Saturday, April 30, 2011

Man's Best Friend

So, I've noticed something. Well, I've noticed a lot of somethings this week, but this something has inspired a blog entry. Yay for important somethings!

I've noticed that a lot of fiction doesn't include domestic animals. At least, nothing I've read lately. If they are included, they're generally in the background somewhere. A black cat might run past on a rainy night or the MC might hear a dog barking in the distance. It's not often that the MC has a pet, and if they do, they aren't a main focus.

I can sort of understand this. I mean, if you're writing a story with a lot of action scenes, you don't necessarily want your MC to break away from some life-or-death situation and run home to feed Fido. But I believe that there is potential for more characters here. False Memory by Dean Koontz features Valet, a grown golden retriever. He is a big part of the story. He has his own expressions, his own personality, and his own routine. His relationship to the MC is important. He's part of the family.

For the fantasy lovers, Calling on Dragons by Patricia C. Wrede features Morwen, a very unusual witch, and her gang of feline friends. Her cats are mentioned in the first two books of the series, but in this book, Wrede takes it a step further and gives the cats speaking roles. Through magic, felines are able to communicate (though only their witches can understand them) and since the book takes place from Morwen's POV, there are countless conversations between her and her cats, some of which help save the day.

I'm not saying that no one out there uses pets to their advantage. I'm sure there are many wonderful books that feature animal lovers. I just haven't seen any recently.

Maybe I should write one :)



  1. Very interesting post, Laura! I was thinking yesterday of giving my protag a pet for the sequel of Rex Rising. I also recently reread the first book of David Edding's Elenium, and he gives his protag's horse a lot of personality - in fact, Sparhawk (the protag) always talks to him and the horse seems to understand everything and follow instructions, or (mostly) disobey them on purpose. :-D

  2. Oh, I *love* Calling on Dragons. That whole series, really! And the cats are just one great part of it. I don't generally give my characters pets, but more because I never really thought about it than because of anything else. I tend to focus on the human (and sentient non-human) relationships, but you know what? I love worldbuilding, and I love created interesting creatures for my worldbuilding, and then they don't really get much book time because they don't play much of a part. Putting them in as pets would be a great way to include some of that worldbuilding I worked so hard on! And I think a pet can be an interesting way to characterize an MC, giving them someone to talk to that they don't have to be guarded around.

    Thanks for a great post!

  3. I've been wondering how I could include a dog or dogs in my wip without doing the same old thing. I don't want to use pets as devices to make characters sympathetic, something overdone, IMO, but I'm aware of the absence of dogs in my setting, which in real life would be full of them. Interesting post, thanks!

  4. I had to stop and think about this one, Elizabeth, and no good examples come to my mind. The closest I can offer is my first attempt at a novel (gathering dust on my hard drive) includes horses who can communicate with themselves and with people via some high-tech neural devices.

  5. @ Chrys- That totally makes me think of the recent Disney movie, Tangled. The horse has an amazing personality. And he's violent!

    @ Marion- I love that whole series too! They're some of my favorite books. I read them a bunch of times when I was younger, and I recently bought the whole set to read again. I love a princess that knows how to use a sword ;)

    @ Carol- Dogs are excellent additions to a story because they have such obvious personalities. It's also a great way to show your MC some love, especially if they're in a desperate situation. Who doesn't love puppy kisses?

    @ Botanist- Don't worry, I'm guilty of leaving animals out as well. I believe I had a character with a pet in my first trilogy, but he ended up being evil, so I'm not sure if it counts. I instantly think James Bond and the white cat.

  6. What a fascinating post. I hadn't really thought about it before (then again I'm not a big animal lover so that might be why).

    In one of my fantasy stories, a character has pet hawks (though mostly just a quirk and to establish her knowledge of birds). The story does include some talking ravens, but they aren't really what they appear to be (they do talk after all), so I don't know if that counts.

  7. It's fantasy. Of course talking birds count :)