim they have control over their emotions, but they're still arrogant and a bit zealous.

    http://freefall.purrsia.com/ Sam Starfall and Florence Ambrose are both relatable. One is a space-squid who's values can be best described as opposite those of humans. The other is an uplifted wolf that still thinks like a wolf even though she's been raised by humans and emulates their values.

    The TLDR for Sam Starfall:
    They die when they reproduce and most of the population is sterile. When someone wants a kid, they find a fresh batch and take the one they like.
    Personal property is a vague concept... as in if it's not strapped down, it's up for grabs. Locks are there to make it interesting.
    He once had to be coerced into helping the police by the chief threatening to clear his criminal record, even though helping them was in Sam's best interest.
    He also wanted his criminal record fixed because they failed to give him credit for some of the things he did.
    He had trouble tossing a ball during zero-g training because once his kind grabs onto something, they tend not to let go.
     
  4. Thomas Kitchen
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    Thomas Kitchen Proofreader in the Making Contributor

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    There you go - that's summed it up for you. If you have a human character in a book and he has no redeeming qualities whatsoever, it's because nobody can empathise with him, not because of his species. So you'll be absolutely fine with a totally alien cast of characters, but just make sure they have human characteristics e.g. love, hate, etc. Even robots, in their lifeless state, could have human qualities, but don't feel like you have to make every character human-like. :)
     
  5. The Despondent Mind
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    The Despondent Mind Member

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    There is absolutely no reason to why should feel lees related to a non-human, especially to a sentient one.

    I mean our pop-culture is full of animals,robots and other characters that are not humans or even emotional, yet seldom we find more of sympathy, relation or admiring for them than for humans.
     
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  6. Link the Writer
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    Link the Writer Flipping Out For A Good Story. Contributor

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    <Points at Mass Effect in which you can romance alien crewmembers>

    <Points at Babylon 5 in which an entire subplot is focused on two alien races at war with each other, not to mention the captain falling in love with an alien>

    <Points at Star Wars in which Chewie, a Wookie, is a beloved member of the group>

    <Points at...>

    Oh you get the drill. Yes, it's possible to relate to non-human characters. There's a children's show that's been running for more than ten years now featuring talking sea life, for instance. Your characters doesn't have to be a human at all. Humans don't even have to appear in your story. Your non-human characters just have to have human-like qualities.
     
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  7. peachalulu
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    peachalulu Contributing Member Reviewer Contributor

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    Your answer is kinda in the question. If you make them relatable, they'll be relatable. Every creature has desires, needs, goals. Even when they don't seem to. I used to have a hamster, Snickers, his goals were to ensure he had all the best wood chips in his coconut cabana ( a hollowed out coconut. ) He would turn them this way and that, discard one, accept another and ferry them into his shell. I could relate to his wanting to be comfortable even as I laughed as to how he could deem one chip unworthy and one acceptable.
     
  8. mammamaia
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    mammamaia nit-picker-in-chief Contributor

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    whether they will depends only on how well you can write... it's been done before, so is not impossible...

    just treat them the same way you would human characters of various racial and ethnic types... that's all they are, actually, just 'characters'... some will be likable and some won't, depending on how you present them to the readers and what you have them do...
     
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  9. Bryan Romer
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    Bryan Romer Contributing Member Contributor

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    Basically your "aliens" cannot be truly alien. If they were your readers would not be able to understand them at all. All the "good" aliens in popular fiction and media are basically humans in alien skin with a few character quirks to make them "different".
     
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  10. The Despondent Mind
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    The Despondent Mind Member

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  11. GingerCoffee
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    GingerCoffee Web Surfer Girl Contributor

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    While there are thousands of examples that say, yes of course, just read "Not Pink" from the 2013 Sci-Fi contest thread to find a robot that is very relatable. The creatures in the movie, "District 9", are more extreme examples of relatable aliens.
     
  12. Link the Writer
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    Link the Writer Flipping Out For A Good Story. Contributor

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    I agree. It doesn't matter whether the aliens are good or evil. Saren and the Reapers from Mass Effect were evil. The Emperor of the Centaurians from Babylon 5 was evil. Jabba the Hutt from Star Wars was an evil, nasty dude. It doesn't matter if your alien wants to eradicate the puny humans so that Earth can be a vacant lot for his/her people, or adopt a human child as his/her own. What matters is how he/she acts that is relatable to us humans. What sort of human characteristics does this alien have?
     
  13. Burlbird
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    Burlbird Contributing Member Contributor

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    Let's consider a related question: can you relate to animal or plant, or inanimate "characters"?
    Yes you can - if they are in one way or another anthropomorphized. Goals, motives, ideals? They are very human - they come from how we perceive and understand human psychology and ethics.

    What does the world "alien" mean? Basically "a foreign-born citizen" = humans from another place (another culture at best). What makes Centaurians or Wookiees likeable - as concepts, aside from the way they are written/acted? They show human social drives and emotions. Yeah, they have funny hairdos or funny voices - but that's the superficial makeup that makes them interesting because they are different - for absolutely the same reasons indigenous people were interesting to European explorers...
     
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  14. Deterell
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    Deterell New Member

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    The way I think of it is sort of like this; the less human-like and more "alien" an alien is, the more interesting they are, and vice-versa. The xenomorphs in aliens are really fascinating because they act very non-human like, but that makes them inherently unrelatable.
    The simple fact is that more human-like aliens are just often less interesting. Yes you could give them backstories such as elongated lives or a strange culture, but if a human could have the same effect on a story, it just seems kind of superfluous.

    As an example, in Mass Effect I have read quite a bit on the Hanar and Elcor , but I wouldn't go out of my way to learn more about the Asari or Turians, who are the more relatable and human-like species.

    This is just from my personal experience, and by no means is implying that you shouldn't write human-like aliens. I'm also not saying that individuals aren't as interesting, just the alien species as a whole.
     
  15. Cogito
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    Cogito Former Mod, Retired Supporter Contributor

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    "Relating" is based on shared experiences and viewpoints, so unless you can shift the reader's perception to get into the center of sentience of an alien, you alien will not be relatable.

    This is why all non-human characters are anthropomorphized to at least some degree. All successful stories are about the reader at some level.
     
  16. Slade Lucas
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    Slade Lucas Member

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    As long as they have human aspects to their character they will be relatable. You can create them into whatever you want, so you have the power to make them more or less human as you please.
     
  17. Daba
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    Daba Member

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    As a human being, everything that a writer creates will be from human perspective. It takes a tremendous effort to actually step out of our human minds and create something that is not human-like. Stanislaw Lem's "Solaris" might be the perfect example of how difficult it is to present something that has absolutely no human characteristics, or that shows behavior unknown to human experience.

    Therefore the real challenge is not creating something that the readers can relate to as human beings, but creating something they actually can't relate to :)
     
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