Animal Characters

Outtakes 102

Animal Characters

By Cait Collins


I just finished reading Sharon Sala’s romantic suspense novel DON’T CRY FOR ME. I enjoy her novels as she creates believable characters and places them around the Daniel Boone National Forest in the Appalachian Mountains of Kentucky. The terrain is rugged and life can be hard, but the residents eke out a living. Despite the hardships, the mountains are home and the landowners, for the most part, would not choose to leave.

In this story the veteran novelist introduces a non-human secondary character–a wounded black bear. The animal’s character is skillfully developed. Early in the story, we learn the bear carries a broken arrow in its hip. The infected wound alters the bruin’s normal survivor instincts. His fever ravaged body requires the cold waters of the mountain streams. He preys on easy targets as his strength fails. He has killed and feasted on one human and gravely wounded another. The constant need for food forces the animal out of the woods and into a populated area.

The plot-line alone keeps the reader riveted to the action. However, the real attraction is the story as seen through the eyes of the wounded bear. I admire Ms. Sala’s technique. She gets into the animal’s mind just as she does with her human characters. We don’t need a Ranger to tell us how the bear suffered, the creature shows us. We feel his pain, and his fear. When the bear is taken down, I felt relieved because the tortured creature was out of his misery. Yes, I identified with this character.

Accomplishing this feat is not accidental. Ms. Sala is intimately familiar with the geography of the mountains. She knows the terrain, the distances between the preserves and the populated areas. She is aware of the mines and the caves. The vegetation is as much a friend as the flowers in a garden. She researches the wildlife, learns their habits and habitats. In other words, she does her homework.

Even when a writer is familiar with the subject matter, additional background may be necessary. While the Internet gives us easy access to information, developing expert contacts is essential. Invest in the work by visiting the locale and interviewing residents. If panning for gold or mining gems is part of the story, visit a panning site or one of the mines that offers visitors a chance to experience the rigors of mining. Take geography and history classes at your local community college. Use every tool at your disposal to get a handle on the story setting and the backgrounds of the founding families. Yes there is a financial investment, but this should be part of your writing budget. Remember every successful business relies on research and development.



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