Friday Writing Question… kind of

Hi, Gang, Craig here again, and today my assignment is a “writing question.” We try to stay on a rotation for Friday’s, and we have assigned topics. My problem is what to do with this topic. See, nobody asked me a question that I could answer. I could ask a question here, and hope you guys will answer it. If you’ve been following me for any length of time, you know that just isn’t my style. Sooooo…

We’re going to talk about the pet character in fiction. I’m using this term, but it applies to any animals and even things like SIRI or other artificial intelligence characters. For you paranormal fans, maybe it’s Grandpa’s haunted tiki mug.

Firstly, the pet is a side character. They exist in the story for a reason that relates to another character, usually the main character.

I find them useful when you have a loner. Your character is going to spend a lot of time alone, and if they talk to the animal you don’t have to write out pages of internal thought. Without even acting, the pet can serve a purpose. (I don’t know about you, but I talk to my dogs. Feels right to me.)

The pet should act in some way, even if it’s just comic relief. I have a trunk novel where a dog threw a horse turd in the air like a ball as the enemy army approached. Maybe that wasn’t great, but it’s not unrealistic, and allowed me to make things tense – twice.

I’ve written many pet characters, and am likely to do so again. In my novel, Panama, there’s a horse that just doesn’t like one of the main characters. This character thinks he’s cursed to become a vampire, and because the horse is white, he reads more into this than he should. It’s a fun bit of stress for the main character.

I added a stupid dog to The Playground, to help with a loner type character. The character is a brutal thug for hire, but there has to be some humanity inside if he likes this dog. I like the scene where he scraped a microwave burrito onto the floor for the dog. He’s a slob, and he’s not into hugs, but it revealed a bit of character. Some tiny spark of decency exists in there somewhere. This can be used to make your antagonist more realistic than a mustache twirling evil entity.

The trick is to do something with the pet character. Having your bad guy simply petting a cat isn’t enough. Not in the 21st century. The cat has to play a role of some kind too.

Most of you are familiar with my character Lisa Burton. Before she became the spokesmodel for my blog and books, she appeared in her own novel. Lisa is an experimental robot headed toward being dismantled. She rescued a giant rabbit destined for a butcher shop. Ah! They both faced a similar fate, and at least in Lisa’s artificial mind, they were destined to be together. They wound up helping each other, but Bunny’s part in that was small. Still, Bunny’s part happened and he existed for a reason.

Pet characters are great, but they should have a purpose in the story. They need to be more than that bad guy’s cat. They can add comedy, distraction, a shoulder to cry on, someone to talk to, fear, fear for, even a stress point in divorce situations. If they are more AI or haunted, they can add research and bits to the plot, but at some point they will become more of a main character if you let them.

Like in all things, there are reasons not to add a pet character. You may have read something about various tropes, like raping the girl to spur the hero to new heights. Killing the pet off has been done in similar fashion. I get it, it becomes a trope because it works. It’s also been done to, well, death.

I have never killed off the pet character. I’m not saying I never will, but I don’t like the trope and feel the same way about killing off mentors. Pet characters are some of my favorites, but they serve a purpose other than to entertain me while I write.

How about it you authors out there, do you use pet characters? Let’s hear from the readers too. Do you guys like the pet character in stories? Do you want to write one after reading this?

35 thoughts on “Friday Writing Question… kind of

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  4. I love pet characters in stories and find they can add layers of dimension to the plot and the storyline. I loved the horse in the short story I wrote around Christmas last year. He saved a little boy’s life. Yep. Pets are great!

    Liked by 1 person

  5. I used a cat in Food for Poe, with the cat (Poe) having a pivotal role. In book 2 of my Hode’s Hill series, End of Day, my main character has a Siberian husky named Blizzard who serves a crucial role for her. I’ve never killed off one of my pet characters, but I have referenced pets who were killed.

    It’s really hard for me to read a book where the pet character dies, but Ive read one or two…..usually knowing the outcome going in. Still, for the most part, I avoid them.

    Liked by 1 person

  6. I like reading about pets and kids in stories. How a character treats them says a lot about what kind of person he is. We get to see a side of him/her we wouldn’t see another way. In my new mystery series, I have a tall, blond contractor who takes his pug–George–every place with him. He carries him up and down stairs. Dotes on him. I liked writing that side of Ansel. I wrote a short mystery a long time ago where a woman took her little dog on a cruise with her, and the killer didn’t want it to bark and give him away, so he tossed a dog treat over the side of the boat and the dog jumped after it. My daughter was mad at me for MONTHS when she read it. She still brings it up once in a while:)

    Liked by 2 people

  7. Lady Bird, a beagle, is the pet in my book “JUNE THE PRUNE AND LADY BIRD – Cancer stinks”. All of my writing centers around the role of pet therapy in the healing process.

    Liked by 2 people

  8. Almost all of my main characters have pets. My foremost reason is because I think the type of pet a person has says something about their character. A big, huge, Vikingly sort of guy with a large fluffy cat he adores is a point in case. My most reclusive character lives along on top of a mountain with an Irish wolfhound as his sole companion. One of my other characters rescued a Quaker parakeet she named Bogie (after being sure she couldn’t find his owner), and she built him a huge cage/playground on her back porch. At one point in the story, Bogie plays a pivotal role, causing his new owner to rush into a dangerous situation to rescue him.
    In another book, one character has a lovely smooth-haired collie named Biscuit. When the character disappears, his girlfriend takes the dog home with her, and together, they spend many months watching her front door, each waiting for the sound of that certain footstep on the front porch.

    I absolutely agree with you on the use of pets for all the reasons you state above. They demonstrate a character’s … erm … character. And they can come in handy for lots of other things, as well. So far, though, I have not killed one. I do, however, have an aging dog that may be a learning-to-let-go experience for one young boy at some not too distant point. We’ll see.

    Great post, Craig! As always! 🙂

    Liked by 3 people

    • That Viking with the cat is intriguing. I’ve often thought birds that are capable of speech could add some interesting things to a murder mystery. Dark house, a few odd noises, hide under the bed but have doubts. The bird says something. There is a gunshot. No doubt someone is in the house, and they have a gun.

      Liked by 1 person

      • A great idea. I say go for it. I had my character walk into her empty house, only to hear a voice yell, “Hello, honey,” followed by a volley of “Hello,honey! Hello, honey! Hello, honey!” The readers hadn’t been introduced to the bird yet, and I think it surprised them. 🙂 So many things you can do with pets, especially talking birds. I raised parrots once upon a time and had an African gray who could do perfect imitations of the doorbell, the telephone, and the microwave beeping. I was always running around answering phones that hadn’t really rung, and checking to see what I’d left in the microwave. 😀

        Liked by 3 people

      • My brother and his wife have an African gray.It’s amazing the sounds that bird can imitate and the extend of its vocabulary. They also have a number of other pets and the parrot can imitate my SIL’s voice to the point the dogs come running when it calls them 🙂

        Liked by 2 people

  9. In my Cathedral Lake series, I use dogs. Once in the first book, as symbols. The second time was in the third book, and the dog became a character. (Actually, that book had more than one dog. Multiple animals, actually, as one of the characters was a veterinarian.)

    I think loved pets warm up a story no matter how they fit into a story. But then again, my pets warm my life, so I could just be putting my own feelings into the stories. (But isn’t that what writers expect readers to do, anyway?)

    By the way, I loved Clovis and his relationship with the dog.

    Liked by 3 people

    • Thanks, Staci. I don’t add one just for the sake of having it. There is a purpose and they have to do more than be scene setting before they get the character part of the label. For an early work, I was well please with the comparisons between Lisa and Bunny.

      Liked by 2 people

  10. Great post. I often have pets in my stories as I’ve always and pets in real life. Cats are good for talking to, dogs are good for getting characters out of the house, and if a character has rats like me that really says something about their personality

    Liked by 1 person

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