Status: Moving Along Again (at last)
Okay, I admit it; I’m a sucker for animals. Growing up in suburbia, we always had pets: dogs, cats, a cottontail rabbit, parakeets, guppies, horned toads, turtles, a duck, ground squirrels, coconut crabs, and for one glorious day, a turkey named Jim that my father won in a contest.
I was the kid who read all the books in the school library that were written from the animal’s point of view, the ones that described the life of a beaver or an owlet from birth to independence (and sometimes on to parenthood.) As a young teen, I wanted to be a wildlife biologist. And the first book I wrote was a non-fiction children’s book about osprey (fish hawks.)
Not surprisingly, animal characters appear in my stories. If you haven’t written an animal character who is more than a walk-on, give the idea some careful consideration. Statistically speaking, most readers own or have owned pets. Pets and their owners are easy for readers to relate to, care about and to root for.
Writing animal characters is more than a gimmick. Remember the Lassie books? Or The Cat Who… mysteries? The books Water for Elephants by Sara Gruen and The Art of Racing in the Rain by Garth Stein have been on the bestseller lists for ages. In both books, animals are major characters. In the second book, Enzo is the narrator.
In my books, most animals are true secondary characters who serve important roles: mentor, foil, mirror, scene antagonist, catalyst, ally, family, window into hero/heroine/villain’s character. My animal characters’ actions affect the plot as well as the tone of a story (often providing comic relief.)
A word of caution: do your research, and remember that animal characters have instincts as well as GMCs. If your animal’s behavior is atypical for the species/breed, you’d better have a convincing explanation woven into your story. Do you write animal characters? Do you like to read about them?