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.

Colorado Gold Conference–Just What the Muse Ordered!

Sweet! I had another great time at Rocky Mountain Fiction Writers’ annual conference, the Colorado Gold, this past weekend.  This was the 30th year the conference was held, and what a time we had!  I don’t want to make you jealous with the old “I had fun–don’t you wish you had made it” line, so here are a few highlights I hope you’ll enjoy:

William Kent Krueger

While we had a tremendous array of opportunity to learn this weekend with something near 80 workshops and lectures, one of my favorite presenters was William Kent Krueger. He is the author of the Cork O’Connor series of mysteries and a multiple award-winning author, including earning an Edgar Award (really big deal!) for his stand alone, Ordinary Grace.  Mr. Krueger was approachable and charismatic in his presentations, and he brought an energy to the conference I won’t soon forget.  This may be true in part because I purchased some of the recordings of his presentations, including the closing keynote, in which he recited sections of older poems and stories his folks read to him as a child. Wow! Very cool.

JoyCo Recordings

Each year, CO Gold records the sessions of the conference, and for a reasonable price, attendees can purchase those recordings a session at a time. I often buy these and listen to them in my car throughout the year.  I truly enjoy the motivational keynotes, and use them to quote from for this blog.  This year (I’m a real quick learner), I asked if one could purchase these recordings on-line and was given the affirmative response.  Whoo Hoo!  Guess what just became a site I’m bookmarking?  If you want to order a recording of a specific session, please contact JoyCo (Bob would prefer a call during business hours), and they can send you an order form.

New Features

Westin WestministerThe conference itself had a few new features this year, including a new venue in Westminster (pricey but oh so nice!).  Some new items I particularly liked included some discussion groups called “Birds of a Feather” and “Author One-on-One.”  In the one-on-one session, Carol Berg was kind enough to review the first chapter of Sliced Vegetarian for me.  She had enough observations that I’d like to run back to my publisher and retract my submission.  Too late.  But for the next novel . . .

The Birds of a Feather, I chose to go to, you guessed it, the mystery discussion.  When I mentioned I was concerned about profiting over murder as a subject, Chris Goff came right back with a great comment.  She said our cozy mystery books focus on putting the world back in order after a tragedy, and not on the murders themselves.  It made me feel better, and gives Daisy more motivation to get to work!  Loved it.

Conference Chair Susan Brooks

Conference Chair Susan Brooks


Each year, our Saturday evening dinner is closed with awards.  I am so proud of my critique group team members.  Here’s what they achieved this year:

GOLD NUGGETS FOR SERVICE – Littleton Writer’s member Wendy Howard received one of these awards for her work on the RMFW website.  She deserves all the credit she got, as the site is currently terrific, with a ton of information.  Hope you’ll visit it.

While Nikki Baird didn’t receive an award, she should have.  The new RMFW Anthology, Crossing Colfax, is out and you can see it on Amazon.com.

Colorado Gold AwardsPEN AWARDS – Although no one from Littleton Writers got this award for first publication, so many of our group are right there I’m sure we’ll see some next year.  Meanwhile, at least four members of our group got asked for “full reads” from editors or agents they met at the conference. That is the step right before representation or purchase.  Please keep your fingers crossed.

COLORADO GOLD AWARDS – These awards go to people who have submitted the first part of their novel, along with a synopsis of the book.  There are so many submissions that, to make the finals is a fantastic achievement, to win is incredible.  Here’s how “my” writers did:

Action/ThrillerKevin Wolf won for The Homeplace.  Kevin has been a winner before, but this man is going to be an author to keep an eye out for.  When he gets published, I’m sure several more awards will follow.

Mystery/Suspense – Sue Hinkin from our group received a final call up.  Soon, Sue, you’ll be taking the winner prize home.

Romance – Janet Baltz won for Beloved Foe.  This was her second trip to the stage, having been a finalist last year.  Congratulations to Janet.  Now, I haven’t had a chance to work with Janet in our group, as she tends to go to the Tuesday night sessions, but I understand she’s interested in our Thursday night group, so I’m looking forward to getting to know her better.

Speculative Fiction – Darla Upchurch from our Tuesday group was a finalist here.  How very cool!

Young Adult/Middle Grade – Although Littleton Writers wasn’t represented in this group, it is a growing interest area and I hope next year to announce someone from our group made it to this final.

That’s a wrap.  Right now, I’m so excited about writing again, I’ve got to let you go, but if you’re interested in finding out more about Rocky Mountain Fiction Writers or Colorado Gold, please let me know.  I’d be happy to start a conversation with you.