Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Pets and Characterization

I've always marvelled at the number of writers who have pets. And I'm not talking about an occasional dog or cat here. I'm talking PETS, in the plural.
I recently discovered a blog, hosted by a Golden Retriever named Amigo, that interview pets who own authors. It's called Pets and Their Authors, and it's a riot. If you're a pet-lover, check it out.

Like many authors, I usually have a pet or three in my books and it wasn't until recently that I ever gave the practice more than a cursory thought. After some consideration, however, my conclusion convinced me--yet again--that my unconscious mind is far more adept than my conscious one.

Here's the revelation: using pets in a story is a delivery device for characterization. Without saying Mr. Mudd is a nasty, rotten, person, all we have to do is show him kicking Ms. Heroine's miniature Schnauzer when she's not looking. Instead of saying Mr. Right is kind and considerate, all we have to do is show him talking man-to-man to the heroine's French poodle--when she isn't looking, of course. Or, we can have a heroine who is accused of being cold and heartless and she can even act a little...cranky. But when we show her sitting on her front steps each evening as the sun goes down, stroking the cat on her lap, everyone will know she is a warm and caring person.

Pets bring out the best--or worst in people. Using them and their relationships with humans as a way to characterize helps us show and not tell. It also allows us to use animals as secondary characters--which adds variety to our stories, and presents some unusual challenges. It's also fun!
Tyson, the Rottie lying down in the top picture, had a thing for flashlight beams. Whenever he saw one (or mistakenly saw one--like the sun reflecting onto the ceiling off a knife sitting on the kitchen table), he'd flip out and chase it all over the place. Dusty, aka Oreo Cat, loved to slide between the bedspread and the blanket after the bed was made--when he wasn't hiding out in boxes and bags, that is. I'd come home from work and see a huge (20-lb) lump in the middle of the bed! Sammy, my husband's Moluccan cockatoo, is adopted. (Just like all the animals in our house.) Her original parents must have argued a LOT, because she role-plays arguments whenever we raise our voices--even if we're in a good mood. Whatever! Whatever! she'll shriek, flapping her wings and getting fluffy in the process. (I've omitted the X-rated words she also shrieks.)

Have any funny, or weird, pet stories of your own you want to share? Feel free.


  1. I'm a bit animal crazy myself. Your pet stories are hilarious...I LOVE the foul-mouthed cockatoo :)

  2. Sandie, You wouldn't love her so much if you had to listen to her screeching! :)