The first panel I attended, called Writing Human Characters, Whether or Not They’re Human featured David B. Coe as the moderator, along with guest writers Kate Elliott, Kay Kenyon, Shauna Robers, and Laurel Ann Hill. While I didn’t record exactly in my notes who said what, it was a very interesting panel in which I took some diligent notes to both help me in my writing and thoughts, as well as to serve as insight for those curious about the panel’s subject.
And here are my notes, essentially verbatim. I will add any further information where I can (depending on how much I remember) in italics.
- Kay Kenyon books — mega universe — four book series.
- With human and nonhuman characters, need to link them together in some way. By this they mean to use a common feature or facet between the characters so readers can relate with both the human and nonhuman.
- Have to consider whether nonhuman character is being treated with respect in relation to the rest of the characters.
- Is possible to surprise the audience by upsetting their expectations when they have preconceived notions about them.
- Is necessary when writing nonhuman characters to get as close to the character as possible.
- Can make aspects and facets of a character become more important and respected with nonhuman characters and not with human.
- Shauna Roberts: book is about Gilgamesh. Nonhuman represents the wilderness and uncivilized. Book is Like Mayflies in the Stream.
- There’s a continuum: are you being profound or humorous? There’s room for both. By this they mean it’s possible to be deep and profound with use of nonhuman characters, and it is also possible to make it funny and farcical, and in some cases to create a balance between the two.
- As humans we tend to have them as representations of us. Because this is how we both write about them and how we can understand, empathize, and comprehend them better.
- Emotional context is why people read the story. If there isn’t enough of this, it isn’t enjoyable to read.
- Important to give the nonhuman individuality. If all nonhumans look the same, there’s nothing to make any of them distinct, and no reason to care or empathize with them.
- Can’t have aliens be too alien or we can’t relate or understand them. There are of course exceptions to this, but it is true for the most part.
- Can have character experiencing the lives of aliens through their dreams. I believe this was a story line for a future book from Kate Elliott.
- Good example of this is Tooth and Claw by Jo Walton: nineteenth century world with dragons which we can relate to because of the society they are living in.
- Can relate with alien race with lots of invention, development, and “coolness.” Again this relates to alien individuality, development as a character, and sophistication, perhaps possessing superhuman powers.
- Have to develop nonhuman characters as well as human characters, or more so, and in same way, otherwise will be boring and all the same.
- Is an easier arena to approach nonhuman characters instead of with other cultures and races, which the writer many not know and understand as well and just end up offending readers.
- Is important to never make nonhuman characters to be stereotypes of different cultures and races.
- Do not want character — human or nonhuman — to be stereotypical in any way.
- With gods can get boring as they are all-powerful and all-knowing; no limitations, unless there is something wrong with them.
- Comes down to what is your point of narration character.
It was an interesting panel to hear discussed from the various worlds created by these authors — some monsters, some strange beasts, some aliens. Ultimately, it helped me learn some important lessons when writing nonhuman characters and the pitfalls to avoid.