(Or Creating Memorable Furry Characters--Like Happy Here)
I’m stepping out of my kennel a bit on this topic, dear readers. After all, I’m not the Spacefreighters blogger with a second Pets In Space anthology on preorder right now (that would be Laurie). But I do feature a Belgian shepherd mix therapy dog in my latest novel, Not Fade Away, Book 4, Interstellar Rescue Series. (Available November 14 from INK’d Press.)
I had to pitch this novel to my agent/publisher, since our original contract was just for the first three books in the series. But before she agreed to write a new, expanded contract for future books, Michelle said, “So, you have a therapy dog in this one. The dog survives, right?”
I assured her the dog was alive and well at the end of the book.
“Good,” she said. “Because if not that would have been a deal-breaker.”
Which made me think there are distinct rules for writing about companion animals in novels, particularly if you ever hope to sell those novels to romance readers. Here are my Top Five Rules for Fictional Fidos (or Fluffies or whatever):
1)The animal MUST survive. Kill everyone else in the book if you have to, but don’t kill the dog or the cat. Most of us have never forgiven Disney for OLD YELLER.
2)The animal must have a purpose. Like anything else in a novel, Fido or Fluffy should be integral to the story, rather than be window-dressing. At the very least, the companion animal should illustrate something about your hero or heroine (beyond the fact that he or she is an animal lover). In a book I just read, a blind bulldog symbolized the spirit of its owner, who had recently recovered her sight. Maybe, like Happy in Not Fade Away, the dog has an actual job. Maybe like many novel felines, the cat helps solve the mystery. Or maybe the pet provides a silent partner for dialogue with the hero or heroine.
3)The animal must have its own personality. Anyone with a pet knows every cat or dog is unique, with its own quirks, its likes and dislikes, its body language and means of communicating. The animal character should be just as vivid in its own way as any of your secondary characters. That means it has to be consistent, too—the same dog on Page One and on Page 300, unless you’ve given it a reason to change.
4)The animal must be present and/or accounted for. If your heroine has a cat, your heroine always has a cat. I discovered this when writing the first novel in my Interstellar Rescue series, Unchained Memory. When the heroine, Asia, is attacked by unknown assailants on what is supposed to be a weekend trip and is forced to go on the run, her cat J.J. is left at home. I had to let the readers know she’d made arrangements for her friend to take care of him. Because Rule Number One. Similarly, Happy is in nearly every scene of Not Fade Away; he and his owner, Charlie, the heroine, are very close. I had to let the reader know where he is when important things happen.
5) And, finally, the animal must cement the bond between hero and heroine by approving of the relationship (and vice versa). That is, the animal must like his owner’s lover and the lover must like the animal, if not at first, then certainly by the end of the book. Rafe, the hero of Not Fade Away, is distrustful of Happy at first. He’s never been around a dog of Happy’s size. But Rafe’s father, suffering from dementia, takes to Happy right away. And, of course, Charlie loves the dog. It doesn’t take long for Rafe to come around—and for the dog to include Rafe in his circle of protection.
So, there you have it, my list of the Top Five Rules for Fictional Fidos. Got any others you’d like to share?