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  1. Yarrula
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    Yarrula New Member

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    Non-Human Protagonists

    Discussion in 'Character Development' started by Yarrula, Oct 7, 2010.

    I am beginning work on a novel and the main POV character is shaping up to be something other than than a normal human person.

    Since I'm still in the outline stage I won't go into all the gory details, but the basic idea is that the main character (as well as a lot of other people) are the result of genetic manipulation. They were created for a purpose (not as engineered soldiers so I'm avoided that cliche so far) by a company that has since gone bust, leaving the results of their work to wander around and try to integrate with the mainstream human society.

    The original idea was to have all these people be spliced with one of about six different strains of otherwise common animals, cat, dog, pig, horse, whatever.

    My question is: Has the anthropomorphized main character become a cliche to avoid? I have heard several people talk about how that theme is overused and a book written like that has very little promise beyond the author's own amusement.

    I'm going to flatter myself and say that I might be able to write something that *could* be sold, so I don't want to cripple anything I produce right from the start, when it could actually be changed. I suppose I could work out some other reason for a whole group of people to be shunned from a society, but I'm rather attached to the ideas and characters that I already have.

    So what are your thoughts? Do you have animal characters? People that act like animals? Animals that act like people? Any combination therein? And if you picked up a book and the back cover said the hero happened to be part horse/goat/elephant/marmot etc, is that a selling feature or a sign to walk away?

    TL;DR -> is an animal themed main character something to avoid like the plague or usable if done carefully?
     
  2. Cogito
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    Cogito Former Mod, Retired Supporter Contributor

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    Whatever you do, write to the humanity in the character. That is what readers will relate to.
     
  3. Annûniel
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    Annûniel Contributing Member Contributor

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    A non-human protagonist can be as good as a human protagonist and it can be as bad as a human protagonist. It all depends on how well you write the character.

    Don't worry about what is or isn't cliche, as everything's already been told before really. Just try to develop a great character and no one will care if they're covered in scales, skin, or fur.

    And for the record, I'm a fantasy writer and as such I don't feel the need to limit my worlds, species, and characters to humans. Enough readers will relate to emotions portrayed, not just physical appearances.
     
  4. Kolten
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    Kolten New Member

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    I've seen a few stories like this. And the characters aren't as good as they could be. Really make your characters stand out, and be different from the others. Then people won't worry about it being "over used"
     
  5. thewordsmith
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    thewordsmith Contributing Member Contributor

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    If vampires aren't overwritten, your anthropomorphic creatures should be safe. And, as Cog said, "Whatever you do, write to the humanity in the character."
    Probably the best advice you'll get on that subject.
     
  6. minstrel
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    minstrel Leader of the Insquirrelgency Staff Supporter Contributor

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    It all depends on the quality of the writing. Something that's an intolerable cliche in the hands of a poor writer might be a brilliant success in the hands of a good one. If you write really well, it pretty much doesn't matter what you're writing about - people will want to read it anyway.
     
  7. Lee Shelly
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    Lee Shelly Member

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    Good question. I think, personally, that if it's dog-people and pig-people and not tiger-people and cat-girls that it'll be an interesting and a relatively unused tactic. I always love to be surprised by a book, or any work of art. If I think it's going to be awful simply because of the subject matter, and it's an entirely different work than I expected, and the author does it WELL, I'm blown away, and in a good way. If you like your characters, go with it!

    As for your second question, if I picked up a book that said the main character was half elephant/goat/lemur/daisy, I would immediately pick it up and read the first page. If you're jazzed and you think you can do it, do it! I think you'll do great.
     
  8. SashaMerideth
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    SashaMerideth Contributing Member

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    Porco Rosso, good ghibli film. I think it is relevant.
     
  9. HorusEye
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    HorusEye Contributing Member Contributor

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    Write them human, but don't let the animal side be a useless surface gimmick. If your character is a dog-man, then use him to portray how some people may act similar to dogs. Use the characteristics that the two species can have in common.

    Study Animal Farm for great types.
     
  10. Elgaisma
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    Elgaisma Contributing Member Contributor

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    Today I have seen with my kids because we are having a PJ day so Mum can get her book written.

    Timmy Time (about a lamb)
    Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles
    Shaun the Sheep
    Thomas the Tank Engine

    We have read stories about animals etc

    We grow up with stories with non human protagonists.
     
  11. Melzaar the Almighty
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    Melzaar the Almighty Contributing Member Contributor

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    Yeah, there's nothing that hasn't been already done so many times it's only a matter of the combinations of over-done things you combine, and the skill with which you pull it off. In terms of genetic engineering, you'll want to think very carefully about the results. People won't be furry *because* they have a certain mammal gene, unless they were programmed to be furry deliberately. Many of the most blatant physical characteristics, unless they're *meant* to be there, wouldn't crop up as a side-effect. Unless the gene that codes for see-in-the-dark vision (a useful animal skill) is intrinsically bound to the gene for having a tail, then there's no reason your character will have both. I don't know much about genetics, but I think you could probably make it up following rules like that and show that while you haven't spent 4 months studying the genetic maps of various animals, you at least have the theory down, to play with as you please. Maybe the tail/sight thing happens, maybe it doesn't. Up to you to say.
     
  12. Yarrula
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    Yarrula New Member

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    Great responses, thanks so much. I've got quite a lot to think about now. As soon as I can nail down this outline I'm beating my head against, I'll be good to go.
     
  13. w176
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    w176 Contributing Member Contributor

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    I think it it a concept hard to sell to an adult audience, unless you have some masters degree in ethology and can give a brilliant and detailed insight into animal behavior and perspective and how this would affect the crossbreeds.

    Just having characters that are cat like, or pig like could make an interesting fable or analogy like George Orwells The animal farm if you go for that angle. But if you just got some "animal likeness" in character you can get a typical teen manga-like story.

    But if you aim at an adult audience and you not going to make your story some sort on analogy or parody you got to turn everything up a notch when it comes to psychological insight and insight into animal behavior, sense, instincts, needs etc to pull it off. Unless your a veterinarian or something like that i doubt you have the necessary knowledge.
     
  14. Jones6192
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    Jones6192 Member

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    My fascination with non-human characters is the potential for great social commentary concerning how they react with humans. This was what made District 9 so great, if you ask me. It explored human-prawn relationships, and it forced the hero (if Wikus could even be called that) re-evaluate their "humanity", so to speak, and see them as equals.
     

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