I’ve been working on my latest novel, and in it there is a dog which reminded me of this post I wrote back in mid-2013 on my old blog, http://nellie-writes.blogspot.com/.
Last weekend I got a text from a friend which said that [and I’m paraphrasing] her friend was reading Couillon, and she really liked the story, but before she went any further she wanted to know if the cat would be okay.
Years ago, I was lucky enough to attend a writers’ retreat in Maui. [Sadly, that program no longer exists.] Anyway, James Rollins spoke at the retreat. He did a presentation on how to make a character more likable. The one suggestion I remember best, because I love animals, was to give the character a pet. Again, I’m paraphrasing, but he said something like this: if in your book, you gave Hitler a big goofy Labrador as a pet, the reader would feel the need to find some redeeming quality in him because monsters can’t possibly own big goofy Labradors. The thing is that even with Hitler, if he’s part of your story, he can’t be two-dimensional. Yes, he was a monster, and should be portrayed as such, but if you don’t give him other qualities, at least one good quality, your story will be flat… and boring. You want to surprise your reader.
Maybe I’ll write a post about making characters likable, someday, but, as they say in old books/movies, I digress. Back to the issue with the cat being okay.
The other thing I know about pets in novels, is that they should survive whatever situation you put them in. I can’t remember where I heard/read it, maybe in Stephen King’s On Writing, although he kills the Oy, the BillyBumbler in the last book of The Dark Tower. Basically the rule is to never, ever kill a pet in your story unless it is absolutely necessary. Where humans are concerned, we see and read about so much violence and killing, we’ve become desensitized to their deaths, no matter how bizarre or gross, but kill a pet and you will likely alienate your reader. So, unless you have a following as big as Stephen King’s, always make sure the pet is okay at the end of the story.
I will say that I cried more about that damn BillyBumbler dying than any of the other characters in The Dark Tower. And if it had of been a new author I was reading, I may not have ever read another novel by that author.
Sometimes it happens even with authors I love. In Minette Walters’ The Shape of Snakes, her descriptions of cruel acts committed on neighborhood cats by one of the characters almost put me off reading her ever again. She’s a good writer, but I don’t want those images in my head. Maybe if she hadn’t been quite so graphic about what was done, but it make me feel sick and afraid to read more of her work. So you see, it does matter. If she’d described those same things happening to a human… well, good, bad, or indifferent, let’s just say all those murder mysteries I’ve read have certainly anesthetized me to humans being tortured and killed. But not animals.
So, think twice before hurting or killing an animal, especially a pet, in your story.
With that said, yes, in both Couillon and An Untold Want, the cat will be okay, as will the dog in Beryl’s Story.