Pets in fiction

Charles Yallowitz made a post the other day that really got me thinking. You can check out his post here.

I didn’t realize how many animals I write about. In my mind, they can really enhance a story and provide a few options along the way too.

People have deep connections with pets. This is good, because readers are people. Your pet character can be a source of great emotional pull. Emotions are like rocket fuel to a story. That’s easy to say, but hard to do for someone like me.

The first pet I ever wrote was a giant dog named Pigger. He’s in both of my trunk novels. These are trunk novels for a reason. I free wrote them with no idea what a plot was, or what a character journey should look like. When things got a bit dry, Pigger entered the story. He was the comic relief the story needed. Imagine a big battle scene followed by a narrow escape. Pigger runs through the short grass tossing a dried rhino turd in the air, begging someone to chase him. He’s happy to be alive and wants the main character to be happy too.

I also wrote a whole chapter from his point of view. Try it some time. It isn’t easy, but he rescued his master from a locked mausoleum.

When I wrote Wild Concept my use of a pet was important. Lisa Burton, the robotic main character, knows she’s going to get broken down and studied after her experiment ends. She rescued a huge rabbit that was headed for the butcher shop. The similarity to her own plight demonstrates a lot of her own mindset. Bunny winds up defending himself against a cat. (Think 40lb rabbit with huge back and leg muscles vs. 12lb kitty. The mule kick was awesome.) Lisa thinks, Bunny fought back…hmm.

Lisa also lived alone. I didn’t want page after page of internal thoughts. Turns out she’s an obsessive pet owner, and talks to Bunny.

I didn’t go pet crazy in Panama, but there is a white horse that doesn’t like co-main character Ethan Stafford. Towards the end there is a huge Panamanian beetle that takes up with Jinx, a supporting character. His big scene is to tap out shave and a haircut to alert someone.

I have to admit dropping pets from Arson. I had an alien race that were pretty primitive, but they can think and speak to a minor degree. Therefore, not animals in my mind.

In The Cock of the South, Gallicus the cockatrice fills a pretty big role. He’s a combination, rooster/snake/dragon. He and the main character share similar wounds when they first meet. I had him act somewhat catlike in a few scenes. He’s a great comfort to the main character, and also provides a few world building scenes. Then there is his big scene and he delivers.

In Will O’ the Wisp I used a fox. The fox is there throughout the story, but doesn’t become important until the very end. It makes a statement about the main character’s evolution and provides a certain cute factor all at once. (Right when the story needed a cute scene too.)

In my mind, pets are supporting characters. You can make them main characters if you like, but I don’t. They can serve as a metaphor, comic relief, backup to the main character, and all kinds of uses.

I don’t believe in killing the pet character. I can see why authors do, because it can really galvanize a main character. (Make sure your readers will weep when it happens.) It can also symbolize the beginning of something new in the main character’s life. I just think it’s been done to death, and look for an alternate way. I’m not saying I never will kill a fictional pet, just that I prefer something else. I even went so far as killing my main character instead. I won’t spoil it and tell you which book. (Trust me it’s good.)

Right now, I’m writing another dog character. He’s with another loner, and provides something to talk to. He gets a few funny moments, and a few heroic ones too.

Ethan’s white horse was just a horse. He was a breathing prop in the story. Bunny, the rabbit filled an important role. Once the animal goes from prop to pet you can never go back. From that point on you have a new character. Remember to include them in your scenes.

Pets work well as plants that payoff late in the story too. A dog can pee on a bully’s pant leg at exactly the right time for your main character to fight back. The dog knew it was time all along. He might even pitch in if needed.

Granny’s pet toad can say volumes about Granny’s secret membership in the local coven. You probably won’t even have to spell it out. (Spell, I crack myself up sometimes.) The old house cat can deliver a human ear to your main character to start the mystery rolling. The mynah bird keeps repeating some nonsensical phrase over and over. Turns out it’s an important clue to your mystery, and his dead owner used to say it.

Crank up the emotions by having your character rescue an abused animal. Remember to let the animal pay her back

Lisa & Doubt

My blog isn’t immune either. Doubt, the raven, is a regular on my blog. Where would my editing be without a healthy portion of doubt. Is that a metaphor?

Try adding animals to your stories. Even Mad Max had a dog and that was pretty dystopian.

Do you write animals into your stories? Are they pets or props? Tell me about them in the comments.



Filed under Writing

41 responses to “Pets in fiction

  1. Excellent post.

    Love your point about loner characters having pets. That can give you more meat for a chapter when they’re ‘alone’ and lead to some development. It does seem like dog is the most common pet though, so it’s really cool that you use other animals. Is there any animal that you have thought about using, but never tried it?

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Readers must like pets in science fiction – my dogs in science fiction posts are two of my most popular. I have an old paperback I’m planning to read and review called “Alien Pets”.


  3. Great post! I’m also a fan of pets as characters in all my books. Haven’t killed one yet. One of my favorites, evil cat George, is the bane of his unwilling owner’s life.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. I always use pets in my stories, as secondary characters not props. Like you said, they add so much flavor. My betas readers always mention how much they love them, too. In one of my books I killed a pet, and I cried about it for days. No tears in the writer, no tears in the reader, right? I still can’t read that scene without getting emotional. Unfortunately, it was the best way to go at that point in the story because the death (and it was brutal) nearly destroyed the main character. But, it was so heartbreaking I swore I’d never do it again.


  5. Ali Isaac

    I have lots of animals in my books too, although not really pets. Most of them are mythical. Fionn’s 2 hounds for example, and the shape-shifting Prof, who gets stuck in his cat form. Also, Radala Gaoithe, the Wind Racer, last of his kind, the unicorn who maintains the magical mist around Tir na Nog, I’m particularly fond of him. And the very lovely Aonbhar, the Sea God’s steed who can walk on water as easily as solid ground.

    Liked by 1 person

  6. I absolutely write pets in, especially dogs. The kind of dog a character has is such an excellent way to add type/depth.


  7. Love when there are pets in the stories. My absolute faves are Mister and Mouse from the Harry Dresden series. Haven’t put pets into my books, but you’ve made me rethink the idea.

    Liked by 1 person

  8. Our gaming group once got into a whole campaign because a stray dog started following us. The druid found out the dog’s young master had been abducted by slavers, and off we went!

    Liked by 1 person

  9. I have a cat, Ash, that shows up in Myth and Magic, my upcoming release; and I’ve got Poe, a black cat in Food for Poe. Yes, I am a “cat person.” When I was younger I wrote a lot of stories with horses and dogs. Cats kind of came into their own the older I got. I love Mister from the Dresden series, but haven’t read far enough to discover Mouse yet.

    Liked by 1 person

  10. I forgot to mention Jack London novels. I devoured all those books set in the Klondike with wolves and dogs, when I was a kid. Pets/animals candefinitely amp up a story!

    Liked by 2 people

  11. Hello! Great post! I love animals and I include a variety of them in almost all my stories. Animals add interest to your stories especially in science fiction and fantasy. At least I think so. πŸ˜‰

    Liked by 1 person

  12. Great blog post, Craig. I like pets as part of my stories (e.g. cats, dogs, wolves). There are some short stories completely without, though. One story, ‘The Hawk at the Harbour’, mentions a human being and a higher instance – otherwise it is about the hawk and the raven…
    I cannot imagine letting a pet in my stories die; as a rule I abhor cruelty to animals (be it in real life or in stories).

    Liked by 1 person

    • I understand why some authors take it that far. The emotional tugs are huge. It can also symbolize the end of one of the 3 acts. I try to find a different way, but never say never.


  13. I first read this post shortly after you published it, but was unable to comment. I just re-read it, and still love it just as much. I think pets help a lot with character development, too. (i.e., I love the dog in The Playground!)

    Liked by 1 person

  14. I always try to work a dog into the story…only because I love dogs!

    Liked by 1 person

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