Monday, April 25, 2011

Character, Inanimates and Animals

When we think of characters in stories, we think of people--Tom Joad, Ashley Wilkes, Dorothy Gale, Little Bo Peep, Luke Skywalker.

However, characters can also be things or animals.

If a thing or an animal is given human traits it becomes a character in a story.

Remember the scene in the movie "Backdraft" where the De Nero character explains to the Baldwin character as they watch a flame make its way up a wall that fire "thinks" and "moves" in an intellectual way? In this scene, the fire is a character because it is behaving in a human manner--thinking and moving with intent.

Helen Hunt's character in "Twister" believes a tornado behaves like a thinking entity. "You've never seen it come after you," she says at one point to the Bill Paxton character. He replies, "Is that what you think it did?"

Though it is completely irrational to believe a twister or a fire can think or behave in any way other than what its physical properties will allow, giving human characteristics to inanimate objects can increase the intensity in a story line, just as it did in "Backdraft" and "Twister"--as though those favorite movies weren't intense enough without the use of anthropomorphism.

Authors frequently use animals as characters in their stories. Pets can add humor to plot lines, provide a friend to a lonely protagonist or behave in a heroic way.

And don't we love it when we see a favorite animal behave as though he has reasoned a solution to a problem, fallen in love with someone or something or behaved in some other way unique to human beings? We must, because stories featuring animals as lead characters can be found in many books and movies.

When plotting a story, it's a good idea for writers to consider all possible characters who might add something positive or negative to their fictional tales--even inanimate objects and animals.


Fran Shaff, Award-Winning Author

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