For quite some time, I've had a great deal of difficulty figuring out how to write the Elu. The problem, really, is that I've never yet been able to figure out what it's like inside their minds; I can express their nature well enough (for a good description thereof for those who need a refresher--and I imagine most of y'all do, given the absurd gap in time between now and the previous update to this blog--see here), and the psychological and behavioral consequences of that nature, but in order to write them I need to figure out how they see the world--how an Elu looking at the world around them would mentally frame their perceptions--and so far I've never yet been able to come up with something that doesn't come across as, basically, a human trying to act the part of an alien.* I think, though, that I may have finally come up with something workable--something that I can write, that's understandable to a human reader (with a bit of work, of course), but that is really, really nonhuman in tone, and satisfyingly encapsulates how the Elu approach the world, as well.
The basic idea is essentially an extension of my approach to another, slightly less important group of nonhuman intelligences in my stories, the Jivelings/Jiven. They have a very alien sense of self, from a human perspective (more on that, I think, in a later post), and it occurred to me that by building on that--by using an alien way of perceiving oneself to craft a convincingly alien way of perceiving the world--I might be able to finally crack the problem I've faced when writing Elu. This is still very much a work in progress, mind (as my world constantly is--already some points from previous posts are very much out of data, particularly the Xenoastronomy post), but at present, I think I've found something to go on.
So, a preliminary description of an Elu's perception of the world. First and foremost, while they do have a sense of self, they do NOT apply that sense of self to, well, themselves. Rather, to an Elu "I" is any other thinking, heterotrophic organism around them, while their own, physical self is just the observer and actor, but not the self. A good analogy might be the way in which a videogame player perceives a third-person platformer or sidescroller: they identify the character onscreen as "me," even though they aren't seeing the world that character traverses through the character's eyes, but rather through the camera hovering behind or off to the side of the character. Similarly, if some dangerous beast appears in-game, the player's fear is not for the camera's safety, but for the character hopping around onscreen--and if, for whatever reason, the camera view is temporarily blacked out while the game continues, the player will be agitated not because they're worried about the wellbeing of the camera--that's totally immaterial--but because they can no longer keep tabs on the character onscreen, and keep them out of harm.
Perhaps, though, it'd be best to show rather than tell. Here, then, is a short passage, written (this is important) from the point of view of an Elu, describing that Elu's thoughts while finding a wounded animal and carrying it off to tend to its injuries.**
I am in pain, whimpering out of sight, beneath the stringy, branched stalks of canyon lichens. Perhaps I am hungry. somewhere nearby, and will hear myself keening from within my shelter and will come with sharp, fierce teeth to rend my flesh and fill my belly with my blood. I will be full, then, but I will also be dead--and it is worse to be dead than to be hungry. I need help.
Claws part the foliage above me, and I am visible now, a small, curled thing of screff and skin huddling on the damp sand, half-slumped on my side with my right forelimb held at an awkward angle. It hurts me, biting and aching at my mind whenever I move it, and I squeal as the light falls on my narrow, cone-toothed face, afraid that I will lunge down from above and tear myself apart--but then, as a soft, patterned whistling of safety and reassurance fills the air, my panic-ridden heart slows its frantic beating. I can see, now, that the eyes watching me belong to no one, and the slender sand-brown arms reaching down to stroke my back, soothing me while they probe for wounds or parasites, are not mine. There is an angle along one of my ribs where an angle should not be--but I do not whimper as the claws touch it, applying their gentle pressure as they test my reaction. It doesn’t hurt me; perhaps it is an old fracture, long since healed, or a bone defect brought on by poor nutrition or a mischance of genetics. It is of little concern to me, clearly.
No, old wounds and hungers are nothing to me right now. My forelimb is shivered with pain, and that is all that fills my mind. A web of magic--carefully spun, it must be carefully spun, or I will be hurt even more than I already am--loops itself beneath and above me, and I feel my weight lessen until I am drifting free, no longer pinned against the sand by the heavy time-burden of the world beneath my body. Long, tough lichen-stems rustle as I rise up and through them, carried aloft to the murmured whistling of an Elu’s song. I do not struggle. It still hurts, hurts terribly, but I know I am safe.
So...thoughts? I'm posting this, in large part, because I'm curious as to the reaction to it; is it clear enough from the passage what's happening, even if the perspective requires a little bit of adjustment to wrap one's head around?
*Which is, of course, what's actually going on, given that I'm a human trying to write them, but it doesn't need to be so bleedin' OBVIOUS.
**Note that to an Elu all animals are "I," even if multiple individuals are present. An Elu witnessing, say, a predator attacking another animal might describe it as "I bite into myself with my teeth, and for a moment I feel a sharp pain before I lose consciousness. I savor the taste of my flesh in my mouth." The Elu are not actually psychic, mind, and don't actually know what the critters they're observing are really feeling, but again, they're very empathetic, and directly translate what they see into feelings of pain/pleasure/etc, rather than keeping those empathetic feelings are arm's length, as we do.