Animals as Characters

August 22, 2010 at 5:38 am (Character, Thoughts on Writing) (, , , , , , , , , , , , , )

I’m going to preface this post by pointing out that I really dislike animal movies. That is, movies where the main character is an animal that is befriended by a human and does a range of cutesy/mischievous things before ultimately solving some massive problem and healing all the wrongs in their friendly human’s life while giving us some moral message. There are a lot of these movies out there and they are well loved movies but they’ve never grabbed me as an audience member. Mostly because cute didn’t cut it for me as a replacement for story or character development even when I was a child and the overly moralistic message of so many of these movies seemed really condescending.

That said, I do like animals in stories. They can serve a valuable role and if well written can even have all the attributes of a full fledged character. There is a difference between a movie with an animal in it and an animal movie. Same with books.

When I consider using an animal in a story I usually think about the following:

1.  Is the animal’s presence actually adding anything to the story? A means of transport, companionship, comfort, finding something, revealing something, etc.

2.  Could a human character serve the same purpose better?

3.  Is the animal actually acting in the way an animal would or are they simply a human character dressed up like an animal?

4. If the animal is magical and can talk, are they still acting in the way an animal would or is there some cross over between the animal characteristics and human characteristics? And is there any point behind this cross over?

5.  Is the animal becoming simply a cute distraction from the plot?

Inserting an animal as a character for me is like inserting any other character. They need to have a purpose and serve some sort of function in the plot. They need to relate to the other characters and if possible those relationships should grow and change as the story progresses.

What are your thoughts on animals as characters? Or animal movies for that matter.

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Learn to Love Them – They’re Going to Be With You Forever

August 10, 2010 at 5:32 am (Character, Thoughts on Writing) (, , , , , , , , , , , , , , )

Okay, maybe forever is a slight exaggeration but you really do have to be able to deal with having your characters in your head for a long time.

You spend so much time making them real, getting to know them, putting the through hardships and helping them overcome difficulties. You watch them grow – you help them to grow. You direct them and guide them and shape them at every turn.

Elspeth had an excellent post last week on characters when she shared her 10 Tips for Non-Perfection. It was her list to help the writers out there not view their characters through rose tinted glasses and it is a great list – well worth the read.

As a writer I’m truly cruel to my characters – particularly in drafting stages. Mostly because I want to see how my character reacts under every kind of pressure I can throw at them. In the end I usually pick the crisis that has the most interesting reaction and go with it, but when I’m still developing the character I can be really nasty to them.

But when all of that is said and done, underneath, I still really love my characters and can feel pretty caught up in their lives at times. One particular WIP that I’m still thinking about revising continues to stump me mostly because in the face of the massive danger being faced, nobody dies. Well, one character does, but we didn’t really like them and other than a brief mention in act one they really failed to have an impact.

I didn’t even intentionally write it that way.

It just turned out that after I’d finished the various minor skirmishes that were going on in the huge and dusty battle, every named character (villain or hero) tragically survived. It was a cold blooded conversation with a friend when I sat down with the draft and started systematically listing each character’s attributes and why they should die/live. I still haven’t actually rewritten it.

How do you and your characters get along?

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