Saturday, July 25, 2015

Bow-wow and Me-oww in Stories

Since Lassie Come Home and Black Beauty, animals have been characters in fiction, but this topic is about using them in stories from the human viewpoint, not the animal's viewpoint. Can animals be characters or are they just part of the plot or setting?

I love animals of all ilk, even spiders...when they're outdoors with other nefarious insects, not in the house, please. That goes for mice, rats, snakes, and other pests considered vermin indoors. But I'm not talking about those types of animals, and yes, they have their place and purpose and may appear in stories for similar reasons. Nothing is worse than being hunted in the dark by an animal with night vision, enhanced hearing and scent detection that has lost its fear of humankind. And remember, it was a flood of rats covered with fleas that wiped out a third of the human population with bubonic plague in the Middle Ages. So an animal's presence in a story isn't always a warm, cuddly, or fun feature, but I love encountering them in stories.

Characters carry out the plotline in stories. That's stating the obvious, I know. Named characters are important ones, unnamed ones are usually part of the setting or placeholders referred to by their profession, sex, or species: policeman, nurse, doctor, saleswoman, doorman, woman, man, dog or Siamese cat. Even in English grammar, it explains if an animal is named, its pronoun becomes he or she (a character), if unnamed, it is called it (a placeholder).

BB is watching you, and she is as fast as her name.
A human character owning many pets shows something about that character, but not about the pets. A character's treatment of an animal or pet tells the reader many significant things about that person's good or evil tendencies. A trained police dog or service animal with their human partner, on the other hand, takes on the aspect of a character—they have personality and a definite function within the story.

Often pets in family situation stories become part of the family, so they become characters and often perform important functions in the story. Characters who have become isolated for one reason or another might have animals as companions that become more important to them than any human, which happens in my story Acceptance. The protagonists, Kissre, is estranged from her human family. As a mercenary in a Renaissance typesetting, her horse and her dog are her family. Both animals have important functions within the plot, too.

I use animals as characters because if you own pets, you know they already are characters. Each one’s personality is slightly different from the other. Pets can be great secondary characters, both for good and evil purposes. Dogs and cats, even horses, can make a person laugh, sigh in comfort, feel compassion, or fear for personal safety. They are entertaining, encouraging, loyal and non-judgmental. They usually are not inherently evil unless misused by humans, a situation that can cause intense tension in a story, so pets are good at showing the best and sometimes the worst in their human counterparts.

In reality, dogs and cats are often used for their mental healing capabilities, reaching people sunk into their own minds because of trauma or age, people tuned out on worldly matters. A pet animal can sometimes return these lost souls to themselves even if only temporarily. Maybe physically, too. Recent investigative studies show that the resonate waves of a cat’s purr can heal bones and muscles—as reported in Scientific American. Wouldn’t that make an interesting character in a science fiction or fantasy story?

This article is an animal lover's opinion on animals in fiction, but science is proving animals are not the purely unthinking instinct-driven disposable-if-humans-so-desire creatures. Studies are showing they are more intelligent than many people want to believe. Besides, instinct still drives humans as no condescending name-calling about stupid animals, hear?

The following authors are also covering this topic on their blogs. Please check out what each author has to say.
Skye Taylor
Beverley Bateman
Victoria Chatham
Connie Vines
Margaret Fieland
Rachael Kosinski
Kay Sisk
Judith Copek
Marci Baun
Diane Bator
Anne Stenhouse

Tuesday, July 14, 2015

All Things Thirteen

Do you think thirteen a  lucky or unlucky number? It goes both ways. Many people get hung up on thirteen—fear it, avoid it—we still have buildings without a floor labeled thirteen as if jumping from twelve to fourteen changes the reality. The Roman calendar had one day each month called the Ides (Beware the Ides!) which in most months fell on the thirteenth — so maybe this wariness about the number goes way back in time. Yet, the U.S. was founded on thirteen colonies and our national seal is full of 13 representations, so shouldn't this be a lucky number?

Words for Thirteen 
Cardinal: Thirteen
Hindu-Arabic: 13
Roman: XIII
13 has no divisors

Roman: tredecim (thirteen), tertius decimus (thirteenth)
Greek:  dekatria and as a prefix triskaideca-

Time and Holiday Associations:
Friday 13 – a day of bad luck sometimes tied to the Last Supper where thirteen individuals were present which lead to the Crucifixion on the following Sunday, and sometimes said to have started when King Philip IV of France in an apparent wealth grab had the Templar Grand Master and many of his high ranking Templars arrested on October 13, 1307. This led to the torture and burning of those arrested and the ultimate end of the Templars. Friday the 13th is an unlucky day to most in the Western world. Some even have a fear of the number thirteen, triskaidekaphobia (tris-kay-dek-ah-fobia). Who thinks these words up? That's just as scary. It's made up of Greek numbers 3 and 10. And to mix thirteen with Friday? Read this article.

However, not everyone considers Friday the 13th unlucky. Triskaidekaphils also exist. This might include everyone at Colgate University in Hamilton, New York, whose 13 founders started the institution in 1819.

Science, Technology, Measurement:
  • Baker’s dozen, long dozen, devil’s dozen
  • Aluminum (Al) thirteen element in the periodic table 
  • Thirteen-hundred hours (1 PM)
  • Title 13 of U.S. Code outlines purposes of US Census Bureau
Social, Family and Religious References:
  • Teenage years begin at thirteen
  • In Japan, Friday the 13 is considered an exceptionally lucky day
  • Egyptians held 13 as a lucky number. It represents the final steps of the stages of earthly existence.
  • British sailors refuse to put to sea on the 13th of any month.
  • There are thirteen Buddhas in the Indian Pantheon
  • Twelve Disciples plus Jesus at Last Supper equals 13 participants
  • 13 mystical discs surmount Chinese and Indian pagodas
  • The hilt of the sacred sword in the Temple of Atsusa in Japan is formed of thirteen objects of mystery
  • Thirteen is the sacred number of the Mexican snake gods.
  • Friday, October 13, 1775, the Continental Congress voted in Philadelphia to fit out two sailing vessels, armed with ten carriage guns, as well as swivel guns, and manned by crews of eighty, and to send them out on a cruise of three months to intercept transports carrying munitions and stores to the British army in America. The Continental Navy grew out of this legislation and as such, it constitutes the birth certificate of the navy. 
Tarot Divination: Card thirteen is the Death card representing transformation, change, or destruction followed by renewal. So, okay, death is to be avoided as much as is the number thirteen, but in this instance death isn't always dying, but change.

More Thirteen Associations:
  • 13 original American colonies
  • 13 stripes on U.S. flag (original flag also held 13 stars)
  • US National Seal: 13 levels on the pyramid on seal's backside; 13 stars on emblem over the eagle which holds olive branches with 13 leaves, and 13 olives and in the other claw, 13 arrows; eagle covered by shield with 13 strips and the mottos "e Pluribus Unum" and "annuit cœptis" each have 13 letters. Well, there were 13 colonies!
  • Thirteen is widely used in the occult and is a fatalistic number of great power.
  • With the spread of the early Christian Church, it became widely known that thirteen people dined at the last supper. By implication, it would be unlucky for thirteen to eat together as one of their numbers might die before the year was out.
  • Thirteen represents transcendence from body existence to spiritual existence.
  • It is the number associated with necromancy.
  • Thirteen is the number of immortality (Christ plus 12 disciples) 
  • Apollo 13, on the journey to the moon, is famous for "Huston, we have a problem." 
Games, sports:
  • In card decks, the King is the thirteen card  
  • Friday the Thirteenth—movies
  • Ocean's Thirteen—movie
  • Thirteen, 13—the title of many books and movies
  • Apollo 13—movie