Have you ever looked into a dog’s eyes and reflected on how noble, loyal and selfless this animal is. Or maybe you’ve watched a cat stalking along the side of the road and thought to yourself that this is a beast that is independent, proud and sometimes downright disdainful. If so – you are guilty of anthropomorphism. In other words, you have attributed human characteristics to non-human beings.
Don’t worry – you’re in good company. George Orwell did it when he wrote Animal Farm; Elwyn Brooks “E. B.” White had a stab with Charlotte’s Web and as for Walt Disney – heck, he built his whole career on it.
Fancy having a go yourself? Well here are seven easy-to-follow steps to get you started:
- Think about what kind of story you are writing. If it is realistic fiction, you might not want to include a talking marmot with an eye patch, but if this is fantasy, then you need to make sure that your animals are interesting. Don’t just steal from another book – be creative! Build your juggling spider plant as carefully as you would any human character.
- Start with a gender, a name and a personality, but step waaaay outside the box. Calling your dog Rover doesn’t go far enough – try ‘Martin Lander’ (think about it). Why stick to the three main genders – mix and match baby! Then tack on some character traits – but again, create, create, create. Anyone for a rabid rabbit with mauve moccasins and a penchant for pickled pigskin panties! Been done? Well, keep thinking then!
- Where are your characters going to reside? Is he a snake with learning difficulties living in your wardrobe. Is she a naughty bookmark who insists on moving between the pages of your book when you’re not looking? Are they a pair of bookends living in a box in Kmart with a sarcastic bent and a love of hip-hop that surpasses all reason? Or not. You decide.
- What will be the character’s role in your book? Bit part butterfly with a longing for space travel or major-league Mesopotamian rattle-snake who falls in love with an elephant’s trunk only to find that … well, like I say – you decide, but be thoughtful and sensitive about it; after all – rattlesnakes have feelings too!
- Choose a good look for your hero and an even better one for your villain! Cats in skin tight rubber trousers, moles in wellington boots with cut-off toes, penguins in body-armour, Kaley Cuoco in … well, anything really. You choose – you’re the boss – the more unusual the better.
- Think carefully about how your character sees the world. A cup of tea may not like to be drunk as much as a gorilla with abandonment issues might. A rubber tree might not know what to call the things around it because it may not have the same kind of mind as humans do. Make up plausible alternatives that your paranoid iguana might use to replace terms that humans use (boomerangs, stars, smartphones etc.) When you do this – be very, very, VERY imaginative, yet at the same time try to make it clear to your reader what’s going down.
- Share your creations with an appreciative audience. Maybe join a friendly forum? Maybe you’re already part of one. Hey – wait a minute – here you are! Tell us about your talking pyjama cord and we promise to laugh!
Oh, and did I mention that you should be creative whilst doing this? Well if you can’t manage to be – promise yourself that you’ll have a lorra, lorra fun on the way.