No Giraffe at National Zoo; Should there be a Giraffe in Your Book?

By Diana Belchase

This weekend, spring arrived and my husband and I decided to ramble.  The sun shone, the flowers were starting to bloom, and birds twittered like eager children.

First, we discovered a new Dim Sum restaurant.  There is something wonderful about Dim Sum.  Noisy carts roll around the restaurant floor.  The treats are always the same, but you go back to old favorites because each bite is exquisite perfection.

We stumbled on the zoo while exploring the roads that led through Rock Creek Park.  I love this time of year – the trees are no longer grimly forbidding; they begin to bud out, with limbs cloaked in a green or burgundy haze.  Bikers, joggers, and families come out to bask in the warmth.  When we saw the zoo entrance we thought, what a lovely day to spend with the animals.

(c) Diana Belchase 2013

(c) Diana Belchase 2013

The first exhibit contained a Lion, his regal ombre brown mane contrasted against the sinewy golden hues of his coat.  He expressed his displeasure by emitting a loud, percussive grunt that clearly said, “Go away.”

Sea otters and seals played in separate man-made grottoes and a powerful gray wolf paced among boulders.  A male elephant posed for photos and seemed to enjoy watching us as much as we did him.

When we stopped for directions, a worker told us, “In order to focus on elephants we have gotten rid of our hippos and giraffes.”

I stood there in shock.

How could my National Zoo have sent these animals away?  To be honest, despite the great exhibits, not seeing the graceful neck of a giraffe, or the massively strong hippo, marred the rest of my visit.

(c) Diana Belchase 2013

(c) Diana Belchase 2013

It strikes me how much my day was a lot like writing.  As in Dim Sum, each word needs to be crafted, perfected into delicious bites that keep the reader coming back for more.  This, I feel, is the constant that binds a reader to an author.  Yet, new concepts and ideas are equally important.

There is nothing like the serendipity of exploring new things, finding unknown twists in the road, and stopping to do something entirely different.  Similarly, plots need to be fresh, or books seem formulaic and dull.

Authors also need be true to their stories.  Readers expect certain elements and get upset when they disappear.  It’s like a Star Trek movie without a Vulcan, or a zoo without a giraffe.  When an author kills off a long-time favorite character, or a series goes too far afield, readers seldom give second chances.

Writing isn’t easy, and I hope when it’s my turn up at bat, I manage to get the equation right.

So, what do you think?  Where does a book need to be faithful to elements and where does it get taken too far and become formulaic?  I’d love your opinion

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