It’s Wednesday, time for another group posting of the Insecure Writer’s Support Group! Time to release our fears to the world – or offer encouragement to those who are feeling neurotic. If you’d like to join us, click on the tab above and sign up. We post the first Wednesday of every month. I encourage everyone to visit at least a dozen new blogs and leave a comment. Your words might be the encouragement someone needs.
What am I feeling insecure about this month? My voice. You hear a lot these days about finding and refining and holding onto your unique ‘writer’s voice’. Writer, Nicole Tourtelot, says, “For me, voice means that the writing has integrity. You’re entirely yourself and no one else could tell your story the way you’re telling it. You’re telling the truth, even if it’s your own particular, weird, wacky truth.”
I like Nicole’s way of putting it. However, what if your own ‘particular, weird, wacky truth’ is through the medium of talking animals? According to the gatekeepers and other industry professionals, anthropomorphic characters are a no-no, because ‘no one’s interested in talking animals’. Yet, why it that nearly every popular cartoon on TV is anthropomorphic? Because kids can relate. These characters break down barriers and free a story.
Right from the earliest times when our human ancestors gathered around the fire in their caves, we’ve told stories. As Terry Pratchett put it so perfectly, ‘Imagination, not intelligence, made us human’. We have a long, ancient history with fables (latin fabula, meaning ‘narrative story’) which generally means fictitious tales, legends and myths; channeling desire towards a kind of fulfilment which aids everyone in the cave.
Fables often contain a moral element forming an integral part, where love and pride and other positive emotions combine to create the best possible result, the ‘waste land’ healed. This ‘moral element’ speaks to the underlying fact that the human heart desires more than just food and shelter and ego satisfaction, it yearns for a sense of belonging, to the tribe, to the Universe, and a sense of worship and peace. In this class is where human thoughts and actions are often portrayed by animals and insects.
When the great Greek philosopher of Athens, Socrates (c.470-399 BC), was in prison, he began committing fables to verse forms. Cicero said of Socrates, “He brought down philosophy from the heavens to earth.” In modern times, we are able to differentiate between fiction and reality. In ancient times, the myths, legends, and fables were believed in a literal way. These animated, animalistic stories gave people meaning, reasons for our being here, the beginnings and endings of things. Fables made sense of a chaotic world. Modern fantasy and in particular, mythology-based, anthropomorphic story-telling, while avowedly fictional still draws upon age-old mythology and fable for its subject matter, and most of its power.
In the reign of Tiberius, a freedman of Augustus, named Phaedrus, worked to translate Aesop’s fables into Latin verse interspersed with his own anecdotes. In the early 3rd century AD, a collection of fables was written by Babrius, a Hellenized Roman, who lived in Syria. These tales were found in a monastery in Mount Athos in 1844.
Then a prose version was written in the tenth century which served as a model for the medieval fabulists. And in 1668-93, the famous French poet, Jean de La Fontaine, published a collection of twelve books called, Fables. In this way, these stories were preserved and handed down from generation to generation. Why? Didn’t anyone tell these vital figures of history that no one wants to read about talking animals?
One of my more modern writing heroes is the wonderful Brian Jacques (pronounced “Jakes”). When I was truly struggling ten or so years ago, with the rejections of my anthropomorphic tales, I met the NZ writer, Lorraine Orman, who recommended I read Jacques’ Redwall series.
I started on book one and I was hooked! I also read up about Jacques, curious to know how such a well-known author had managed to stumble down the same path as myself. I was fascinated to discover that in one of Jacques’ early jobs as a milkman, he used to deliver milk to blind children (at the Royal Wavertree School). To entertain the children, he wrote the Redwall stories, ‘painting pictures with words so the blind children could see them in their imaginations’. Yes, here was my kind of writer!
When asked why he chose to make mice his principal characters, Jacques replied, “Mice are my heroes because, like children, mice are little and have to learn to be courageous and use their wits.”
Along the way over the last thirty five years of my writing animalistic fantasy adventures for children, I’ve been told by publishing houses, editors, and writing assessors, to rewrite my stories with human characters and resubmit if I want a look in the door. So far, I’ve refused. I’m still writing my talking animals. They don’t see what I see. But Brian Jacques did. He said of his characters, “A mouse is small and can go unnoticed: but there is no limit to what a brave heart and a fearless spirit can achieve.”
What about you?
Have you ever gotten lost in the sheer joy of a Redwall book? Have you ever related to a fable as old as human history itself? How do you preserve your unique writing voice? I’d love to hear your thoughts!
Keep on creating…
Yvette K. Carol
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Your intuition knows what to write so get out of the way. ~ Ray Bradbury