Let’s Get Human- How We Find Humanity In Everything We Encounter
Posted January 19, 2012on:
“Symmetry is life’s calling card, the way we’ve learned to recognize each other in the wild. It’s that bit of ourselves that breeds affection when we see it in our nearer relatives, and makes us uneasy when we see it in our more distant ones. It’s the key ingredient that says ‘Yes, this is an animal like me. This is a living thing.‘ Even when nothing could be further from the truth.” Scott McCloud, Making Comics.
Familiarity is an important factor in any book or comic. As any author can tell you, if the reader sees and recognizes the worlds you create with your words, then they’ll see themselves as well as your characters in it easily. And a good way to connect with your reader? With humanity, of course.
“Humans love humans! They can’t get enough of themselves. They crave the company of humans, they value the opinions of humans, and they love hearing stories about humans!” states Scott McCloud. And this is something no one can deny; the books and movies with humans as the main characters is so numerous, this post would take forever if I tried to list them all.
But, authors over the years have readily and tackled the challenge of giving life to characters not human. From animals to large structures, humanity has been placed in them like a homing device, to give readers something to relate to. For example, consider this sentence:
As it walked towards us, the lion roared menacingly.
It sounds normal to you, right? But . . . a lion, who is not a human, is only doing its “job” as a hunter. When it roars, it’s not meant to be menacing to itself; it’s doing what it does as a hunter. Being “menacing” is a human expression, and can’t be put on a lion. But in order for the reader to better understand the situation, we call the roar “menacing” so we can be “in sync” with the lion and what it’s doing.
Two more sentences for continuation:
After loading my files, the computer made a questioning beep, asking if I wanted to save them.
The numerous pop-ups mocked me as I tried to do my work.
A computer is a machine; it cannot question anyone. Same for the pop-ups; they’re doing their job. We are applying our humanity to the computer when we say those things. When we notice a ‘Do you want to save’ message, you might say to your friend, “It’s asking if I want to save.” We are the computer in this moment; we imply humanity. Almost never do we say, “The computer is running a program that is asking me if I want to save.”
An example Scott McCloud uses in his book Understanding Comics is when someone hits your car. We usually say, “He hit me.” We hardly ever say, “His car hit me,” or, “His car hit my car.” We are the car there, applying ourselves to it in that moment.
We imply our humanity in practically everything, and you can take advantage of this as an author. Apply some feeling to that dishwasher in your story; make the television groan if you have to! The stairs can moan, the alarm can scream in terror, the fridge can hum contently. Humanity is our greatest quality, and you can use it to make stories no one will forget easily.
So, come on. Let’s get human.
Sources: Making Comics and Understanding Comics by Scott McCloud. The car example belongs to McCloud.