Writing The Alien: (A RavenCon 2022 Panel)

In April of 2022, I finally made it to what had originally been on my schedule as Ravencon 2020.

While some panels are good because of what they say, some are great because of the inspiration they give you. This? This was a great panel.

The description for the titular panel was as follows:

The challenge of writing an intelligence unlike our own lies at the heart of much of our best science fiction. How does an author tackle this difficult task?

The panelists were, Grey Rinehart (who moderated) and Pamela K. Kinney.

6 Things To Think About When Writing ‘The Alien’

  1. While most tv aliens seem to have also originated from apes, consider other options.
  2. How do they orient? In both space and time
    • There is an aboriginal tribe that navigates by compass direction — INSTEAD of saying ‘right’ and ‘left’
    • Another aboriginal tribe that navigates by orientation to the nearest river
    • Do they describe time as moving forward? Or up? Or something else
  3. Remember that their goals and obstacles will be different
  4. Think about which of their senses is strongest and lead their descriptions from that point
  5. AIs communicate much faster
  6. Do you want your humans to lose some of their humanity as they come to understand the alien? Vice versa? Or neither.

Things That Don’t Always Work

  • Complex communication by pheromones is hard to believe, while scent can enrich one’s information, it’s a poor primary source
  • Stories where aliens make up new words everytime they speak — and not just new in the context of the story

Story Recommendations

  • Dragon’s Egg and Flight of the Dragonfly by Robert L Foreward (who was also a physicist)
  • Barsk by Lawrence M. Schoen
  • Blindsight by Peter Watts
  • Arrival

Notes I took for my own story

While the book suggestions and the tips were useful, they also led my mind in different directions. I was editing my ‘space fantasy’ with sentient not-octopuses while listening, and these were the notes I took down.

  1. Have one of the alien crew members give the human tasks without directions
  2. Make the battle scene more desperate — add a moment of despair
  3. Have alien have lost a family member
  4. Does losing a limb mean lost memories?
  5. What natural colors are the aliens? (because they shift color for communication and camouflage)
  6. Show more understanding of nuance in alien-to-alien communication, than in human-to-alien

Any tips they missed? Any inspirations of your own from the advice?


  1. How could they give examples of alien aliens without talking about C.J. Cherryh? In her first trilogy, about the Mri, the Mri are alien… and the other race are so alien they walk the line between being alien and being incomprehensible to the reader.

    Then there was 40,000 In Gehenna.

    Liked by 1 person

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