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I read a very interesting novel or book about aliens accidentally discovering humans and finding out how dangerous they are, where the galaxy got scared of humans and their potential to wipe out all life or dominate.

It was about an ordinary human abducted by aliens going through immigration then suddenly alien terrorists arrive and the weak-looking human kills all the alien terrorist bare handed. The alien's guns only hurt but didn't kill the human.

The way the author described the situation was through the eyes of the spectator alien (the immigration officer) yet at the same time, giving enough detail so that it is relatable to us, human readers.

Is there some sort of rule or template on writing foreign perspective but unexpectedly delivers relatability and humor? How do you make a perspective that should be completely different from us, but at the same time, can only be understood in a fourth-wall-breaking weird kind of way.

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    Welcome to Writing.SE! Very nice question Sean. You might want to edit your last sentence out though. We don't do any book identification requests here. But our sister site is awesome at finding books: Science Fiction & Fantasy Stack Exchange. Check out their story-identification tag. I am sure they can help you with finding the book. If you have questions about a site you can check out their tour and help center to learn more. Good luck and have fun! – Secespitus Mar 27 '19 at 14:19
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There are no hard and fast rules here about what will work. What we believe to be true is often based on the context of our upbringing and that has changed from era to era AND location to location for humanity alone; not even considering aliens. "Foreign Perspective" is probably the right terminology to use here because even if you don't have Extra Terrestrial "aliens" this problem repeats itself just among humans. Write a time travel story where a slave owner and a modern African American need to talk about something; or a nazi and a zionist; or even lover of hamburgers and a vegan.

The answer, according to popular writing podcast "Writing Excuses", is to really think about what it means to be that type of alien. What are the hard and fast rules that they go through? They will have to eat something. How has that shaped their species level behavior? Their reproduction habits will affect the way they socialize. The way they relate to each other will create their species politics. But, no one entity in the species needs to be a "Monolith".

A Monolith is a character that is "extreme and exact" in its nature and "represents everyone". Your characters should almost never be monoliths. A Monolith is a character who becomes the stereotype for a race, ethnicity, or species. Monoliths are considered racially problematic in modern literature, but the idea easily extends elsewhere.

After you know the generic drives of a species you are going to need points reference in your story, if you have space, that allow individual differentiation. Maybe reproduction is a form of coupling as it is for many species on earth; but the method to get to coupling might vary from individual to individual. Maybe reproduction involves the collection of spores from the air. In which case positioning oneself at the right place at the right time would matter a lot. Not everyone can be in the same place at the same time; what types of character traits might evolve to push an individual to have different behavior. How might that be inherited? How might experience change that behavior?

Not everything is about reproduction, but it serves as a good example for how a Species might have a generic goal and individuals might have unique ways of serving that goal. Some individuals might even ignore that goal or fail to achieve it for a multitude of reasons.

Once you know the parameters the "Foreign entity" is operating in, and you have a good idea of how they're going to go about their own individual response to those parameters, its time to think about how a person of your audience's perspective might best relate. At this point you look for commonality. I may never be a tree in my life. I may never reach out into the sky to collect sunlight or bend to the wind or collect pollen from the air so that I may produce the perfect nut.

As an author, I might personify a tree or find commonalities. I might introduce some of the logical architecture that allows me to understand what's driving the alien in human terms. At the end of the day, writers are much less concerned about what's different than what ends up being the same. The things that are different you hang a lamp on; you highlight them, but move on without dwelling. Otherwise today people tend to write the aliens as if they are humans with different objectives and sensibilities. If you'r going to take on the perspective of the alien, the best you can do is translate that perspective for a human audience.

Humor

Humor is kind of adjacent to all of this, but dealing with a conflict in perspective makes for a potentially comedic fertile field. I don't want to get into comedic convention. It's a separate consideration. You'd ultimately want to study comedy. Something like the "Reverse" is going to be pretty easy with a foreign perspective.

A Comedic Reverse Is: Say a thing that implies X (possibly a false dichotomy). Give a bit more detail about your personal story, investing the audience in believing X will happen, most definitely. Instead say that all of that actually meant Y, which is the opposite of X. The unexpected result short circuits the brain and causes a response we call laughter.

Obviously there are more versions of comedy, but for an Alien you might have something like this:

  1. Alien describes animal its observing in all of the classic ways humanity would think implied the animal would be a good pet.
  2. Alien gives more detail which makes the audience like the pet and invest in its emotional well being.
  3. Alien eats pet. All of the prior attributes make the meal particularly enjoyable.

If done right horror is only a shade off from humor. The "snatch" of we're going to like this pet, to "this animal tastes wonderful" is the "joke". Our inability to fully classify the thing as an atrocity, our understanding of both why we think the animal is a pet and our perception that the alien (who we also like) thinks the animal is a wonderful meal conflict in our brains.

Get a book on humor and you can probably build better more interesting jokes than that one, but that one will and probably has served some author.

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IMO, as a believer in Evolution, aliens cannot be that much different than humans. There is only one reality; in order to become an intelligent, space-faring race they had to go through much the same things we did. In particular, our best understanding of evolution today suggests they would be relatively weak compared to other animals on their planet (as we are; most top predators could have us for lunch), and relatively social with each other as well: intelligence lets us take mutual gains by cooperating instead of competing. A group can eat more reliably than an individual, protect itself better, lose fewer offspring, etc.

And groups (e.g. tribes) and sociability are pretty much necessary for developing language, writing, long term history, learning, schools and science that would be needed to become a space-faring race. Aliens would undoubtedly have a society of some sort, likely (like us) bound by emotion, with rules and the "taming" (to use recent terminology) of the members; i.e. we humans are "tamed" by society to behave in a way that preserves our society; just as my dog is tamed to not crap on the floor or "mark" territory in the house, and (my dog at least) stays out of the dog food, won't set foot in the street without my permission, etc.

In your position, as a writer, I would research for particularly "tame" human societies, and kind of base my alien society on that, and have them see the humans as a much more belligerent and violent human society. The Vikings come to mind, they had little regard for non-Vikings and saw them primarily as prey. The only thing they respected in non-Vikings was strength and battle prowess. The alien's history might plausibly include ancient myths of similarly ruthless or psychopathic warriors; which they use as their benchmark in judging humans.

Remember, their civilization is likely to be much more advanced than ours if they are space-faring and we are not. They will likely see us as primitives, as we might see cavemen that hunt and kill every day, are generally unwashed and flea ridden, and resort to violence quickly. Such cavemen, despite having the same mental capacity as us, would not understand a polite modern culture.

So by analogy, we would be unlikely to understand all aspects of the alien culture; except you can probably count on it being very well geared toward high cooperation: getting along, avoiding conflicts or feuds, seeking understanding, etc. Very new age! They've got to live together on presumably long journeys, they'd likely want to keep everybody happy and doing their job without screwing up.

And, to your plot point, they'd want to keep any race that is not geared toward high cooperation with others out of the system. Coming to Earth and seeing we can't even get along with or tolerate each other (racism, sexism, bigotry, wars, etc) is all they need to know to keep us the hell out of the interstellar community.

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  • Sounds a lot like the premise Isaac Asimov used in "The Gentle Vultures"; small primate aliens watching Earth awaiting the inevitable nuclear war (all sophont species go through it; after being helped to survive the disastrous results they are less competitive; these aliens also apply eugenics to breed them as less competitive) and are horrified to realise that Earthlings are so competitive that they've reached stalemate due to extremity of disaster. Aliens realise only way to "hurry" inevitable war is to drop nuke themselves; they cannot, leave predicting universal anthro-apocalypse. – GerardFalla Mar 27 '19 at 17:19
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Animorphs is a wonderful series for this as there are several alien perspectives that give detailed accounts of the alien nature of humans. One of the first aliens (a parasitic brain slug) to ever encounter the species is initially terrified by the transmissions from our television programs because they show that humans are capable of fielding space ships that can travel faster than light in normal space (in series, this is impossible, even for intersteller empires... it is possible to pop into another dimension where the laws of physics allow for FTL travel... but also void any consistency in distances between two fixed points... it's still reasonably quicker even if today it's a 5 hour trip and tomorrow it's a 5 year trip to the exact same location). Of course, right before she's about to get the hell out of their before the humans kill her, she realizes that she's watching Star Trek, a work of human fiction. She still has trouble of conceiving of how a species could wage war with other members of it's own species until she is able to infest a human and realizes that human minds are capable of questioning their own actions and were frequent to make bad judgement calls despite knowing just how bad the call is... she likens this to having a traitor stuck in your head. Self-doubt and even suicide are alien concepts to her.

She and other members of her species tend to hit on the idea that this dual mind of humans is also why they are the most difficult hosts to take as other races they have enslaved do eventually reach a point where they accept their fate... but humans do not shut up accept when they "rest". And they persistently belittle the aliens despite not being able to do anything about it... a few have even managed to wrest temporary control from their captors and in an attempt to be free, something no species has done.

The other aliens, which are clearly more allied with humans than against, are capable of shape shifting to other animals and one gives the human protaganists of the series this technology. His thought was that the humans would use it to hide from the evil brain slug aliens and wait them out... he had no idea that humans would weaponize the tech because, both alien powers had adaptive abilities that made them dangerous prey or top predators in their own very small environments. He had no idea that humans were relatively defenseless animals compared to other creatures on earth and that suddenly becoming an elephant was a powerful weapon. When said individual was younger, he found himself favoring Mustang Cars, the music of Rolling Stone, and the feel (not the taste, the feel) of Dr. Pepper.

Another member of his finds human culture interesting, but not the parts you would think... He goes insane for Earth Foods whenever he becomes human and his favorite television programs include Soap Operas (Particularly The Young and the Restless) and "These Messages" (aka Comercials) and couldn't understand they were not a television show. Their race also thought there must be something odd about the need for human dwellings to include as many rectangles as possible, something humans couldn't really explain because it was something they thought about.

And of course, even the humans get on the act. As the main characters are shapes-hifters and their shape-shifting brings in animal instincts, there's frequent descriptions of the initial instinctual mind of the animal... some of them have trouble separating themselves from the animal's own alien understanding and the confusion at an otherwise perfectly human object or item.

Overall a great series to read about all sorts of bizarre human through alien eyes situations from humorous to nightmare inducing (the heroes were so traumatized by their ant morphs that they are constantly reminded about it whenever the plan of the week calls for becoming an insect).

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