Writing for alien species can seem daunting at first and a lot of people may choose to write for a human because it’s more familiar to them, particularly if it’s their first character or they’re new to writing or roleplaying. This is a perfectly acceptable approach but this guide aims to explore some of the fun you can have and ways you can approach writing for an alien species.
If this is something you’re interested in, the first thing you need to do is choose which species you‘d like to write for. With nearly two hundred permitted species on the Intelligent Lifeform Index, finding the right one might seem a little overwhelming at first. Of the species listed some names are going to jump out more than others. Species like Bajorans, Andorians, Trill and Ferengi are immediately familiar because we’ve all seen them on the TV or read about them in the books or comics. These are generally a good starting ground, particularly if you have a favourite that you want to explore or want a well-established race.
The benefit of using a well-established race is that it gives you a lot of information to work with from the species’s home planet to their culture and society. This means you don’t have to come up with everything yourself and you have resources to draw upon. Some people are drawn to the lesser known species for that exact reason however and look at it as having a blank canvas. It can be a lot of work developing a species and there can be a lot of details to work out and keep track of over time which must be kept consistent. There can be a lot of reward in creating something new that can be enjoyed by the whole group. There’s no right or wrong answer but what you choose depends on what you want to achieve and experience when writing for an alien species.
Once you’ve chosen your species you should find out as much as you can about them. Physically, what do they look like; do they have any distinguishing features such as Trill Spots, Klingon ridges and dreadlocks or Andorian antennae? Do they have additional senses such as empathy, telepathy or fielding? If so how does this affect the world around them. It can be fun to pick up on other characters’ thoughts from time to time or find an object by fielding it.
Even if a species doesn’t have additional senses the ones we are familiar with may be stronger or weaker than we’re used to as humans. How would a character with a poor sense of smell and taste appreciate food? Perhaps they would be more interested in how the food is presented and the texture of it than then smell and taste. What are their senses like and how does it affect the way they perceive their environment?
How do they express themselves? Andorians do not use their faces to express themselves and smile only in the company of those they are particularly close to. Their antennae move independently and apart from being a sensory receptor are used for expression. So if they are angry you won’t see a frown or a scowl, but their antennae will sweep back. Vulcans have a very subtle way of expressing themselves too and tend to avoid touching others where possible.
What are their speech patterns like? Vulcans will tend to speak in an even, emotionless way and refer frequently to logic due to their cultural beliefs. A Klingon will be more passionate when talking about matters of importance to them such as honour. One of the most immersion breaking things can be to have an alien routinely using common human expressions. While each cadet will have spent four or more years at StarFleet Academy and having plenty of exposure to humans you can expect them to at least understand some of them. That said, they’re also exposed to a number of other species with their own phrases and sayings, not to mention the fact that they would have their own. Avoiding well-worn phrases in favour of creating something different would be much more fitting.
Finally, consider where they come from. Were they born on their species home planet or other colonised world? Know what the species culture and beliefs are like. Are they an arty creative people with a love of expressing themselves, or perhaps more driven towards developing new technologies and ways of thinking? The more you know about what the species is like in general terms the more you can decide how much of that they go along with and where their opinions might differ and, if so, why. Your character doesn’t have to be typical for their species but the deeper your knowledge and understanding of the species the more you can work out where the differences are and why, helping you to build a richer and more interesting character.