anthropomorphic characters: a.k.a. talking animals

Let me clear up a myth about talking animals. You might have heard it before. “You shouldn’t write about talking animals. That’s a big no-no.” Yet you see hundred of books come out, starring them. What gives?

According to some, talking animals are hard to do. So? What if you’re a natural at it? Does that mean you shouldn’t write them? (Snoop says, “Heck no!”) There is one word of caution though when it comes to writing novel-length talking animal books. Finding an editor or agent who will openly admit they like to work with novel-length talking animal books is difficult. They RARELY advertise their secret love for yapping giraffes because so many anthropomorphic stories are written poorly. BUT if this is your passion, you must write your book anyway. And be on a serious lookout for editors/agents who have worked with them before.

I also think a lot of people get caught up on the “no talking animal” rule when it comes to picture books since a ton of PBs feature animals. But have no fear. If your characters must have four legs, write away. Most editors (if their house publishes talking animal books) won’t even blink when they see you’ve written something about an alligator who’s lost his wooby. Or you may leave the text open-ended and the editor can decide if she wants to make the children humans or reptiles. But please don’t stop yourself from writing stories with animals in them because you read or heard that was a no-no. Write what you love to write and write it as well as you would any book.

[Read my story, I dared to write a talking animal book->I dared to write a talking animal book] if you like to be entertained.

19 thoughts on “anthropomorphic characters: a.k.a. talking animals

  1. I have written for children for many years, always using animal characters. Most of these have taken human characteristics. I have found over the years that I have been disuaded by most readings on the internet that writing with such roles is a big turn-off. How is this reflected in todays market when books like Harry Potter have taken over the reading market? Any advice would be greatly received.

    thank you

  2. The answer is, it’s not! When people say, “Don’t write about talking animals because nobody wants them,” they’re simply mistaken. I heard this, too, when I began and it horrifies me to think that people are still spreading this rumor.



    The reason anthropomorphic characters in particular are so often scorned is because so many novice writers think they can write these kinds of stories. Seriously, practically everyone thinks writing a talking animal book is a cinch. But here’s the truth: it takes a lot more than making the animal talk to write a good talking animal story. It has to be convincing. Any fantasy story has to be convincing. Many people don’t know how to make their talking animal stories convincing. So a zillion manuscripts get rejected with talking animals in them simply because they’re not good. Then these writers or advice-givers then assume that editors don’t want talking animal stories.

    The reality is this. If you can write talking animals well, you only face a slightly harder market than if you wrote only realistic fiction simply because there are fewer editors who like to do fantasy of any sort, talking animals included. That’s the only thing I’d say to you about what to expect when you pitch your manuscript.

    So don’t let the naysayers dissuade you. Publishers buy manuscripts featuring talking animals in TODAY’s market. The proof, as you have so wisely observed, is right there on the shelves. However, make sure you understand what it takes to make a talking animal book *good* if you want a shot at selling your own books.

    That’s the key.
    Write on!

  3. Thanks so much for your encouraging words about talking animal stories. I simply love writing anthropomorphic animal stories! Can you suggest any publishing houses that welcome talking animal novels from first time authors, (for kids ranging in age from about 6 to 13, depending on reading level)?

    1. Hi Saleema,

      Checking the CWIM (Children’s Writer’s and Illustrator’s Market book) will help a great deal. There is an index which lists publishers who take animal stories. The index also lists publishers by book type as well (e.g., middle grade, picture book, etc.)

  4. I’m not sure if there are any who would specifically cater for writers of anthropomorphic stories. They still seem taboo.

    I live in Ireland, which does not cater at all for anthropomorphic stories so I have found that sending them to UK publishers may be the only option.

    Try the Children’s Writers & Illustrators Yearbook. It has great advice.

    Also, check out my website: I’d love to get some feedback from a fellow author. Look forward to hearing from you.

    Fiona Griffin.

    1. Hi Fiona, I am not at all familiar with the market in Ireland (I am speaking for the U.S. market.) In the U.S., the best publisher listing guide is the CWIM. Good luck with your stuff, Fiona! Selling a talking animal story can be a challenge, but if it meets a publisher’s needs, it can be published!

      Take care,

  5. Hello Cynthea,

    I hope 2009 has started well for you.

    Your words of encouragement have spurred me into a writing frenzy over the festive season. I wrote two stories in a fortnight. (I am not working, so plenty of time)

    One question I have has been preying on my mind. Although the CWIM is an excellent reference, it does not give advice on the layout and wording of query letters when submitting work. My only other source was google which gives many conflicting opinions.

    Any advice always gratefully received.


  6. One other obstacle I encountered today was at the post office. I have read often in reference books that it is preferable with publishers to pay for return postage when submitting manuscripts. I cannot offer this unless I send a cheque. Is it always necessary to do so?


  7. Fiona, because you live in a foreign country, please include an IRC in the value of the stamps needed, along with a self-addressed envelope for the publisher’s reply. (If you wish the publisher to discard your manuscript to save on postage, simply write “please discard ms” on the back of the envelope so it is easily spotted by the person stuffing the envelope.

    An IRC is an international reply coupon which eliminates the need to purchase stamps in the originating country’s currency.

    And yes, it is considered proper etiquette to pay for the return postage for the publisher’s reply to you. Do not submit a manuscript to a US publisher without paying for the return postage for their response. For you, that would be an IRC.

    Some publishers, however, do not require return postage because they do not reply to rejected submissions. This is rare, though. So as standard practice, include an IRC and a self-addresed envelope with your submissions. Hope that helps!

  8. And there lies my problem!

    As I mentioned, at the post office, I queried the purchase of an IRC and apparently Ireland has ceased selling IRC. The postmaster said all I could do was send payment for return of post along with the empty envelope.

    Would this be advisable? Otherwise, I have no way of knowing if I will get any correspondence. Some publishers take email, but is this proper etiquette?

    Thanks in advance.


  9. This would NOT be advisable. No editor wants the hassle of having to deal with someone’s personal check. Or cash.

    If this were me, I would simply include a note on my cover letter (like write it at the bottom before my signature) that says “I apologize that IRCs are unavailable in Ireland. There is no need for a reply to be sent by mail if the ms is rejected. You are welcome to discard the ms.” Then I would express your sincere thanks and sign it.

    Also, make sure you are not giving out exclusives on your work (since you won’t be hearing back from anyone unless there is a sale or they want to talk to you about a revision, etc).

    And be sure to include your email address in the contact info section of your manuscript.

    An editor who wants to communicate with you will email you if necessary. A heck of a lot easier than trying to deposit a check or deal with currency, etc.

  10. I’ve written a talking animal book myself and it’s becoming successful. It’s called Belle’s Star and it is designed to help 9-12 year-olds cope with bullying and abuse. I have entered it in several contests. Most judges liked its concept. One was luke-warm and one called it anthropomorphic and blah. A sequel’s coming out at I’ve also used an animal as a sounding board for the thoughts of a human character in an adult cozy mystery Snap Me a Future It worked. Sometimes we get a little too scientific in our modern age and forget the true magic of using our imaginations and asking what if.

  11. From a personal perspective, while I agree children that, of course children should be taught about the great literary authors, many times they are not taught the skills of writing. Getting to know your characters can sometimes be one of the best things you can do because there is always a part of you in any that you create. You can learn a lot about yourself. Even if it is an anthropomorphic animal. Perhaps it is what the character has to say that people shy away from. Or as they say in England. Maybe I am speaking “cobblers”. Rubbish to you and me.

  12. Using animals is a great way to create a safer environment for kids when it comes to dealing with tough issues. Congrats on the success of your books.

    I do think it’s true, in our modern age, it’s usually some adults who can’t get their minds around talking animals. It’s not for everyone, but if it works for you, there are probably a lot of readers it works for, too, so why not? Keep writing!

  13. I was just perusing through some of my work and received a critique back from a contact on Verla Kay who said that she enjoyed my short story. One comment she made “I enjoyed your story, Fiona, but I think you are too descriptive. Show, don’t tell”.
    I know I am guilty of being the aforementioned, but I don’t know how to get out of the rut. She also mentioned I should bring a secondary character into the story a little more, but he is only there for support and is not strictly central to the story.
    Has anyone else ever had problems like this and how did you iron out the creases?

    1. If you agree with the feedback, then you need to think about how to get at the intent behind all of the suggestions. Did you go over the top with your descriptions? Are you trying to write a picture book? Is the secondary character distracting? If the character isn’t central to the story, does he need to be cut? Or maybe he needs to play a larger role? Who knows? Only you can decide that for yourself, Fiona. So listen to your inner-writer and make the right choices for you.

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