Tuesday, May 8, 2012

Companion animals in stories

36% of Australian households own a dog; and 23% of households own a cat. In addition, there are approximately 18.4 million fish, 8.1 million birds and over 1 million other pets including horses, rabbits, guinea pigs and other small animals. Australia's pet ownership is significantly behind the US where 40% of households own a dog and 33% own a cat.

Maybe that’s why some authors insist on giving the hero and/or heroine, a companion animal. But there are books I’ve read with a pet introduced in chapter one and never mentioned again in the story. I’m always left wondering, “What happened to the pet when the lovers hooked up? Is the companion animal going to get an HEA?
Many animals offer their human endless love, trust and companionship. They don’t fuss about unwashed blankets or unironed clothing. They adore being petted and at least pretend to listen when you talk to them. But does this uncomplaining attitude then make the hero or heroine look bad when they’re upset at how their lover is treating them?
I think, for authors, it comes down to the old saying “write what you know”. If you adore animals it will show in how you write them and the reader will love to meet animal characters that are every bit as vivid as the humans. If you consider the horse as just something that needs to be brushed from bite to kick, it’s better to avoid putting that in your novel. And readers respond to this. They love to read about genuine animal characters and their relationship with the hero and heroine. But the heroine’s pet that only appears in chapter one as a quick-fix solution to move the plot along—the reader sees right through that and feels cheated. 

Helen Woodall
Helen is available to line edit and/ or content edit fiction and non-fiction. Rates on application.


anny cook said...

Sometimes the animal becomes a full-blown character in the story. Those are the best.

Helen Woodall: Freelance Editing said...

Like the Lilian Jackson Braun "The cat who..." books. I enjoyed that series.