Giving my characters pets has helped me overcome some tricky writing situations. From enhancing my characters to moving plots forward, these animal characters have at times been my saving grace.
I am a pet person and the owner of three cats (Harry Potter, Princess Pumpkin and the Duke of Wellington) and a dog (Apollo). All my pets have elaborate fictional life histories, possess different personalities and we all communicate with each other through the language of barks, meows, hisses, growls, shouts and howls. I also have a husband and two teenage children, we all communicate with each other through the language of eye rolls, sarcasm, food and wi-fi but that’s another blog post.
I used to think giving a character a pet side kick was something you did if you had an overwhelming urge to write about a particular animal, make your readers cry or if you wanted to leave a legacy for your beloved pet by adding them into your best-selling novel, but I have come to realise there is so much more to fictional pets.
Before I talk about the benefits I think its important to explain what I believe are the golden rules with fictional pets. I don’t think you should add your real life pet into a story because you will end up assuming the reader will automatically relate to your pet in the same way you do. They won’t. It is a bit like adding your loved one into a romance story and expecting everyone to fall in love with their strange ways. You are the only one who can relate to your pet (and loved one).
I also think to be realistic the pets of characters need to have annoying or frustrating traits, as well as loveable ones. Most of the time my animals disobey everything I say to them, make a mess of my house, vomit at the wrong times and leave me tearing my hair out. In your books you cannot create angelic household pets who are always alert and on the look out for life saving duties opportunities. This does not happen in real life. My pets tend to be either squabbling, sleeping or digging holes in the garden.
Here are the hidden benefits of giving your fictional character a pet side kick:
- A fictional pet can bring two characters together who are trying to avoid each other. In the draft novel I finished earlier this year, How To Fall In Love Again, I called upon Maria the pet bulldog, who loves showering people, wary of dogs, with her affections. She made a beeline in the park for Mikey, dragging Pippa with her, after he had displayed a look of fear. After Maria had licked Mikey like there was no tomorrow, Mikey talked to Pippa, moaned about her dog handling skills…and noticed her new sexy hairstyle. Sigh!
- A fictional pet can help distract a character from their emotional turmoil. In the other draft I worked on this year, The Unlikely Matchmakers, Stella took a break from her anguish over ex-boyfriend Scott, to help her depressed pet rat, Ken. In a bid to bring some happiness back to his rodent life she bought him a female rat companion, Camilla. My loved one did query whether depressed Ken needed a female in his life and whether a fancy new cage or a male friend might have sufficed, but I ignored him. You will have to read this tale to find out whether Ken overcame his initial agitation at seeing Camilla enjoy herself on his hamster wheel.
- A fictional pet can bring some light relief to a gloomy tale. In real life pets can bring a much-needed smile to your face during dark times and this can apply to fictional characters and their pets. Ken, the depressed rat, does his best to cheer up Stella and he also brings a smile to my face too.
- A fictional pet can assist character development, especially when the character does not come into much contact with humans. In my current first draft my main female character has severe agoraphobia so her interactions with other humans are limited for the first few chapters. I didn’t want the first part of this draft to be filled with internal thoughts so this is where my character’s pet cat came to my rescue. My MC talks to her cat a lot and I am able to show different aspects of her character through these one-sided conversations.
- A fictional pet can help cause conflict and present their character owner with numerous obstacles. This is where those annoying and frustrating animal traits come into play. Ken the depressed rat has an annoying habit of scratching Stella’s cruel ex-boyfriend Scott, which causes her conflict as she’s desperately trying to win him back. I cheer Ken on from the sidelines 🙂
A big shout out to all fictional pets – we love you guys!
Have a good day.