Friday, April 1, 2016

4 Reasons to Introduce a Pelican to Your Novel

Yes, it’s a strange name for a post.
And yes the name is on topic.

I think your novel needs a pelican. You know, one of those birds with the really large beak that live near the sea and eat fish? Yeah, that kind. The kind that are known to Christians as a symbol of self-sacrifice (for really interesting reasons… you should look it up). 

(found via Wikipedia, taken by Geoff Penaluna; all rights reserved to him)

Your story needs a pelican.
And here’s why:

One: A Pelican is not a Pelican unless it Pelicans

By now I hope you realize that I don’t mean an actual pelican, but the kind that the Christian church uses as a symbol.
If you didn’t realize that… well, now you know.

A good story has sacrifice. If nothing is lost – and if nothing is there to lose – then your story will be rather… boring. When nothing changes, when your reader has nothing to lose, we won’t want to read anymore. We read to feel emotion; emotion includes tension and pain and loss and “why me”.

What does a pelican look like?
A pelican can be anything. Specifically, the pelican in your novel can be any noun you come up with: sister, treasure, love, kingdom, loyalty, city, dragon, etc.
If it’s a now, you can use it as a pelican.
It is something your heroine stands to lose. If she fails, it’s gone. She can’t get it back if she doesn’t win.

That is the power of a pelican. While often one of the most beautiful things in your story, it is also the most common thing to be lost.
Loss is a powerful emotion. Too much can create despair, too little can create apathy. But in measured, pelican-sized doses, it can turn your story into a powerful journey of emotion.

Two: A Pelican is its Own Thing

There’s this thing about “loss” and “stakes” that often creates problems in stories: the thing to be lost seems helpless. And that’s not right.
Especially when the “helpless” thing is a human being. This is where the “damsel in distress” and the “independent, headstrong young woman” stereotypes come from. One is the melodramatic extension of what could have been a wonderful pelican, and the other is the rebellion against such a useless stereotype.

Here’s the deal: when a pelican is a real pelican, it is its own creature. It can care for itself, it is self-reliant. A real pelican doesn’t need you to go fishing for it, nor does it want you to make it a nest.
Instead, it does all those things on its own.

So should the pelicans in your story be. They should be self-dependent. Yes, they should be in danger of extinction, but they shouldn’t have to rely on your main character for every breath they take.

That is not a real pelican. That, friends, is called a plot device. When you have a plot device that is so blatantly obvious, you’re not doing it right.
Let your pelican be real. Let the kingdom in danger of invasion be autonomous from your main character. They can fend for themselves while the hero goes to assassinate the enemy’s king. The world doesn’t end until the hero fails.
The damsel in distress tries to escape, but fails because there is this thing called “reality” in which very few princesses are able to overcome four armed guards twice their size.
But she still tries.

Three: A Pelican Chooses Sacrifice

Have you looked up that “self-sacrifice” of pelicans? You should.

Okay fine: basically, there is this legend (or maybe it’s fact, I’m not sure) that a mother pelican would (will?), in times of famine, feed her young with her own blood. She would sacrifice her own life that her baby pelicans would live.

Yes, it sounds weird (no, pelicans aren't vampires), but just think about it. That sacrifice is amazing and is so symbolic.

The sacrifices in your novel should be akin to the sacrifice of the pelican. Instead of your main character sacrificing their hometown, let the hometown sacrifice themselves for the hero.
They choose to be rampaged by the dragon so that the hero can fulfill the quest.

When a character sacrifices for the hero, it needs to be their own choice. A sacrifice has to be self-sacrifice.
Any other kind has become fake and cliché.

Four: Metaphors are Fantastic

Now this isn’t really a reason, but this is the part where I unravel the idiocy I just spouted about adding pelicans to your novel.

Consider what you’ve just read (or go back over it) and replace “pelican” with “human being”.
That’s right. You need to add human beings to your novel. Not just characters that fit formulaic spots on the cast, but real people. They need to make real sacrifices with real decisions and real loss with real emotion.
I need to be able to empathize with your characters and catch the meaning of their choices. The idea of consequences needs to soak into every page of your story.

And then it will inspire me.

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  1. I think I'm going to add a real pelican to my story. Just like... have it fly overhead or something... Because, yeah.
    Anyway. YES. I like the post. YA fiction sometimes lacks self-sacrifice and it's all about the hero winning and nothing really tragic is lost. I've been guilty of writing like that on so many occasions. XD Pelicans, tho. Very helpful. *nods*

    1. It'll be great. XD Pelicans everywhere.
      Really, though, I wanted to do something that felt slightly in the line of "April fools day" without really /doing/ something, ya know? So I thought "hey, why not use an excessively laden-down allegory to make a valid point"?

      Ah yes, the lack of sacrifice is one of the two extremes. If it's not that, then suddenly so much is lost that nothing is gained. Which is just as bad, sometimes.

  2. When I first saw the title to this post I was like "I bet this is going to be another April Fool's Day post..." I was pleasantly surprised. :)
    Thank you for this post. I am totally guilty of not enough self-sacrifice in my books...don't worry, it's about to change, thanks to your post. ^_^

    1. Ehehe it just about was because I was /late/ in writing it. I usually write them on Thursday, but I typed this one up frantically right before I posted it, so I considered making it a fool's post, but instead it became a little bit of both. Glad you enjoyed it. ^_^