Backstory for Nonhumans

So you’ve got a humanoid-but-not-actually-human character. You know they’ve had a tough time because as TVTropes puts it so succinctly, humans are bastards. History shows us that humans tend to go on power-trips pretty easily, whether that’s over other species or other humans, so it’s worth asking yourself: are your non-humans a marginalised group? Many people from our own world who are marginalised report a similar set of marginalisation experiences: being turned into the butt of a joke by people from non-marginalised (or even other marginalised) groups, being bullied in the name of “banter”, non-marginalised individuals playing Devil’s Advocate about their human rights… the list goes on.

What experiences your character had with being marginalised?

Marginalisation is a big part of the issue, but your character’s response is also important in working out your character’s backstory. people respond to limits or rules imposed by others in four ways (1). they can:

  1. be aware of them and comply with them for their own well-being (and the consequence for non-compliance is important here. Somebody reciprocating a cup of coffee offered by a friend because that’s an unspoken social rule faces far less severe consequences for non-compliance than does a marginalised individual being shouted at by an armed policeman)
  2. be aware of them and rebel against them
  3. be aware of them and counter with their own set of rules, demanding that their own rules take precedence
  4. consider the rules being placed on them and decide whether they are helpful rules for the kind of society they want to live in, and respond accordingly in a way that optimises the outcome for them. That could be anything from complying out of choice to moving out of the area of jurisdiction, with all sorts of options for problem-solving in between.

Or they might be sheltered from knowledge of the rules they’re meant to comply with, and that has its own set of implications. Again, how was your character brought up?

You often see people progress through these options as they grow as individuals (and therefore adding to their backstory), although not necessarily in the above order. Fictional characters are no different. The order will usually be:

  1. ignorance of the rules
  2. learning of the rules and complying for as long as they aren’t strong enough to defy them
  3. rebelling against the rules once they get strong enough or frustrated enough with the rules
  4. realising that rebellion is its own trap, as rebellion is about specifically doing something that contrasts with what the rule-maker wants them to do. When they grow out of rebellion they prove that they are their own person, and move towards a more autonomous way of behaving.
All of that can take a long time or happen in a shorter space of time (although normally it happens in a shorter space of time for the sake of keeping the story moving along). There might be incidents in your character’s backstory that lead to those turning points. Whatever happens, have a ball coming up with it – character development is fanastic fun!
(1) Berne, E., The structure and dynamics of organizations and groups. Philadelphia: J.B. Lippincott Co., 1963 (other editions: New York: Grove Press, 1966; and New York: Ballantine, 1973), chapter 9.

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