Have you ever considered that animals have personalities?
We’re on the move this week, visiting some of our family in BC’s Okanagan and Kootenays. All our families include dogs (although there is one cat among the canine crowd), and all of them get along well with each other. They may not tolerate the intrusion of a neighbour’s dog but a family member’s is welcomed with enthusiasm, and remembered by name between visits. It’s as though they understand they’re part of an extended family.
Each one has its distinct characteristics and that started me thinking about how we depict pets in our novels. Unless the story focuses on an animal, such as in Marley and Me, it seems like they are a presence without personality. They exist for the children to play with, as company for the protagonist, or as a threat to the antagonist. They’re just there. They are little more than “set dec”.
What a missed opportunity! Different breeds have different characteristics and the canny writer will research these and choose one that fits the character’s lifestyle, or create tension with one that is totally unsuitable. Just as a healthy plant enhances the hominess of a living room, so the right pet can complement a scene, offer comic relief or perhaps help reveal character flaws.
Have you included pets in your stories? What purpose have they served? Consider doing a short writing exercise that features an in-depth look at your favourite animal.