great-blue-heronw-744257_1280Of course animals have inspired some of the most beloved characters in literature — Charlotte, Mr. Toad, the Cat in the Hat. Although my characters are people, I still find animals as writing inspiration.

Because my main character Junior in my YA novel lives in the mountains of West Virginia, he is more attuned to nature than many 16-year-old Americans. This aspect of his personality allows me describe other characters in comparison with animals. This helps my writing in two ways: first, it assists the reader in getting inside the head of my main character, and second, it gives the reader a “handle”, a short description she can grasp quickly.

When Junior says a man reminds him of a giant toad, that’s a handle that immediately carries with it a certain image to each reader.  It also tells the reader something about how Junior thinks of the man.

Animals can inspire human characters in other ways. Where I live, lots of turkey vultures make their home here between March and November. Lots of them. If I spot the outline of a large bird in the sky, 9 out of 10 times it’s a vulture, or buzzard, as I like to call them. I would love to build a minor character on the appearance of a buzzard. A narrow, reddish, bald head protruding from hunched shoulders. The character would have to wear something black and bulky, like a sweater, to imitate feathers.

Or a character based on a great blue heron. I’ve seen many of these on the river near my home. They walked in a stilted gait and can remain so still, that it’s hard to believe they are alive. Then when they see a fish, they flash into action. I can see a very thin character with a very deliberate but awkward way of walking. Also the character would be quiet and still, not drawing attention to herself until she needs to.

Comparing people to birds would be perfect for a main character whose hobby was bird watching. Or if you have a main character who is crazy about dogs, he could see people in those terms. A woman who is “as regal as an Afghan hound” or “beautiful and vacant as an Irish setter.” A small child whose constant questions were “as incessant as the yipping of a Chihuahua.”

How have animals inspired your writing?