Friday, November 30, 2007

The Art of Inventing Non-humans

Werewolves! Vampires! Aliens! Creatures of all descriptions and with all sorts of paranormal abilities abound in the romance world. How do your invent your own creation? How do you make them unique and yet, believable?

Much like world building, you decide your parameters. What special abilities does you character have? What vulnerabilities do they have? What do they look like? How is their body different from a human body? If your character is going to have a sexual relationship with a human, how do those differences affect that?

Let's take the ever popular vampire...a vulnerability that is pretty common is that they can't be in the sun. Another one is that they require human blood to survive. If your vampire isn't going to have to contend with those two issues, then what exactly makes him/her a vampire? Your parameters must be clearly stated in order for your story to work.

I once read a vampire story where it was clear that the writer hadn't made any decisions about what the vampire really was going to contend with. On one page he desperately needed blood--so much so that he attacked a human in a park. Three pages later he was having a steak dinner complete with dessert and wine with his werewolf friend. Several pages later he he was driving in the desert (wearing his sunglasses with the top down on his convertible) during the day. Two chapters later, he very seriously explains to the heroine how the sun will kill him.

Once you decide on the parameters and description for the character, then you can decide how those limitations and abilities will enhance the story. Always, always, you must remember what that character can and cannot do.

In my Mystic Valley series, the valley people are blue. They have pointed ears and small fanged eye-teeth. The genitalia on all humans tends to be a slightly darker shade that the rest of the body, whatever that primary shade. However, it's usually a hue that ranges from rosy pink to light red. I had to translate that quality to my blue people. Darker blue? Violet? Lavender? And what about nipples? What color should they be?

It gives the expression blue balls an entirely different connotation. Every reference had to be carefully considered because while I like humor as much as the next person, I certainly didn't want inadvertant laughter from an ill considered description. I gave the females the ability to lock the male's penis inside during intercourse. Then I had to decide if that would be every time? Or if only at special times, what would determine when those times would be?

And you thought I only worried about whether the men had long hair! Speaking of hair...In this case I decided that hair colors and eye colors would resemble those out-valley. But hair styles for the men are determined by their position in the valley. There's an elaborate system of ranking that's indicated by the chinka colors. None of that made it into any of the books so far, but I know it's there and if I choose to use it in a plot, I won't have to worry about how it will affect earlier books.

The valley people have a variety of paranormal abilities. Some have been revealed in the stories, some have not yet made their appearance, but they are plotted out by individual so that three books down the line I don't have my editor saying to me, "Where the heck did that come from?"

Finally, it's not enough to invent the character, but you must make them real. They must have emotions and thoughts that make them someone the reader will care about. Sad to say, many vampires and wolfies are cardboard charcters, stamped out like so many ticky-tacky non-humans. I always wonder how does this character feel about being a vampire or alien? Aren't there things he/she must deal with that are less than pleasant? What are the advantages to being a vampire? How do they feel about never seeing the sun?

All of us must walk in our own skin so the only way we can experience the way other people live is if the writer shows us that inner life. In the end, that is what makes a successful character.


In this excerpt from Traveller's Refuge, we meet Wrenna and her brother Wolfe and watch as they deal with the unfortunate effects of their little brother's greed.

Without bothering to track down the rest of her sibs, she settled into her task for the afternoon—small squat clay jars destined to hold salves and ointments prepared and dispensed by her brother, Llyon in his healing practice. When she ran out of space on the tray she kept for curing, she realized that she had made twice as many as Llyon had requested while she was day-dreaming.

Well, perhaps it wasn’t exactly daydreaming. Mulling over the events of the past moon since her bond-brother had arrived wasn’t really daydreaming, except when she wondered what his brother, Traveller was really like. Her sister, Eppie had asked Dancer to describe Traveller but it wasn’t until he had shown them a small picture of Trav that Wrenna was completely heart-struck. Dancer had called the picture a photo and smiled as he gently ran a calloused fingertip over the glossy surface. Since Dancer didn’t smile very often, Wrenna was happy that the picture brought back good memories but she wished she was comfortable enough with her new bond-brother to ask for a closer look.

When she stared absently at the tray of jars and then shook her head, her loosely secured topknot listed precariously to one side. Ruefully she stared at her hands, strong pale blue fingers covered with creamy colored clay. Even after she wiped them on the tan smock covering her bright yellow meerlim, they were too dirty to touch her hair. With a deep sigh, she studied the small pots. No doubt Llyon would eventually use all of them but until then, she would have to find some place to store them after they were fired. Maybe Ciara, the herbalist at Dai’s Hamlet, would take a few. She sighed when she thought of the long walk down to Dai’s Hamlet just so she could find out what colors Ciara would need.

“Wrenna? Are you out here?” Wolfe pounded on the side of the dome with a heavy hand. “Can you come in, please? Cougar threw up all over me and I need help getting him cleaned up…”

She rushed over to the shop door, skidding to a halt when she caught the full meaning of her sib’s monologue. Ewww! Wrinkling her nose, she stared at the regurgitated blueberries covering his bare chest and filthy sharda. “You’re trying to tell me there was more than that in that boy’s belly? Where did he fit it?” she demanded.

“Exactly the problem,” Wolfe retorted. “He must have cleaned every bush in the Deep Meadow. Wait until you see him.”

She followed him back into the house, biting her lip to keep from chuckling. Wolfe was the most fastidious of all her siblings. She couldn’t even imagine how he’d tolerated the mess long enough to fetch her from her pottery shop. “Go on, Wolfe and get yourself cleaned up. I’ll take care of Cougar.”

“I’ll send Falcon to help you if he’s in our room,” he promised before turning away toward the bathing room he shared with his older brothers.

Wrenna went into the main bathing room and silently surveyed her youngest brother. Cougar stood naked in the empty bathing tub, his pale blue skin covered in goose bumps, shivering and filthy. His twin, Gazelle, sat on the toilet, slow tears running down her face while she mournfully held his hand. “All right, it’s not that bad,” Wrenna said kindly. “Cougar step out here on this bathing sheet and let me wipe the worst of it off of you and then we’ll run a warm bath and finish cleaning you up.” She studied him seriously for a moment. “Are you finished? Or is there more where this came from?”

He moaned. “No more.”

“Is that a wish or a fact?”

“Truth,” he muttered. “No more left.” He clambered out of the tub and stood while Wrenna wiped him down. When she judged that the worst was off, she motioned for him to get back in the tub and she started filling it with warm water.

“Gazelle, you stay with him while I run this out to the laundry tubs. Then you can tell me what happened.” Bundling up the bathing sheet along with his sharda and the dirty washing cloth, she carried it out to the laundry shed and dumped it in the soaking tub. His sandals, she figured were a lost cause but she dropped them next to the tub and returned to finish cleaning up one seven-year-old who she suspected would stay away from the blueberry bushes for a while—at least until next year.

When Cougar was finally clean and dry, she settled him in his bed with Gazelle to keep him company while she went back to the kitchen to prepare him some wachaz tea to settle his belly.

Wolfe, fresh from his bath, stalked past her with the bundle of his sharda and bathing sheet. His shiny black warrior braids were gathered up in a twist held by two carved skewers but the glassy chinkas on the ends still clinked musically when he moved. By the time he returned from the laundry shed, the tea was nearly ready.

“Cougar’s sandals aren’t worth messing with,” he observed shortly as he pulled the skewers from his hair, allowing his braids to slither down his back. He tucked the skewers in the waistband of his sharda and went to the sink to wash his hands. “I tossed them in the trash heap. They were his old ones, anyway.”

She nodded while she added a healthy dollop of honey to the tea. “I thought as much but he was waiting by the tub, so I just left them. I have plenty of hot water here. Do you want tea?”

He shuddered. “No thanks. I don’t think I could face anything right now. Do you think he’ll be okay?”

She cocked an eyebrow at him. “I think so. You’re the one with healer talent. Why?”

“He was violently ill. I’ve never seen any of us get that sick.” He took the mug of tea from her and led the way down to the room the younger boys shared. Gazelle was curled up next to Cougar, holding his hand and both were sound asleep. Wolfe set the mug on the bedside table and fetched a light coverlet to spread over them.

“Well, I guess he’s okay,” he said doubtfully. “Gazelle seems peaceful enough and she would be making a fuss if he wasn’t.” In the way of all of the twin sets in the family, Cougar and Gazelle shared the bad times as well as the good.

“He will be fine. Can you help me for a few minutes out in the shop? I need you to move a curing tray for me.”

Wolfe shot her a knowing glance before slowly shaking his head. “You made too many again, huh? What was it this time?”

“Oh, just thinking. So much has happened in the last moon.” She sighed quietly. “Dancer came and bonded with Eppie and then we had that terrible bonding storm. Llyon and Tyger finally swore a covenant bond. Homer died trying to kill Silence. It seems like it’s been several moons instead of just one.” She led the way out to the spacious dome perched on a low rise above the river. Completed only the week before, as a gift from the villagers, she still got a little thrill every time she looked at it. “I guess you didn’t find Falcon. He never came to help.”

“Hawke dragged Falcon out to the back patio to help him make a new loom,” Wolfe replied absently. “He damaged Hawke’s old one. You know how attached Hawke was to that loom just because Tyger gave to him. When Tyger gets past what he did to his own great loom on his bonding night, I’m pretty sure Hawke’s going to ask him to take him as an apprentice. I looked around for one of the others but they were all busy. Arano’s still out at Silence’s house helping her sort through Homer’s belongings. I don’t know what’s taking so much time. Surely he didn’t have that much stuff!

“As usual, Arturo is training the third level boys out at the field. You know that Panther and Llynx are still grounded for breaking old Marta’s window. Well, Arturo caught them down by the river and sent them home so now they’re weeding Mama’s garden.” He shrugged. “Hawke’s keeping an eye on them.”

“You would think with fourteen of us, there would be more help available,” she grumbled impatiently. “Ah well. The little twins will probably sleep for a while. After you move that tray for me, I’ll clean up and start dinner.”

He easily lifted the tray and carried it across to the shelves where she kept her curing items. “This all right?”

“Great. Would you mind very much going down to the smoke house and bringing something back for dinner?” She looked around at the mess in her shop with a vague glance. “I’ll be in as soon as I clean up.”

“Not a problem. What do you want?” he inquired while he casually picked up various items and set them in place with the ease of long familiarity. At one time, he had considered apprenticing with Wrenna but potting wasn’t in his future. He enjoyed it as a relaxing occupation for his free time but it wasn’t going to be his life’s work.

“What I really want are some gilly fish,” she said wistfully. “But I’ll settle for a rowan roast, I suppose.”

“In this heat? The kitchen would get hot enough to cook it without the oven.” Wolfe shook his head, setting his jeweled chinkas to tinkling like a waterfall. “Nah. I’ll drag Hawke and Falcon down to the river and we’ll catch enough gillies for dinner. We can cook them out on the grille on the patio. You fix the rest, okay?”

“Oh, yeah. That’s no problem at all.” He suffered a quick hug from Wrenna before making his escape but he didn’t miss the quick smile that lit up her face. Since Dancer had arrived, it seemed like her normally sunny disposition had gone into hiding. He had a notion that it had something to do with Dancer’s brother, Trav. He took a deep breath and then asked, “Wrenna, are you sure about Traveller? He’s the one?”

She froze, taking a long moment before she answered. “I’m sure—just as you’re sure that Raven is the one for you. Do you doubt that?” The serious expression on her face didn’t seem right. In all his eighteen years, Wolfe didn’t recall more than a handful of times that Wrenna wasn’t smiling. Mama had commented once that people with red hair supposedly were quick tempered but that definitely wasn’t Wrenna. She always had a smile on her sweet face and infinite patience.

“I don’t doubt our attachments,” Wolfe said slowly, trying to capture the essence of his unease. “I just wonder why? Why is each of us attached to Dancer’s siblings?"

More? Check out Traveller's Refuge from Ellora's Cave at

Don't forget to check out Amarinda's blog at for her daily take on life as an Aussie. And then pop over to Kelly's blog at where she's interviewing Norah (ND Hanson-Hill) author from Cerridwen Press. Blessings on your day!


  1. "blue balls " - excellent...never thought about that but I guess that is common in the valley.

  2. That's one of my favorite scenes in TR...Wolfe, a healer, freaking out over someone vomiting all over him! Too funny...

  3. You are very wise Zen Queen. I wish more para writers thought as much about what they are putting on paper. Inconsistencies irritate me and I never worry about that with your work. I get to just READ. Lovely gift.

  4. I *really* need to make some time to read TR soon!

  5. Wow, I feel like an ass. I don't plan out my vamps nearly that much. But on the bright side, I don't have glaring inconsistencies like the above mentioned vampire story. (That wasn't one of mine was it?) Most of my vamps are exactly the same, story to story, so I don't have to keep track. The sun kills them all, they all drink blood, they all have large...anyway yeah, they stay pretty similar book to book.

    I am glad you have the discipline to keep your worlds straight. You are so detailed and articulate your books are an absolute joy to devour.