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World Builder
April 23rd, 2007, 09:09 PM
You can considering this a partner of a thread I started a while ago: Dealing with the Divine (http://www.sffworld.com/forums/showthread.php?t=13529).

While the previous thread is more attuned to Fantasy, I think this topic could be beneficial to writers of Science Fiction and Fantasy equally. After all, aren't Elves and Goblins alien in their own way? How do you approach the Alien in your writing? This could be anything from another species of Human thriving on the colony next door, or the vast aggregated mind of a sapient reef system native to some distant world. Or maybe it is The Elf Lord who rules over Faerie with a gossamer fist. What techniques do you use to make them distinct from your average human (and I know I'm opening a large can of worms by saying "average human").

Also, what purpose does the Alien serve in your writing? Is it an antagonistic Other? An ambiguous figure lurking in the periphery, made more mysterious by its being Alien? An outlet for an alternative perspective? An example of Might-Have-Beens? One of the many possibilities not listed?

Since I posed the question, I'll let someone else answer before I get started.

WB

warfitz45
April 24th, 2007, 10:30 AM
You can considering this a partner of a thread I started a while ago: Dealing with the Divine (http://www.sffworld.com/forums/showthread.php?t=13529).

snip

How do you approach the Alien in your writing?

snip

What techniques do you use to make them distinct from your average human (and I know I'm opening a large can of worms by saying "average human").

Also, what purpose does the Alien serve in your writing? Is it an antagonistic Other? An ambiguous figure lurking in the periphery, made more mysterious by its being Alien? An outlet for an alternative perspective? An example of Might-Have-Beens? One of the many possibilities not listed?

Since I posed the question, I'll let someone else answer before I get started.

WB

I know you're dying to jump in, so let me be the first. I enjoyed your first thread "dealing w/ the divine" & figured, since I killed that one, I'd try to give this one life first.

How do I deal w/ the alien?

My book is fantasy influenced. Unlike most fantasy, a Dragon is as alien as a martian. Might exist, but no one's actually seen one in a LONG time. So, when the Dragon showed up, it left the character's confused, questioning their own beliefs. If something appears "alien" to a POV character, I normally attribute it to something divine - angelic armor, demonic armor, dragon from the Cataclysm (viewed by many in this world as our "hell"). As I stated in the previous thread, I haven't wrote from the perspective of an alien creature... at least for the most part, so most of what I do is a response from normal humans to the unusual.

The purpose of the alien is simply to get the character out of its comfort zone, or to imply that the world is much larger, more disconcerting. They are not antagonistic, entirely... or actually, now that I think of it - they are. "Angels" are antagonists to a general from a slave-owning empire attempting to rebuild their power. These are not real heavenly beings, but that is his thought as he moves into battle. A dragon is antagonistic to just about everyone (in one form or another - both the "bad" side, and the "good"... man, I hate simplified labels). So yeah, they are antagonistic. And when I've wrote it from a character's perspective that wouldn't view this particular alien presence as antagonistic, it's been less awe-inspiring.

Hmmm... not sure I meant for that. May have to consider it a bit more in the rewrite.

My hope for my readership is that as they read the alien, they will view the unknown in our own world a bit differently. The unknown is exciting. Knowledge is great, but the search for knowledge is much more enjoyable than the ending 'wisdom'.

Now, you can answer your own question(s)! ;)

wf

Sid_Fallon
April 24th, 2007, 07:33 PM
When first introducing something alien, I find it easiest and most profitable to focus on one specific attribute and flesh it out to a point that it becomes something magical. For instance, I can give the example of the gracefulness of elves that is generally given in pieces. A targeted characteristic like this makes it possible to focus on the "average elf" and the moral and ethical implications of that. The grace of the elves may easily turn into the quiet nobility of the elves, which in turn brings out patience, a lack of bias and discrimination, wisdom gained from deep thought, etc. These characteristics then give room for many problems, plots, and conflicts in the story whether relating to humans, or another race and ideal. Once the first stereotype of the alien race is solidified, it is easier to make the aliens multi-dimensional without worrying about making the reader think they're just like every other race with just another set of arms.

Thus, I would say the attributes of an alien race of some sort or another, heavily depends on what ideals and conflicts you are putting together in your story.

Those are my two cents.

-Sid-

James Carmack
April 24th, 2007, 09:19 PM
How do I approach the Alien in my stories? Depends on the alien, depends on the story, and it depends on whose shoulder the camera's sitting. (I used the third-person limited perspective in most of my work, so the narrative is influenced by whoever the current "active main" is.)

My treatment is analogous to how humans treat any form of the Other. You might say, "But there are all sort of ways we treat the other. It depends on what you're talking about, who you're talking about. We all have our own unique biases and prejudices." Precisely. As a result, there's no uniform, universal treatment in my stories.

At it's most fundamental level, anything that is not me is Alien, the Other. In the same way, anything apart from the character in question is the Other. Now, of course there's discernment between, say, a puppy and a rattlesnake. However, while you'd initially expect affection for the puppy and fear of the snake, what if the character is a snake handler who was attacked by dogs when he was a kid. Even a puppy is enough to make him uncomfortable, but he loves snakes, respects the danger they pose without fearing it. I would have no troube writing a character like this even though I personally feel the opposite. I guess you could say my treatment of the Other is character-centric.

That leaves us with the purpose of the Other. If the treatment can be called character-centric, then the purpose is plot-centric. In, say, a love story about the romance between a human and an Elf, the Other serves as a bolder expression of the divide two people must overcome to become one. I could just as easily change the setting and make the main charas an Anglo and a Latina. The basic principle is the same, but the expression is rather different. To offer another example, a classic-style epic of a dragonslayer would naturally present the Other as a menace, a mere obstacle. In essence, it would be little different than pitting a Polish resistance fighter against the German battalion occupying his city. The exotic and the fantastical are simply a way to more colorfully express the complex web of relationships that we see in our everyday world.

And there you have it, my take on the whole thing.