A Writer’s Guide to Creature Depiction

Greetings, oh mortal readers of the virtual blogging realm! I, the Whimsical Werecat, am once again returning here to embellish this marvellous little site with more of my memorable mesmerising musings.

The topic I wish to enlighten you with today is something any avid writer – from the eager greenhorn, to the relatively well-learned story-teller – should add to their field of knowledge. And that topic is: writing for the non-human/ animal element of your story.

For those of you who have animals (or any considerably non-human being) as an important component in your story, it is extremely important that you bring accurate descriptions and behaviours into the prose. If you have animals as primary characters – all the more so!

Like any other part of accurate portrayal throughout a story, bringing realistic flourishes to the description of animals, and other creatures apart from humans, is integral to the overall merit of a book. Trust me, as a werecat I am all too aware of the importance of non-human creature exposé (you humans need to get this right!). Even if animals are just an addition to the background or world-building part of your written works, you should really think about making sure your descriptions still reflect directly from the real thing, otherwise you risk those elements becoming two-dimensional or flat. If you are not careful, you could even unintentionally taint your tale with a sense of falseness.

As an example of working on animal descriptions, if you have horses in your story (your main characters use them as a primary source of travel, or there is a great medieval battle, and a portion of the fighting is executed on horseback), you must make sure that the beasts you describe actually sound and behave like horses. An extraordinary revelation, I know. But truly, any writer striving for excellence must get this right. Accumulate all the facts about horses you can before you begin writing about them (if you handle horses in real life, you are already at a great advantage). Horses are herd animals; they are instinctually flighty; they flatten their ears when agitated and roll their eyes when scared; they do not holler, growl, grunt or hiss – they whicker, neigh, snort and scream; some nibble the edges of clothing or gently nudge with their head to show their affection; the loin is a part of their back, not their nether-regions, and a hock is a part of their hind leg, not their head.

I think you can get the idea.

Remember, it is all in the research! Make sure the animal (whether common house pet, or fierce wilderness predator) is described well enough so that those of your readers who may be more knowledgeable about said animal than you, will read your descriptions and not blanch, gawk or cringe at what you’ve written. Aim for the best result possible. You want to bring a point of clarity and fact to your details that the first thing flashing through the reader’s mind is, “Hey, my dog does the exact same thing when he’s excited!” or “Oh yeah, I’ve seen hawks do that in the wild!”

Even in the little traits and perks, your depiction of the animals in your story will either add value or discredit to your story. I am sure you, as a writer, will want to do everything you can to make sure your precious creation is given every chance at pleasing readers of all ages, experiences and calibres. And for all you readers out there, you undoubtedly agree that reading something with biological, geological, physiological – and all those other ‘logicals’ – accuracy makes for a much better experience, correct?

So yes, writing with a decent level of factualness for the non-human/ animal element of your story plays an important part in the success of that goal.

What if your story has creatures that are mythical, or do not exist in real life you ask? Well, that is where the merging of realism and creativity comes in! Every mythical creature derives its qualities from a real animal – and in some cases a combination of different animals. Some famous examples are dragons, unicorns, and griffons. Dragons are often given the physical and behavioural traits of reptiles or birds, while unicorns are primarily drawn from horses; although sometimes a writer will add qualities from other hoofed animals, such as deer or goats. Griffons are made easier by their biological structure – part eagle, part lion –, so effectively blending the natures of those two animals will guarantee your griffon will be as real in the world it roams, as the eagle or lion is in ours.

The same concept holds true for creatures born entirely from your imagination. Whether your beast is feathered, furred, fleshy, plated or scaled, all your ideas have been inspired by the animals here on earth. So study up on the mammals, insects, fish or birds that share traits with your creation – whether physical, vocal, or behavioural – and assimilate them to bring that extra dimension to the life of your creation.

So, whether you are writing a brief paragraph on the ugly, crabby cat that belongs to your character’s neighbour, or your secondary character is a giant intelligent black bear that plays a pivotal role throughout the story, make sure you take the time and effort to bring a truthful depiction to the animals of your book. Your story and your readers will be the better for it, guaranteed!

Moon from Whisper of the Heart Kantai from The Twelve Kingdoms

And that concludes my memorable musings for now. I hope it has been of some interest to your fickle yet wonderfully creative mortal minds. I shall now skulk off to do what it is we werecats are inclined to do without elucidating, so until next time … always keep your curiosity and courage at hand, adventurers!

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About WhimsicalWerecat

In short - Creative extraordinaire, warrior princess, dragon-lover, anime enthusiast, partisan of fantastical things, and most assuredly and proudly peculiar!
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