Sunday, July 10, 2011

Half Alien, With Family

In my current WIP, “Under the Ember Star,” I have a character who is a hybrid, a genetic cross between a human and an alien race known as the Kelmerians. His name is Duash and I’ve enjoyed writing him. The ‘human’ part of him allows me to make the connection I need to fully imagine the character, and the ‘non-human’ part gives me free range to create any weirdness I might want. That’s where the most fun comes in for me.

Strangely enough, though, it wasn’t until after the book was largely done that I considered the influences that led me to Duash. First up would be “Spock,” of course, from the TV series. Spock was such a great character. He was enough of an ‘us’ so that we could identify with him, but enough of an ‘other’ to make him “fascinating,” and to allow the show’s writers to say a lot about the nature of humanity, both good and bad. Spock allowed us to examine the painful experience of prejudice with just enough of a remove from the real world to make it less threatening. We saw the wounding of Spock, despite his vaunted logic, and we also saw his dignity and quiet competence, which make the most powerful weapons anyone has against such prejudice.

Star Trek used the ‘hybrid’ theme again and again throughout later entries in the series, although never to such great effect as with Spock. Counselor Deanna Troi, (Human/Betazoid), B’Elanna Torres (Human/Klingon), Whorf’s mate, K’Ehleyr (Human/Klingon), Whorf’s son (by K’Ehleyr) Alexander, Sela, (Human/Romulan), and many others, are examples. Of course, the theme did not begin with Star Trek. “Half-breeds” have long been a staple character in westerns. And far, far before that we had the demi-gods and various hybrids of humans and gods in Greek mythology.

Here’s why hybrid characters can be so compelling and such a gift to the writer. Conflict is key in fiction, whether on the screen or the page. The hybrid character is by nature a source of conflict. Not only do such characters have to deal with the prejudices and expectations of others, but they are often in conflict with themselves. Which world do they live in? Which culture do they express? And then there is the whole backstory conflict as well. How did the hybrid character’s parents get together? Consider the fireworks that must have ensued in those relationships.The potential is enormous.

To close today’s post,let me say that we’re starting a new year here on Novel Spaces. There have been a few changes; the schedules have shifted a bit. This year we’re going to leave some posts up for two days, which I think is a plus for generating reader comments. We’re also considering monthly themes and a few other things. We’ve discussed keeping the focus more on writing themes. For those of you reading this, what kinds of things would ‘you’ like to see here? How could we make the site better?

22 comments:

David J. West said...

Right on Charles.

Another aspect of the hybrid that I enjoy is the character brought up and raised in a seperate world givng a hybrid of "Nurture" such as Uhtred in Bernard Cornwell's Saxon tales or maybe Hawkeye in Last of the Mohicans or any number of other frontiersmen raised "Native".

eric1313 said...

Great post!

Being as well-versed in the works of Margaret Weiss and Tracy Hickman as I happen to be (lol), namely the Dragonlance Chronicles trilogy and Legends trilogy, I could not help but always admire the lead character, called Tanis Half-Elven. He was a son born to an elven woman of royal lineage by way of a brutal rape during a chaotic dark age period. His internal conflict, as well as the conflict that roiled around him at times, was one of the things that made the novels so great to read. Especially at the young age at which I read them, as they introduced me to a different view of prejudice and discrimination that was very important to me at that time--about 13 years old.

Yes, sometimes he mused a little too much about being a "damn half breed bastard", but all in all he was one of the characters that made it all work, to be plain about it.

G said...

I think its pretty cool to explore themes of hybrid with your writing. I know I tried on a smaller degree with some of mine, and if I had continued with one particular project, I definitely would've come up with something quite interesting using animals and/or other races.

Having said that, I am finding this blog to be a wealth of information not only in gleaning writing tips, but in the overall picture of publishing as well.

At the very least, this blog doesn't make me feel jaded or cynical, simply because it doesn't talk down to me.

Treats me like a normal person who is trying to make something on themselves, in spite of an age that most people would not consider starting something new in their life.

Liane Spicer said...

Hybrid characters are some of the most fascinating I've read.

To your examples here I'll add Detective Inspector Napoleon Bonaparte (Bony), a half Aboriginal, half-white detective character created by Arthur Upfield. The conflict between Bony's two worlds drove the mysteries and was responsible for his uncanny success at his job of hunting down murderers in the Australian Outback.

Charles Gramlich said...

David J. West, good point. I’ve got a couple of books here called “white Indian,” and one called “Black Indian” about that very thing. I think Data from Star Trek is kind of hybrid like that, in being an android but wanting to be human. It adds a dimension.

Eric1313, I’ve not read those books but he sounds like an interesting character. The whole “Edge” series of westerns features a ‘half-breed” as main character.

G, I’m glad you’re liking the blog. We have a pretty good crew here, I think, and all of them are definitely givers. We appreciate your visits.

Liane, I haven’t read those books but sounds great. I’ll have to check them out. And hey, I even touched on this month’s theme. !:)

Alex J. Cavanaugh said...

Star Trek had some great hybrid characters. Think Jadzia Dax was my favorite.

Ron Scheer said...

Charles, you make good points, as usual. With a growing number of biracial students in my classes, I've become more aware of the difficulties around identity, where identity is in part socially constructed...Reading your essay I was also thinking about the hysteria around so-called half breeds in early western fiction. It is assumed there that they inherit the worst traits of both races and are thus typically villains. I think the subject disturbs people on very deep levels, and fiction is a safe way to work out those fears (if not reaffirm prejudices).

Charles Gramlich said...

Alex, she was good. when I started looking into it there were a lot of them.

Ron, fiction could certianly be used to reaffirm, or help dispel prejudices. I guess it mostly depends on the writer and their views. They played off this with the Edge series, a half breed who is tougher than all around him, but also pretty much a sociopath.

BernardL said...

I’ve always been a fan of the vampire/human hybrid. Blade was the first one I can remember. There have been many Dhampirs since then, as villains and heroes. I look forward to reading Ember Star. I like the idea of having a hybrid in your story.

Charles Gramlich said...

Bernardl, I liked the Blade character too. Very interesting.

Carole said...

I like Novel Spaces because I am interested in what you write so I can't be of a help in that category.

Live long and prosper.

Charles Gramlich said...

Carole, thanks, I appreciate that.

Erik Donald France said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Erik Donald France said...

Excellente~~ In response to the last paragraph, anything goes, it's all interesting. Roam anywhere with it.

As for the main part, love it. Astute and to the point.

Charles Gramlich said...

Erik, thanks for your input. Much appreciated.

Jodi MacArthur said...

Very neat. I'd never thought of it like that. I can see this in Cold Light too. You have an interesting mind, Mr.G. I'm so glad you use it to creatively.

ps. There is a Dean Koontz interview I've been meaning to post on your FB wall, but keep forgetting. Mr. Koontz talks about the bizarre dreams he has when he takes benadryl and how they inspired his most recent book What The Night Knows. I thought you would enjoy it.
Here's the link: http://www.bookreporter.com/authors/au-koontz-dean.asp

Charles Gramlich said...

Jodi, cool. I'll check it out. I liked that book pretty well. Finished reading it not too long ago.

eric1313 said...

At one point Tanis was posed this question by a barbarian plainsman as a test: "You are called Tanis Half Elven... why are you not called Tanis Half-Man?"

His first urge was to lash out with his own sharp retort but because he realized it was a test meant to see why people looked to him as a leader--as well as for the sake of diplomacy--he responded: "because half an elf is but part of a whole being. Half a man is a cripple."

They actually went on to became great friends and even regarded each other as blood brothers, in spite of the barbarian culture's superstitious and prejudiced beliefs in the Elven race.

Great book if you ever get the time. Chronicles was first, Legends second. A beautiful story arc which touched on amny adult themes, even if it was a young adult style of writing.

Captain Black said...

Reading the above comments, I see that there are only a few responses to the last question:

"For those of you reading this, what kinds of things would 'you' like to see here? How could we make the site better?"

Perhaps this should be posed in a separate and dedicated post. You may get more feedback that way. Personally, I like the wide range and mix of subjects. Keeping that diversity would be a good start. If I may offer one piece of criticism: some of the articles are a bit long and, though informative, have few questions or other invitations for reader comment. Making the articles more interactive might improve the blog.

Charles Gramlich said...

I actually have some Dragonlance books aruond here, some of the very first ones, with great covers. But I never read them. Will have to dig out what I've got to see.

Jess said...

Interesting post, Charles. I wish I was more familiar with your genre and the books and movies you and your friends always reference.

Novel Spaces is a great blog. I play catch-up about once or twice a month, trying to read all I've missed. :) As for themes, I always like How-To anything and writer observations. Just keep on keeping on--sharing heart, soul, and your writing knowledge. Thanks everyone!

Charles Gramlich said...

Jess, glad you dropped by, and glad you enjoy Novel Spaces. :)