August 22, 2019, 01:43:45 AM

Author Topic: Nonhuman peoples  (Read 14684 times)

Offline asabo

Re: Nonhuman peoples
« Reply #15 on: October 10, 2014, 04:37:57 PM »
I think to justify non-humans in a story, you have to decide what their importance to the story is. I have a race in a scifi story that achieved peace on their planet thousands of years ago. They don't understand the humans interracial contentions so they study it. An alternate fish-out-of-water set up that allows some discussion of the political situation. But I need to always be aware of this mindset for these people. And as said by others, not everyone from this planet should have the same opinion. It wasn't until I did the third draft that I realized I had an entire planet of people that looked identical and reacted identically.

That requires a lot of worldbuilding to set up countries and governments and indigenous races. That's required for my novel (and why it's on the shelf for the moment). Take a look at your story and decide why you need this character/people.

Create the race you need for your story. Give them a new name so that you don't feel contained by existing stereotypes. Figure out how they fit into the world (or shockingly don't) and how they impact your story. If they have no impact on the story, there is no reason to have them.
Lethal Seasons - Apocalyptic Science Fiction (no zombies)
http://allthereisandtherestofit.blogspot.com/p/lethal-seasons.html

Offline K.S. Crooks

Re: Nonhuman peoples
« Reply #16 on: October 10, 2014, 06:51:57 PM »
My first novel has elves, dwarves and centaurs, but only in small moments so that the reader knows that they exist in that world. I created beings called Basanites that live inside mountains volcanoes which are more troll-like. In my sequel I have created several different beings (some human-like others not), due to the characters going to another country. What I chose to do for all of them was first create the environment (forest, swamp, plains) then look at different animals that live in these areas.

I base some of the features of each species on the animals that live in that type of environment. You may want to also not use the most prominent animals in that area as that may be too predictable. You want your characters to have strengths that re different than regular humans but also have weaknesses based around the same animal.

Their appearance should stem from the animal you used but their behaviours, society structure and speech should be unique and what you want them to be. Be sure to make characters and not caricatures. Good luck with your writing.
K.S. Crooks- Author
www.kscrooks.com

Offline Jonny_Anonymous

  • Builder
  • ******
  • Posts: 145
  • Total likes: 6
  • Gender: Male
  • Bring Us The Girl And Wipe Away The Debt
    • View Profile
Re: Nonhuman peoples
« Reply #17 on: October 10, 2014, 08:37:49 PM »
I wonder if anyone ever actually did that, except as monsters. .The one case I can think of would be Lovecraft himself with the Elder Things.
And the moral of that story happened to be that while they look totally alien, they still think very much like us. Kind of the inverse of that idea, actually.  :D

I would love to read a high fantasy series that instead of elves and dwarves has races of Lovecraftian-like beings instead.
“There is no struggle too vast, no odds too overwhelming, for ever should we fail- should we fall- we will know that we have lived.”


? Anomander Rake

Offline AshKB

Re: Nonhuman peoples
« Reply #18 on: October 14, 2014, 09:23:25 AM »
What exactly makes characters feel nonhuman? It's something that sounds very obvious, but I am always having a hard time getting a real idea how that might look like.
It's an entirely justified demand, but do people who claim that have a somewhat clear concept how that could be done? (Not that they would need to justify that view, as they usually propose to not have nonhumans at all because of this.)

Look at what is 'human', and change it. Or play around. Maybe other species don't have the concept of romantic love. Just straight up do not get it. Or maybe they only feel sexual attraction during a mating season. Maybe they don't raise their children from birth, but spawn and just pay attention to the ones that survive. How would a telepathic or empathic species really function with communication? Maybe merfolk spawn and centaurs form herds like horses (complete with the boss actually being a matriarch). If they have different senses (both magical and not), then really, really include that in their POV chapters or in how their culture(s) communicate and function. Same with things like large ears - are these ears movable? (I'm actually a big fan of large, movable ears on non-human peoples). Maybe they have different concepts of time, or direction. Different instincts would be interesting, particularly as we don't tend to think of ourselves as creatures with instincts (which we are, we so are), so it'd force a writer to really, really delve deep, which'd be fascinating.

And so on. Documentaries are good for ideas, as are anthropological studies. I figure it can be done, it just requires a fair bit of thought and analysis.
The mind is not a vessel to be filled, but a fire to be lighted - Plutarch

I not only use all the brains I have, but all that I can borrow - Woodrow Wilson

Offline Elfy

  • Writing contest regular
  • Powers That Be
  • Big Wee Hag
  • *
  • Posts: 7153
  • Total likes: 738
  • Gender: Male
    • View Profile
    • Purple Dove House
Re: Nonhuman peoples
« Reply #19 on: October 15, 2014, 12:12:42 AM »
A good example of non human races that genuinely act different for me was in China Mieville's Perdido Street Station. They gave me a real feeling of otherworldliness in the way they thought and behaved. It's also a really good book.
I will expand your TBR pile.

http://purpledovehouse.blogspot.com

Offline Yora

Re: Nonhuman peoples
« Reply #20 on: October 16, 2014, 07:47:42 AM »
A thought I was having today was that a really effective way to make nonhuman characters appear nonhuman might be to give them a number of unusual cultural values.

For example, in the world I am preparing, I've already decided that there would be gnomes who are smaller and weaker than almost anyone else, and they compensate for that by relying heavily on making their enemies see them as weak and cowardly (as they would expect) to lure them into ambushs and return for surprise attacks when they think the gnomes have fled the area and holed up in their strongholds. In a culture that fights this way, retreating and even surendering would not be seen as dishonorable or shameful. It would even be regarded much higher than to stubbornly fight on when the odds turn against them.
The lizard people lay clutches of eggs and the young mature quite quickly. In such a population protection of the young would not require as high a priority as for humans. There's a lot of them and they can easily be replaced. In turn, the lizardmen might find it quite odd that humans go to such great length to protect their offspring.

The best thing about values, instead of specific customs and traditions, is that they are very basic and are the foundation from which almost any other aspects of a culture develop. Simply by introducing just three or four new ideas at that basic level can lead to long chains of changes that build upon another when it comes to developing how a society is structured and individuals act. And best of all, if the reader knows about these specific values, all the oddities of that culture can be at least rationally understood instead of being random and arbitrary, even if the reader and other characters very much disagree with them or are appalled by what they see.
Beneath the Leaves of Kaendor

There is nothing to read!

Offline Yora

Re: Nonhuman peoples
« Reply #21 on: October 17, 2014, 08:08:51 PM »
I got another thought on the subject on using nonhumans, particularly elves, dwarves, and orcs.

Even though there is commonly strong opposition to "humans with pointy ears", I think the main reason we see them so often is because they have basically become public domain cultures. You can't just take a human culture someone invented and put them into your own work without being called out for just copying it, but you can do that with the generic nonhuman races. And that's why wood elves, high elves, dark elves, dwarves, and orcs always seem to be so very similar in every setting without major changes in their culture. What people really like about the races is their culture!
And when you look at fantasy settings, there are huge numbers of cultures that really are just straight Vikings, Mongols, Aztecs, and Japanese. Amazons also fall into this category, being both a human culture (though mostly fictional) and fictional race. The choice to have wood elves in your setting is the same choice as having vikings.

If faced with the question of having a human culture that lives in the forest and is good at archery, or making them elves, the real thing to ask yourself is whether you want to explain the entire culture to your audience from scratch, or if want to start with some common archetypes and only explain what your personal take on it changes. Making the nonhuman characters think and act nonhuman isn't really the point. Using a generic fantasy race is simply a shortcut.

And I think this explains to me why I want to have wood elves in my setting: I like this culture and think I could make a better version of it than I've seen from other writers. And understanding that should make it really easier for me to use elves much more effectively in my stories.

Offline cupiscent

Re: Nonhuman peoples
« Reply #22 on: October 18, 2014, 01:14:40 AM »
All of this is true.
But!
To my mind, generic is bad.

Offline Yora

Re: Nonhuman peoples
« Reply #23 on: October 18, 2014, 06:54:02 AM »
If you don't add anything, yes. But I think it's a case of the 80/20 rule. 20% of work is responsible for 80% of the content/quality. Being 100% original takes a huge amount of effort, but you can still be mostly original with a lot less work. You don't need to change everything, just changing some aspects can still get you very nice results.
Beneath the Leaves of Kaendor

There is nothing to read!

Offline AshKB

Re: Nonhuman peoples
« Reply #24 on: October 18, 2014, 08:11:52 AM »
I think my concern with 'cultural values' as a stand-alone is that humans ourselves have so, so many different values and beliefs and behaviours, there runs the risk of dehumanization at worst or missing the 'nonhuman' quality you were after at best. For example, the gnomes you mentioned - ambushing and retreating isn't by itself particularly nonhuman, more a cultural trait that in this case happens to be held by gnomes. Maybe if they had physical adaptations to hiding? (Skin-colours and patterns that blend in with the local environment as an example?) And conflating 'culture' with 'species' runs risks with it.

But fully agreed on the 'generic' as an issue (although I disagree with example of Vikings - who they are and what they are doing informs the time and place and cultures). If people made cultures and mores more varied and imaginative, there'd be way less Ye Old Fantasyland.
The mind is not a vessel to be filled, but a fire to be lighted - Plutarch

I not only use all the brains I have, but all that I can borrow - Woodrow Wilson

Offline Yora

Re: Nonhuman peoples
« Reply #25 on: October 18, 2014, 08:31:59 AM »
So, do you have any example about humanoids that think and act unhuman? Because I am starting to think that this isn't actually ever done by anyone. If you have creatures that are truly alien, they are monsters of whose thoughts we are learning almost nothing. It's limited to seeing them do things that are incomprehensible.
Beneath the Leaves of Kaendor

There is nothing to read!

Offline AshKB

Re: Nonhuman peoples
« Reply #26 on: October 18, 2014, 09:52:55 PM »
So, do you have any example about humanoids that think and act unhuman? Because I am starting to think that this isn't actually ever done by anyone. If you have creatures that are truly alien, they are monsters of whose thoughts we are learning almost nothing. It's limited to seeing them do things that are incomprehensible.

Ohhh, well, I'm not sure that we are really after truly, completely alien, so much as 'not completely us' - which is skewed by us having an enormous ability to emphasise and anthromorphise things. POVs with vampires and werewolves frequently include things that we wouldn't notice - more smell, attraction of blood, etc - but we can still understand. Where things fall down is outside that.

So, hmmm, your gnomes. Evolved to be ambush-only, no front-out fights - is there any shame in not participating in an ambush? And how do they handle conflict? (I ask because they do actually sound like they could be really, really interesting :-) ) Because it's interesting the more you think on how much knowing when to back down and when to stand up/forced to stand up so we don't lose face is inherent both in our species, and in other social ones. That could be really interesting if it's expanded into how their society and personal interactions function.
The mind is not a vessel to be filled, but a fire to be lighted - Plutarch

I not only use all the brains I have, but all that I can borrow - Woodrow Wilson

Offline Yora

Re: Nonhuman peoples
« Reply #27 on: October 18, 2014, 11:18:06 PM »
My idea is that this translates into all types of conflict, not just armed combat. When gnomes see that they are in a very weak bargaining position and their rivals or competitors have their mind set, they will feign defeat and leave, even if they don't have any actual intention of giving up the issue.
Other gnomes know that and recognize it as a form of politeness judo, but to outsiders it usually looks like gnomes are constantly making promises they don't intend to keep or keep going back on their word. And they are seen as quite willing to use blackmail when they are in a position where they can get away with it. Which is in fact mostly actual blackmailing and coercion. In gnome culture, it is not judged just as harshly, because it's regarded as a gamble. When you are playing this card, it will eventually cost you in the long run. You will get what you want, but you're making yourself more enemies and might lose potential allies, so it's something not done lightly. But it is seen as a legitimate measure in emergencies, as long as it's staying within reason. Threatening to commit a crime against your opponent is of course unacceptible. Threatening to expose shady business deals or calling in favors from your opponents business partners is fair game, though.
Beneath the Leaves of Kaendor

There is nothing to read!

Offline Roxxsmom

Re: Nonhuman peoples
« Reply #28 on: October 19, 2014, 08:59:15 AM »
I think nonhumans are still around in fantasy, just not the stock in trade elves, dwarves, orcs and so on. Maybe it's because computer games are so popular, and these races are always included in order to diversify and balance gameplay, so they've grown kind of stale. But I can't think of many fantasy novels that employ them these days.

But I've run across nonhumans of other kinds in some of the books I've read recently.

Game of Thrones has the others. They're actually a bit like elves.
There were nonhuman creatures in Abercrombie's First Law World, and they sounded sort of orc or ogre like.
Kate Elliot has "trolls" (evolved from dinosaurs) and shape shifters in her Spiritwalker world.
Jay Lake had some catlike people in Green and its sequels.
Anne Lyle had the Skraelings in her Night's Masque trilogy
And of course, in Robin Hobb's books, the dragons were intelligent beings, and they transformed their servants into elderlings, and the Fool's people were not, strictly speaking, human.
And urban fantasy often seems to have nonhumans in the form of vampires, werewolves and so on.
And lest we forget, Harry Potter had all kinds of nonhumans, though Rowling put her own spin on them.

I know I'm missing some others, but it's late here. I don't think non humans make a fantasy novel unsalable or anything, so long as you make them interesting.


 
« Last Edit: October 19, 2014, 09:02:51 AM by Roxxsmom »

Offline Elfy

  • Writing contest regular
  • Powers That Be
  • Big Wee Hag
  • *
  • Posts: 7153
  • Total likes: 738
  • Gender: Male
    • View Profile
    • Purple Dove House
Re: Nonhuman peoples
« Reply #29 on: October 19, 2014, 11:01:42 PM »
I think nonhumans are still around in fantasy, just not the stock in trade elves, dwarves, orcs and so on. Maybe it's because computer games are so popular, and these races are always included in order to diversify and balance gameplay, so they've grown kind of stale. But I can't think of many fantasy novels that employ them these days.

But I've run across nonhumans of other kinds in some of the books I've read recently.

There were nonhuman creatures in Abercrombie's First Law World, and they sounded sort of orc or ogre like.

I always though the shanka or flatheads as they were named in the books were some sort of neanderthal. There's a missing link character in Phillip Jose Farmer's Riverworld series, not sure if that counts as non human. Like Roxxsmom mentioned urban fantasy has a lot of non human characters: vampires, weres (not just wolves), ghosts, demons, any number of mythological creations. I'm particularly taken with the Aeslin Mice in Seanan McGuire's InCryptid series; a race of sentient, talking, intensely religious mice.
I will expand your TBR pile.

http://purpledovehouse.blogspot.com