1. vyleside
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    vyleside New Member

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    Non-human characters

    Discussion in 'General Writing' started by vyleside, Feb 16, 2009.

    I'm writing a children's story where all of the characters are anthropomorphic animals. The problem is that I don't know where to actually reveal this fact. I don't want to open the story effectively shouting, "Just so you know, this story has no people, just animals, the main character is a duck."

    I currently have it written so that it's revealed shortly after the start, with prior hints being in the description, as it seems to be the most natural way of doing it. I worry that the reader will miss these hints and respond badly to the reveal, as it's not meant to be a surprise, just a matter of fact observation that our hero is a duck.

    Other animal characters usually have their species in their name, or are shown in illustrations before the story, but I don't want to be so cliche, nor do I have the luxury of illustrations.

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    Has anybody written a similar piece before, and do they have any tips on how to show the animals without it seeming forced?
  2. Gannon
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    Gannon Senior Member Contributor

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    Title the book, 'Norman The Duck'? Though it's not very subtle.
    Start the narrative so ... 'The way the sunlight caught my feathers was intoxicating'? Substitute beak, webbed feet as required.
    Start the narrative so ... 'I live on an island with 200 other ducks ...'?
    Depending on the tale, start the narrative so 'The duck hunting season opened on Sunday ...'? You can see where this might go.
    Start the narrative so ... 'Why is it you humans like to cosy down in our eider?' Grotesque!
    Good luck.
  3. Cogito
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    Cogito Former Mod, Retired Supporter Contributor

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    When you are jumping through hoops to "avoid cliche", you usually end up in traction. Worry about the quality of the writing, not whether it is distinct from every other story in every aspect.
  4. Penny Dreadful
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    Penny Dreadful New Member

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    Maybe I just have a blunt writing style sometimes, but I would just come write out - first sentence - and say something along the lines of "Norman was a duck." Did only Gannon call him Norman? Well, the name is sticking for now :p.

    Anyway...

    I would spice it up a bit with a little more description: "Norman had his priorities in order. Paying the monthly bills came before his Spanish ninjitsu lessons, and he accepted that like the responsible duck he was."
  5. vyleside
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    vyleside New Member

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    I plumped with:

    Would you say there is enough to make it obvious he's a duck without opening with "SAM'S A DUCK, DONTCHA KNOW?"

    I know there are probably a few typos there, but it is super rough first draft.
  6. Gannon
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    Gannon Senior Member Contributor

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    I've never used a 'lol' before but I think one is appropriate here.

    Yes, I think that you have struck an adequate balance. The repeat mention of 'wing' maybe OTT but that's subjective. And just in case we weren't sure you then go for the kill with 'ducklings' of his own age. That might give the game away! I'd recommend in a more adult tome that this absolute revelation was postponed a little longer, but in children's literature it would work better.

    That all said, children's literature should never insult the reader. Luckily, however this is something you recognise and your prose it sufficiently adult in balance.
  7. Leo
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    Leo New Member

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    I think it could be patronising to say "Sam was a ducky ducky duck duck." in the first line- I actually think this is quite a mature way to introduce his species for a children's book.
  8. mammamaia
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    mammamaia nit-picker-in-chief Supporter Contributor

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    why do you think you need to avoid the word 'duck' when you're making it obvious to any but the most brain-dead that he's a waterfowl of some kind?

    being coy and cute by avoiding the obvious is just silly, imo...
  9. madhoca
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    madhoca Senior Member Contributor

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    Even though Beatrix Potter had her animals living in houses etc sometimes, she really knew how animals moved and behaved, and this is what makes her stories survive to this day. You can't just have a 'duck' acting exactly like a human, he has to be a duck in essence, or what's the point? Kids aren't that easy to impress, or mine weren't. They'd want to imagine how a slightly human duck would be, not vice versa. So I'd suggest you show he's a duck by a combination of habits, movements, and surroundings.
  10. tehuti88
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    tehuti88 New Member

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    I have to respectfully disagree with this. It might apply in some cases, but it really depends on what the writer intends for their stories. There's LOTS of furry/anthro fiction out there with animal characters not acting like animals at all. Just look at the majority of Disney stuff. Mickey acts like no mouse I've ever seen.
  11. Cogito
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    Cogito Former Mod, Retired Supporter Contributor

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    Mickey Mouse was created over 80 years ago, for an animation trend that featured animal-based characters acting as people. He has become a character in his own right, neither mouse or human. Modern animation charcaters, including those from Disney, retain key charactersitisc of the animal they are modelled after. Likewise, the trend in children's fiction is away from turning animal characters into people in animal suits.

    Certainly there are enough examples against the trend, but why base them on animals, then? You could base them on fuzzy funny aliens instead, if the origin animal is meaningless.
  12. Rei
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    Rei New Member Contributor

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    Cogito hit it on the head. They should not just be people in animal suits. The one book series that comes to mind is Kenneth Oppel's bat books. Before he even began to write the first chapter, he spent a very long time learning all he could about bats and the other animals in the same ecosystem. It was a distictly "batty" story and would not have been the same had they been humans or some other animal, even some bird within that ecosystem.

    The author of Charlotte's Web also spent a very long time learning about spiders before he began to write the book. I don't think anyone had a hard time believing it was a real spider who happened to be abnormally intelligent for a spider. That is the only real "human" quality anmals should have, because they all have their own social structures, but don't have language in the same way we do and (as far as we know) are not as intellegent, or differently intelligent anyway. I've seen tests done with numbers for speed and memory and that sort of thing. There were some tests that on average, chimps scored higher than humans.

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