05 January 2007

Let the raccoons be themselves.

I've finally figured out why I keep imagining my raccoons acting like little people.

As people, our way of life is based on our using our hands. We use them to touch, pick up things, eat, communicate -- everything.

Raccoons use their mouths. They'll use their hands in order to help them eat, of course, but most of their touching is done with the face, and they primarily fight with their teeth, not their claws.

I've noticed I've had a hard time when a raccoon has to point at something. My first impulse is to have them point with a finger instead of pointing with their head. The same thing happens when touch is shared. I keep imagining one raccoon patting another on the shoulder. No, all four feet would be on the ground.

I've been having a hard time visualizing my characters lately and I think this is part of the problem.

Not sure what the other part of the problem is. Though I did look at my MC's character sketch today and wasn't satisfied with it. I'm missing something that's pretty big. I wish I knew what it was.


ted_curtis said...

You know, I think that's the hardest part of writing good animal fantasy, and why Watership Down is such a classic. Because you need to make the animals really animals but still make the readers be able to identify with them.

You know, what probably works best is treat it like an accent -- mention it occasionally to remind the readers, but other times, just let them do it (so, just say "the raccoon pointed at the stream" or "They greeted each other" most of the time, and occasionally say "She rubbed her nose against his in greeting.")

Melinda said...

That's the thing, that it is really tricky. But I noticed that in the first chapter of "Watership," Adams really piles on the rabbity details. Well, technically, he piles on the details all through the book. But take a look at the first chapter and count the times he mentions the characters doing something rabbity. I was really floored.

And I think that with animal fantasy you do have to work harder to establish that these are not people. There's been a lot of animal fantasy I've read in which the animals, in my imagining, keep reverting back to their wicked human ways, or the animals simply don't seem convincing enough.

Also, I've also seen how adults look when I mention that I write stories about raccoons, like I'm the cat proudly bringing into the house a skink I haven't quite killed yet.

ted_curtis said...

I agree...and then there are the animal stories where the author doesn't even pretend to make the animals act like animals -- the Redwall books come to mind. So does Narnia, actually.

And what's wrong with raccoons? It's not like your'e writing tales about dungbeetles or something.

Melinda said...

Ha! Well, it's not that the stories are about raccoons, it's that they're about animals. And so if I mention that I'm writing a book about raccoons, people automatically assume it's a story about Rocky Raccoon and Chippy Chipmunk and how they save the forest, tra la la, or some damn thing. Kiddie stuff.

(Not the Rocky Racoon in the Beatles song, btw.)

But I've noticed enough people squirm when I mention the raccoon novel to tip me off.

There have been a few people that have tried to categorize the kinds of animal novels out there. There's the animal novel where the animals are humans in disguise, like Redwall, and they go around in clothes.

And there's the animals that are actually animals, they don't wear clothes, but they talk to each other, like the David Clement Davies novels, Watership, etc. And though they act like animals they have societies and ways of communicating that are humanistic.

And then there are the novels where animals are being animals only, like the stories of Jean Craighead George, who lives with animals and is a good biologist -- stuff like Julie of the Wolves. She wrote a wolf novel in the last 10 years, though the review said it read more like a case study of wolves at times.

Well, wasn't that a ramble.