I’ve written a yet-to-be-published novel about a mermaid in today’s ocean whose story is as much about being a woman as it is about being a mermaid, maybe more. Being Mermaid: Creating Story
I’ve spoken about worldbuilding in previous “Being Mermaid” posts. Today’s focus is about the mermaid herself.
Characterization is an element of the writing craft referring to the description of the characters in a story, which can encompass a wide range of personality traits, actions, looks. My mermaid character needed to be as plausible as possible, so I went looking for researched facts and my imagination to develop this half-fish, half-human creature.
Mermaid as Manatee
As legends go, sailors on the old wooden ships declared they’d seen mermaids, and in some stories they’d said they were sung to and lured into the sea, whereupon these mermaids would attempt to drown them. Such deadly woman-fishlike creatures were also called Sirens in mythology Being Mermaid: From Out of the Sea
Have you ever seen a manatee? Hard to imagine anyone, except maybe a sailor who’d been on the sea for months and months, could mistake a manatee for a mermaid.
Yet, there had to be something to the stories, and the legends were where I sarted to develop the background character of my mermaid. As a result, three main aspects of a manatee’s life became a part of a mermaid’s life: diet, environment and reproduction.
Like manatees, the mermaid characters eat strictly sea plants, particularly the sweeter seagrasses.
Manatees have a wide range of travel in the U.S., going as far north as the Carolinas and west to Texas but they tend to live mostly in and around Florida’s waters and canals, especially during winter. The key to their envrioment is the temperature of the water. They can die from cold stress if water temperatures drop below 68 degrees Fahrenheit.
Manatee facts have become a part of the mermaid’s character as well. She is more at ease in salt water than the versatile salt or fresh water manatee, but a mermaid cannot survive long if the ocean temperature drops below 68 degrees Fahrentheit.
To ensure the lifespan of the mermaids in my novel, I’ve located them on an isolated island in the Caribbean Ocean, unless something freaky happens to drop the temperature.
A significant issue in my mermaid novel is the role of the female mermaid and her ability to reproduce, the key to the survival of any species.
The mantatee gives birth to one calf every two to five years; twins are rare. After a gestation period of almost a year, a mother nurses her young for one to two years before the baby becomes independent.
Reproduction is a problem for the mermaids on my made-up island of Little Mangrove. A mermaid has an on- and off- fertile cycle. If she does get pregnant, her gestation period is one year, and she cannot become pregnant again until two years after giving birth. Twins are a much-heralded birth when they occur, which, like the manatee, is rare.
About that Tail
A manatee is a slow-moving, gentle, playful animal who normally swims at three to five miles an hour but can hit up to twenty miles per hour in a short burst. Its tail looks as thick as its fleshy, barrel-shaped body.
A mermaid is not the same, except for having a tail. Somewhere along the evolutionary trail of the mermaid, she grew fish scales on her bottom half, not the fleshy skin of the manatee, and though the mermaid has a tail, it is lighter, filmier and more fishlike than a manatee’s.
A mermaid swims fast, very fast, able to keep up with the dolphin at twenty-one miles per hour and the shark at thirty-one miles per hour. However, some of the big game fish, such as the marlin at fifty miles per hour and the sail fish at sixty-eight, can out-swim a mermaid in the long run.
Building characters is a challenge for any writer. Sometimes the details of a character’s life come quickly; othertimes, there’s a lot of research necessary to make a character believable, especially when that character is a mix of legend, heresay and reality.
“Believe in your character. Animate (or write) with sincerity.” ~Glen Keane (Animator for Walt Disney, incuding “The Little Mermaid.”)
[Photo credit: Andrew Imanaka vis VisualHunt.com]