This is one of those topics that seems like something everyone should know, so I feel a little silly bringing it up. At the same time, I have read several books where authors seemed to have forgotten this basic fact.
And though i can feel several of you bracing for some sort of lecture on commercialism versus literature, it’s okay. That isn’t where we are going. We are just talking about character development.
When writing characters, especially in genres where the character has extra human abilities or is perhaps a super spy who puts James Bond to shame, it is very easy to stop thinking of them in human terms. Your character can search out clues no one else can find, track his quarry across three continents, speaking every language he encounters as fluently as a native and always get the girl, sometimes several if he is visiting multiple cities.
And while he may be able to do all of that. Quite frankly, it sounds exhausting.
You gotta let that man take a nap or at least get a large coffee.
Maybe even wax poetic about missing the insides of his eyelids.
Because unless part of your story is that your hero was part of a genetic/military experiment to create a human who doesn’t need sleep, then you need to give him some sleep. And even then you might need to find a human balance. He doesn’t sleep, but he eats more or eats certain proteins or has waking dreams. I don’t know, it’s your story. But there needs to be a balance.
Because your characters are human.
Well, most of the time.
Sometimes they aren’t, but we’ll get to that in a second. For now let’s stick to the human ones.
What are the basic things humans do? We eat, we sleep, we breath air, we need a certain amount of water to keep us from death by dehydration and yes, according to a lovely child’s book, everybody poops.
You may be able to get away with not including the last one.
But you should look at the other ones. Especially if you’ve given them super human traits.
Unless you have a character that you don’t want anyone to relate to or you are deliberately isolating as no longer human then you need to mention them doing some of those things. And if they don’t do them, you need to think about why they don’t do them and the ramifications.
Do your super soldiers miss sleep? Do they miss snuggling under the blankets and dreaming of fluffy sheep hopping fences? And how does not sleeping affect them? Not just in their own minds and bodies but as a separation from the basic needs of their fellow man. Are they a group that no longer feels like they are human? Do they envy those that can sleep? Are they trying to go back to sleeping? Is that what is leading them to attack the secret facility where they underwent their initial experiments?
Regardless of their mental state, which will effect your story, if your character doesn’t do something that every human does, it is going to set him apart. The reverse is also true. If your character has super human strength, but after he uses it his body shuts down and he has to sleep to recover, it is going to humanize him.
We can all associate with the feeling of overworking ourselves and being just so exhausted that we feel like we can’t move. It is also going to provide him with some vulnerability. If you are trying to make your super human character likeable or relatable, then giving them a very human vulnerability is a good way to start the process.
It can also work with non-human characters. No matter how odd looking or acting, if they have some commonalities with humans you can adjust their perceptions. It can be a ‘they are really no different from us’ scenario if you are trying for interplanetary peace. If you are justifying a war pointing out the differences isn’t a bad tie in.
“Those creatures never sleep, they don’t eat, they just keep killing our people and must be stopped!”
A bit over the top and sort of Grad B horror flick-y, but I think it makes the point. There are some things that are common to all humans. Using those traits makes someone “like us” denying those traits makes them “Not like us.” It is a very simple way to start setting up your conflicts and alliances. It can make them relatable or alien. It can also add sympathy to a character, further your plot and deepen your story. Remembering this can also make your characters seem like real people to your readers, despite their differences. So when writing just remember, You gotta eat, right?