Guest post: “Getting It Done: What Determines a Writing Quota?” by Franklin Leo

Getting It Done: What Determines a Writing Quota?

by Franklin Leo

 

Writing is hard, and even for the experienced, it continues to be difficult. Whether it’s editing or drafting, there’s always a point when we find ourselves unable to move forward simply because time is such a huge issue.

I’ve instructed and tutored writing to college students for a few years, and I have only recently started to come out more as a furry author, but the number one thing that I hear from other writers or hopeful-writers is that there’s too much going on in their life.

Stephen King says in his memoir On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft that it’s best for one to get around 1,000 words a day down and written into some piece he or she’s working on. That alone is around four pages, and to some, the idea of doing so much so soon comes off like a triathlon equal to NaNoWriMo.

What matters, however, is that you get something down — anything down. Students tell me that they could only get a paragraph written. In college, that’s quite a bit, I tell them. Some often tell me that they could only get a sentence or two down because they had to do some reading. That’s okay as well. Reading and writing go together. You simply can’t do one without the other, I say.

I also tell them that some days, it’s okay to write more than other days. Some days, it’s okay to write nothing. What’s important is to discipline and let yourself write as much as you can, understand that there is no punishment for writing too little, and being there for yourself when you need it. Writing is part therapy and part communication. Try to write as much as you can, but also allow yourself the freedom that the work demands.

Personally, I stand by the 1,000 word quota, simply because it works for me. I enjoy it, I get good enough results from it, and it makes me feel accomplished. Have I ever questioned my own methods? Of course. Working as a writer is like working as your own personal trainer at the gym. You need to know how much, when, and in what way to push yourself. I continue to keep my quota going as long as I can, but with work and class (as well as different stories going on at the same time in my head), it’s just impossible to do everything that I wish.

What works? Again, it really depends. For someone, writing a couple of sentences before bed can be enough to get him or her going until the next day. For others, they may feel that 2,000 words a day is worthy of any acknowledgement. Working with others, as well, forces you to work as much as you can; several times, I’ve had other writers tell me that I’m just not writing enough, which is nice because they hold me accountable when I myself am unable to do so. Beating yourself up about it, however, is something a writer should never do. By changing writing into something that you have to do rather than what you get to do, you ultimately take the fun out of it. You ruin your chance of wanting to return to a story because it honestly gripped you. For a writer at any level, that there is the kiss of death, whiskers and all.

My students come to me every day when I’m in my school’s lab, and I get to hear how they enjoy writing now because they realize it’s not work — it’s fun when they allow for it.

That’s all you can ever do. Allow for it, and be proud of those moments when you do. That there will build you a quota and keep you pressing forward amidst a hectic schedule and series of setbacks.

 

Guest post: “The Writer’s Notebook” by Renee Carter Hall

The Writer’s Notebook

by Renee Carter Hall

Writers today have more tools than ever to choose from. We can tap out notes on a phone or type our stories on a laptop or tablet. With all the spellchecking, grammar checking, sync, and instant backups at our fingertips, why would anyone still bother to write by hand? What can a pen and notebook give us that a word processor can’t?

  • A slower process. In today’s on-demand culture, that might not sound like a benefit. But when it comes to writing, faster isn’t always better, and writing by hand can force you to slow down and weigh your thoughts as you put them on paper.
  • Fewer distractions. When you write by hand, there are no emails, games, or social media to demand your attention. You can also write in a coffee shop without scoping out the available power outlets — and while I’ve learned the hard way that waterproof ink is sometimes a good idea, I’ve still never gotten an error message from a notebook.
  • A different mindset.  For me, there’s something very direct and true about writing first drafts by hand. Typed writing can feel “finished” before its time, and while I’d never trade a computer for editing, the drafting process feels more intimate in my own handwriting than a font. I’m sure some of this is generational, but to me, writing done by hand is writing for the self, while typing on a keyboard puts me in a “public writing” mindset — blog posts, emails, functional writing instead of creative — where writing by hand reminds me of childhood days spent scribbling stories in wide-ruled notebooks, and reminds me that writing is supposed to be fun. A journal feels like a safe, private, patient space to experiment, in a way a blinking cursor can’t duplicate.

I’ve kept some form of writer’s notebook (or journal, whatever term appeals to you) for over twenty years, and I can’t imagine giving it up. My journals have been to me what a sketchbook is to an artist: a gym for exercise, a laboratory for experimentation, a butterfly net for rounding up stray thoughts. Unless I’m on a tight deadline where I have to get from first draft to submitted work in a hurry, my preference is to write the first draft by hand. (This also has the fringe benefit of easing me into the editing process, since I always start making changes to the text as I’m typing up the draft.)

My notebooks also place my writing within the larger scope of my life. Interspersed among story drafts and notes are quirky lists of favorite commercials, possible character names, passages I’ve loved from books and poems, and the odd to-do list. To me there’s something delightfully grounding in that. There’s also a physical pleasure in writing with a good pen on quality paper, and there’s a sense of accomplishment that comes with filling pages in a journal that isn’t quite matched by keeping track of word counts in a spreadsheet.

Keeping a notebook isn’t for everyone, of course. Some have physical restrictions that make writing by hand impractical, and if you’re prone to losing things, you’re probably better off with tools that allow for backups. Writers who keep notebooks have to be comfortable with a certain amount of chaos and inefficiency, but out of that chaos can come a playful serendipity that brings renewed focus, deeper contemplation, and revitalized creativity — all from putting pen to paper.

My current journal, open to the notes and brainstorming for this blog post.

My current journal, open to the notes and brainstorming for this blog post.

Tips

  • Choose materials you’re comfortable with. That might be a handmade leather journal or a black-and-white composition book, a pencil or a fountain pen. Different moods and projects can also call for different tools.
  • Take it along. Try to choose a journal you can easily carry with you, or keep one at home and a smaller one in your bag.
  • Play! Experiment with tools — write in pencil, marker, crayon. Try out prompts. Paste in pictures from magazines, cancelled stamps, ticket stubs. Make it part of your life, not just your writing life.

Supplies

Guest post: “It Isn’t Doggy Enough” by Carmen K. Welsh

It Isn’t Doggy Enough

by Carmen K. Welsh

 

As my time in graduate school draws to a close, commencement this June, I remember this is what my first term mentor said.

My thesis is a historical novel with anthropomorphic dogs in late Prohibition-era New York. For those who follow me on Twitter and through my ‘In Pretty Print‘ blog, I’ve been ranting/raving throughout its process. It had been a pet project of mine since sixth grade (!). I wrote the story on and off, using it as fodder to make my writing chops stronger in other areas before it went in a drawer or computer folder to be forgotten.

I became so disgusted with it that I prayed if I could get into a writing program that would give me the time to make it into something, I would actually complete it. If not, I would put it away forever. After all, I had other story ideas vying for attention, and I didn’t want to waste my writing on a piece that was going nowhere.

In November 2012, I found a promising MFA that actually responded to my queries. The program was in my state and I could get to its campus by train. The MFA was a hybrid-residency. This meant that for part of the year I’m on campus, meeting with schoolmates, faculty, and staff. For the rest of the term, I would work and submit online under the tutelage of a mentor chosen for me.

The deadline for submission to the program would be the last week in January 2013. By December 2012, I contacted both alma maters for transcripts, typed up a personal statement, and worked on a chapter from the dreaded manuscript to fit the school’s submission guidelines.

And then I prayed again.

I was told that I would receive a response by mid-April. This meant I’d start in summer term.

However, my mother has prescient dreams and when she said I would get into this program, I believed her. When March started, I received a call that I had been accepted!

June 2013 came. A mentor had been chosen for me, which made sense since I wouldn’t be familiar with anyone. Though I’ve been in other writing workshops thanks to my former community college, I felt intimidated by the fact that my chosen mentor was an internationally published horror novelist and I’ve never been a fan of horror though I respect the genre and its devotees.

I was also the only ‘furry’ in my workshop group. Thankfully, it was a small group of six and my mentor, as far as I knew, was not familiar with my genre, yet immediately tackled my chapters with academic gusto and literary fervor.

“It isn’t doggy enough,” he finally said, his German-accent colored after years of living in the U.S.

“I don’t feel the dogginess,” he told me.

I was stumped. What could I do? This had been a story near and dear to me, but after years of publishing other items, I knew that I’d reach critical mass with this piece. It was a dead-end.

“You’ll have to show more canine characteristics. I feel they are humans in fur coats.”

After I picked myself off the floor, my mentor offered several books for my recommended reading. Thankfully, all the titles were anthro and new to me!

The Bear Comes Home is a novel by Rafi Zabor, a jazz musician. The protagonist is an anthropomorphic bear who, with his ‘human handler’, goes from night club to night club playing his alto sax.

Next was the novel Lives of the Monster Dogs by Kirsten Bakis. This story runs more along the lines of The Island of Dr. Moreau with bio-engineered dogs using advanced prostheses to stand and move about upright.

The novel Felidae by Akif Pirincci is considered a crime/detective novel featuring a cat and his human who move into a suburb in Germany. The cat protagonist sets out to solve the mystery when the local cats begin to turn up mutilated and dead.

Paul Auster’s novel Timbuktu is told through the eyes of a dog living with his homeless owner. The dog doesn’t ‘talk’ but is a mild observer. After his owner dies, the dog strikes out alone to find his human’s fabled ‘Timbuktu’.

Last was the screenplay Heart of a Dog by Mikhail Bulgakov, a Russian playwright and satirist. During the Bolshevik-era, a scientist brings home a stray dog. After experimenting, the dog becomes a human man and mayhem ensues.

I tackled the story with a renewed vigor. My mentor also pointed out that I would have to bring about the ideas of race I struggled with to portray what made sense for dogs.

He told me that as NYC has always been culturally diverse, where were the different dogs located in the city? What breeds lived where? With his help, I dug deeper into the story than I’d ever done.

I was so pleased that I requested him for a second term. The program obliged — as a student can be allowed the same mentor twice — and the second semester became even more eye-opening. One particular chapter I swore nearly choked up my mentor. Though I received constructive criticism from classmates whose own works I admired, that day when my mentor explained how profound he felt towards the workshopped chapter and later his beaming feedback to an online assignment, I knew I was on the right track.

This journey began with a community college English professor telling me to consider creative writing, to the creative writing professor who said ‘Continue to write about these talking dogs’, and finally, to my professor/mentor, a published novelist, becoming excited by what I wrote. This is why I’m a writer.

My thesis will be several chapters of a brand-spanking new manuscript. I will have written the best pages I could. After graduation, I plan to continue the novel, with all the lessons that brought me to this moment. This is why I continue to write furry.

Guest post: “Getting More Out of Your Writing” by Donald Jacob Uitvlugt

Getting More Out of Your Writing

by Donald Jacob Uitvlugt

 

Writing is both a craft and an art. There are aspects that cannot be taught; you either have it or you don’t. But plenty of the skills that go into making a good writer can be learned. The general rule of thumb: Writing more leads to writing better.

But what’s the best way to get more writing done? I’ve never been a fan of writing exercises for their own sake. They always strike me as too artificial. Writing is about telling stories. That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t practice your craft. But make your practice work for you. You may even get paid for it.

Here are a few ways I’ve turned what could have been a writing exercise into something more:

 

1) Flash Fiction

Do you need to work on dialogue? Do you want to practice your action scenes? Unsure whether first person or third person POV is right for your story? Flash fiction can be the perfect way to improve your writing through experimentation.

I define flash fiction as any story under 1000 words, though there are markets under 500 words, or even 100-word stories.

There are many advantages to working in such a small scale. In flash fiction, every word counts. Practicing flash fiction can teach you to choose the right word in the right situation. Flash fiction is also great for experimentation. I’ve written flash that are only dialogue or that just paint an impressionistic portrait of a single character. In a rough spot on your novel? Write the worst day your main character ever had, and do it in 500 words.

Flash is all about instant gratification. I’ve written five or more drafts of a 100-word story and still finished in a single day. In the midst of a long project, it can be nice to remember that you can finish a story.

 

2) Short Stories

Longer fiction (say, 2,000 to 7,000 words) has many of the advantages of writing flash fiction while providing additional opportunities in practicing your craft. If flash fiction allows you to experiment and to focus on individual narrative elements, short stories are the place to work on structural features of stories such as pacing and combining scenes into successful sequences.

In the 1930s and 40s, writer in the US often got their start writing for the pulp fiction magazines. Today, print-on-demand anthologies and e-anthologies can serve the same function. You can’t get rich writing for them, but you may be able to buy that Rabbit Valley book you have your eye on.

 

3) Blogs, Forums, and Social Media

One of the goals of the Furry Writers’ Guild is to foster professionalism among furry writers. Professionalism is a broad concept, but one of the things it means is this: You should write at a level that people pay you for what you write.

Money and art are not enemies. The days of noble patronage of the arts are long gone. Even if you are never able to support yourself by your writing, being paid for your writing frees you that little bit more to create more. People show what they think is important by what they will pay for. Take your writing seriously enough to expect to be paid for it.

That said, there are times when it’s perfectly fine to write and not be paid. Or at any rate, not in money. In addition to trying to sell your stories, look for opportunities where your writing can create what might be called social capital.

The age in which we live puts the writer in control of their own destiny in a way like never before. Readers want to connect not just with your stories, but with you and your personal story. Blogs, forums, Twitter and other forms of social media enable you as a writer to connect with people around the world.

But it’s not about shoving your work down their throats. It’s all about building friendships. Take the time to write something people can connect with. Write professionally (e.g. without texting abbreviations), because people will judge you based on how you present yourself online. Put yourself out there, even for free, but do it strategically.

Today’s internet is like a bizarre cocktail party taken to several orders of magnitude. Don’t whore yourself out to anyone who comes along. Find a community where you think you can add to the conversation and focus there. Give more than you take, and at worst you may make some friends. At best, you may find a community of people interested in your work.

And yes, this blog is an effort in practicing what I preach.

 

Links I Find Helpful

I want to conclude by giving a few links I’ve personally found helpful in trying to act on the thoughts I’ve outlined here. My own interest is in speculative fiction (fantasy, horror, science fiction), so there is a definite bias in that direction. Not that these are not strictly furry markets, but in my experience, most people in speculative fiction are very open-minded, so long as the story is told well.

 

Flash Fiction

http://www.microbookends.com/ MicroBookends is a weekly micro fiction contest based on a photo prompt. A very cool community surrounds this group.

http://thecultofme.blogspot.com/ This blog sponsors a monthly flash fiction contest with a significant giftcard prize.

http://specklit.com/ One of the highest paying sites for 100 word stories.

http://www.drabblecast.org/ Home for many weird and wonderful things, including drabbles and great short stories.

 

Short Stories

http://www.ralan.com/ In my humble opinion, your best one-stop site for finding markets to sell speculative fiction.

http://thegrinder.diabolicalplots.com/ When Duotrope became a pay site, The Submissions Grinder became the best free search engine for calls for submission.

http://horrortree.com/ The best on-stop site for horror calls. The calendar view is extremely helpful.

http://thewritersarena.com/ Full disclosure — I’m regularly a judge at this weekly one-on-one writing contest. But if you’re up to the challenge of writing a story under 4000 words in one week on an assigned topic, the Arena can be a lot of fun.

 

Blogs, Et Cetera

https://furrywritersguild.com/

http://www.anthroaquatic.com/forum/index.php

https://twitter.com/FurWritersGuild

You probably know all these links already, but the Furry Writers’ Guild is a perfect example of social media done right. Writers helping other writers not because they’re getting paid but because they want to fill the world with more good stories. Learn from what the guild members do well!

 

Guest post: “Seeing the Road Ahead” by Kyell Gold

Seeing the Road Ahead

by Kyell Gold

 

“Mediocrity knows nothing higher than itself; but talent instantly recognizes genius.”

—Sir Arthur Conan Doyle

 

If you’re only a short way into your writing career and you’re discouraged by how far you have to go, there’s a silver lining: you’re on the right path. Being a writer, or indeed any creative professional, takes people through many stages. Ira Glass has talked about “the gap” that happens when you’ve progressed a little way into your field, far enough to recognize the work of the really good people but not there yourself yet. He talks about the importance of pushing through that gap, and I think anyone starting out in a creative field should watch that video.
 
The above Conan Doyle quotation is one I ran across recently and it struck me as not only another way to look at Ira Glass’s “gap,” but also a way to encourage people who feel stuck there. I think a lot of people starting out in art don’t realize that it takes a certain amount of skill just to be able to evaluate the work of others in your field. When you get to this stage where you’re thinking, “my work will never be as good as these works I admire,” what you may not realize is that you’re already on the way there.

Critiquing is one of the most important skills in writing (and, I think, any art). You have to be able to critique your own work, and the easiest way to develop that skill is to critique the work of others. If you can’t look at a piece and judge its quality, even in a very rough sense, you’re not going to be able to refine your work and make it better; you’re not going to learn from your mistakes and make your next effort even better.

This is hard to do. When you haven’t tried to look at any work objectively, to see what the artist was trying to do and where the flaws are, you see in your own work only the beautiful story that was in your head. When other people look at your work and tell you that your characters are flat or that your dialogue is stiff and unrealistic (or any other critiques), it’s discouraging not (only) because they don’t like it, but because you can’t see those flaws to correct them. It’s like being in that dream where you’re being given a test in a class you can’t remember having taken. In a way, it doesn’t feel fair.

When I read slushpiles for magazines, one of the things that consistently amazed me was how people would send in these terrible submissions, poorly punctuated with grammar and spelling that even most Internet forum posters would cringe at, and they would claim to have read our magazine. I would think, “Seriously? You read our stories and you think this belongs alongside it?” But those people just hadn’t developed the critical faculty yet.

How do you go about this? Discuss writing with other people or read reviews of books from many different sources—friends, professional reviewers, anywhere you can find them. Listen to other people explain critically what’s good and bad about many different pieces of writing and try to understand their views. This is something I still do, because like most things, learning to critique is not something you’re ever done with. Eventually you will develop your own thoughts about what works and doesn’t work, and you will have other beginning writers listening to you.

So if you’re discouraged about the state of your writing (or other art) compared to the people you admire, take heart and keep going. Because you’re on the right path. It’s a long one, but you’re a step closer than you were when you started.

Guest post: “On Tropes and Training Wheels” by Kandrel

On Tropes and Training Wheels

by Kandrel

 

As happens fairly regularly on Twitter (and other social media outlets) I was asked for an opinion. I’m not sure why people are interested in my rambling, but whatever. I like talking, and apparently there are people who like listening. Who am I to complain? In this particular instance, I was asked to provide a list of ‘tropes’ I was aware of in furry literature. ‘Sure!’ I thought. ‘No trouble! Let’s see there’s… Well, and there’s… Um…’The perceptive reader might notice that of course I didn’t have trouble thinking of tropes. No, that was easy. The tough part was thinking of tropes that I haven’t used—or that I even continue to use on a regular basis. Obviously, I couldn’t give them as examples, because then some troll would post examples of me using them and call me a hypocrite. Talk about embarrassing! But I was asked for my opinion, so my opinion I would—by damn—give! So there must be tropes that I don’t use, but that are pretty prominent in furry fiction. It might be a shorter list, but I could definitely provide that.But thinking on it, even those ones that I didn’t use, I could recognize them out of my favorite works as well. The only reason I hadn’t used them is that the opportunity hadn’t arisen yet. It would. If I continued to tell stories (and I can’t see any particular reason why I would stop) I would eventually use them. So what, exactly, are we mocking here?

So I had a sit and a think. Had a hot chocolate. Listened to some music. I let myself cogitate. What exactly was it we were condemning here? Let me make it clear—this was a condemnation. People don’t collect tropes because they think they’re awesome. This isn’t a reader’s group talking about their favorite author’s techniques and tricks. When you hear the word ‘trope’, I’ll bet you that it’s meant derogatively.

Should it be? I mean, I know that I’ve called authors out on it while editing. Multiple times. Hell, I’ve had people rewrite entire sections of story to avoid tropes. It’s the right thing to do. It’s what a proper beta reader and editor would do, right? Right?

Well…

First, I want to have you think about the life-cycle of a storyteller. In the beginning, we’re all imitating the stories we like. Thinking about it now, this is where ‘tropes’ are most important—not because of what we should avoid, but because of what we should use. I mean it. An inexperienced storyteller can use the tropes to hone their art while making passable pieces of fiction. Think of them as training wheels. So here’s one I’m sure you’re all familiar with: “Story opens with furry looking at themselves in a mirror.” You’ll hear experienced authors moan about this. Ugh. Overused. Overplayed. Cheap excuse for an infodump-y description. Well, want to know why it’s a trope? It’s because it works. It’s hard to find a reason for the character to be giving a description of themselves, and even if it’s a trope, at least it’s giving those newbie storytellers a reason to actually do a description.

But just as we’re starting to get more comfortable with the process of writing, we age and we learn and we progress. During the next phase of a storyteller’s life, we’ll slowly recognize those training wheels for what they are. Over the next while, we start to remove them. We become aware of the tropes, and once aware, avoid them. We hunt for ways to fit things into our stories in new and novel ways. Using the example above, instead of a mirror, we look for ways to fit in small titbits of the description into the narrative so the person experiencing the story slowly gets a whole image of the character in their mind. This is more elegant. But remember that trope we’re now avoiding? It trained us. It had us writing descriptions even before we were ‘ready’ to. We’ve described a hundred characters. Sure, we had a bad excuse for doing it, but at least we can write a description. We know what’s important to describe, and we know how to do it with style. And now that we’re learning to do it in an elegant fashion, we’re well prepared. Would we be if it hadn’t been for the training wheels?

This is the phase of a storyteller’s life where you see the most complaints about the tropes. Authors like me who’ve recognized the training wheels for what they are look back at their own stories that used them and shudder. They read other people’s stories, and those tropes immediately pull them out of the story. They edit with a scalpel to excise those tropes from everything they see and read. It’s as if we’re over sensitized to them, because we see how we used to rely on them.

And we look down on the people who still use them, even though we shouldn’t. We’re the too-cool-for-school kids with their eighteen-speed bikes, looking back at the young kids with their training wheels. We’re pointing and laughing from our comfortable older age and greater experience. And the younger or more inexperienced storytellers feel ashamed, because every time they try to remove a trope, they end up falling. Their story gets away from them, or they never find a way to describe the main character, or they end up falling onto a different trope they didn’t even know was a trope until another one of us upperclassmen laugh and point again.

There is a last phase of this life cycle, though. At the end, those of us who’ve spent enough time picking on the little kids finally grow up enough to look back at those training wheels we used to use. We pick them up and roll them over in our hands. They weren’t really bad. They were perfectly functional, we just used them badly. We take a second look and realize there’s actually something beautiful and elegant about them, if we use them just right. We go back to those tropes, and we play with them. We use them to set expectations, then break them. We hide them in our work as jokes, waiting for someone to realize they were just “trope’d” and never knew it. We brazenly base our stories off a well-known trope, but write them in such a way that it feels novel and fresh.

The best part of this story is that it’s a circle. When I write a story that uses one of those tropes in an elegant fashion, new storytellers read my story. ‘Hey, that worked’ they tell themselves. ‘It’s an easy trick! I could do that!’ Then they’ll try to emulate it. They’ll see the training wheels I’ve artfully used, and bolt them inexpertly onto their own story. It’ll work—if only just. It’ll give them an excuse to keep writing. It’ll give them a safe opportunity to learn. It keeps them from falling down.

We know the training wheels are stupid-looking and juvenile. But we’re authors. We’re thinkers and storytellers. We’re the imagineers. Remember that with just the right amount of imagination, a bicycle with two extra wheels could just as easily be called a car.

 

This post first appeared on Kandrel’s blog. You can view the original post here.

Guest post: “5 Tips for Writing Animals” by Jess E. Owen

5 Tips for Writing Animals

by Jess E. Owen

 

I’ll expand that and say, 5 Tips for Writing Animals that Also Help With Writing Fantasy.

After reading some fiction by younger, (or) just newer, fresh and exciting authors, I see some trends. I read around on DeviantArt, Fur Affinity, blogs, new novels, unpublished work and more, and these are some things to keep in mind when writing that may stop a prospective publisher, editor or agent in their tracks. (That was a cliche, see what I did there?)

Keep in mind these are second draft changes. Don’t make your head explode (or worse, stop writing) while you get out a first draft, but once you have a first draft, comb through for things like this.

 

1. Don’t use Human words to describe Animal things.

(In writing fantasy, this translates to: don’t use modern words to describe fantastic things). Example: She ran/flew/leaped as fast as a bullet.  First: Are there bullets in your world? If not, cut it. When writing first drafts, we reach for the easiest metaphors, but they might not fit. If there are bullets in your world, is an animal likely to think of herself in those terms? Probably not. Think of other fast things. What do other animals consider fast? Don’t reach immediately for “cheetah” or “falcon” unless your character is familiar with them. Keep descriptions relative to your character’s experience and things that actually exist in that world. In their world.

“…swifter than the east wind, she soared along the crest of the mountain.”

 
2. Be consistent with names.

Study Erin Hunter and Kathryn Lasky and Clare Bell, the original (and PUBLISHED) animal authors. Their names make sense within the world of the animal. You don’t have to name your animal characters after characteristics (Redfur, Shorttail, Broadwing) although this is fun and you can. If you have a culture (and you should), make sure there is a cultural theme. This is true for fantasy as well. If you’ve taken time to create a culture (and you should), stick to names that are in the same culture too. Don’t have an “Krystalis Moonwater” in the same world as “Chris Jones,” unless one of them is from another dimension. Name inconsistencies like that will stop me from reading. We all have names we love (a personal favorite is “Ian”), but alas, if they don’t fit in the world, they don’t get a place in that story.

 

3. Think about what’s important to the animal.

…and have them notice those things. Little tics that we have as humans aren’t important to animals. They don’t think, “What time is it?” They think, in their own way, “I can’t see after dark. I should hunt now while it’s light.” The gryfons and wolves in my stories are very “human” in their needs and wants, but at the end of the day they’re animals with instincts and urges and limitations set by nature. Do they eat meat, or fruit? Are they more likely to listen for predators, or listen for prey? What do they care for in colors, scents, movement?

 

4. Body language.

Figure out (or research) what different movements mean to your animals. Are you writing a bird culture? A feline culture, or wolf culture? Horses? Something new? I took from both feline and raptor body movements to create gryfon body language that makes sense, and in some cases I made things up. “Mantling” is something eagles and hawks to do protect a kill. It’s also a beautiful gesture and wing display, and so when gryfons bow to a superior in my world, they mantle their wings to show respect. Think about body language and work it in. It’s even more important to feral animals than humans, although 85% of our communication is also non-verbal.

 

5. Animals are people too.

By that I mean of course, if you’re writing animals, you’re really writing people — they must have wants, needs, goals, challenges and setbacks just like any other story. Let us enjoy the animal super powers that we don’t have as humans — flight, super sight, smell and hearing — but when that’s stripped away, make sure you give us an engaging story and a sympathetic hero to root for.

 

Secret tip number 6…. don’t be a slave to reality. There are things that wolves do in my book that real wolves would not do. (Pack size, for instance). Gryfons don’t exist in our world and so there are no rules for them, but they fall somewhere between a lion pride (living in groups), and an eagle culture (a pair mating for life).

Always be respectful of the animals and if you can slip in a fun factual tidbit á la Kathryn Lasky, go for it!  Just remember that we aren’t writing behavioral manuals: we’re writing stories.

Want to see how I handled animal writing + fantasy? Get Song of the Summer King today! ;)

 

 

This post originally appeared on Jess E. Owen’s blog. You can view the original post here. For more about Jess E. Owen and her work, check out her website!