Tuesday, April 7, 2009
Five more features to change
Inspired by Writtenwyrdd’s suggestion that speculative fiction writers change something other than a character’s eyes (because that’s the first thing most of us think to change), here are a few other ideas.
Skin color, texture, etc. is an extremely easy way to differentiate a character or race from the norm. Zoology can provide a lot of inspiration in this regard – the ways in which animals’ hides camouflage or protect them can often be adapted to humanoid skins as well.
When I first discovered the Wild Cards novels, I came up with a few Aces of my own. One of them was Slime, who, as you can probably guess, oozed fluids of various kinds from his skin. Said fluids could be highly acidic (used as a weapon), flame-retardant (a defense), strongly adhesive (enabling him to climb snail-like up the side of a building) and so on.
Alien or fantastic species might not use their mouths for the same things humans do. Human mouths serve at least two functions – ingestion and speech (intimacy and nonverbal communication are others). An alien might use its mouth simply for talking, and would be as unlikely to put food in there as you would be to stuff French fries in your ear. He/she might also be concerned about how easy it is for humans to end up with food/partially-digested food getting into the respiratory system by accident.
Or, conversely, the mouth might be used for eating alone, and the species would communicate through some method other than spoken speech. Either way, this is a quick and easy way to show how different a species is.
For me, hair is a tricky area. I’d really like to give a few of my characters streaks, but that’s been done so very often in speculative fiction that it seems stale. The ability to change hair color or length would be useful to a character, but it always reminds me of Tonks from the Harry Potter books.
One thing that wouldn’t remind me of Tonks, though, is hair that magically sets itself into different styles. That might be great for a light-hearted story.
Alterations to hands are easy to do, and just as importantly, easy to communicate to the reader. I’ve altered characters by giving them weapons that slide out of their wrists, but I’ve read of fantastic species that have fangs under their fingernails.
And what about palm-located chemical sensors that resemble tightly closed, lipless mouths or stomata? For that matter, I wouldn’t mind having sensors of different kinds in my fingertips either.
I have characters with fangs – not just the two dainty eating implements prominently featured in Interview with the Vampire but more like a cat’s or dog’s teeth. Zoology comes in handy here as well. I’d like to see characters with the gnawing abilities of rodents, only multiplied to the point where they can chew escape routes through wooden walls in a few hours. Or how about poison-injecting teeth like those of venomous snakes?
Or maybe they don’t have teeth at all, so they expel digestive fluids into or on their food and then absorb the resulting products. I would definitely provide them with individual soup spoons for that purpose.