Saturday, May 07, 2011

Writing Exercise 15: How Fables Can Help Your Characters


A fable is a succinct story, in prose or verse, that features animals, mythical creatures, plants, inanimate objects, or forces of nature which are given human qualities, and that illustrates a moral. (by Wikipedia)

Some might say, the time for fables is gone. But they can also be a wonderful tool to work out your own characters. In addition you can use the 'story's moral' as a guideline for working on your plot. The simplicity of fables makes you think over the basic structure of characters. Add an 'animal' to your character's image and it can help you to stay true to the character. True to the motto 'A clever fox would never to that!' you can avoid unbelievable actions or unsuitable characteristics.

Take your favorite book or the book you're currently reading or any kind of book. Create a list of the main characters. Ask yourself, which animal would suit to those main characters. You can add to your list, which animal would be the complete opposite of characteristics.

Then, mull over the plot and try to find, which moral the story could have.

I tell you, I had to nibble on that task. I better have claimed that 'Robin Hood' is one of my favorite books, because thankfully Walt Disney was already so nice to create the fable version. While reading the challenge I had instantly think on that movie! Oo-de-lally!

*sigh* But that would have been too easy, right?!?

You know, I've come to the cognizance, that it's NOT so easy, to press actual novels into the fable's scheme! At least I had quite some difficulties! But then a couple of days ago, I've started rereading a classic and it was surprisingly easy: 'The Count Of Monte Christo':

Edmond Dantes = lamb
As sailor, young and innocent, naively and defenselessly set out to the bad intrigues of his so called friends. He stays a sheep, but during his imprisonment he develops his inner wolf. That's what he is in the rest of the plot: a wolf in sheep's clothing.

Mercedes = lamb
Edmonds fiancée, she's beautiful as well as young and innocent.

Monsieur Morrel = badger
Ship owner and Edmonds employer, calm, eager, good at heart.

Caderousse = madge
The greedy neighbor, who grabs everything shiny, even when it doesn't belong to him, later on his greed becomes his doom.

Fernand = peacock
Mercedes' cousin, later husband, conceited, more illusion than reality.

deVillefort = lion
The prosecutor, proud and mighty because of his position and also dangerous, when somebody gets in his way and danger his reputation or his professional ambitions.

Abbe Faria = owl
The wise man in prison, teaching Edmond everything.

Luigi Vampa = fox
A robber and bandit, clever and sly.

Jacopo = dog
Edmond's reliable companion, the only one who sometimes carefully dares to speak as his conscience and remembers him on his own humanity.

Now, speaking of the story's moral:
  • Revenge is best served cold, but it soothes your pain only to a certain degree.
  • Every action has consequences, even when we become aware of them years and years later.
  • For some experiences there is no healing und no happy end (even if all the movies make you believe, the book doesn't have such an end!).


  • May 07, 2011 9:25 PM

    Your morals for the Count of Monte Cristo are absolutely right on the mark!

    I like the idea of adding an animal to a character's personality to keep them true to themselves. It's like the (native) Indians using a spirit guide or totem.

    It's pretty easy to apply this to the book I'm currently reading - it's full of shape-shifters so their inner animals are pretty obvious! :-)

  • May 07, 2011 10:10 PM

    Lucky you with your current book ... have you ever tried to put the characters of Twilight or BDB or Harry Potter into animals ... well, maybe Harry Potter could be easier, because of their Patronusses (is that the plural or Patroni?)! And what about something more complex like a 'Pillars of the Earth' or a Dan Brown book! *sigh*

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