Giving Your Character a Pet – The Hidden Benefits #Writers

Giving my characters pets has helped me overcome some tricky writing situations. From enhancing my characters to moving plots forward these furry characters have at times been my saving grace.

I am a pet person and the owner of a small gang of unruly cats and an over excited dog. As an enthusiastic pet owner I often project human traits onto my animals. I am always talking to my cats and dog. They all have elaborate fictional histories and we often speak to one of my cats about his time as a stowaway on an old sailing boat in the eighteenth century.

In our house we all communicate with each other through the language of barks, meows, hisses, growls, shouts and howls. I also have a husband and two teenage children. We all communicate with each other through the language of eye rolls, sarcasm, food and wi-fi but that’s another blog post.

Giving a character a pet side kick was something I thought writers did when they had an overwhelming urge to write about a particular animal or to leave a legacy for their beloved pet by adding them into their best-selling novel. I have come to realise there is so much more to fictional pets.

One of my favourite authors, Nicola May, adds brilliant pet characters to her romantic comedies. They all have their own personality and leave you with great book memories. I still chuckle about the hilarious African Grey parrot, Lady P and her foul mouth in, Love Me Tinder.

Before I talk about the benefits I think it is important to explain what I believe are the golden rules with fictional pets.

I don’t think you should add your real life pet into a story because you will end up assuming the reader will automatically relate to your pet in the same way you do. They won’t. It is a bit like adding your loved one into a romance story and expecting everyone to fall in love with their strange ways. You are the only one who can relate to your pet (and loved one).

Pet characters need to have annoying or frustrating traits, as well as loveable ones. Most of the time my animals disobey everything I say to them, make a mess of my house, vomit at the wrong times and leave me tearing my hair out. In your books you cannot create angelic household pets who are always alert and on the look out for life saving duties opportunities. This does not happen in real life. My pets tend to be either squabbling, sleeping or digging holes in the garden.

Here are the hidden benefits of giving your fictional character a pet side kick:

  1. A fictional pet can bring two characters together who are trying to avoid each other. In my soon to be published novel, Instructions For Falling In Love Again, I have used Maria the bulldog to get my characters in close contact. Maria loves showering people, wary of dogs, with her affections. She makes a beeline in the park for Mikey, dragging Pippa with her, after he displayed a look of fear.
  2. A fictional pet can bring some light relief to a gloomy tale. In real life pets can bring a much-needed smile to your face during dark times and this can apply to fictional characters and their pets. They can also add some fun into the writing process and boy do we need this!
  3. Animal / owner relationships don’t have to follow the norm to be endearing to the reader. I love Caitlin Moran’s description of her pet in her book, How To Be A Woman. ‘The stupid new dog is under my bed. She has got pregnant by the small dog, Oscar, who lives over the road. None of us can quite work out how this has happened, as Oscar is one of those small, yappy types of dogs, only slightly bigger than a family-sized tin of baked beans, and the stupid new dog is a fully grown German Shepherd… I look into the dog’s eyes. She is as stupid as a barrel of toes. Galaxies of nothing are going on in her eyes. I’m going to talk to Mum,’ I explain. The dog remains under my bed, looking, as always, deeply nervous about being a dog. The phrase ‘stupid as a barrel of toes’ and coupled with the dog ‘being deeply nervous about bring a dog’ conjure up a comedy picture of the dog.
  4. A fictional pet can assist character development, they can help illustrate an important characteristic of one of the main characters. This could be in shown in how the character speaks to the pet or cares for the pet. Useful for characters who live alone and have limited human contact.
  5. A fictional pet can help cause conflict and present their character owner with numerous obstacles. This is where those annoying and frustrating animal traits come into play.
  6. Fictional pets can help with writer’s block. If you are struggling with block, try adding a pet character and see what happens.

A big shout out to all fictional pets – we love you guys!

Photo by Milica Popovic from Pexels

Have a good day.

Posted by

Still waiting for the Sleepless in Seattle film sequel. Romcom Author. Book Blogger. Mum of teens. Owned by a golden Labrador.

16 thoughts on “Giving Your Character a Pet – The Hidden Benefits #Writers

  1. Great post. Although, speaking as someone who has several stories about her pets, I’d change the part about not writing your own pets in to stories to, “Only write your own pets in to stories if you’re prepared to accept they aren’t perfect, and that others likely won’t connect with them and adore them like you do.”

  2. The main character in my first book had a cat and I think it made her a better person, so why haven’t I done it again? Something to think about with the next book…

  3. I haven’t got a dog myself, but they do star in two of my novels. I wouldn’t write about cats as I know less about them; I do know that a cat person would instantly detect I was faking it. The potential for dog characters is limitless from puppy chaos to the assistance dogs we couldn’t live without.

      1. You’re more than welcome. I enjoyed your article immensely and thought others would as well.

        I make a habit of reading your blog whenever possible as like your writing style and the information you provide.

        Thanks for the great articles. Please keep them coming. 🙂

      1. I can’t remember the exact thing but readers don’t react well if you kill and cat or a dog. I’m not sure if they die of old age if it’s different idk x

  4. Excellent post! My two yellow labs are so human at times that it is scary. Their personalities (brother and sister from separate litters) are so different. What makes them all the more lovable are their wonderful and naughty qualities. In that way, they seem more human.

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