Writing from an Animal Character’s Point of View

By: G.G. Hall

About a dozen years ago, I embarked on a journey to write a children’s tale about a rabbit who was a pet, living in a home, and having some big adventures. The novel was to be told from a rabbit’s point of view, including the use of the first person singular. Having worked for 8 years with pet rabbits and various rescued Easter bunnies, I figured it would be a snap to just assume my favorite pet’s character and the words would flow.

I was quite wrong.

It was soon very obvious that in order to think, act, eat and see like a rabbit, you had to really become a rabbit. Since this was obviously impossible unless I found some witch in a castle somewhere who would feed me a potion made of things no one wants to hear about, I would have to come up with a plan B.

My father worked for 30 years as a police officer who investigated crimes- mostly homicides but often armed robberies as well.  In many cases, the culprit was not known and the evidence was limited, so my father devised a method that resulted in solving 30 homicides out of 32. He once simply stated, “Get into the mind of the criminal. Think like he thinks. Sit where he would have sat.” And so, I decided to use his proven method to “get into” the mind of a pet rabbit.

Get into Character

Starting out with many questions, I played the role of “Hershey” and his pals. What does the living room really look like from his perspective? I laid down on the floor and looked around at the couch, coffee table, and the paintings on the wall. The world above is probably very initimidating to a “ground creature” such as a rabbit. Writing down my observations from the “floor perspective,” the story suddenly became easier. Crawl under the couch and find dust balls that were thick and abundant. This would probably make me or any other creature sneeze- so why not write it into the story? But then again, would the rabbit even know what these objects were? What would a large chair or coffee table look like to a small creature? Would he understand paintings of the sky were, in fact, paintings or would he assume they were openings to the real thing?

What’s for Lunch?

Once the surroundings were established, a second task was upon me. Food. I knew very well what my rabbits loved to eat- green stuff, herbs of all kinds and, of course carrots and apples. But how in the world do you describe the taste of their main staple- hay? Obviously it would taste different to a human than a rabbit. So I used my sense of smell to guide my writing. No, I did not eat hay. But I did try cilantro, parsley and dill in order to experience the tastes. Bitter? Sweet? Decadent? Herby? To many rescued rabbits, like my character, these tastes are new when they go to an adoptive home. What emotions would I have in tasting these for the first time?

The Adventure Begins

My third task was the plot, which was to be a series of adventures. What would a rabbit get into? And how would he be able to do these things? I recalled that little bunnies in exercise pens had one great gift. The ability to push off their hind legs and clear the fence. Or, even easier, the same little rabbit could just jump up onto a cardboard box in his pen and take it from there. But my rabbits had another advantage. One of their friends was the pet parrot in the house. So what if the parrot helped them out of the pen by unfastening the clips that held the pen together? Excellent! Escape was much easier and now a team effort. This gave the plot another dimension and added a character that could help the protagonist in many ways.

As the adventures unfolded, again I sat on my floor and studied things such as stairs, Christmas trees, and yes, the refrigerator. In each case, I had to figure out how a mischievous rabbit or two would explore, climb up or open these objects. And what fun it would be to knock over the Christmas tree!

Getting Around

One last obstacle in writing about an animal was locomotion. How did they move? Sometimes they ran and other times they were content to hop. But a very excited happy rabbit would often leap into the air and make a little twist. This hilarious movement was called a “binky” by rabbit people. How would it feel to actually do these things?

 As writers, many of us often have an animal or several as characters. Whether they are the pet of a main character or the main character themselves certainly means that we must do our best and our research to make them as real as possible. Will they talk? Will they only talk to each other? Will they wear clothing, fall in love, cry? What will they do? Who and what are they afraid of?

In sharing all of this, I encourage my fellow writers to explore the possibilities of their animal characters. And when in doubt, well, just lay on the floor. Just don’t eat the hay or the dog biscuits!

Georgiana Hall (“G.G. Hall”) is the author of the novel Hershey- A Tale of a Curious House Rabbit and the sequel, Trouble in the Attic. A retired physics and astronomy professor, she has written numerous editorials which have appeared in USA Today, the Miami Herald and others. She and her rabbit novels were featured in an article by pet columnist Sharon Peters in a USA Today article in January 2011.

She and husband Oren , also a retired professor, share their Colorado springs home with 2 cats, a rabbit and 3 birds. Currently, G.G. is  working on a third Hershey novel as well as several other young adult novels.

How to Write an Animal Charchter