Friday, 17 February 2017

Using animals as a basis for human characters, by Elizabeth Kay


I’m often asked how to invent a human character. Of course, you can use someone you know, or a facet of yourself. But sometimes that simply won’t fit, and you’re floundering around for inspiration. Really memorable characters aren’t just about outward appearance, they’re about personality and motivation and idiosyncracies. Appearance is important, though, and we all know that people are meant to grow to look like their dogs… You can be quite subtle about it, or completely blatant, as in this line from my book The Divide:

Tansy always reminds me of a stabber-bird, thought Betony, with her long nose and her snaky neck.

And it’s fairly clear that this imaginary bird in a magical dimension was based on one from our own world.

So here are a few ideas for animals you could use, taken from my own photographs.



The crane hawk - an elegant and efficient killer

The Gorilla - a family-minded gentle giant

The tortoise - a thick-skinned survivor


The chameleon - slow and thoughtful, but adapts to whatever.
The Curassow - always has a mad hair day


The lynx - a lazy sunbather with teeth and claws.


The Crab - tackles things sideways-on.


The Crane Hawk

Always clean, smart and well-dressed. It's extremely difficult to work out what he's thinking, but he can be ruthless and kills swiftly and efficiently. Has a surprisingly melodious voice, a real smoothie. A good model for a hit-man.

The Gorilla

Much maligned in the past, but now shown to be a gentle giant who is very fond of his family. Only ever roused to anger in defence of his loved ones. A bit hairy, with a brooding expression, but a real softie. A prime example of someone who gets framed for someone else's crime.

The Tortoise

A figure of fun due to his slow and ponderous gait and thick-skinned personality. Although vegetarian he can nip with his little beak-like mouth. However, he is a survivor and can reach a grand old age. A good candidate for an old retainer, or the elderly lord of the manor.

The Chameleon

Well-known for her ability to blend in with her surroundings. Moves slowly and deliberately, but can strike with that tongue of hers at lightning speed. She can be extremely attractive, as she wears colourful and beautifully-designed clothing. She would make a good socialite.

The Lynx

Rather fond of sunbathing, and likes a lengthy and lazy afternoon nap. Known for her sharp hearing, and beautiful eyes. Don't be fooled by her long legs and her fur coat, though. She's a killer, and can't be trusted with anything small and vulnerable. She's also rather randy when the mood takes her, and strikes me as a bit of a good-time girl.

The Curassow

Always the first with a new and outrageous hairstyle, which doesn't really conceal the empty head beneath. Rather fond of fruit, and always wears black. A party animal if ever there was one, but can easily get herself into scrapes.

The Sally Lightfoot Crab

Wears the gaudiest of clothes, eats just about anything, and has a distinctly sideways-on approach to life. Very nimble and agile, Pretty sociable when young, but become a lot more solitary and crusty as they age. Might make a good disillusioned old dandy.


Of course, there are many more animals you can find for yourself. Have fun!

3 comments:

Wendy Jones said...

Fascinating insights. I love the way you describe the human attributes of each animal. I'm going to try a few of my own.

Enid Richemont said...

Oh I loved this post. Tried to identify myself, and came to the conclusion I'm a hybrid.

Elizabeth Kay said...

A hybrid of what, though Enid?