By August (Gus) Li
Part of the reason fantasy characters are fun to read and write about—at least for me—is their otherness. By that I mean the traits that set them apart from humans. How they’re fundamentally different from us.
The most obvious distinctions are often physical: he has silver hair; he has purple eyes; he has a tail. Exploring the aesthetics is certainly interesting. Probably because of growing up on videogames, comics, manga, and anime, I’ve always been drawn to characters with unusual hair and eye colors. As a visual artist, I love the challenging of drawing characters that stand out as nonhuman. But as with most characters, the really intriguing aspects lie beneath the surface.
So how does an author believably construct a character whose personality is immediately identifiable as nonhuman? How do we write a faerie who isn’t just a human with pointy ears or an extraterrestrial being who isn’t just a human with green skin? The challenge is to strike a balance between a character who is strange and intriguing, compelling because of their otherness, yet still relatable on some level.
I think it’s done the same way as any well rounded character is constructed: by examining his fears, desires, and the way his experiences have shaped him into the person—or whatever—we meet over the course of the story. Simple in theory, complex in execution, especially with characters who are “other.” The farther removed from humanity a character is, the farther removed his thought processes and motivations. If a character in his fifties views the world in a way that’s fundamentally different from a teenager, then what are the implications for a character who is several thousand years old? How has living for so long affected him? Does he see patterns in history that are invisible to those with shorter lifespans? Has it made him jaded; does he see things others might view as profound as petty and fleeting? And most importantly, how do those views shape the way he speaks, his values, the things he wants, the decisions he makes?
I’ve always imagined faeries possessing motivations and morals that are almost incomprehensible to humans—they’re that different. My story in the anthology touches on this. Humans are instinctively uncomfortable around anyone with fey blood, because not only are they potentially dangerous, it’s impossible to guess what they want or what they might do next—in the same way a rabbit or a deer reacts when a human comes stomping through the forest. To a rabbit, humans are more powerful, essentially impossible to communicate with or influence, and wildly unpredictable. A rabbit is incapable of understanding the way a human thinks.
To humans, faeries—at least my faeries—appear fickle and easily distracted. They can be lavishly generous one moment and cruelly indifferent the next. They—at least mine—are quite governed by their immediate desires, and the lack of the need for things that make humans feel secure make them much less cautious. Communication between the two races is difficult; there’s such a small overlap in their experiences, and common experiences are one of the building blocks for establishing connections between characters. The motivations and decision-making processes aren’t human. Even the way they perceive and evaluate the world is… other.
For a writer, the difficulty is all in the execution. Once the dissection of what makes the character tick is complete and his motivation, etc. is clear in the author’s mind, the author must take care that it reflects in everything he does. It’s easy to allow him to slide into a more human mold, at least occasionally. It’s what’s familiar to us. It’s also easy to let his otherness manifest not as something woven into every fiber of his being and influences his character in every way, but as a series of repetitive quirks.
Who are your favorite nonhuman characters? What aspects of their personality and behavior do you find interesting? Have you encountered any characters you just couldn’t relate to?
Publisher: Wilde City Press
Authors: August Li, Brandon Witt, J. Scott Coatsworth, Skye Hegyes
Cover Artist: August Li
Format: eBook, Paperback
Release Date: 4/13/16
Price: eBook $5.99, paperback TBD
Faeries are part of mythology the world over, past, present, and future. Called elves, brownies, the fae, and more, they evoke a sense of wonder and a little danger. Faery has its own rules, and humans enter at their peril.
In this spirit, we bring you the first book in the Myths Untold anthology series—four stories from the land of the Fae: a homeless man in Cardiff and the luck that could destroy him; the trans man in future San Francisco who falls for an elf; the village boy who has always been a little different; and a faery prince whose birthright was stolen from him.
Welcome to Faery.
The Pwcca and the Persian Boy, by Gus Li
Despite beauty and luck, something about Glyn makes everyone uncomfortable. Homeless on the streets of Cardiff, he has nothing to keep him going but his friendship with Farrokh. Through stealing and fortune’s occasional favor, Glyn keeps them alive. But then homeless youths begin to disappear, and when Farrokh goes missing, Glyn begins to discover the reasons behind both his luck and the way people react to him. Determined to save his friend from a danger he never imagined, he enlists the help of Lleu, who might be an ally, or might be manipulating Glyn to achieve his own goals.
The Other Side of the Chrysalis, by Brandon Witt
In a species that values beauty above all else, Quay looses both his freedom and his birthright as prince of the fairies. Lower than an outcast, he watches over his younger brother, hoping against hope that Xenith’s rebirth will provide safety and positions that has slipped through Quay’s grasp. Though he expected kindness from no one, Quay gradually starts to trust that there is more to life, even for the likes of him, as sexual encounters with Flesser, a fairy barely accepted himself, turn from lust to love. Quay knows having forbidden relationships will be his undoing, but he is powerless to turn away.
Changeling, by Skye Hegyes
With his pointed ears and a tail, Tyler’s always been different than the other children, but until Marsh, a brownie tells him he’s a changeling, he never thought he wasn’t human. Now he will discover what faery life is like, and just how being a changeling could change his life. On the way, his ties with his mother will be pushed and prodded even as his friendships grow and his love life blossoms. However, in a village of God-fearing people, those who are different are spurned and Tyler will discover how much trouble a fledgling changeling can get into.
Through the Veil, by J. Scott Coatsworth
In the not-too-distant future, San Francisco has been swamped by rising sea levels caused by global warming, and has only survived by building a wall to keep the water out of the heart of the City. Colton is a trans man barely getting by on the canals outside the wall. Tris is an elf who has come to the human world on his journey to become a man. Fate brings them together, and everything changes for Colton when he sets out with Tris to find the elf’s missing brother, taking Colton behind the Wall for the first time.
August (Gus) Li is a creator of fantasy worlds. When not writing, he enjoys drawing, illustration, costuming and cosplay, and making things in general. He lives near Philadelphia with two cats and too many ball-jointed dolls.
He loves to travel and is trying to see as much of the world as possible. Other hobbies include reading (of course), tattoos, and playing video games.
Brandon Witt’s outlook on life is greatly impacted by his first eighteen years of growing up gay in a small town in the Ozarks, as well as fifteen years as a counselor and special education teacher for students with severe emotional disabilities.
Add to that his obsession with corgis and mermaids, then factor in an unhealthy love affair with cheeseburgers, and you realize that with all those issues, he’s got plenty to write about…
Dragons, wolves, and sharp objects are commonplace in Skye Hegyes’s home in North Carolina. She spends most of her time between writing and working. When not doing either of these things, you may find her making crafts or adventuring with her family, which consists of her husband, two daughters, two birds, and three cats… and a partridge in a pear tree…
J. Scott Coatsworth
Scott has been writing since elementary school, when he and won a University of Arizona writing contest in 4th grade for his first sci fi story (with illustrations!). He finished his first novel in his mid twenties, but after seeing it rejected by ten publishers, he gave up on writing for a while.
Over the ensuing years, he came back to it periodically, but it never stuck. Then one day, he was complaining to Mark, his husband, early last year about how he had been derailed yet again by the death of a family member, and Mark said to him “the only one stopping you from writing is you.”
Since then, Scott has gone back to writing in a big way, finishing more than a dozen short stories – some new, some that he had started years before – and seeing his first sale. He’s embarking on a new trilogy, and also runs the Queer Sci Fi (http://www.queerscifi.com) site, a support group for writers of gay sci fi, fantasy, and supernatural fiction.