Rosie Best is here to tell us about how she tackled expressing human thoughts and emotions via animal behavior in her novel SKULK. Be sure to visit the Blog Tour page for other stops on the tour for more interesting articles & Interviews from Rosie!
Read my review of Skulk
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I’ve really enjoyed writing about shapeshifters – it’s a lot of fun to write about people who are very human inside, but temporarily using the bodies of animals. However, until the first time Meg met another shapeshifter and tried to hold a conversation, I didn’t realise that I’d have to come up with almost completely different ways of writing about expressions and emotions.
Writers like to think that we always come up with unique and special ways of describing our characters, but actually if we did that it would get really laboured and tiring to read. If you’re describing a chat between humans with fairly standard bodies, apart from the dialogue, you’ll usually show their emotions through the expressions on their face or the things they do with their hands, maybe the way they stand or sit or interact with the setting they’re in. You don’t want to get repetitive – I know I have a bad habit of relying on eyebrow-movements to convey emotion. On the other hand, if a character smiles at something someone says, there’s no need to go around the houses to trying to find another way to say ‘she smiled’.
Now imagine you’re writing about characters who physically can’t smile and have no opposable thumbs.
Very few of the standard tropes of human expression are applicable to the animal characters I found myself writing about in Skulk. Foxes and rats can kind of smile, but it doesn’t quite feel right. When you’re talking about birds and insects, facial expressions in general are out.
I ended up looking to the animals themselves for solutions. The Skulk weren’t so bad, as I’ve spent time with dogs and had cats growing up, so I’m familiar with the kind of tail-swishing, ground-clawing, curling up, panting, ear-twitching and head-butting that small four-legged mammals go in for. Rats, too, have ears that can flatten back, teeth they can bear and worm-like tails they can use to express themselves.
Ravens were much harder – their faces just aren’t very expressive, so it was all down to flapping, twitching and sharp movements like snapping their beaks and puffing up their feathers.
Probably the biggest challenge was the spiders. Butterflies can at least flutter around and dip their wings meaningfully – all spiders really have is rubbing their legs together and scuttling back and forth. You have to make an awful lot out of each twitch of the mandibles and eye-movement (although at least there are eight of them!).
It’s been a challenge, but actually one I’ve really enjoyed taking on – and one I’m really looking forward to getting stuck into in writing the sequel to Skulk!
When Meg witnesses the dying moments of a shapeshifting fox and is given a beautiful and powerful stone, her life changes forever. She is plunged into the dark world of the Skulk, a group of shapeshifting foxes.
As she learns about the other groups of shapeshifters that lurk around London – the Rabble, the Horde, the Cluster and the Conspiracy – she becomes aware of a deadly threat against all the shapeshifters. They must put aside all their enmity and hostility and fight together to defeat it.