Good morning! Ready to think like a dog for today’s quick write?
Our guest author is Dayna Lorentz, the author of the Dogs of the Drowned City series (Scholastic) and the No Safety in Numbers trilogy (Dial/Kathy Dawson Books). She holds an MFA in Creative Writing and Literature from Bennington College. A former attorney, Dayna is now a full-time writer and lives with her husband, two kids, and dogs in Vermont. If you ask nicely, she will show you the proper way to eat a cupcake. Visit her at www.daynalorentz.com. Check out the thrilling book trailer for No Safety at NoSafetyinNumbersBooks.com.
Writing from a Dog’s-Eye-View of the World
My first series, Dogs of the Drowned City (Scholastic 2012), is an animal fantasy adventure series for middle grade readers, and is told from the point of view of Shep, a German shepherd dog. The biggest challenge I faced in writing this series was trying to capture how Shep—as opposed to a human (a/k/a me)—perceives the world. I wanted to create for readers the world of the story as Shep and my other dog characters experienced it. To do this, I focused on three things.
First, I tried to describe everything using a dog’s primary senses: smell and sound, then sight. This is really hard for a sight-dependent human like me! It means talking about what the grass smells like and how it whispers as it moves in the wind before talking about the fact that it’s green.
Second, I had to think about the human world from a dog’s point of view. This meant figuring out what would most interest a dog in the human world. I guessed smelly things like socks and leftovers. I also had to think about how a dog might describe human things that are totally alien to them, like vacuum cleaners. (During school visits, I ask kids to come up with their own descriptions for a vacuum cleaner. Shep calls them “floor suckers.”)
Finally, I changed the language I used in the book to reflect how I thought a dog would talk. I made up dog idioms and sayings, and tried to put a doggy spin on my descriptions, such as describing daybreak as “the tails of dawn wagging in the sky.”
These steps forced me to get out of my own, limited point of view and put myself into the limited point of view of another person/dog, an exercise that can be helpful even if you’re not writing from the viewpoint of a different species. I found that I had to do similar, though perhaps not as extreme, exercises when writing my YA trilogy, No Safety in Numbers (Dial 2012): How would this particular character describe the smell of the food court at the mall? What things would she notice that maybe I wouldn’t?
So, getting to the writing prompt: I’m going to give you two! If you’d like to take a break from your work-in-progress and think like a dog for a little while, try this out:
The first Dogs of the Drowned City book, The Storm, is about a pack of pets trying to survive a super storm that wipes out Miami. A lot of my research, therefore, focused on Hurricane Katrina and the thousands of pets left stranded in the city when people were evacuated and told they could not bring their furry family members with them. This picture is one of the many I found of those Katrina Dogs.
Write a scene from the point of view of one of the dogs pictured above. Focus on making the scene as doggy as possible. Try employing these tricks:
- Describe things smell first, then sight
- Though a dog’s eyesight is far better than a human’s, a dog sees in a limited palate of colors, mostly yellow or blue, so these dogs would not, for example, talk about the bright red sedan submerged across the street from them.
- As a dog, you have four paws — use them!
- Dogs can communicate in many different ways. They bark and growl, but also use their ears, tails, and stance to signal how they’re feeling.
If you’re deeply submerged in your work-in-progress and don’t want to surface, try taking a scene, maybe the scene you’re working on, and list all the ways in which you would describe and talk about your surroundings. Then make a separate list for how your character would describe and talk about those same things. How are they the same? Should they be the same, or have you missed an opportunity to move the story further from yourself and into the space of your character? Think about the metaphors you’re using—are they yours or the character’s? One of my characters in No Safety is VERY different from me. With him, I wrote his chapters, then went back and edited all the sentences to make them less complex, and took out all the metaphorical language because that just wasn’t him—it was me talking about him and his situation, but not really being him in that situation.
Happy writing! As always, feel free to share a few lines of today’s writing in the comments if you’d like!