Tags:
  1. MusingWordsmith

    MusingWordsmith Shenanigan Master Contributor

    Joined:
    Oct 13, 2016
    Messages:
    559
    Likes Received:
    455
    Location:
    Somewhere Over the Rainbow

    Relating with a Non-Human MC

    Discussion in 'Science Fiction' started by MusingWordsmith, Apr 7, 2018.

    So, I've noticed a bit of a 'trend' in scifi/fantasy where main characters are always human, or are like Superman and Spock and look almost exactly like humans. There are major side characters that aren't human, like Chewbacca, but they aren't ever really allowed to be the focus.

    Now, both my MC's in my current project are very much not human. But I still want to keep them relatable to my human readers, without compromising their non-humanity. I also don't have any major human characters that will be going through the whole book, and I don't think there's room for that.

    So, thoughts? Opinions? Would you be able to relate to non-human characters if written right? And what would constitute that?
     
  2. Infel

    Infel Contributor Contributor

    Joined:
    Sep 7, 2016
    Messages:
    553
    Likes Received:
    663
    I think the important part here is less the human 'look' and more the human empathy. As long as your non-human character has emotion and drive and wishes and dreams--as long as they're emotionally similar to humans--I think that's what readers connect with anyway. When I like a character, it has less to do with how they look and more to do with them responding to tough situations in the ways I wish I could. In ways I wish I was brave enough to.
     
  3. T_L_K

    T_L_K Senior Member

    Joined:
    Feb 24, 2018
    Messages:
    338
    Likes Received:
    453
    Location:
    London
    You don't want to forget your non-human readers either, though. :p

    I'd love to add my two cents, but because you've not given much information on how they're very much non-human, and you still want us humans to relate to them, this is a little tricky. My initial thought though, I guess, would be that if they can feel, and want, I could probably relate.
     
  4. izzybot

    izzybot Transhuman Autophage Contributor

    Joined:
    Jun 3, 2015
    Messages:
    2,464
    Likes Received:
    3,858
    Location:
    SC, USA
    I think it depends on how non-human they are. Like, to use Chewie as an example, he's largely humanoid and probably has all the same senses we have, and seems to operate emotionally the way humans do. If you overcome the language barrier by writing from his POV, it's probably fine -- he works like a human character. Vulcans don't quite operate emotionally like humans and that makes them somewhat difficult to relate to, but Spock is half human and has some more human emotional characteristics, and looks like a human as long as he wears a hat (well, and doesn't bleed, I suppose). Clark Kent is technically an alien, sure, but he behaves like a human, emotionally.

    There's this episode of Star Trek TOS (hang in there, I promise I'm making a point) where the Enterprise is commandeered by an admiral or some shit while Kirk is off the ship. This admiral is clearly off his rocker and puts the Enterprise in danger for dumb reasons, and everyone tells Spock to just override him and take command back. Spock won't do it because this guy does outrank him, and he has no official recourse because Bones hasn't been able to declare the admiral unfit for duty. So he allows the ship and its crew to be endangered and kowtows to this lunatic because of regulation and propriety. That's not the behavior you'd expect from a human hero, who would more likely brashly ignore the rules to save the day, and it's not particularly relatable or sympathetic, though in the context of Spock it does kinda check out. You can't help thinking he'd've been able to solve the problem a lot faster if he'd just done the human thing, and it can be frustrating.

    So, at least by this example, Spock looks human (largely) but behaves in an alien way. That's much trickier than a character who looks like a walking shag carpet and talks via a series of roars but clearly expresses familiar emotions like affection, annoyance, sadness, etc.

    I'm a big fan of characters who don't behave like humans, but you do, I think, need to make it clear to the reader what system they're running on. When Spock steps down and allows the admiral to take command of the Enterprise, you're not shocked -- you're exasperated, but sure, you should've seen it coming, you know what doing the right thing is to this character. What's surprising is when he does break the rules in an episode like The Menagerie, even though his mission in that one is very compassionate and human. We know how Spock works. We understand how Klingons work (honor!), and how Ferengi work (greed!), so we need to understand how your non-humans work so we can at least understand, if only in the abstract sense, what motivates them. We might never, ourselves, behave the way Spock or Gowron or Quark behave, but if we get what motivates them then they at least make sense.

    I think the best way to do this is to study actual humans who have wildly different worldviews from your own. They may as well be aliens, right? You don't have to sympathize with them, but if you can look at their behavior and go, "All right, I get that if you think X, then the sensible thing for you to do is Y, and you think X because of Z," then you're well on your way.

    This is a long post where I mostly just talked about Star Trek, huh.

    I guess the short version is that unless you've managed to conceive of a completely alien intelligence, your aliens probably have some 'humanity' in them already. Just let that humanity drive them and let the reader be aware of it. In my SF project I have a species who're so far removed from us organically that we wouldn't consider them sentient life, and they don't consider us sentient life, so they have no problem fucking with us and doing experiments on us. I don't intend for them to be sympathetic, per se, but it is basically how humans treat lab animals, so I like to think that it is at least understandable.
     
    Shenanigator likes this.
  5. MusingWordsmith

    MusingWordsmith Shenanigan Master Contributor

    Joined:
    Oct 13, 2016
    Messages:
    559
    Likes Received:
    455
    Location:
    Somewhere Over the Rainbow
    All right, thanks for the responses guys! Taking it one at a time here.

    I am trying to have both my characters have all those things. A very human 'drive' that may be channeled a bit differently due to being non-human. Having non-human problems reacted to in a very 'human' way. Or being humanly dismissive of something that's not a problem for them, but would be for us because we aren't physically made the same way.


    Yeah, they do feel and and want. They're non-human in that they are basically human-sized bipedal cats- and the 'bipedal' thing isn't even their preference, they just do that to fit in with the other races.

    Mine are more 'fantasy race' than 'alien' but you still make a good point. I do and don't want them to behave like humans- I suppose I do want them to work on 'human logic' but to situations and problems that aren't really human? I would actually call myself already good at seeing differing viewpoints- I kinda make it a amateur hobby to analyze people like that.

    Though you do bring up one point that is something I want to avoid. Vulcans work on logic, Klingons on honor, Ferengi on greed, but what do humans work on? I really can't think of a one word answer like that, and that is something that I don't like. I have seven different races in my fantasy world, and I want to have humans as just 'one of the crowd'- nothing particularly special about them.

    Now I'd consider them closer on the 'Chewie' end of the spectrum. Most of the differences I want to convey are more because of culture than species- and with the race my two MC's ar
     
  6. MusingWordsmith

    MusingWordsmith Shenanigan Master Contributor

    Joined:
    Oct 13, 2016
    Messages:
    559
    Likes Received:
    455
    Location:
    Somewhere Over the Rainbow
    All right, thanks for the responses guys! Taking it one at a time here.

    I am trying to have both my characters have all those things. A very human 'drive' that may be channeled a bit differently due to being non-human. Having non-human problems reacted to in a very 'human' way. Or being humanly dismissive of something that's not a problem for them, but would be for us because we aren't physically made the same way.


    Yeah, they do feel and and want. They're non-human in that they are basically human-sized bipedal cats- and the 'bipedal' thing isn't even their preference, they just do that to fit in with the other races.

    Mine are more 'fantasy race' than 'alien' but you still make a good point. I do and don't want them to behave like humans- I suppose I do want them to work on 'human logic' but to situations and problems that aren't really human? I would actually call myself already good at seeing differing viewpoints- I kinda make it a amateur hobby to analyze people like that.

    Though you do bring up one point that is something I want to avoid. Vulcans work on logic, Klingons on honor, Ferengi on greed, but what do humans work on? I really can't think of a one word answer like that, and that is something that I don't like. I have seven different races in my fantasy world, and I want to have humans as just 'one of the crowd'- nothing particularly special about them.

    Now I'd consider them closer on the 'Chewie' end of the spectrum. Most of the differences I want to convey are more because of culture than species- and with the race my two MC's are that shows through more. Neither one of them grew up in a community of their own kind, though one was raised by her own family and the other adopted by another race.

    (Edited because posted early, whoop.)
     
  7. Homer Potvin

    Homer Potvin Get off my Balzac... Contributor

    Joined:
    Jan 8, 2017
    Messages:
    6,556
    Likes Received:
    12,900
    Location:
    Rhode Island
    I'd say the obvious reason (aside from needing human actors in the 60s and 70s) is that you're writing for humans, so probably a bit of an ingrained bias.
     
  8. izzybot

    izzybot Transhuman Autophage Contributor

    Joined:
    Jun 3, 2015
    Messages:
    2,464
    Likes Received:
    3,858
    Location:
    SC, USA
    Whatever you want them to work on, I suppose. Trek law is that humans are basically good and friendly and helpful, but then that's your optimistic/utopic sc-fi -- more pessimistic/dystopic sci-fi has us being basically greedy and violent and self-serving.

    It depends largely on what the cultures value -- Vulcans aren't inherently logical, after all; they're socially conditioned that way -- and since your alien-ness is based in culture, that works out. What do the cultures value and why? What are the people socially conditioned to value? If your catfolk are raised by humans, for instance, then unless they're significantly neurologically different from humans, they're like Clark Kent: 'aliens' who were raised to think and act like humans.
     
  9. MusingWordsmith

    MusingWordsmith Shenanigan Master Contributor

    Joined:
    Oct 13, 2016
    Messages:
    559
    Likes Received:
    455
    Location:
    Somewhere Over the Rainbow
    True. Also makes sense why I'd want to break way from that because I hate ingrained biases.


    To be honest I'm probably going to go for a middle of the road interpretation. There are a good number that are friendly and helpful, and a good number that are violent and self serving- and that's true with all of my races. Whether the group as a whole values one over the other will depend on which group your referring to.

    I'm using biology to inform culture as well. For example, I have another race based on snakes that probably operate mostly on heat vision. Since they don't really have 'sight' the same way we do, their species may never develop a written language because they don't have the ability to understand it.
     
  10. Iain Aschendale

    Iain Aschendale Benevolent Ochlocrat Staff Supporter Contributor

    Joined:
    Feb 12, 2015
    Messages:
    15,918
    Likes Received:
    30,866
    Location:
    Seat 29e, Air Gradia 452
    Let's look at some non-rubber forehead aliens and see what we can get. Orson Scott Card's Formics (buggers) had only one "individual" per hive, the Hive Queen. The rest were drones, merely part of the larger hive mind, and when they first encountered and slaughtered human populations, the Hive Queen had no idea she was doing more than shutting off cameras, as I believe he said. When she learned that she'd been extinguishing individual consciousnesses, she was horrified.

    The Dwellers in The Algebraist live insanely long (billions of Earth years) lives, but only live in the atmosphere of gas giants. Their young are sentient, but are a sort of larval form with nowhere near the intellect of an adult Dweller, and as such are used as slaves when they aren't being hunted. Adult Dwellers see this as perfectly normal and natural.

    Look to Windward's dirigible behemothaurs also live vastly extended lives, and play host to whole species of semi-sentient symbiotes who live within their vast bodies, and venture outside into the atmosphere to accomplish things on behalf of the parent entity. When they mate, two behemothaurs actually become a single individual with a merged consciousness, although nothing is mentioned about how babies come about or what form they are.

    There are numerous examples of alien races where one or the other of the sexes is non-sentient, which can change a whole lot of interpersonal dynamics. I've been playing about with a multi-gendered race (egg-layer, sperminator [sorry], and growth host [mom]) for a while, which would make a love triangle a necessary feature of continuing the species.

    So, in answer to the original question, yeah, I like non-human MCs, and there are a lot of different things that you can do to their basic biological cycles that will point them in directions far away from the norm.
     
  11. TaniaIslam

    TaniaIslam New Member

    Joined:
    Apr 13, 2018
    Messages:
    1
    Likes Received:
    0
    Thank you for sharing it's great
     
  12. MusingWordsmith

    MusingWordsmith Shenanigan Master Contributor

    Joined:
    Oct 13, 2016
    Messages:
    559
    Likes Received:
    455
    Location:
    Somewhere Over the Rainbow

    Thanks for the input! Those are some really neat examples, might pull some ideas from those. Yours sounds pretty neat too, good luck with that!


    Aw, thanks. I'm excited to write these people.
     
  13. Cave Troll

    Cave Troll Contributor Contributor

    Joined:
    Aug 8, 2015
    Messages:
    17,421
    Likes Received:
    26,253
    Location:
    Where cushions are comfy, and straps hold firm.
    2 of my MCs in my first novel and sequel WIP are not human, and people
    seem to relate more with them than the human MC.

    So yes people can relate to non-Terran folk in written format too. :)
     
  14. Writeorflight

    Writeorflight Member

    Joined:
    Mar 22, 2016
    Messages:
    96
    Likes Received:
    62
    One of my favorite book series as a kid was "Warrior Cats", and it's literally a book series about the lives of cats in the wild. All you have to do, is give your animal characters motives, emotions, relationships, losses, etc. And your readers should be able to connect with them just as well as any human character. Basically, treat your animal MC's just as you would your human MC's, and you'll do great.
     
    Cave Troll likes this.
  15. Indigo Abbie

    Indigo Abbie Member

    Joined:
    Mar 16, 2018
    Messages:
    71
    Likes Received:
    44
    Location:
    Indiana
    I recalled watching a series in which the world was driven into the apocalypse by an alien invasion. Further into the series a group of mutated insect-like beings, some human children and some aliens from other planets that had been enslaved and disfigured beyond salvation, rebelled against the things controlling them and allied with the people. One of them was killed while fighting alongside the humans, and it was such a touching scene to see the group of half a dozen fighters- people who had lost their families and loved ones to creatures that appeared exactly like that one- stood around and comforted it as it died.

    I think the ability humans have to feel empathy is something that we don't think as much about as we should. In no way is it a stretch for people to relate to non-human characters because I don't think appearances are what drives us, it's emotions. Most of us relate to emotions. We wouldn't understand what it was like to have sixteen eyes or four extra limbs (unless you do...), but I'll bet we'd feel for an entity like that as they mourn the loss of their child or partner or anything their cared for. It wasn't how sad the scene was that got to me, but how realistic it was. I'm a pessimist all the way, but I could see people being brought to that point and still retaining such an innate part of their humanity.

    Maybe I've misinterpreted the point of the original post or this is invalid as I'm not a science fiction or fantasy writer, but hopefully this helps.
     
  16. MusingWordsmith

    MusingWordsmith Shenanigan Master Contributor

    Joined:
    Oct 13, 2016
    Messages:
    559
    Likes Received:
    455
    Location:
    Somewhere Over the Rainbow
    Thanks for the input! I'm feeling better about my chances at relatability.


    I read those too, forgot about 'em! Yeah, I do plan to write them as very 'humanistic', but not just 'humans with fur'- Warrior Cats is a pretty good example because that kind of 'human-ish but with their own culture' is kinda what I want to hit!


    Thanks for the input! Sounds like an interesting series. I'll keep this in mind!
     
    Cave Troll likes this.
  17. Kenosha Kid

    Kenosha Kid Active Member

    Joined:
    Nov 29, 2017
    Messages:
    179
    Likes Received:
    83
    Check out Jack London's White Fang: a novel from the point of view of a dog. Or Robert Bresson's film Au Hasard Balthazar: a film where one's sympathies lie with a donkey.

    One of the most interesting aspects of your question to me is how relatable human beings find other systems (that is: how much similarity there is between the way human beings work and the way other systems work), including animals, but also including other human beings.

    Given that you loathe human bias, you're probably fairly groovy and read anything by anyone about anyone as long as it sounds engaging in some way, or by an author you like, but you'll find no shortage of e.g. male readers out in the wider world who won't read books written by and about women. You'll probably even find places where it's not uncommon for white readers to not read books by or about black people and, even if you can't, you don't have to look too far back in history for when you could.

    If they cannot relate to other human beings, how will they cope with animals, or aliens, or advanced AIs?

    With non-human animals, you could probably get a dog-person to engage with White Fang, or a cat person to engage with... cat... books. (I've got nothing, sorry.) But the most empathetic person in the world will struggle with a realistic drama about life as a guinea pig, and that's a mammal: we've still got birds, fish, insects and trees to get to. A Sponge's Life certainly isn't going to sell big.

    The other issue is the seemingly unkillable idea that, besides the obvious differences in characteristics, complexity and capability that come into play above, there is an additional aspect of humanity that is irreducible and quintessential. It can't be made from something else and you either have it or you don't. Furthermore, it is what defines the you that is you: the subjective, self-aware, feeling, remembering soul, the magic black box of the self (which is pertinent to storytelling). A great many people refuse to countenance the idea of an emergent or systematic conscious self, even as we learn more and more about how the mind works.

    This makes it difficult to even describe a creature, say a chimp, that has almost all of the elementary qualities that our own minds have and have it considered in the same ballpark as the human mind, because the idea of the human mind having something in common with other minds is contrary to the principal of the irreducibility of the human self, or soul. If the self is irreducible, you can't have *mostly* it, or *partly* it. And if you don't have it, you might as well be a table or a chair, something for use by, rather than empathy from, people. Again, you can see how this quintessence is something that people have had difficulty in ascribing even to other people in the past, with tragic results. Trying to describe an animal's pain to one of the few species that tortures animals for pleasure is going to be tricky.

    So it's a great question, and I'm sorry for the misanthropic answer. My advice would be: don't cheat. There seems little to be gained by writing a non-human MC and then making his or her interior world as human as possible to appeal to readers (you may as well make your MC human) when you're giving yourself an opportunity to study common ground at a more fundamental level. On the other hand, it's interesting to consider how much of the difference between a human and, say, a gorilla is due to a) language and b) different stimuli. If a gorilla sees its partner with another gorilla, is the way this is experienced really any different to how a human experiences the discovery of their partner with another human once we remove language and its utility for rationalisation?

    Spock is at first glance an interesting example, but on closer inspection I don't see much of a model. First, the differences between Spock and Bones are largely cultural. Spock is not inherently more rationally or less emotionally inclined than Bones, although he might have a greater capacity for rationality (and emotionality). Rather he is trained to suppress emotion and practise rationality, and reared in a culture that reinforces this. Second, this is based on a human archetype: the Greek philosopher. And third, Spock isn't an MC except in some spin-offs targeted at readers already invested in the characters. Spock and McCoy represent the mind and heart of Kirk, the human and relatable MC, with the moral of a story often highlighted by which of the two characters' advice Kirk follows.
     
    Iain Aschendale and Simpson17866 like this.

Share This Page

  1. This site uses cookies to help personalise content, tailor your experience and to keep you logged in if you register.
    By continuing to use this site, you are consenting to our use of cookies.
    Dismiss Notice