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Craft Techniques and Processes Discussion of the techniques and processes we use to write, create art, take photos, etc.

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Old May 27 2009, 09:11 PM   #1
Weyrlady
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Default Accomodating Non-humans

Almost every written, or otherwise artistic, piece has characters who are decidedly not human. Whether the character's pet dog or their brown dragon, they may play a smaller or larger role in the actual plot.

How you do it? How do you describe them, and for those that create new worlds for their stories, how do you describe a new species that may have no relation to anything that we know on Earth? What kind of sounds do they make, and how do they talk?

Being quadrepedal is cool!
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Old May 28 2009, 02:55 AM   #2
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Default Re: Accomodating Non-humans

As with all of my fiction writing, I try to weave the descriptions into the story, whether I'm depicting an ordinary human or a bizarre alien being. I once wrote a story about an alien that was transformed into a human during her long journey to Earth. When she awoke out of stasis, she immediately noticed the differences between her old body and new, since she needed to adapt to our environment. Her home planet was a moon with lighter gravity and temperatures that dropped to below freezing. As a result, her original body was light-boned and covered with a soft, thick down; her human one felt thick and bare. She also noticed that she could no longer view auras and body heat and had to speak aloud, not through her thoughts. I basically introduced the reader to her species through what she was thinking and feeling.

I've noticed that the beings I come up with, and I'm sure this applies to every writer, have some sort of basis in our reality, whether they are humanoid or bestial in appearance. A creature could have wings, tentacles, whatever but it will still have vestiges of things we are familiar with, making them relatively easy to describe and relate to.
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Old May 28 2009, 07:05 PM   #3
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Default Re: Accomodating Non-humans

#1 thing to remember: a horse is not a bicycle. (Many fantasy writers have pointed this out.)

I don't have many animals in my SF/F, but I do have a juvenile/YR book where a horse (of course) is pretty key to the plot and as such I have the luxury of indulging in a description dump (the narrator is thirteen. She's going to devote a lot of thought to the pony.) It helps that I've had horses since I was six, been around farm animals as long, had umpteen zillion pets (dogs, cats, horses, budgerigars, cockatiels, fish, hermit crabs....) and work in a zoo. I can go look at animals pretty much whenever.

If I ever get around to really working with that fantasy novel I'm kicking around, I have a terrific idea involving the use of megafauna. But that's me being self-indulgent.
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Old May 28 2009, 11:09 PM   #4
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Default Re: Accomodating Non-humans

It's all about observation. To write good human characters, you have to observe something of human nature, and then weave those observations into your writing. To write good non-human characters, such as cats, dogs, horses, birds, etc. you have to observe them, and learn something of their body language. Ever see a cat do something stupid, scare itself silly, run off ten paces, and then sit down calmly to wash, as if it's bluffing--"No, I wasn't really scared. What made you think that?" To write good alien creatures...well, it helps if you know a little something of biology. That way you can treat it like an animal in that it's non-human with non-human bodies and mannerisms, but still give it the *traits* and mannerisms of a living being that wishes to go on living, and wishes to have its wants and needs fulfilled.

As an example--all living things have body language, sounds, and reactions when they become afraid. What does your non-human thingie do in this situation? What parts of their body might be involved? What sounds do they make? On earth, for example, many things hiss as a response to a threat. Some things growl. Others yelp. Some, like humans, scream.

It might be interesting to have something from the POV of an alien, and have it seriously freaked out by a human screaming (much like we might be scared of a hiss or a growl).
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Old Jun 1 2009, 09:25 PM   #5
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Default Re: Accomodating Non-humans

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Originally Posted by Anareth View Post
#1 thing to remember: a horse is not a bicycle. (Many fantasy writers have pointed this out.)
I'll try to keep that in mind!

You all write such interesting- sounding stuff. [I]'d be interested in reading your story sometime, Dawna! It sounds like a good read, and like a lot of thought went into it.

I totally see what y'all mean when you base your nonhuman aliens on things that we have on this planet and are familiar with. I read somewhere (and it makes complete sense) that the Pern dragons are loosely based on horses- which, in my opinion, is so much better than the overgrown chuckwalla that they call a "dragon" in other stories.

***Chuckwallas are big desert lizards. As far as I can tell, they're grouchy all the time.***
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Old Jun 2 2009, 12:20 AM   #6
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Default Re: Accomodating Non-humans

Well I haven't got around to writing up some of the ideas yet. To
Quote:
Being quadrupedal is cool!
Weyrlady. I do not know if its cool or not, sometime being a person with low vision can be sometime cool, for sometime I find myself finding more into my writings. As for what I quoted, A friend and member of our local Wild Rose Airport Association building, a ultralight with some help from some of the members is cool!

Its why I like both Pern, and the Shellpersons too. Along with CS, and Pirate Planet books too.
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Old Jun 3 2009, 12:19 AM   #7
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Default Re: Accomodating Non-humans

Quote:
You all write such interesting- sounding stuff. [I]'d be interested in reading your story sometime, Dawna! It sounds like a good read, and like a lot of thought went into it.
Thanks, Weyrlady! That story was actually published a few years ago in a print magazine. If you like, I could PM the story to you. It's one of my shorter ones, only around 1,000 words.
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Old Jun 17 2009, 08:02 AM   #8
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Default Re: Accomodating Non-humans

Another way of describing your non-human is to have someone else react to it. I generally string the description out, or have my protagonist discover more about the alien as the action progresses. But then I get told that I haven't put in enough description.

Or else I describe something alien in reference to something normal: "bare feet were going to be more trouble than weird eyes," - especially when the characters concerned are being chased through the forest by giant lizards!

A little later, my protagonist gets confused by the alien's dietary preferences:
" David couldn't work it out. The kid didn't like salty or savoury, that was clear. The expensive Ambrosia jellies had long since run out. He ate the sweet berries and refused the sweet drink. David offered a chocolate bar. The kid nibbled on it, though he didn't show the enthusiasm he'd shown for the sweet berries."

If the readers had been paying attention earlier when I'd described the Ambrosia sweets as pure natural sugars, they'd have worked out the problem before my protagonist did. The kid is an Endrian Flamelord, and they can't digest artificial sugars. David just thinks he's fussy.

"...."

"The speaker was wearing a floor-length ripple-velvet gown in rich reds and golds that matched the fire-ginger of his beard and the hair that made a curling halo around his face. He also had horns.

"FlameDancer, Endrian Satyr, I am," ...

FlameDancer was one of very few who had the courtesy to introduce himself. The next alien got introduced tail-first.

"Something very strange caught the corner of his eye. He had to look straight at it to make sure he wasn't hallucinating. The tip of a long black tail, the fur on it standing on end. He watched the hairs prick, from smooth to upright, starting from the tail-tip. The tail belonged to a very large female Saarian, a Felinoid, this one had to be a Policewoman. She was wearing chest-harness and pistols holstered at her hips - or what would have been her hips if she had been Human-shaped instead of cat-shaped.

"Get the hell out of here, Rala," Commander Adral said.

As for where my aliens come from, they generally arrive in my imagination fully formed. I was better at making them when I was living with my son and we could bounce ideas around. We both stole each other's characters too. At the moment I'm living with my 83 year old mother, and she can't see the point of fantasy writing, so there's little inspiration for me to do it.

I also use sketches, character-sheets, and something that I call "Vinesh's Guide" which has notes about my character's backgrounds, lists of all the different racial characteristics, religions, telepathic and genetic ratings, preferred intoxicants and hallucogenics (my son's idea) diets, space-fleets, some of their marriage and living habits, ecological details of different planets and anything else that I can think of.

I tried Pern fan-fiction as a writing exercise, but it wasn't all that successful. It was much harder to write in someone else's universe than I expected. I think it got up to about episode 16 before I lost interest in it. There is still a chance that it might get revived.
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Old Jul 13 2009, 06:56 PM   #9
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Thumbs up Re: Accomodating Non-humans

vyon your examples are good. Sorry to take so long to get back to post here.

Just like trying to describe a being that it body changes as he/she/it ages.
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Old Jul 16 2009, 07:38 AM   #10
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Default Re: Accomodating Non-humans

That's another point Ginnystar, and one that I hadn't thought of. Some of my characters live for eight or nine hundred earth years, and others have normal human life expectations. I've described their ages and appearance, but haven't aged them at all. It figures that some of them would age over the period that my story covers.


EEEK! How long do I stay a "drudge?"
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Old Jul 17 2009, 03:39 PM   #11
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Lightbulb Re: Accomodating Non-humans

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Originally Posted by vyon View Post
That's another point Ginnystar, and one that I hadn't thought of. Some of my characters live for eight or nine hundred earth years, and others have normal human life expectations. I've described their ages and appearance, but haven't aged them at all. It figures that some of them would age over the period that my story covers.
I just happen to recall few things from PP series that come to mind. My spelling may be a bit off for I can't quite recall how to spell a few FSP non-human members.
  • Sas, meet the Ssli in larval stage at her second/third year in the academy, she bump the now adult one assigned to her ship as a Ensign.
  • The Weft after a year in the sea com back as small verson of the adults.
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Old Nov 29 2009, 02:40 PM   #12
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Default Re: Accomodating Non-humans

I mostly use fairies, elf’s and such, and depict them as every other fantasy writer does.
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Old Dec 8 2009, 05:09 AM   #13
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Default Re: Accomodating Non-humans

Quote:
Originally Posted by GinnyStar View Post
I just happen to recall few things from PP series that come to mind. My spelling may be a bit off for I can't quite recall how to spell a few FSP non-human members.
  • Sas, meet the Ssli in larval stage at her second/third year in the academy, she bump the now adult one assigned to her ship as a Ensign.
  • The Weft after a year in the sea com back as small verson of the adults.
Brainships--Ship who Searched, one that lived on pure natural sugar water while off world. Its one that still packed.
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