In this post, we explore how to use your imagination and use creatures to create characters.
How To Use Creatures To Create Characters
One of my favourite characters in film, that is also a creature, is Rocket from Guardians Of The Galaxy. He’s sassy, a chip on his shoulder, funny, profoundly damaged physically, and with a back story that will break your heart. And while he’s short and non-human, he is statuesque in human characteristics.
He’s not the only creature in film or literature that is as impactful as his human counterparts. Sometimes they are more so. But we’re not here to talk about creatures as characters, rather, how creatures can be a foundation from which to build your characters when storytelling. It’s important to remember that every animal is an individual and will have their own personalities. Just like humans.
Let’s say you wanted to write a story about a woman who, according to the townsfolk, is a loner. She’s one of those women you don’t mess with. A short temper, and a propensity for lashing out. There’s a rumour that she has killed someone, and the town wants revenge. The sheriff wants evidence and justice, but without anyone else losing their life.
Using an animal that is perceived to be a loner with a short temper can help you develop a rich and interesting character – for example, bears. As long as you do your research and don’t rely on the Hollywood trope about them which is predictable to the point of utter boredom.
7 Things You Might Not Know About Bears And How They Could Inform Your Character Building
- They are highly evolved social animals, a keen sense of community. They form hierarchies and have structured kinship relationships. How could your antagonist discover this about your female lead in your book and what kind of kinship relationship does she have? Is she the matriarch or not?
- They share friendships, resources, and security – sometimes with animals of other species. Is this something you could use in your book beyond her having a dog or a cat?
- They are as intelligent as the great apes and have been seen using ‘tools’ to solve problems and accomplish tasks. What skills does your character have that no one else in the book suspects? Bears are very gentle and tolerant animals. How can you show your heroine’s real character as opposed to the one the rest of town folk think she has? What will she tolerate and why? What won’t she tolerate and why?
- Hollywood loves to portray mother bears as one of the most dangerous animals on earth. You wouldn’t want to get between her and her cubs, that’s for sure. But that describes most creatures, including humans. In fact, as mothers, bears are affectionate, altruistic, attentive with their young, devoted, empathetic, fearful, joyful, playful, protective, sensitive, and strict. Does your heroine have children, or someone she is protecting? How does she respond to them and to those who want to harm them?
- While bears see in colour, and their hearing is better than ours, their world is defined by scent. Their acute sense of smell allows them to read the landscape as easily as we can a newspaper. Unless your character is a superhero, can you create a way in which she navigates the world that allows her to stay one or more steps ahead of the angry townsfolk?
- The strength and power of bears is undisputed, as is their short distance speed. And yes, an angry bear is not something you’d want to meet. Apart from physical, what kind of strength does you heroine possess? What would she do when angered or upset? Remember, this doesn’t have to be Ripley in Alien (Never underestimate an angry woman with a cat). It could be the strength of character shown by Jane Eyre when she flees Thornfield Hall.
- Bears assess humans in the same way they assess wild animals of any species. How does your heroine assess people? Will she see differences in the sheriff to the townsfolk? How? What action will that assessment force her to take?
You could rely on Hollywood tropes or, as any writer worth their salt, you could delve deep and research bears until you find yourself longing for fresh salmon. Research and lateral thinking give a book depth, richness, and a unique perspective. So, next time you’re trying to create characters, perhaps think laterally about what they would be if they were creatures.
by Elaine Dodge. Elaine is the author of The Harcourts of Canada series and The Device Hunter. Elaine trained as a graphic designer, then worked in design, advertising, and broadcast television. She now creates content, mostly in written form, for clients across the globe, but would much rather be drafting her books and short stories.
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