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.
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?
There are times when I want to write, have the time to write, and I just can’t get into it. At these times there are a whole bunch of things I do to try to focus on writing but one of the most effective is music. Here are my top 5 songs to get me into a writing mood.
1. Flying Without Wings: Westlife
Why does this song work? It begins with one of the best lines ever – even if the song itself is not that great. “Everybody’s looking for that something. One thing that makes it all complete.” With just that opening I suddenly think about what my characters are looking for and how to get them to where they want to be and instantly I feel the need to write. This makes it one of my favourite writing prompts.
2. The Fear: Lily Allen
Firstly, I just love this song. It is so boppy and lyrical and yet listening to the lyrics there is quite a bit of depth to this song and the issues it raises are quite serious. This song reminds me to look into the inner parts of my characters and to find their true motivation.
3. Words: Kate Miller-Hiedke
This song moves really quite quickly and helps me pick up my pace. It jolts me to action. At the same time it makes me think about the transitions we go through and how our characters can change and development over time. It also reminds me about the highs and lows.
4. Grace Kelly: Mika
Asks the question really of how face will a character go to reach their desire and is it worth it in the end? Plus this song always makes me smile.
5. The Rose: Not sure who sings the version I like
Sad and sweet and hopeful and yet slightly lost. I find this song puts me in a very thoughtful frame of mind and that always helps get me writing.
I guess for a song to be good for my writing it has to inspire some emotion and usually it leaves me with a question. It can’t be too loud or boisterous because that makes me not want to sit still so tragically Prisoner of Society misses the list here because while it is an amazing song it doesn’t make me want to write. It also helps if I don’t associate the song with a particular movie because that then distracts me and makes me want to watch the movie.
What are your favourite songs for writing?
My kind-of Christams post with a kind-of link to character creation.
Do you watch people when they open presents?
I don’t mean in the creepy-judgemental way where you glare at them until they manage to contort their face until an ‘appropriate’ expression of gratitude. I meant the general, I’m intereseted in what you think kind of way.
People receive gifts in a few different ways depending on the situation. This is my list of observed typical reactions:
- They know what the gift is in advance and are happy to be receiving it. These people are grinning broadly before they even begin to unwrap. They might rattle the packet a bit and make comments like, “I wonder what this could be?” but when they finally open the present they give it a quick look over, hug the person who gave it to them and move on to the next gift.
- They know what the gift is in advance and think it is the worst idea for a present they ever heard. They also make comments along the lines of “I wonder what this could be?” but there is a definite sense that they are grinding their teeth at the ridiculousness of having to play through the charade of opening the gift. Once opened they might say “Oh look, its a…” then they also put it to the side and move on but they don’t hug the person who gave it to them.
- They think they know what the gift is in advance and are happy about it. They grin as they pull the paper back but then their face kind of freezes into the ‘oh’ kind of expression. It doesn’t matter whether they like the actual gift or not there are a few moments of dead time while their brain attempts to shift gears. Finally they decide whether they like or hate the gift and react accordingly.
- They have no idea what the gift is and love it. The squeal with delight, and busily turn it over and over examining what it is and thinking about where it will go and when they can use it.
- They have no idea what the gift is and neither love nor hate it. They thank the person politely and move to the next one.
- They have no idea what the gift is and really can’t believe someone just gave it to them. I’ve seen two distinct reactions to this scenario. The usual one is the forced smile and the forced “thanks” meanwhile this gift isn’t stacked neatly to the side, it is usually just slid along the floor, usually in the direction of the paper pile with the false hope that maybe it will vanish. The second reaction is the “what am I going to do with this” reaction which never seems to go down well.
Yes there are other ways to receive gifts but these are the typical reactions. What does this have to do with writing?
Your characters react to situations. Reactions that fit within typical and expected models don’t require a huge amount of explanation as to why the character reacts in that way. Their dog just dropped a dead mouse at their feet. They say “Eww gross” – they are probably a female or a more urban male and they get squeamish around dead things. Nothing really needs to be explained. They kick it aside – they are either male or female and are trying to get the thing out of their sight but at the same time not react verbally because that might show them as weak. Again, not much to explain. They pick it up and decide to place it on their desk – you best explain this one because I don’t think the reader is going to understand why anyone would do that.
So – your protagonist was given a gift for christmas. What was it and how did they react? (Mine firstly asked for an in-depth explanation of what Christmas was including references that she could look up to verify my facts and then she stared at me blankly over the wrapping paper before asking me “Why do you think I need a hairbrush?”)