March 15, 2017

Tips for Writing Animals into Your Stories

Whether the pet is a dog or cat, I enjoy reading about the interaction of the character with the pet. Pet owners have unique responsibilities that writers should not take lightly. My protagonist in the Jenna Scali mystery series owns two cats. Those cats depend on her for their food, affection, and care. She goes about her day, but not forgetting to feed the cats or empty their litter box. Dog owners must add walking the dog or letting the animal out at certain intervals during the day. All these activities add to the main character’s personality. Does your main character enjoy walking her dog or does she feel it’s an imposition? Often in mysteries, cats and dogs can sniff out the bad guy. Their ears go back or they growl. Paying attention to these details is the job of the writer.

Here are some tips for writing animals into your stories:

Tip #1: The animal must behave like an animal. I do not enjoy books where the cat solves the mystery, that is, figures everything out and does very un-catlike things. Instead, the challenge of the writer is to allow the cat to do normal cat things but the way they do them give rise to questions that might lead to solving the mystery. Dogs might dig something up that had been hidden. Animals have many behaviors that are typical of that animal but can create suspense in thd4c191a5d9cf8cbf52138415bc2ba374e story.

Tip #2: Don’t forget about the animal. If you character has been kidnapped, that character might worry about her life and whether or not she’ll get out of the mess she’s in, but she will still worry about her dog. Who will let him out? Will he think I abandoned him? Is he hungry?

Tips #3: If the animal is threatened, make sure you’ve got good reason for it. In the e-Murderer one of Jenna’s cats is cat-napped. The killer did this because he knew how it would affect Jenna. She has a strong attachment to her cats. But, the cat escaped. Killing an animal to show the viciousness of a killer is cheap. That viciousness can be shown in other ways.

Tip #4: Animals can show a different side of a human’s behavior. You may have created an assassin who never gives killing another person a second thought. Perhaps that assassin sees a hungry dog and feeds it. Perhaps that dog follows the assassin home. Our villains, just like our heroes, are multidimensional. Animals can help show the other side of a person.

Tip #5: Please don’t ask the animal to talk or do other anthropomorphic behaviors. There are exceptions to this rule. In the book The Art of Racing in the Rain, the dog narrates the entire book. But, he’s still a dog. He thinks like us as he narrates, but he’s interested in food, in smells and in the mood of his human caretaker. The author does an amazing job of putting us in the dog’s head.

Dogs Teach Writers How to Reveal Emotions

They seem to understand their owners emotions. According to the research dogs and humans are the only species able to do this. I know my dog can read my emotions. I’ve known that for a long time. I also know my cat can read my emotions. Maybe they’ll soon learn that cats, too, can read the feelings of their owners. But, sometimes I wonder about my friends. Can they read our emotions as well as our pets do?bigstockphoto_Dog_Training_736793

As a writer I understand that my characters cannot act in a vacuum. That characters act out of emotion. In fact, years ago I learned that all our behaviors are predicated by how we feel. If we feel angry, we act in a certain way. If we feel contentment, we act in a certain way. For some people it’s hard to express feelings. They don’t tell you if they are feeling stressed or sad. But, if we are like our dogs, we can sense these feelings by their actions, expressions and overall “demeanor.”

In other words, we have to be more like our dogs. Instead of writing, “She was terrified when she heard the noise.” We write, “Her stomach tightened and her mouth grew dry when the noise sounded outside her window.”

Good writers recognize how people express the unexpressed. Dogs tend to do that as well. The researchers on dogs wrote: “…they integrate information from different senses, including what they see and hear to read the emotions of people and other canines.”

So… as a writer, how do you incorporate your character’s emotions?

If you enjoyed this blog, you might like The Clock Strikes Midnight–a book full of emotions. Check out this book trailer.