Non-human Characters

This draft of Jasper City is all about adding scenes and chapters where the plot had holes to fill.  With the chapter count going from 14 to 35, I’ve got a lot of work to do.  Taking the advice of one beta reader, one plot point I am expanding is the presence of sentient robots in the story.

The robots are probably the most difficult aspect of the story so far.  Their original purpose was to show how far the “old society” (that is, our society) had advanced before war and natural disaster turned North America into a wasteland.  They play an important part in Jasper City, a bigger role in Jasper’s Fall, and an even bigger role in the sequel I’m planning.  So they couldn’t remain as a decoration for worldbuilding purposes for very long.  The question then became:  How does one flesh out a character who doesn’t have flesh?

Enter SAM.  Its name stands for Sentient Android Machine.  SAM is among the oldest of Machine models  considered “people” in this setting.  SAM is solar-powered, though its panels don’t gather as much energy as they used to, and a loose screw in its head has led to a constant, distracting ticking sound.  SAM is one of two Machines who have personal involvement with the main characters, but is the only one to have chapters from its own point of view.

I’m working on SAM’s chapter right now.  The hardest part is making the chapter feel relateable while still portraying a robot effectively.  SAM doesn’t feel the way that humans do, and so it isn’t driven by things like fear or loyalty.  It was created with a specific purpose and destiny as a businessman’s personal assistant.  With the businessman long gone with the rest of the old society, SAM is still driven by his initial programming, aiming to survive long enough to be of service to someone else.  So it gathers what few things it can, mostly data, in hopes of finding employment in the future.

Another smaller challenge is writing SAM as a genderless character.  SAM has no need for a male or female distinction, and so SAM does not have either.  Throughout the chapter SAM will be referred to as an “it” whenever necessary.  But while writing this post my brain tried to refer to SAM as a “he!”  Perhaps this is an effect of our subconscious trying to assign genders to everything and everyone whether it’s relevant or not.  (Hell, some languages give all nouns this treatment.  Four years of high school Spanish taught me that dresses were inherently male, for unknown reasons.)  But that’s another topic.

Many stories are written from the perspective of non-human characters, but most of these species are close enough to humans that it doesn’t feel too alien to us.  It’s when you create something that’s so far removed from humanity that the difficult questions pop up.  Things like emotions and pronouns, which we often take for granted, don’t always apply.

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One thought on “Non-human Characters

  1. Reblogged this on Elizabeth Rhodes and commented:

    Throwback Thursday time. I made this post back in September of 2013 while still working on Jasper. It’s interesting, at least to me, how much the story’s changed even in this stretch of time. I’ve since changed the title to Jasper for simplicity. Jasper’s Fall, this story’s prequel, will be put on the backburner until I hammer out later books in the series. And I’ve introduced one more robot character that impacts the characters directly, bringing that total to three.

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