How do you make your alien characters, and worlds, seem truely alien?

Or do your aliens tend to be humanoid?

I’ve been trying to build an alien world and it seems very hard. Any tips?

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I’d say just go all out and be creative.

When you think of alien what do you see? Hear? What’s your version of an alien?

We don’t know if aliens exist, we don’t know what they would look like or sound like. So what’s your version?

hmmm. I don’t really write sci-fi so I can’t help too much but focus on the sensory of the situation and how you want aliens to be perceived.

If it’s more aimed negatively go for descriptions that bring that creepy unsettling vibe, you can do this with descriptions of textures and maybe even smells. Not a lot of people talk about smells, maybe add that into there.

For more positive things make the interactions seem as if their inquisitive and curious.

It all really depends on your atmosphere and what you’re trying to convey about you said aliens. There is no wrong or right way to make your characters, just make sure your guild and consistent with your tone-- the type of vibe you want to leave your readers with for the story.

I created several different alien species for Ranger Training and used a mix of humanoid and non-humanoid aliens. Have fun with it. Since yours is dealing with a planet, whereas Ranger Training has more to do with a host of aliens coming together, you don’t have to worry about creating more than one type. If you want to go with humanoid, there’s nothing wrong with that at all. My main character is humanoid. Don’t limit yourself to human physiology. They can have as many eyes as you want, more than one heart, anything you wish to create. Just make sure you stick with whatever rules you set in place for your world.

Start with physical or physiological differences and ask yourself how they would affect the creatures.
Imagine that somebody tinkered with the genetics of tortoises, and now there’s a sentient species of tortoises in your setting. What are they like?

First of all. They’re reptiles, and cold-blooded. There’s a couple ways to handle that. I’m going to pick the one that’s most interesting to me. So tortoises have a subjective perception of time that varies with temperature; when they get chilly, they slow down and the humans will be whizzing around them too fast to really understand - but they’re still fine, they can talk to each other, they can do productive work, etc… They’re just doing it slowly.

Now I am realizing that for the gainfully employed, there’s going to be a wage differential. They can get a lot more done in an eight-hour shift when they’re warm. Conversely they’re perfectly happy standing 24-hour shifts that are the same amount of subjective time for them at a cooler temperature. So it makes perfect sense to pay them at a rate proportional to their subjective time, right?

But it’s actually better than that, because they can change their rate of subjective time passage by adjusting the thermostat. In a “developing crisis” they can dial it up and deal with more and more stuff by getting faster as the situation requires it.

Or maybe it’s worse than that, because if they do have to mess with the thermostat and take themselves off the cycles they’d been planning for, they’ll suddenly be out of sync with their friends and the other members of their family, and that’s always emotionally stressful.

Clothing seems silly for someone wearing a shell. But they’re going to need something to distinguish themselves from animals, or display their culture or cultural status, etc, the same way we use clothes. So what’s that going to be? Okay, they get insignia, decoration, cultural iconography, etc. inset into their shells. Like we get tattoos, except theirs are badges or medallions etc.

It’s easy for them to have hands, because lots of lizards have hands and I can easily say the tinkerers will find some template that’s compatible. I can justify longer and more flexible arms/legs than standard tortoises. But I’m not able to think a cold-blooded species whose strength and speed varies with the temperature, and that wears a heavy shell, is likely to master upright walking on their hind legs.

So they have two hands, or possibly four. But they’re walking around on all-fours. So they immediately need some kind of footwear to keep their hands off the filthy floors and streets etc. But not shoes, because they have to be able to get their hands loose in order to do anything. So they’re wearing sandals that they can step out of or let go of.

They also need a way to carry anything around that leaves their hands free. So now I’m thinking they need to have some kind of pouch that they can get things in or out of. Okay, my mental picture of these creatures is emerging. In my mind I am already designing their furniture; I’m figuring out how their work stations, sleeping nests, acceleration couches, and pilot’s stations look. I’m realizing that while they need dishes, tables are pretty much optional. And now I ask myself, how does their culture work?

And I go off to look up how actual tortoises do things, and I hunt around through a bunch of different tortoise species looking for things I like, and I pick and choose bits of it and then modify it where necessary. For example because these are intelligent creatures - they wouldn’t be that way if they weren’t intensely social.

Along the way, I discover some things like there are several species of tortoises that never stop growing. The older they are, the larger they are. And I think, huh, that would be kind of an interesting thing. No standard sizes. And size commands respect because your elders are not only bigger than you, they’re way stronger than you too. And if the thermostat is lower than optimum, they’re also faster than you because of the square-cube law. That’s bound to have some interesting effects.

So, with all that in mind, I go on and write about what their family structures are like: Family groups of several males and several females, sharing a den that has grown larger, slowly, generation by generation. If they’re in reproductive phase, they’re probably maintaining a central, warmed sandbath in which they keep and tend their gestating eggs. That’s going to be a very important symbol to them, and a task they undertake with wonder and reverence. And I imagine they’re going to have some very extreme horrified-and-outraged kinds of invective reserved for egg-stealers, wouldn’t they …

And on, and on, and on. Just start from a point and develop it. Each new development, each new question and each new answer, will give you some insight into how the others work. Make decisions based on what has to be true for them to be an intelligent species, and make decisions and interpretations based on traits that some terrestrial species display, and develop a plausible alien species one thing at a time.

You can also go the Lovecraft route, by which I mean: don’t explain them in depth. It helps maintain the mystery and alien-ness of the creatures if you skate around actually telling everyone exactly what they look like, how they live, what they eat, how they survive, etc.

I have a race of interdimensional beings that can slide through reality and appear as any given living being, while their true forms are utter black and malleable. They exist extra-dimensionally and essentially poke a toe into the kiddy pool of human reality to be able to interact with human characters. They are, in fact, not black, but human eyes are too limited to perceive their colors; their true form is one huge conglomerate creature on the other side of the dimension, who presents as many creatures because they would like to take part in many parts of the human dimension–but all pieces appear to be autonomous, because it is such a vastly intelligent being that these tiny pieces of itself are as complex as a whole human.

And on and on. I could write a book just to describe them. But I never put any of that in the story. Only how the humans perceive them in the limited way they can, with some understanding that they are incapable of comprehending the big picture/missing some details.

Aliens do not have to be ruled by the rules of any creatures alive today. They can be crystal, a gentle breeze full of microorganisms, a sentient color. My real advice here is to figure out the rules of your aliens, whatever they are, and stick with them. Know everything about them, even if the characters do not, because then you can present an incomplete but consistent image to your readers, who will be drawn in by the mystery.

Or go with good old, wholesome, explicable, humanoid/real creature-esque aliens. I’m a weirdo who likes weird things XD

When looking at aliens, it can help to have at least a generalized world building for each species. When dealing with many different species, consider varying and overlapping abilities.

My main alien is a species that starts off staying small, as in as tall as your hand, until their growth is triggered by adrenaline, not time. Considering they live on a dangerous world, they can grow pretty quick. The leader of a group will grow quicker because he’s facing the danger more directly. Like @RayDillinger mentioned about tortoises, this particular alien species doesn’t stop growing, getting as big as polar bears. They only make a few sounds, depending on telepathy to communicate with each other.

I have another species with small mental abilities, but their body is similar to jellyfish in that their skin is translucent and they give electrical shocks when they get agitated, which can be used for attacks as well as part of their breeding. When facing my “Bears” they hear the equivalent of mental shouting.

Another species also has some psy ability. They are somewhat arrogant because they played a major roll in uniting the various species because of their ability to communicate with others. They have a very rigid and formal social system, which helps them control themselves. They have tendrils (cilia) that cover parts of their body that sway according to their emotional state.

To complete the spectrum, I have a few individuals from a species whose mental abilities are too much for the human mind. They tend to make humans nauseous.