Hello, everyone! Today I have a guest post from the fantastic Julie Leung, author of MICE OF THE ROUND TABLE, which just released October 4th!
I have always been curious about how animal characters are created and written so well by those who take on the challenge. Julie’s story is no exception, so I asked if she could share any of her tricks and secrets for creating a well-drawn animal character. Here is what she had to say!
HOW TO WRITE AN ANIMAL CHARACTER
Pantalaimon. Tick-Tock. Despereaux. Middle-grade literature is littered with memorable animal characters who often take the spotlight from their human counterparts. When I set out to write the Mice of the Round Table series, getting the animal characters right was a huge priority. In a world where humans take a backseat to mice, otters, and owls, I wanted to strike a good balance between showcasing their animal natures and the human characteristics that make them relatable.
Here are some writing tips I can impart from my process:
Use animal features to your advantage:
Keep a sticky note somewhere that lists five to six physical and sensorial characteristics of your chosen species. Make sure those features figure significantly into how your character sees and senses the world around them. For example, in writing about owls, I made sure that their eyesight was always sharper than the other characters around them.
Pay attention to scale:
If humans co-inhabit your animal-oriented world, there are fun opportunities to imagine how human objects may be re-interpreted to fit your character’s lifestyle. (Think the ping-pong ball turned helmet in The Mouse and the Motorcycle.) My best advice for this is to pay careful attention to the scale of each object. For example, a glass marble is basically the size of a bowling ball for most mice, they can’t very well carry three at a time.
Observe their movements:
My YouTube searches were filled with “mice jumping,” “mice running,” “mice eating.” (Word of warning, those last keywords won’t give you the cute videos you are looking for.) Sometimes, when you write an animal character who thinks a lot like a human, it’s easy to accidentally write them moving like humans as well. To keep myself on track, I needed to visualize mouse movements. I would watch a video, transcribe the movement that I saw, and use those descriptions in the book.
Add new vernacular:
There are certain idioms and phrases common among human folk that just won’t translate well to your animal characters. The fun part is to come up with the equivalent version in animal-speak! For example, instead of saying “rats!” when something goes wrong, the mice of Camelot say “rat whiskers!”
Make them human:
Most of my bullet points have been tips on how to differentiate and showcase your animal characters as animals. And while doing that will add flavor and texture to your world and your character’s perspective, a great animal character still contains an essential humanness at the core. They wish, they dream, they have motivations much like us. And that’s what makes readers connect to the story, even when the protagonist is a completely different species.
JULIE LEUNG was raised in the sleepy suburbs of Atlanta, Georgia, though it may be more accurate to say she grew up in Oz and came of age in Middle-earth. She works in book publishing as a digital marketer. In her free time, she enjoys furtively sniffing books at used bookstores and winning at obscure board games. Her favorite mode of transportation is the library.