(This is the sixth part, be sure to read the intro to this project in this blog).

#6 CHARACTER/RACE BACKSTORIES (THE ALIENS)

Doing the concept art pushed me down the path of making fuller backstories for our characters and the alien race. Worth doing this before finishing the summary as motivations flow neatly from backstories. A lot of the backstory work never makes it into the final scripts, but it is always necessary as the foundation that you can draw upon and also to help ensure your story works.

All of your character’s actions in your story should make total sense if you knew their background, so identify the background for yourself up front. One of the concepts in “freakenomics” is to focus on people’s motivations – that determines their actions more than anything else - if you know people’s true motivations, you can predict their behavior. Embracing that idea helps me in writing stories.

This background info is written as a reference, not as entertainment – this is not script I’d normally show, but again, we are exploring the writing process. Apologies if it’s boring, haha. And remember that even if very little of this ends up directly in the script, the effort is not a waste – it helps you get inside the head of your characters, which leads to better stories.

ALIEN RACE: HAAMRETTLE (AND JORQUMMEL)

The Haamrettle (“Haam”) evolved on their home planet Mothelakai (Father of Life or “Mot”). They are herbivores who harvest nourishment from Mot’s unique substrate. They have for centuries established a perfect harmony with the land – feasting in a specific pattern to allow the substrate to replenish properly.

Mot doesn’t rotate like the Earth, it has one side always facing its sun as it orbits. So, half the world in always in direct sunlight and half is always in darkness (like Earth’s moon). The Haam exist near the border of dark and light, staying inside the light but not in the hottest areas of the planet. The substrate is richest in this area of the planet as well and forms a “ring of life.” The dark side of the planet, the “permafrost”, is unsuitable for life (save for bacteria). The substrate has impossibly long root system that is entirely underground – tapping into vast underground oceans of water. Like Earth trees, but mostly underground.

NOTE: When humans come – expanding the size of this ring, or making more of the world food-producing – is a key goal. However, the way the substrate works is nearly impossible to implement outside of the ring of life – evolution raining on the human’s terraforming parade. This will lead to a “resource contention” issue – the humans are unlikely to co-exist with the Haamrattle since there just isn’t room for both.

The Haam stand about 3-foot-tall and look like small Earth primates without fur. They have a robust skin that withstands Mot’s constant sun. They have no hair at all, their mouths protrude forward for soil eating purposes, they have eyelids (but no eyebrows or eyelashes), their heads (which have no hair) area a soft-shell structure with electro receptors and emitters (telepathic use), only 3 digits on hands and feet – which are more similar to monkeys than humans, and a long tail. [See concept art, already done, for more detail. Note we added eyelids and altered the mouth since the last concept art to allow better portrayal of emotions].

Although the substrate provides nearly everything the Haam need to survive, they also need chemicals obtained from bone to provide their skin the resilience to survive in the night-less sun. But they can’t directly eat bone, they instead must rely on a symbiotic relationship they have with a colony of beetle-like creatures (the “Jorqummel” or just “Jorq”). These beetles are very small, about a half a centimeter large, but exist in large colonies in the stomachs of the Haam. They require bone about once a month, causing the Haam to temporarily act like carnivores instead of herbivores. (And they have a full set of canine teeth where human molars would be while their front teeth are more like molars to grind the soil).

The Haam care for the beetles well, knowing how important they are. When a Haam dies, it’s beetle colony is split among a larger group. When a Haam is born, it is gifted a small set of beetles from a group – each providing a small number. The beetles act mostly dormant until they need to feast, causing the Haam stomach’s to “growl” with activity – indicating they are Jorq’d” (hungry).

The Haam society is a collection of pods of six females with a designated leader. The leaders meet in a council once every three months to keep track of everyone’s status. The society is very scientific and environmental – they seek to maintain a balance. Unlike humankind, the Haam did not learn to adapt environments to suit them, they instead adapted to their environment. So, traveling to other areas of the planet is not something they know how to do, nor aspire to do. They also do not use tools, just the evolutionary gifts they have.

The males are far smaller in number, but far stronger in physical capability. They spend most of their time keeping track of other animals on Mot – like human cattle rangers might do, except they track more than corral. Their job is protection as well and they monitor any threats that may arise. Sometimes specific larger animals will grow too sizable and need to be culled, etc.

They also mate with the pods once a year – but only in ones that need replacements for aging or ailing members. The approach is rather callous in raw selection mechanics, yet understood by all Haam. The Haam don’t get that old (around 40 human years), they are replaced when they past optimal functionality. The ritual and part of their beliefs, the mating is done with the one being replaced – so they give birth and then give their life to the pod, literally.

If the birth is a male, a great honor, the sister is not replaced and she will mate again next season. Sisters who birthed males are revered in Haam society. Of course, the males are immediately taken away to be part of the Protective, so the pod doesn’t get to form a deep attachment.

Parent-child relationships are never formed, the society is more sibling-based in how it operates. Due to the mating cycles, they have evolved to only be fertile towards the end of their life – sort of like a reward prior to departure. Also, if an accident or untimely death of a pod member happens, the pod would need to seek other pods with females ready to breed – and in those rare instances, one can breed and live. This provides a natural sort of drama potential with a Haam becoming maternal when evolution and society has predicated they should not.

On the flip side, the males are always paternal and feel a strong sense of loyalty to the pods. Although they do not interact often, the connection is deep. And yet the males also have to rotate their mating pods and are forced to relocate and reestablish in other parts of the world routinely. This juxtaposition of their feelings is core to who they are – and why they see the entirety of the race, not just their local group, as their ultimate responsibility.

BACKSTORY: NALGAZTA (NAL)

Nalgazta (Nal) is the leader of her 6-sister pod. She is the eldest in the pod and only a year or two from replacement. As such, she became fertile a couple of years ago and bred a replacement for an adjacent pod who had a hunting fatality. She is unusual in her race for being a “living mother” and is also respected for her age. Nal is highly sexual at this stage of her life, which her pod has enjoyed because Nal requests they practice mating more often than normal.

Her daughter Lamkeiq (of the Jaybeeka pod) is already a full contributor to her pod and Nal is deeply proud. When they meet, Nal is nearly overcome with maternal love, which has proven to be uncomfortable due to her need to remain objective in her pod leader duties. Nal is also proud that she was chosen by the Protective to be the living mother – it was, and remains, a humbling honor. Nal has been leading her pod for over ten years now, taking over from her pod leader (Pelzkber) who was replaced due to age at that time. Her pod has dealt with some unusual incidents over the years – of course, the breeding of a replacement was a big deal.

Also, there were some near-death situations that her pod miraculously survived – mostly due to Nal’s quick thinking in tough situations. On one hunt, a few years ago, the Protective scouted a large beast to kill, but miscalculated how many others were close enough to rush to its aid. Nal’s pod, after being instructed to feed, was caught in the center of a stampede. Nal quickly acted like a field commander and decided to take down over six beasts to avoid her pod being overrun. Her antics impressed (and relieved) the Protective agent (Barlauq) as his mistake was covered up by the glory of the kill – he still holds great affection to and respect of Nal.

The pod’s reputation is far and wide. This is something Nal cherishes, even fears losing – she can be a nervous leader, even with her stellar performance.

Some other pods are jealous of Nal, and some will note she has not birthed a male and thus is not really that special after all. They see Nal’s time as ending soon, so the jealously is not vile, but it does exist. Many Haam feel that nobody should be singled out as “special” and Nal’s a bit of a showoff.

Nal has been training Reisebl to take over as leader when Nal is replaced – which will happen in the next mating cycle, or the one after, depending on how the Protective deem Nal’s condition. Nal has been putting more pressure on Reisebl as the time approaches. Reisebl does not understand Nal’s urgency, mating season is still months away – and Nal is in great condition, surely the Protective will decide Nal is still productive – it can’t be her time yet.

Reisebl has joked to Nal that she should remain the living mother and not be replaced. Nal shrugged that off, but it does linger at the back of her mind – perhaps her ego? There is something attractive about being that special. Of course, because of their mind sharing, the pod is keenly aware of Nal’s ego… but they all find joy in her aspirations and perhaps they all share an egoistic wish for the entire pod to be special.

Nal is exceptionally brave, unlike the rest of her pod – including Reisebl. The entire pod realizes that replacing Nal is likely to dramatically change the pod dynamics and how they fit into the overall Haam society.

MORE?

Well, this feels like enough for Nal’s story to be written against. At this stage, it also doesn’t feel like I need to dig up extended biographies of other aliens. Nal is going to be the focus of the alien dialog and other characters will interact in ways that probably don’t require a history to understand outside of the general Haam history. Still, this step can always be revisited to shore up more characters as needed.

Also, if you noticed, the earlier thoughts of acid in their bellies was replaced with something more interesting. Beth Zar’s reaction to the acid was “That’s the alien movies – don’t do that!” And she was right, even though it made a lot of sense, it is cliché’ in this space. And, well, I now like the beetles a lot more – how about you?

This exercise was fun – love to just “make shit up.” Hehe. So, what’s next? Maybe the backstory of the humans? Or perhaps just the rest of the summary… not sure! As usual, time to the project has to fit around the “day job” (which has been kicking my ass) so it will come when it comes.

More soon.

Andrew Zar
July 25, 2017

[NEXT: Boneeaters - back to work]


[Return to Blog Index]