Tracy S. Morris

Quirky Mysteries, Screwball Fantasy and Sassy History

Writing From an Alien POV

Written By: Tracy - Mar• 20•12

Today’s Guest Blog comes from Michelle Murrain.  Michelle is a poet and the author of two science fiction novels. She lives in Okland, CA.  You can find her on the web at http://murrain.net

For the first time, I have significant portions of a new novel in the point of view of non-human aliens. I’ve written a couple of stories in alien POV in the past. Writing from the POV of a non-human alien is more complex and challenging than one might think. First of all, of course, we have absolutely no idea what’s really in the head of any non-human (we have a hard enough time knowing what’s in the heads of our fellow human beings!) There is no real way we can actually truly write an alien POV. But there are some principles that I’m working with that might help us out.

Also, this is somewhat different than most fantasy characters who are elves and dwarves and such. These are generally portrayed in a very human way, even though they might have some different characteristics.

Body type: The body type of an alien is bound to be an important factor in how they view the universe. Are they large and strong in comparison to other species, or are they small and weak? What do they eat, and how do they eat it? What do they breathe, and where do they live (on land, in the air, under the ground, in water, etc.)? How do they reproduce, and do they have sex? What are their immature stages like? What are their primary senses? Do they have specific abilities that we do not?

The aliens in my current novel live on the surface, breathe oxygen (although they need quite a bit less than we do) they are large and strong, insectoid (with an endoskeleton as well as an exoskeleton,) have no fixed gender, and reproduce with five, not two individuals. They eat their food still living and moving around. They have no senses of smell or taste (they didn’t need to evolve them,) but have very keen eyesight. They can’t really do things we can’t, except that they are bigger and stronger than we are.

Emotions: It’s likely that non-human aliens would have a different set of emotions than we do. Can we imagine what that might be like? What might their primary emotions be like, and how might they be expressed? What if anger was expressed completely differently than we express anger? What if an emotion doesn’t exist?

Culture: Of course, the culture is somewhat a product of the evolution of a species. Do they have religions, and what might those look like? What might they worship, if anything? A species without gender won’t have gender dynamics, or gender inequalities, but they might have other kinds. Are there other things that divide them? Geography? Appearance? Size? Strength?

Language: If their bodies are significantly different, they probably would have different language capabilities, either better, or worse than humans. What if they can’t pronounce things that we can? Or they have a much wider range of frequencies to use? Shouldn’t this affect how we portray their POV?

The Individual: We need to understand and incorporate where the individual whose POV you are writing is situated. Where does the individual in the POV fit in the culture? Are they high up in a hieararchy, or low down? Do they fit in a certain role, and what is it? How do they see themselves vis a vie the culture? One of my characters is a priest somewhat low down in a hierarchy that is revered – so there is an odd kind of relationship to the culture at large. And this character is somewhat of a heretic as well.

One of the more interesting things about this process is that, of course, we want characters that our readers can relate to. Sometimes, an alien POV might seem so alien that it’s impossible for our readers to connect with – and that’s generally not the outcome we want. We want our readers to feel as if they understand, in some ways, this alien, and their POV. For this particular book the majority of the points of view are human, and the alien characters are more counterpoints to what’s happening with the humans. I do want the readers to understand something about the aliens by providing an alien POV, but only one of the alien characters is one that I really want my readers to feel an affinity towards. This makes it a little bit easier. I have another novel idea with a significant alien POV, one that is central to the story – that one is going to be harder to pull off.

If you haven’t yet written an alien POV, its worth just trying it out, just for fun. It will shake you out of your normal character development, and will stretch what you can accomplish in writing.

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