The non-human characters I have created as a fantasy writer have varied from the goddess Rhiannon/Epona in The Sword-Edged Blonde to the vampires of Blood Groove and The Girls with Games of Blood, and most currently the Tufa of The Hum and the Shiver. Below is a list of things for you to keep in mind when you’re writing non-human characters.
Three Tips for Writing Non-Human Characters
Tip One for Writing Non-Human Characters- Remember your readers are human
First, and in some ways most important, you have to remember that your readers are human beings. Whatever otherworldly creatures you come up with, and however far you crawl into their heads (or whatever) to depict them, it has to be relatable to your human readers. Stray too far from this, and you risk losing your reader’s empathy and attention.
Tip Two for Writing Non-Human Characters- Consistency counts
Second, as with depictions of magic, consistency is hugely important. A reader will suspend disbelief for anything if it holds together with internal logic. If you decide your elves will have pointed ears, for example, you should develop a reason for this; even if you never explain it, knowing it will lead you other aspects of elven existence that will bring your elves to life for the reader. Think about the strange creatures that really do live on this earth, such as the fish who live at great depths. They may be as alien as anything we can imagine from space, but every aspect of their alienness serves a purpose in their native environment. Every aspect of your aliens (or elves, trolls, etc.) should do the same.
Tip Three for Writing Non-Human Characters- Know when to quit
Third, and trickiest, is to know when to quit. If you’re telling a story about elves who have lived beside man for generations, the humans won’t likely go on and on about their peculiarities, they will have accepted them as part of the landscape and status quo. They may still chafe at the differences (as may the elves), but the existence of the elves will not be worthy of much comment. So dropping in page after page of background and folkloriana just to flesh out your elves becomes didactic, something that usually stops your story cold. Trust your story: the details you need will become clear as you write, growing organically out of the process. The rest stays in your “Notes” file.
These are guidelines more than rules, of course. They’re designed to make you think about what you’re writing, not tell you how to do it. And all three can be discarded if the writer has the skill. But they’re a solid start to writing non-human characters, whether in horror, fantasy, or science fiction.
Alex Bledsoe grew up in west Tennessee an hour north of Graceland (home of Elvis) and twenty minutes from Nutbush (birthplace of Tina Turner). He’s been a reporter, editor, photographer and door-to-door vacuum cleaner salesman.
Alex now lives in a Wisconsin town famous for trolls, writes before six in the morning and tries to teach his three kids to act like they’ve been to town before.