Thursday, January 30, 2014

Here's a thought - do compelling characters HAVE to be human?

Right then, here's an interesting thought. I was pootling about the other day, doing lots of ever so important and useful things (er, okay, I was on Facebook), and I happened to see that someone had left me a new review for The Non-Random Dog. It was a five star review, so I was pretty damn chuffed, but the really nice part was what the reviewer actually wrote about the book. Specifically, the part that made me really happy was where they said about the characters being the key thing in the book.

I was really rather happy to see that highlighted, 'cos that's kind of the point of what I'm doing. Y'see, the thing is, I loved sci-fi all my life, and while I love big technology and stars blowing up as much as the next nerd, the thing that's always hooked me in is the characters. From Deckard, to Ripley, to Optimus Prime, to Han Solo, to Lt. Cmdr. Susan Ivanova, to... well, you get the point. But here's a question for you guys and gals out there: do compelling characters absolutely have to be human?

I'm reminded, here, of the thing that usually happens whenever a new Transformers cartoon hits the airwaves: human characters are introduced, usually kids, and the fandom asks precisely why human characters are needed. It happens every single time, and the standard answer from Hasbro is always that "viewers need a human to relate to, or they won't watch". The same thing happened a bit more insidiously with the Bayformers movies, so-called because they spend less time on the robot characters, and more on the whole "U.S. Army, hell to the yeah" thing that Michael Bay has going on.

It's at that point that I have to wonder: do people actually need humans in a story in order to relate to it, or is that just another one of those not-truisms, a thing that everyone knows to be true in spite of the fact that it's not actually true?

After all, look at something like A Bug's Life, by Pixar. There's not one human in that, and yet it went on to be a rather big success. Hell, consider Transformers, come to that, where the fans get annoyed whenever human characters are added.

And so, my gut instinct says the following: no, the characters don't need to be human, as long as they're compelling and interesting. Yes, I know that the vast majority of the main characters in my books so far have been human (other than in the latest one, The Abominable Moon, where there's at least one of every species except the yowason, and the titular Curly in The Non-Random Dog, of course), but that's because I'm still in the middle of telling a very specific story, set around humanity, of which you've so far only seen the first part. My plan is to start bringing in more non-human main characters after the book I'm currently writing (since non-human characters can emphasise and reflect bits of humanity back at itself; also, for the really alien aliens, they can tell us about humanity by showing us what we're not like).

So I guess that's the question, really: what do you lovely people think? Do characters need to be human, or are non-human characters fun? And as for those non-human characters, do they need to be "human" enough to relate to, or is it more fun to learn about aspects of ourselves by looking at what real non-humanity is like?

So it's over to you! Sound off in the comments!

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