Unleashed - Writing Animal Characters
My guest authors and friends, Lisa A. Olech and Peggy Jaeger, and I often chat about our pets. I’m sure most pet lovers share stories. They’re a huge part of our lives—family members even—and they grace the pages of many of our books. From playful kittens and scruffy dogs to exotic animals like crows—we love them all. Yet sometimes authors get tripped up by caring for these furry friends on the pages. We can’t simply go along without letting the dog out or feeding the cat. Or can we?
Here’s what Lisa A. Olech says about writing animals…
W.C. Fields once said something about never working with children and animals as they are totally unpredictable and absolute scene stealers! That goes double for writing furry or feathered characters.
Don’t get me wrong, as a life-time kitty caregiver and avid bird feeder, I love adding dogs and cats—or one raggedy crow—to my character’s “families.” I like the interplay of man and beast, and I believe you can tell a lot about a person by how they love their pets.
But every time I write an animal into my stories I’m plagued with things like my hero wanting to whisk off to a romantic weekend with his love only to wonder who will take care of the dog? Or I must make sure I remember to have my heroine pick up cat food for the stray she found under the porch. Or when I’m about to throw another of my characters into a British brig to await hanging for piracy and treason… Whatever will I do with her cranky, old pet crow?
I’m with Lisa, pets do pose challenges for some writers. But they can also add comic relief or show a side of a character better than words. My tough hero—Dr. Rick Hauser in Hellfire and Handbaskets—has a dog sidekick named Rocky. This big lug of a German Sheppard steals the scene on many occasions, yet he also shows the softer side of Rick, a battle-hardened Army Medic Veteran. Plus, Rocky helps Rick win the heart of Amelia Pennington, the high-spirited, dog-loving heroine we first meet in Haunting Highland House.
Peggy Jaeger also writes pet characters, yet she’s found a way around fussing about them…
I’ve never had a time in my life without a pet doing something (usually naughty) somewhere (usually hidden!) in my house. And just as I delight in the comfort and unconditional love of having a pet in my own life, I tend to include them in my novels.
Since I write contemporary romance books set—for the most part—in small towns, it’s not unusual for people to have dogs, cats, horses, even chickens, as part of the family. In three of my five MacQuire Women Series books, one faithful, old-timer black Labrador named Rob Roy is a vital part of the everyday workings of my main and secondary characters. I look at this old beauty as an integral player in every scene he is in, and—just as he would in real life—Rob Roy is a vessel for letting the readers see firsthand how caring and loving my heroes and heroines are.
Because Rob Roy lives with a veterinarian, he’s used to being around people and other animals and his disposition is calm, tolerating, and friendly. I don’t obsess too much about writing a paragraph where I need to show him being fed or exercised because he travels around with his dad all day long, being spoiled and fawned over by his dad’s clients. He, simply put, is one of the family.
In my opinion, both authors are correct when they tout the rewards of sharing life with loveable pets—fictional ones included. Truth is I spend every day flanked by three wonderful, zany dogs, even as I write with frequent breaks to care for them. I wouldn’t have it any other way.
So, settle back with your best furry (or feathered) friends, grab a good book, and enjoy. Our animal characters aren’t going anywhere…except maybe to the beach, or to Boston, on the road with their “dad.” Or to the brig… Wait, what???
Lisa A. Olech is a multi-published, twin-genre author who lives in New England with two badly-behaved cats and has been known to invite an entire murder of crows to her backyard for brunch! Visit her at www.lisaolech.com
Peggy Jaeger writes contemporary romances about strong women, the families who support them and the men who can’t live without them. Visit her at www.peggyjaeger.com