Friday, February 13, 2015

World Building: Aliens

Last month, I wrote about considering transportation in building your world. Thanks to watching all four seasons of “Farscape” I came up with the idea for this post. Nonhuman characters.

picture from Amazon
Somehow, I missed “Farscape” the first time around (1999 to 2003). I saw some reruns and couldn’t make heads nor tails of the premise. When I found all the episodes on Amazon Prime, I figured why not watch.

Aside from the major plot line—and American astronaut gets sucked through a wormhole, ends up across the universe, and strives to get home—and the romance between the astronaut and a humanoid, I became fascinated by the aliens. I don’t always pay attention to credits (shame on me) so it was a few episodes before I realized one of the producers was Brian Henson (Jim Henson’s son). Hubs and I were fascinated last year by the reality show “Jim Henson’s Creature Shop Challenge.” So it was no wonder that makeup of the characters on “Farscape” were so well crafted.

And were there a lot of alien characters! I can’t imagine having so many different species in a novel if you had to describe each one. In a television show or a movie, this isn’t that big of a problem. But in a novel? If you don’t want to confuse your readers, you would almost need a cast of characters at the beginning.

A fun exercise I thought of while watching “Farscape” was trying to figure out why the aliens looked the way they did. What type of environment did they come from? What was their planet like? Did their culture or religion determine their makeup and clothing? Were they warriors or peacemakers? Conquerors or slaves? What physical features were prized? What personality characteristics?

Whether you write sci-fi, fantasy, contemporary or historical novels, you build the world your characters inhabit. Those characters have backgrounds. We all develop the history of our main characters. We can’t skimp on the secondary or tertiary characters. If you give them a name, you need to know their background. The reader doesn’t need to know everything the writer knows. Think of character development as an iceberg. Ten percent above water (what the reader gets) and ninety percent below water (what the writer knows).

I found so much I could use in my science fiction romances, I considered the time watching “Farscape” research. What a lot of ideas.

I’m participating in the Love at First Sight Valentine’s Day Author Blog Hop, sharing a little bit about my characters from The Pilot, the first book in my Outer Rim series. The Hop runs through Saturday. If you want to have some fun, come on over.


Annie said...

My "world building" is on a much smaller scale. I am not writing science fiction or paranormal books, yet I still have to create a world in which my characters live and their love blooms.

Interesting that you mentioned using the show as research because I have been doing similar research this week, although it was limited to web surfing. But I spent some time looking for just the right place for my next story to be set. I have it in my head, but I wanted it confirmed with actual photos. :)

Probably an advantage to writing contemporary rather than science fiction, I can't literally travel to a place I want to use as my setting. (That is if the budget and hubby cooperate.Ha.)

Enjoyed your post!

Maris said...

Diane, it sounds like you found a TV show that really helps you with your stories. I've discovered I need to be careful about what I take from TV and movies, at least if I want my law enforcement procedures to be accurate. Nevertheless, CSI, especially when it first came out, did help me imagine what steps my characters would take to track down a criminal. From that show, I went on to research the "real" story.

Diane Burton said...

Annie, you're right about needing to build a world no matter where it takes place. I like placing my contemporaries in places I've visited. I'd sure like to place a story in Alaska or Hawaii. Then there's the budget. :(

Diane Burton said...

I agree, Maris. What the shows give me is a jumping off point--an idea to run with. Yes, you have to be careful and do more research.

Melissa Keir said...

What a great post. I didn't realize Jim Henson's son was in the industry. It makes sense. I loved the puppetry in Labyrinth which was a Jim Henson movie. :)