We sometimes need to humanise non-human characters in the stories we write—animals, toys, robots, piggy banks.
In Creating Unforgettable Characters, Linda Seger reminds us that we achieve depth in human characters by highlighting their human attributes.
But if we were to highlight the non-human attributes of, say, dogs—barking louder or digging faster to get a buried bone, we would not make them more likable. To achieve that we would have to give them some human characteristics.
We would need to do at least three things:
1. Choose one or two attributes that help create character identity.
2. Understand the associations the reader or audience brings to the character.
3. Create a strong context for the character(s).
“We humanise non-human characters every time we have them reveal values, traits and emotions that we recognise as human—even if they emanate from teapots, clocks, dogs or cats.”
In producer Al Burton’s TV series, Lassie, the dog part is written in a way that allows the animal to become part of the family, a best friend to the adults and their son. Through this clever move the series becomes family viewing, and not merely a kid’s show.
A character such as King Kong, however, brings very different associations. He comes from the South Seas. He has a dark, mysterious, and terrifying aura. His associations include a vague knowledge of ancient rituals, human sacrifice, and dark, unrepressed sexuality. We are frightened of King Kong because we bring to his character our apprehension of the unknown.
In my novel, Scarab, the Man-Lion, a mythical creature in the likeness of the Spinx of Giza, evokes the same sort of fear, mystery and intrigue. Its dark fascination for the reader is generated more by the power of association than a detailed description in the pages of the novel.
Understanding the power of association and how to use it, then, is crucial in creating and positioning such characters in your stories, and in the market place.
Humanise non-human characters by having them act in a way that reveals human emotions, values and actions.