Writing Non-Human Main Characters

Right now, although I have a feeling this will change or at least become very vague, several of my main characters in SAAFire are not human. They’re aliens.

Now, they’re basically humans who spent a few dozen thousand years evolving on another planet. But there are physical differences and they are, currently, a different species.

When was the last time you read a book where the PROTAGONIST was not human?

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Not including ones from kids’ movies, however grown-up the message

Was that protagonist instead a vampire, werewolf, faerie, elf, folklore/supernatural thing?

Yes, yes it was. Don’t lie to me. I see your high fantasy with it’s wizards/mages, elves, and dwarves and your urban fantasy with it’s vampires, nephilim, and werewolves! I see it!

SyFy’s Defiance is the closest I’ve seen and it gives me a lot of hope that audiences and readers are ready to expand their palates.

Let’s face it, the vast majority of us don’t, and probably wouldn’t, watch or read books unless the protagonist is human, partially-human, or anthropomorphized animals. Why? We can’t really relate to that character’s struggles unless they are human-ish at the least.

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Even in Spirit: Stallion of the Cimarron, they had to give the horses eyebrows so they could have obvious facial expressions. 

Why do I write non-human MCs? 

Habit. When I first started writing, SAAFire’s original form (its primitive, unevolved form) was one of the first stories I wrote out. The other major short series I wrote starred gryphons and dragon-like beasts and exactly one humanish dude.

I explore themes of “otherness” and being an outsider in most of my work and this was most easily translated as new writer by having my MCs be non-humans with human companions. They were outside looking in as a default.

Looking at humanity from the outsider’s perspective lets me, as a writer, really explore the human experience—this may also be why my work tends to border sci-fi and fantasy and why my anthropology background is so handy.

Studying anthropology for six years (modern cultures, ancient cultures, bones, evolutionary history through DNA and fossils, etc.) provides a surprising amount of the training I need to look at cultures, religions, social norms and laws, etc. with an outsider’s lens. Learning about various ways to have the human experience helps me empathize with people who are inherently different from me.

And, hopefully, I can impart some of that empathy on my readers by presenting MCs who are inherently, drastically different from them.

SAAFire

For my major work-in-progress, SAAFire, I use non-human MCs to explore the “Us vs. Them” mentality and race issues by relying on species (and, to a lesser extent, skin color).

I mentioned earlier that I will likely make these differences more vague. I haven’t seen anything like my MCs (human-like aliens with magic) anywhere in YA, ever, so they probably aren’t very marketable. And I do want to market SAAFire, whatever it’s called in the end.

For now, though, my two sister MCs will remain the awesome, powerful, vulnerable stranded aliens that they already are.

What kind of themes do you explore? What kind of protagonists do you write? Leave a comment below!

Author: JA Goodsell

I write YA fantasy, blog about it, and then take my dog out for therapy. My current manuscript is INNATE, a story of two sisters caught up in a war between the gods. Find me on Twitter at @JAGoodsell or Instagram at books_and_dogs

4 thoughts

  1. I find writing a non-human character extremely tricky and I’m happy to see that you have a really serious approach to it. Too many times I’ve seen so called “aliens” behaving and thinking exactly like humans. Or elves that strangely resembled human teenagers… 😉

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Yes! The whole point of having non-human MCs is that the **aren’t human** so why pigeon-hole them into being something they’re not? I love throwing little details from several different cultures into my aliens’ culture because each reader will see something familiar and something totally foreign.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. If you’re looking for a good book with a non-human protagonist, I’d highly recommend Ancillary Justice, by Ann Leckie. The main character is a spaceship with human bodies enslaved to it in a sort of hive mind. It’s a really interesting read!

    Like

    1. Thanks for the recommendation! If you’re interested in living ship stories, Anne McCaffrey and Mercedes Lackey wrote a series together. I only read the third one, The Ship Who Searched, but I have been meaning to pick up the others.

      Like

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