The Importance of Alien History by Rachel Smith
I’m the daughter of a super-geek who used to sneak out of church on Wednesday nights to go watch Star Trek in the basement. I grew up on science fiction—Star Trek, Star Wars, The Twilight Zone, Quantum Leap, Farscape, MST3K, and a host of other shows and movies. But I also love all things Victorian, have done extensive research for historical novels set in antebellum Louisiana Creole culture, and know way too much about cotton production and slavery in the antebellum South. Want to know how trans-Atlantic telegraph lines changed the cotton business, or the progression of shoulder seams in 19th century women’s fashion? I’m your girl.
Out of my siblings, I was Least Likely To Read (or write) Science Fiction. I enjoy watching it, but I never read it, much less imagined myself writing it. I devoured historical romance and the occasional thriller. Until, that is, an alien walked into my head and started telling me about his species and the story I had to write down if I wanted any peace.
I ended up creating an alien species called the Lokmane, who were enslaved by humanity, out of fear. My historical background of working at a plantation-turned-museum and writing a novel set in 1857 on a cotton plantation, gave me a unique perspective on not only aspects of slavery, but how important it is to know the true history of what’s gone before. My research for that historical turned up a lot of interesting things, which I applied to my enslaved aliens.
As my story world expanded, I realized my aliens had a rich history and I needed to find out what it was. This history affects every event in the series, from why they were enslaved, to their social structure, to how they get their freedom back, to how my romantic leads interact with each other.
One of the most important parts of alien history is the WHY of their governmental system. Governmental systems say a great deal about the people who form them and what they value. My aliens have a monarchy. I know exactly what happened to bring this about and why they chose to have a king. In current time in my series, my aliens have no idea how it all happened. It’s been lost. But as they learn more and more about who they used to be before they were conquered, they’ll learn these events.
Another thing I know in excruciating detail is the how and why of being conquered—which is what they’re discovering in the current story arc. The hero in book one accidentally triggers a holographic recording of the day the Lokmane king submitted to the invaders, and he learns it was done to prevent genocide.
First contact mythology falls under this, as well. If there was first contact in your universe, how did it happen? What were the circumstances? Since we write romance, what was the first romantic entanglement between alien and human?
If you guessed I know the answers to those questions in my universe, you guessed right. First contact happened in space, when humans and Lokmane converged on the same planet. It was tense, but nobody died. The first romantic entanglement happened about thirty years later, between a human soldier and a Lokmane woman acting as a translator because she had a knack for picking up languages.
Cultural consciousness is also a part of knowing your aliens history. In my world, Lokmane men are covered with metallic ink tattoos called markings that allow humans to control them. The marking patterns are taken from their own history, while the color and pattern tell the humans what their purpose is. There’s one class, always marked with blue, who are never trusted by their own kind. That prejudice is part of their history now, and part of their cultural consciousness. It’s something I have a lot of fun playing with…
Names are also an important part of a people’s history. My Lokmane have clung to their ancestral naming traditions, refusing all attempts by humans to eradicate it. And yes, I know in great detail what these naming traditions are, though most of it will never make it into a novel.
When the author knows all of these things, no matter how little of the information ends up on the page, it helps create a more believable world for our readers. Which creates a novel they can’t put down. In the end, that’s what we’re all after.
So spend a little time with your aliens, flesh out their history, and see what story possibilities unfold.
Rachel Leigh Smith writes romance for the hero lover. She lives in central Louisiana with her family and a half-crazed calico. When not writing, which isn’t often, she’s hanging with her family, doing counted cross-stitch, or yakking about life, the universe, and everything with her besties. There may also be Netflix binging and a Dark-Hunter addiction…
Rachel is the PRO liaison for RWA’s FF&P chapter. She joined the indie world in September 2014 with the publication of the first A’yen’s Legacy novel.