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endless
05-14-2006, 09:35 AM
I have a real problem with authors who write about animals that they have no experience of. I feel that even fantasy writers must know the creature if they plan to use it in their writing.

A squirrel should act like a squirrel, a horse like a horse and the like. I've run into far too many writers who have no idea of animal behavior at all.

Personally, I write about animals I know like the back of my hand. Certain other creatures, like dragons, are fantastical creations and they can be molded to fit the story quite nicely. A wolf should always be a wolf, don't you think?

Fern
05-14-2006, 06:03 PM
I certainly agree. I read a western book once where the main character caught his supper. . .a catfish, which he promptly scaled. The whole bit about scaling the fish was described move by move. Somebody was either pulling that writer's leg or he never mentioned the fact that the fish was a catfish when asking how to clean fish.

Unique
05-14-2006, 07:18 PM
I certainly agree. I read a western book once where the main character caught his supper. . .a catfish, which he promptly scaled. The whole bit about scaling the fish was described move by move. Somebody was either pulling that writer's leg or he never mentioned the fact that the fish was a catfish when asking how to clean fish.


To answer the OP's original question, er....yes and no.

In instances like Fern's....unequivocally - yes. ( What a sad state of affairs that no one, not a beta reader, not an editor, no one - said, 'hey you moron, catfish don't have freaking scales!'. ) DUH.

In fantasy, I guess my vote would be to have them look at least reasonably similar to 'real life' animals. Unless they've gone through some sort of 'mutation process' for the story i.e. they live on another planet, something changed their genetics and now they have purple fur.... I think they should at least look similar enough to real squirrels so the reader can develop some sort of mental image to start with.

If the author then takes liberty to make a squirrel the size of a beagle with purple fur, at least the reader will have a starting point to imagine a calf high critter with a squirrel like tail, etc. etc.

So to make that long answer shorter - I feel the author should make animals close enough to real life to give the reader a point of reference for their imagination.

Then, if the author makes changes in the animal's look and behavior it should be explained in a logical way as it fits into the context of the story.

Make sense?

the bunny hugger
05-15-2006, 02:55 AM
Animal are like any other part of the world--if you bluff you might really irritate some readers. But if you bluff on an obscure animal or aspect of an animal then it won't be too many.

Jamesaritchie
05-15-2006, 04:45 AM
I have a real problem with authors who write about animals that they have no experience of. I feel that even fantasy writers must know the creature if they plan to use it in their writing.

A squirrel should act like a squirrel, a horse like a horse and the like. I've run into far too many writers who have no idea of animal behavior at all.

Personally, I write about animals I know like the back of my hand. Certain other creatures, like dragons, are fantastical creations and they can be molded to fit the story quite nicely. A wolf should always be a wolf, don't you think?

And how, exactly, does a wolf behave? I've been around wolves for most of my life, and I still can't tell you how a wolf behaves. Wolves are as individual as people, and "wolf behavior" is, at best, a broad generalization. It's like saying people should always be people. Fine, but it really says nothing.

And fantasy is just that. . .fantasy. All sorts of things come into play that would affect the behavior of a wolf, or any other creature.

rich
05-15-2006, 04:52 AM
Yeah, but you can't scale a catfish. There needs to be some idea of the nature of the make up of the beast. I wouldn't have a wolf in my story unless I've done some research that satisfied me.

veinglory
05-15-2006, 04:55 AM
Interestingly most readers have some very strong idea about what wolves can do. Most of them totally imaginary... (faster than a speeding bullet and otherwise extraordinary in every way apparently).

GHF65
05-15-2006, 04:29 PM
When my first book came out, the most common reader response I heard was "I didn't know horses did that!" I think it's important to give the reader a good frame of reference, but pandering to stereotypes can be an issue as well. If the book is about the animal in question, then a great deal of solid, factual information should be incorporated in the construction of the fictional character or the non-fiction treatment of its habits. I think more liberty with the facts would go mostly unnoticed if the animal is only incidental to the story line.

Endless's point is very important in all contexts. Poor research in any area can be jarring to a reader, as it was to me recently when I read a novel by a very famous, high-dollar author who had her character--a cowboy described as lanky and muscular and over six feet tall--riding a yearling horse for an hour. A yearling is barely big enough to be a horse and a yearling of the breed mentioned would have made the guy look like a clown on a stick horse right to the moment when the horse's back broke. Had that been the only inconsistency in the book, I wouldn't have been so annoyed, but the author also made some irrational assumptions about human behavior--her characters behaved out-of-character far too often. On the other hand, done with sensitivity, it's possible for a good writer to stretch an understanding of animal behavior, add a touch of stereotype, and come out with a classic like Dun Lady's Jess, in which a horse is morphed into human form. I've read the book over and over, loving the storyline and merrily ignoring the unhorselike behaviors that sometimes were necessary to move the plot forward.

That was a long-winded way of saying, "it depends". :D

endless
05-16-2006, 07:18 AM
And how, exactly, does a wolf behave? I've been around wolves for most of my life, and I still can't tell you how a wolf behaves. Wolves are as individual as people, and "wolf behavior" is, at best, a broad generalization. It's like saying people should always be people. Fine, but it really says nothing.

Of course, wolves are individuals. So is every one of my dogs. However, the chance that a dog will behave exactly like a wolf is like saying that a frog will behave like a snake. After all, they're both reptiles, aren't they?

There are certain patterns of behavior that a creature follows according to its species' nature. A wolf will behave in a manner that is conducive to being a WOLF. It will not behave like a tiger. The environment and prey are essentially different, therefore the behavior will not be the same, even though both are predators.

I've had the great honor of studying dog behavior for close to fourty-four years. Yes, within the species individual behavior will differ, but it will always center on one thing -- survival within the existing environment. Creatures that are unable to exist within their environment die out. It's that simple.

Canines have insinuated themselves into just about every niche going. They are extremely adaptable. They are survivors.


And fantasy is just that. . .fantasy. All sorts of things come into play that would affect the behavior of a wolf, or any other creature.

As has already been pointed out, fantasy works best when a bit of reality is seeded in the soil. It gives the reader a point of reference and some empathy with the character.

The same goes for art, I've found. As a student of animals -- their behavior and movement -- I find it very upsetting to see how animals are portrayed, sometimes in poses that are frankly impossible for their bodies to attain or hold under the confines of gravity. Anyone who's ever looked at Currier and Ives prints will know what I mean. Sure. It's the style, but it annoys me that the horses are flying. :)

Horses, for instance, during their gallop have only one instance of suspension, while sighthounds and cheetahs have two.

Please, people! When using animals in your stories, add a little reality! That's a cheque you can cash at my bank anytime.

the bunny hugger
05-19-2006, 12:25 AM
Perhaps we could swap some recommendations of books where animal characters are well written?

the bunny hugger
05-19-2006, 01:58 AM
This prompted me to dig up and post and old book review I never used where Eve Forward does a very good job of writing an animal character: http://rattitude.blogspot.com/2006/05/animist-fiction-by-eve-forward-tor.html

endless
05-19-2006, 08:52 AM
I love your member name! I take it that you are a rat person? Rats are great. I don't have any living with me. Too many hunters in the house. It's too bad that rats are so short-lived.

I'll think of some instances where the animal characters were well written and list some. It would be great if others would do the same.