Sun
Aug 1 2010 4:49pm
There Can Be Only— Oh. Oops. Never Mind.

Animals of the world! Stand up and represent!

What, you say? No opposable thumbs? Language barrier? Logistics issues?

All right, then. It’s time to do it for you. Right here, right now.

Although maybe I should narrow that down. Between oil spills, climate change, and habitat destruction, the need is maybe a little overwhelming for one blog. So, let’s stick to:

Animals of paranormal fiction.

Here’s the really cool thing about being a writer—especially about being a paranormal writer. In order to create the most exciting stories possible, we have the chance to romanticize; we can build on paranormal themes to create animalistic more-than-human and other-than-human realities. The human-plus, in our own vision...

(This, as it happens, is really fun.)

You’d think that gives us a certain carte blanche—our own realities are what they are, right? If we want our animal-based human-plus to act a certain way, move a certain way, be a certain way...why, then, so it is. Right? The societal structures, the underlying behaviors...convenience trumps reality. When it comes to alpha wolves, There Can Be Only One. When it comes to big cats...well, a cat is a cat. What you think you know is as good as what you really know. Right?

Eh.

Maybe not.

The thing is this: Our created realities, in order to sustain themselves, must be built on the best possible truth.

And our created realities, in order to help sustain the very real life elements that appeal to us, also must be built on the best possible truth.

So that makes it kind of a win-win, and worth our while to pay attention to what that truth is.

It isn’t always, for instance, what everyone “knows” it is. Or assumes it is. Or just figures they can fake what it is. It isn’t (again, for instance) that wolf packs are ruled by a single alpha. Or that strict social structures keep all the little betas in line, each little wolf in a specific pecking order. (That really does work with chickens, though!)

As it happens, that particular outdated wolfie understanding, based on flawed studies conducted under artificial circumstances, has been repudiated even by the man who formed it. (Surprise!)

There are of course dominant personalities in wolf groupings—the whole study isn’t hoo-ha—but the social interactions are far more malleable than a simple pecking order. So it is the inflexibility of the model that holds flaws, but that very inflexibility has turned into the most common understanding. The thing we all know...the thing we expect.

The endemic common understanding we then also tend to accept as reality.

*insert game show Buzzer of Doom*

But! The truth is, the strict dominance and alpha conventions are pretty darned convenient in dramatic fiction, especially one that focuses on relationships. You won’t find me advocating their complete demise. At the same time, I think it’s worth building those elements thoughtfully—knowing exactly when a book’s reality diverges from those elements on which it might be based, and integrating the two with care. It does, I think, do honor to both the wolf and the new reality.

That was the easy example—the one with instant resonation power. But wolves aren’t the only ones taken for granted—don’t even talk to me about horses. Or those big cats, who really aren’t interchangeable at all. By not getting it right, we miss out on the luxury of exploring these creatures for who they really are...knowing how they fit into our real world, and how delicate that balance can be.

Knowing why we care enough to speak for them when the moment comes.

The other thing about integrating truth is that it’s fun. When the real animal gets to come through to affect the human, it adds spark to the character and to the story. It adds the unpredictable...and the charming.

My favorite scenes—both reading and writing—are the ones where it’s obvious the animal within the characters are influencing their behavior. Not with the obvious power dynamics or strength or posturing, but the quiet things. The impulse to chase, to pounce; the subtle shift of body language and expression. It’s the reason I reread favorite scenes...and the place where we—readers and writers—have the chance to connect to elements of nature we might not ordinarily have the chance to touch.

If, at this point, you’re secretly (or not so secretly), thinking, “Oh, please! Lighten up! It’s fiction/fun/made up!” Well, it is fiction; it is fun.  And it ought to be!

But at the same time,  it matters—and I’m glad of it.

Image from SixthWorld Wiki


Doranna Durgin (find her on Facebook or Wordplay) responded to all early injunctions to “put down that book/notebook and go outside to play” by climbing trees to read & write. Such quirkiness of spirit has led to an eclectic publishing journey, spanning genres and form over 30 novels to include mystery, SF/F, action-romance, paranormal, franchise, and a slew of essays and short stories, the latest of which are the Nocturne Sentinels series and the single title series kicked off with The Reckoners.

But after all that, mostly she still prefers to hang around outside her New Mexico mountain home with the animals, riding dressage on her Lipizzan and training for performance sports with the dogs. She doesn't believe so much in mastering the beast within, but in channeling its power. For good or bad has yet to be decided...

This article is part of Paranormal Romance and Urban Fantasy Month: ‹ previous | index | next ›
5 comments
Alex Brown
3. AlexBrown
Here here! I'm getting really tired of animals in fiction always adhering to antiquated and outdated behavioral concepts. Besides, just because you're writing about something that exists in the real world doesn't mean you have to stick entirely to real world perceptions. There's another way of looking at things, obvs, otherwise why would we be writing/reading fantasy? So why not extend that to all aspects of the genre?
mityorkie
4. mityorkie
The Shadow Chaser by Dylan Birtolo is an urban fantasy chock full of this kind of animal-behavior imagery.
mityorkie
5. Dorannadmd
Milo, the thing is, if we're not writing to factual real world knowledge (as opposed to perceptions), then I think it's important to make that clear. (And I don't mean by lecturing exposition. There are ways!*) I also think it's important to respect that the reason animals in fantasy have such resonance is that people do want to feel that connection to what they really are. Aliens or new creatures, now...a whole 'nother story...

*In fact, oooh...I could have a lot of fun with that...

Excuse me. Must scribble.

(Doggone BBS won't let me post with my own name. Says I'm already here. Well, yes! It's ME!)
mityorkie
6. BlogPatty
"and the place where we—readers and writers—have the chance to connect to elements of nature we might not ordinarily have the chance to touch."

Even without going into paranormal fantasy, this idea seems like a key to writing that involves anything in the natural world--being able to to find what it is that links natural phenomena to us or to the characters of a story, emotionally or even physically....Just started reading Out Stealing Horses by Per Petterson, and his landscape descriptions work in this way. And now, Imust get back to...grading papers....
mityorkie
7. Dorannadmd
Patty--couldn't agree more! (Except for the grading papers part.)

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