January 15, 2013 by Renee
The bottom line is this: Writers back in the day could get away with dropping an alien or monster into the plot and make him whatever they wanted him to be without much logic or reason behind the whole process. Today? Science and technology have given us the ability to research with the touch of a button, and the average reader has access to an ass load of knowledge, more than has ever been possible. Readers, to put it simply, are as smart or smarter than writers. So we kind of have to step up our game when creating inhumans. Do you think Stephenie Meyer will ever hear the end of sparkling vampires that have babies and how bullshitty that is? No. Because readers were all “What. The. Fuck?” Don’t be that writer.
Bringing an inhuman character into a novel requires a bit more planning and thought on the part of the writer than some of you may feel is necessary. You don’t have to bother with world building, but it’s kind of really important to ensure the reader enjoys your story. You don’t want to do it? Meh. That’s your choice. But if you want inhuman characters that make a reader believe they exist, even if only for the time it takes to read your book, then you best get to building.
It doesn’t matter whether the character could actually exist or whether the place he comes from is real or fictional. You create a believable inhuman character by sticking to a few basics. Actually they’re common sense things, like being consistent. Know your character’s physical traits, limitations and such before you go into the story. Having an alien who comes down to Earth and is all “I here for first time, skin creature, and I want a hamburger.” is stupid. Inhumans who are unfamiliar with Earth should be, well, unfamiliar. They’d see a hamburger and be all “What is this thing? It smells of fat and flesh. And what is this foliage on it and this soft thing…it is like a pillow and yet it painted with this strange substance?”
But wait—would the inhuman character even speak English? How did he learn it if he’s never been to Earth before? Why English out of all the other languages he might have chosen? If you want to have him reference purely human things, or to be knowledgeable about human things, then make it so he’s always known about us, or explain how he learned…but not with an info dump or anything like that. Weave it into the story. Simple.
Make sure the creature you create could inhabit Earth’s environment and that if he were to ingest human food or partake in our customary activities, like sex for example, bad shit won’t happen…or make sure it should happen if that’s the angle you’re taking. Maria Zannini creates awesomely real and believable inhumans. When I read her books, I believe her characters come from the worlds she creates, and their presence among humans is smooth and natural. For example, in “True Believers” she gives the reader a love scene that is mind blowing, yet completely believable. The male lead in this scene is an alien, and he doesn’t have the bits and pieces we’re used to ladies, but she takes what he has and crafts a scene that is…hot, in a word. And not once are you going “Pfft. As if.” That’s what we all need to do.
We’ll travel on a little tangent for a moment, because this reminds me of a major consistency issue I find in some newer fantasy and sci-fi novels: Reproduction. Let’s make sure that creating little inhumans or hybrids is actually possible. Not to pick on Meyer or anything, because there are other authors who’ve chosen to get crazy with baby-making, but Edward and Bella making a mini-me is just beyond plausibility. When a character is undead, and none of his other bodily functions works as it did before because he’s not technically alive, and it’s already established in your story and everyone else’s that said creature has a very different method of reproducing more of his kind, then giving life via the old fashioned human way is impossible. Just saying.
Another bit you need to pay attention to is the cultural issues that arise when creating inhuman characters. They’re not human, so you have to give them unique traits in this area that make them distinct. What makes them have these traits? Is it their history or their biology? Do they have morals, beliefs and ethics that differ from their human counterparts?
We have a long history of war, violence and self-destruction. We also have a great potential for love and peace, which has shaped us culturally. All of this has given humanity many things that other species might not have. Art, religion and science were all shaped and defined by our history as a species, and each race within our species has a vastly different culture. Your inhuman characters need this definition as well.
A couple of other things:
Whether your inhuman is good or evil, make sure there is a logical reason for them to be here on Earth.
Give them physical attributes that make sense. Fangs that never get used are not evolution. They’re a waste of time. Flippers on a creature who has never entered the water are pointless. A shapeshifter who shifts, but keeps his human personality while in animal form is boring.
Making them weird doesn’t add quality or intensity. It just makes them weird. Actually, it draws attention to the lack of structure and planning in your world building. If you’re making an inhuman, you need to figure out his story and his history. Don’t include it in the plot, goodness that’d be dumping by the bucket-load, but in knowing this history you’re going to write an inhuman character the way he’s supposed to be written. He should be more human than you or me in some ways, and he should definitely highlight some of our failings.
What are some of your favorite inhuman characters? What pisses you off most when reading about inhumans?