I’m a casual bird watcher, and in a SF work-in-progress I’ve included descriptions of several off-world birds, including their habits and song. I was recently editing a chapter that included the description of one of “my” birds while also keeping an eye on several American White Pelicans cruising around the lake.
The pelicans look like barges when they’re not dipping their heads to fish, sailing majestically and without effort past their smaller kin, the Canada Goose. Flying, the pelicans tuck their necks and spread their wings wide, an edge of black feathers accentuating the eight or ten foot wingspan – an exquisite site. Yet a pelican’s ungainly beak, awkward stance on land, and humorous waddle made me wonder how I would “edit” the pelicans if they were my creation, which lead me to the conclusion that I wouldn’t. They are fabulous, fun, and memorable.
I then considered memorable characters from several of my favorite books. Some of these characters are as handsome and sleek as a kestrel, but most are not, and the characters that wring my heart inside-out have to cope with multiple internal flaws or challenges and often a few external ones. Just like the pelicans, memorable characters carry on in spite of their awkward beaks or throat sacs, and frequently because of those beaks or sacs they save the day.
The pelicans reminded me that each character I write, whether hero or villain, needs his own story and character arc, and that loose skin and long, heavy beaks are interesting and appropriate traits for my un-edited pelican, which may be equally appropriate for a character in one of my books. “My” birds can’t all be swans, nor should they be. Hopefully, just like the pelican, each of my characters will be unique unto themselves.
I do think though, that I might just have to give some future character a throat sac.
Would you edit the pelicans?
By Janet Fogg
Janet Fogg is the author of Soliloquy, an award-winning historical romance, and co-author of the military history bestseller, Fogg in the Cockpit.