Of Flights and Fins

With grief out of the way (see this), you may want to express anger, humiliation or betrayal through your writing. The direct and active voice of a character ranting, or blaming another, finds its way into literature the same way it does on streets and parliaments. For me, that’s a bit repulsive unless cleverly camouflaged. I’d rather read about an angry creature, perhaps a scheming cat or a dog. But then, domesticated animals are commonly portrayed as loving or suffering creatures, not necessarily aggressive. It helps to characterize them as such. The presence of a pet in a narrative is, kind of, disarming, often balancing other difficult situations in which the characters finds themselves.

Many writers use creatures from the animal and plant kingdom out in the wild as vehicles to express emotional turbulences. Herein, comes the argument of anthropocentrism versus a storyteller’s anthropomorphism. Ontological anthropocentrism assumes that all other creatures are merely a resource for humankind. but creating sympathetic characters that communicate and participate in relationships in the only way the storyteller fully understands, as a human, even if these character-lives do not reflect ecological reality, is something that merits spotlighting.

In this blogpost, I’ll discuss the special case of this type of stories. Humans experiencing emotions of anger, betrayal or humiliation through other creatures. Let’s first take the example of fishes in particular.

Consider Rosaleen Lynch’s this story that won the Oxford FF Prize 2021. With its pace and lush language, as judge Adam Lowe says, it merits a re-reading. See how the perfect atmospheric tone is created with sardines, mermaids, scales, sailors, pirates.

I love how Nuala O’Connor gives in to ‘marine freshness’ in this story in Cease, Cows. The title “Blue” electrifies the narrative: “The blues waver before me: sky, sea, the aqua of beloved eyes.” Notice the way the story moves, imitating a fish, flexing its body and tail back and forth, slick, and through to the end.

‘Birds’ in flash fiction are favorites, symbolizing the desire to escape. freedom, and wishing to fly. Also used to signify caging of emotions, clipping of wings, hunting down and so on. It fascinates me how their plumage, calls and nests offer themselves to narrative metaphors.

Delving away from the usual portrayal, I used characteristics of a melange of birds (kingfisher, cuckoo, nightingale) for this story about domestic abuse which was published by Nightingale & Sparrow (Melody Issue).

Recently, I was reading about the regal-crowned Hoopoe. Such a pretty bird but not represented well; instead, equated with filth because of its habits. I wrote this story representing them as workers condemned to menial jobs for lack of better employment, which came naturally to express the anguish of people around me. Published by Gone Lawn, it uses hoopoe’s call, the bird’s distinct behavioural and breeding pattern, to drive home the point.

I’ll leave you to ruminate how your story needs a creature to express it best, and I’ll go find mine!

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