Reaching, Stretching… Beyond the Limits of Our Comfort Zone

Zeke

Today I’m introducing Zeke, the one feline in the family that has escaped my camera until recently.  Whenever we would visit she (yes, Zeke is female) put herself into hiding. She managed very well in her slightly chaotic household until additional people and another canine upset her norm.

It wasn’t until our last visit that she allowed me to photograph her with glass doors safely between us.

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Then, on the last morning, as we were readying to leave, Zeke spied something that brought her out of hiding despite the turmoil of our impending departure. I still don’t know what it was on that hall table that enticed her out of her comfort zone, but she wanted it enough to ignore all of us and the camera. She stretched up and hovered there, examining new heights.

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She reminded me of our other family’s youngest canine, Cooper, who wondered for weeks why the Labradors often stood peering at a sheet of glass in the living room.

Then one day he ventured to leave the comfort of his four-on-the-floor existence and stretch up to discover a fascinating new world to watch beyond the window.

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I think Zeke and Cooper have something to teach us as writers.

Does our best writing come from the safe confines of the familiar? Or might there be new worlds waiting for us if we will but stretch beyond the limits of our comfort zone?

Portraying Pets With Personality

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.