Tuesday, June 16, 2009
By Sandra Elzie
With the cost of pet food today, have you ever wished your pet could get a job or at least help you out around the house to pay for his upkeep? Well, I’ve got the perfect job for your pet. Still scratching your head and wondering how Fido can help? Read on.
Most movies and books have a hero and heroine…and then there are those “others”, the characters who add spice and flavor to the story. You know the ones, the characters who are the evil villain, the scheming ex-wife, or the comic relief. But what if the “other” character isn’t human? No, I’m not talking about aliens, I’m referring to characters we know and love, but if English is the only language we speak, we can’t carry on a conversation. I’m talking about those non-human characters that take on human characteristics in order to communicate with us.
Remember R-2 D-2? He couldn’t speak English, but he showed excitement by rocking back and forth rapidly while emitting a high-pitched sound. How about the monkey in Disney’s Aladdin? When he was told to share his apple, he showed definite human characteristics. (Resentment and selfishness)
So when you put a non-human character in one of your stories, say a dog, a cat or …even a monkey, why not give it an extreme personality? Make it one that the reader will not easily forget. If it helps, picture the pet as a child and give the animal a child-like reaction to life.
Personally, I prefer to own a cat, even though my resident cat thinks he owns me. Master Jack is easier on my lap and I don’t have to let him in and out. But as much as I love my cat, when I add a pet to my stories, it’s usually a dog with enough personality to endear him to the reader. If you have a pet, observe all the non-verbal ways he communicates his different feelings, then write them down.
In one of my, as yet unpublished, stories, I have an Irish setter that wants his head, if not his entire body, in the middle of everything. When told to stay in the front seat of a car and not to join the injured woman lying on the backseat, the setter leans over the seat just as far as possible…until his nose is inches away from the woman. His eyes plead, telling the story of how much he wants to touch her. When I added a whimper, I knew the reader would understand the dog’s dilemma of obeying his master versus his almost overwhelming desires to do the forbidden.
What can you learn from writing an animal into your story? You can learn how to express thoughts and feelings without conversation or without directly being told. You can learn how to use body language and sounds to tell (or to advance) your story. When your character can’t talk, you have to reach down deep and draw up innovative ways to express their feelings. When you transfer this skill over to humans, you add another layer of depth to the hero or heroine and consequently to the story.
If your hero is larger than life, he needs a flaw or two to make him believable and if you use subtle facial expressions, posture or even sounds…grunts, groans, mumbling… this will allow the reader to glimpse the flaw, and thereby make him more human and more endearing.
In Raiders of The Lost Arc, Indiana Jones whips out a gun and kills a sword-wielding enemy, brushes tarantulas off himself and others with his whip, but is afraid of snakes. (Not that I blame him) He not only told us that he hated snakes, but his reaction to seeing one was really all I needed to know exactly how he felt about the slithering creatures. I could definitely identify with him. From that point on, if a snake showed up in a scene, I knew Indy was in trouble.
If you want your current Work In Progress to rise to a different level, consider deepening your characters…including man’s best friend…by adding body language and non-verbal sounds that express feelings to the extent that words aren’t necessary. You will grow as a writer and your story will be the better for your efforts.
So, here’s your assignment for today. Can you give us some examples of non-verbal reactions? How about some body language that portrays a page of feelings in only a few words?