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.