07-14-18 Cassandra O’Leary

Friday, September 27, 2013

Going To The Dogs—Heroes and Villains

By Linda Lovely

This month’s blog topic, “If Animals Could Talk,” had me stumped. I haven’t had a really close relationship with an animal since Brownie, the Heinz 57 mix dog I treasured as a pet while growing up. After I developed allergies to dogs and cats, pets were out. As an adult, I’ve been bitten by a dog while walking and chased by growling hounds who appear to lust after bicycle tires. These encounters fail to classify as relationships. What would these dogs say if they could talk? Hmmm. Not sure I want to tune in.     

Perhaps my failure to engage in conversation with the animal world while I was writing led me to inadvertently violate a rule that mystery/suspense/thriller writers disregard at great risk. Here’s the rule: authors can kill kindly, wrinkled grandmothers and clueless, fresh-faced teenagers as often as their plots and murder counts require, but they should never, never, ever kill a dog on the page of a novel.

In one of my books, a dog dies. In my defense, the deceased canine is the villain in a brief subplot, which is essential to the story in that it provides insight into the villain dog’s far more villainous owner. What’s more, the subplot also features a tail-wagging hero who saves my heroine. Any further explanation could act as a plot spoiler. So here’s what these dogs might say if they could talk.   

  • The Villain Dog
I’m only following orders. I was abused as a puppy, and I was trained to fight other dogs. When I growl and savage other dogs, people cheer, and I get food and praise. I’ve been chained up and beaten. I do what I’ve been trained to do in order to survive.  

  • The Hero Dog
I love people. Haven’t really met one I wouldn’t lick. They scratch behind my ears, give me yummy treats, and help rid me of annoying fleas. Sometimes they talk baby talk to me even though I’m fully grown. Guess they still think of me as a puppy even though I’m a hard-working adult. Don’t I chase all those obnoxious squeaky squirrels out of our yard? I’m brave, too. I’ll do whatever it takes to keep my humans safe.

Okay, I’ve given my dog characters their say. Nonetheless, I pledge to avoid any future canine deaths in my books. I’ll stick to killing off literary stand-ins for the people who have seriously annoyed me.

Why do you think the death of a fictional animal seems more offensive to many people than the death of a fictional human being?  


Judith Ashley said...

Excellent question! And, I'm really not sure what the answer is.
I'll be interested to read what other commenters have to say.

And, as to Hero Dog - Yeah You! Get those Squirrels!!!!!!! wish you were here in my yard

Linda Lovely said...

I'm on the road today, so I won't be able to check in regularly. But I am eager to see the responses to my question about canine versus people deaths when I do fire up my laptop. These suggested blog themes never fail to make me think.

Kaye George said...

I think this is because so many people have had relationships with dogs who give them pure, unconditional love. The cat relationship is more complicated, but satisfying for cat people. They don't have the same moral system we do, so they can't violate it. So, I think, they shouldn't be punished according to human moral standards. I'm not sure that even makes sense, but I'm trying to answer the question. So sorry about your experiences!

Ashantay said...

I love all animals and hate to read or see any of them being killed, injured, beaten or tortured in a story, movie or news article. Perhaps people who practice anthropomorphism view dogs as human children who don't deserve bad treatment. Hell, I don't know. Just a thought.

Linda Lovely said...

Hi, Ashantay--I steer clear of beatings and torture of all living things. But I'm not sure I understand why the death of a dog is more tragic than the death of a person in fiction.

Diana Mcc. said...

Good question! Like Judith, I'm not really sure what the answer might be. All I could come up with is that dogs give their owners unconditional love. People who've had a dog could empathize more? with a dog being killed off.

Paty Jager said...

Great post, Linda! I think the reason is animals are more defenseless. We have bred pets to be docile and follow our commands and then if someone uses that inbred trait against them, bu luring them in and killing them it gets people up in arms.

Sarah Raplee said...

I heard a different version of that 'rule': In a Romance, never kill a dog. In a Mystery, never kill a cat.

But, since you write romantic suspense, don't kill off either.

Hmmm...I kill a rabbit off-page in one of my books, but no one has a relationship with the rabbit.

As for why some people get more up in arms about killing off a dog or cat then a human in a murder mystery, I think Paty is on the right track. Plus, readers expect a human to get killed in a mystery/suspense plot. And I've noticed many authors give that human some annoying or negative trait to keep the reader from liking him or her very much.