Why Use Non-Human Characters in Your Writing?

I’ve mentioned before that I’ll be doing a conference session at this year’s Colorado Gold with Rita Award winning author Robin Owens. We’ll talk about the good, bad & ugly of non-human characters.  There are several great reasons to add non-human characters to your writing.  Here are a few:

Picture of Labra-Doodle, Henry1. Audience Interest in Non-Humans

The pet industry alone in the United States is a $60 BILLION industry. Can you imagine? I sure wouldn’t mind having one one-hundredth of one of those billions.  Do you think I’m cute and fuzzy enough to do that?

We adopt pets for fees large and small, and then we feed, bed, play, and otherwise engage with our “children” for many years.  All that care adds up financially, but it also shows that our hearts are fully engaged.

From the beginning of story telling through today’s blockbuster movies, animals, ghosts, monsters and other non-humans have captured our interest. Do you remember when Jaws came out?  Perhaps you learned Aesop’s Fables as a child.  Did you see the movie, War Horse? And who hasn’t experienced some version of Frankenstein, vampires, or ghosts? Every writer would do well to study non-humans and bring that knowledge forward into his or her writing.  There is definitely an audience for non-human writing.

2. Non-Humans Layer Your Writing

A little spice

A little spice

As part of a critique group, I see a lot of great stories that are just missing a little “something.”  There are exciting plots and great protagonists, even some good narrative. But the story doesn’t sparkle.  It’s missing a little–spice.

Animals can add that spice to your work.  Think about the people you know.  Who’s allergic to cats?  Who’s afraid of dogs?  Ever seen someone literally climb on a chair when they see a mouse? For $5 you can come to my house this winter.  Point is, we humans have a wide array of reactions to animals.  When you add in ghosts or monsters, we become even richer in our existences.

If you can challenge yourself to write about non-humans, you’ll automatically enrich your human characters around them.

3. Non-Humans Help Explore Bigger Issues

Trash in Rome

We’re all a part of climate change.

Just as in the days of Aesop, non-human characters can provide a mirror into our own human conditions.  I’m thinking about vampires who never die, but steal life away from others.  They show us just how evil it is to use others for gaining a false sense of richness in our own lives.

Or how about when a regretful ghost haunts us into re-examining our own lives as only Jacob Marley could do for Ebenezer Scrooge?

In Jaws, the island residents of Amity experience the terror of evil invasion, and threatening to destroy their very way of life.  Good people, not superheroes, need to collect their courage in the face of this threat and protect their homes and lives.

Now, It’s Your Turn

Your world is full of “monsters,” animals, and other non-humans (perhaps robots?).  How ’bout using your writing session today to develop a non-human character who shows how you feel about climate change, politics, or equal rights?  Create a story where this non-human may be significant, but the story is from a human perspective.  Then try the story again from the non-human perspective and see what you discover about the issue and about yourself.

Enjoy a deeper, richer, imaginary week, my friend.

Oops! No Contest Entries–Things To Resent

Hi my reading and writing friends,

Story Engineering, by Larry Brooks

Now’s your chance–write!

I had hoped to bring you some great creative writing from our community today, but I guess people didn’t have time to write a short story that had two characters in it with the theme of “resentment.” This closes our writing contest of a story on resentment.

That’s okay.  We’ll just play with the pre-writing of such a story today.


When I get a theme for story, I love to start with–you guessed it–a brainstorm.  So, just as Story Engineering suggests, I’ll brainstorm a list of things I resent:

  • It’s not fair that I care for my pets the best I can and they still have accidents, and health issues. And then the vet can say “pay for all these tests, but there’s no guarantee of a diagnosis.” What if a vet took their kid to a doctor and got the same line?
  • It’s not fair that just as I’m starting to grow up a little, I look in the mirror and see an old woman with more wrinkles than a pile of clothes forgotten in the laundry machine.  What if you could put yourself through the wash and come out like one of the no-iron materials–all fresh and new every seven years or so?  What would that “washing machine” look like? How would it feel to be wash & dried?
  • I resent corporations that make bottom line profits more important than product safety.  What if corporations could be put on trial for such things as murder or negligence (okay, so technically, now that the Supreme Court has given corporations human status, I suppose they could). Who would be a jury of their peers?  If the federal government arrested, say, Wyeth Laboratories, would the pharmaceutical world come to a standstill as Lederle, Johnson & Johnson, and ten other corporations get called in for jury duty?  I like this idea.  Just makes me giggle.
  • It’s really not fair that artists don’t get paid well, just because they work in fields everyone dabbles in for hobbies.  Think of it.  Writers, painters, musicians, actors, comedians, dancers and more are important to the meaning of our lives.  Yet they still have to have “real” jobs to pay the bills. What if football had to be viewed live because no television crew was there to produce the game? What if all the boxes on grocery store shelves were printed with black words on a white box, because no graphic artists and ad copy people could afford to work in their chosen fields?  This sounds like a future-focused sci-fi to me.

The next step in this process would be to choose one of the ideas above, and give it a little “character.” I may personally resent the things above, but my protagonist doesn’t need to be me.  I love the idea of a jury of corporate peers, so let’s play with that:

Character One:

CEO Bradley Common (yes I let a name pop into my head for this) is mad.  Why? Because he has 5,426 unread emails in his in-box, twelve management meetings, 2 take-over bids to exercise and now, he’s been called in for jury duty.  Brad’s corporate lawyer can’t get him out of this because a new law says you must follow the spirit of the “request” for jury duty and actually show up.  Now Brad hates Sunco Corp, who’s on trial–not for the crime of accidentally giving thousands of people skin cancer with their failed sunblock, but for wasting Brad’s valuable time. Brad needs an exit strategy, like yesterday.

Character Two:

District Attorney Laura Steele is fed up  with these prima-donna executives.  She’s going to throw the book at Sunco and make them an example.  US made products must have higher standards than in recent years.  Besides, she’s been using Sunco skin care products for years, and now she’s noticing misshapen moles on her skin.  She looks over the man in front of her, making his excuses to the judge. Hmm. Bradley Common. What a jerk.  He’s head of Jargon Pharmaceuticals, one of the biggest chemical companies in the world, and it’s rumored, between the questionable cosmetic products and the seven divorces,  this guy is a real lady-killer.

Now, You Take Over

I’ve played with themes and characters with you this morning.  To be honest, this has been an off-the-cuff writing session, so I’m sure that you can find lots of problems with the writing.  But still, try playing with this.  Who will be your protagonist, Bradley or Laura?  Why?  What MUST they do in order to WHAT (achieve their goal), and how will they GROW as a result of this journey?

Decide whether this will be a thriller, a comedy, or even a romance. Maybe you’ll stay in the notion of a future-focused sci-fi.  Be creative and have fun.  No contest this time. Just our thanks to Larry Brooks for his terrific book, and maybe you’ll write a story that a fiction magazine will publish.  Good luck.