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.