Odd title for an article, but not so strange if you are a writer of science fiction; whether it is for a movie or television show script, a book, or a role play game on a forum, thinking like an alien can sometimes be your ultimate goal. The first few items I mentioned are more likely for someone’s occupation, the last item is for fun. In this particular dimension and time, we haven’t had contact with alien cultures, that we know of. Any being from another world we write about for fiction is going to be based on a heavily modified Earth culture. Elements from those cultures would be downplayed, exaggerated, or conceptually “turned” ninety degrees.
Some aliens in Star Trek have some recognizable elements in them, such as how the Klingon Code of honor mirrors some elements Japanese Bushido code. Even the warrior’s armor has a faint Samuraiesque feel, but still is purported as alien as are many other races. To successfully write a character of one of these races, it is vital that you actually get into the mind of a being that is simply not human.
But how do you do this? The steps below will help you to get into the skin of nearly any alien race.
Questions to Ask
Get a picture in your mind of what this being looks like physically. Then start asking questions. What planet do you come from? How tall, what is your body build, and are you biped or not? Put yourself, the writer, inside that body and figure out how you move. How does the world look through your eyes? Examine things with the five senses that you already have.
Put some clothing on. What is the nature of the garments? Do you wear clothing at all? Are you scaled, furred, warm, or cold blooded? Deciding this now will determine how the alien will react on a starship run by mostly humans.
We don’t have a concept of what is truly alien. After all, all that we have is the Earth we live on and our imaginations. So, how does a human being like me or you “think” like an alien in order to write one? There is so much information on the internet related to various Star Trek aliens that each has an article of their own. And while this is a good place to start, it’s never the full answer. No, the human imagination must also be brought into play as well.
I will use an established Star Trek alien, the Vulcan, as an example of ‘getting into their skin”. Lets say I was born on my world. Since it is much warmer than Earth, I would find the temperature on a starship chilly, or even downright cold during the “night” time hours if the ship adjusts its lighting and temperature to reflect that. My movement would be different because of lighter gravity on the ship compared to home. I would feel more energetic, and maybe much lighter. Since my kind would average two meters in height or taller, I would need to be diligent and duck my head from lower hanging piping, doorways, or even low-hanging lighting fixtures and shuttle pod doors. It would make for an unpleasant day if I were always banging my head on things.
Standard Terran atmospheric pressure and humidity would feel very heavy and wet, and I would find it a little uncomfortable as if I was trying to breathe liquid. I probably wouldn’t use a water bath, but different means to stay clean, such as a sonic shower, a sand ‘bath’, or using oils. My biology is different; I don’t have sweat glands for instance. I don’t eat the same types of food as some species, being a vegetarian, so I wouldn’t eat a huge porterhouse steak because my body’s digestive system wouldn’t have the enzymes needed to process meat properly. Although, using my imagination, I might be able to adapt with a small degree of discomfort until the enzymes built up.
I also have a different circadian rhythm than a human. Since my world wasn’t rich in resources, my ancestors adapted to survive on smaller amounts on food, water, and even sleep. I would be comfortable eating the same foods since there isn’t much variety back home. Even though I’m stronger, faster, and can exist on very little food. I have trouble adapting to certain biospheres. Very cold, or wet places, will do me harm faster than a human or other species that was born and raised there. It would take me longer to adapt.
My pain control was developed by mental training since childhood. Without that, I wouldn’t handle pain well because my empathic ability amplifies my own pain.
More Specialized Questions
Am I a young Vulcan or a little older? As a younger one I would probably be more brash, possibly lacking wisdom to keep my foot out of my mouth. Do I have a roommate or two, and do I get along with him, her, or them? Are they the same species or alien. If they are Vulcan, it doesn’t mean I would automatically get along with them. Even a logical species can have jerks, or very pleasant people.
Am I a male or a female, married or not? Have I children or grandchildren? What are my family relations? Is my family trying to “set me up” with suitors? How does that effect my Career, if at all? Vulcans do feel emotions. The danger here is to make a single dimensional Vulcan who is mechanical rather than a living breathing person. Even being logical, I still have feelings. I may not like any of rise suitors my clan matriarch is showing me. Maybe my gut instinct is saying “No way!”.
All these items and more I would need to keep in mind simming a Vulcan. If done well, a very in depth character can be made that readers can relate to, like, or dislike.
From Within Their Skin
Perhaps the most important thing to remember, when writing an alien character, is the fact that each character is an individual even if they belong to a very well defined race. It’s always alright to work with the boundaries and use your own creative license when writing an alien, but these tips can really help you work from inside their skin, rather than trying to write them from the outside.