07-14-18 Cassandra O’Leary

Tuesday, March 24, 2015

Writing Animal Characters

Hi, I'm Paranormal Romance Author Sarah Raplee.
(This blog was first posted on the Mid-Willamette Romance Writers of America Blog in 2011.)

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? Books like Water for Elephants by Sara Gruen and The Art of Racing in the Rain by Garth Stein were 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 their own Goals, Motivations and Conflicts. 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 enjoy reading them in a Romance?

Copyright 2011 Sarah Raplee All Rights Reserved


Judith Ashley said...

I've promised myself to finish "Grace and Gratitude" a short story I started a year ago about the healing power of unconditional love. Finishing it up between novels seems like a really good idea now. Thanks for the inspiration, Sarah.

Diana McCollum said...

Yes, I have written an Octopus into my novella "The Witch with the Trident Tattoo" soon to be released. There's also a cat in the book, very minor. I've used cats, crows, octopus and birds. I enjoy reading animal characters. You write them so well, Sarah. I admire that.

Sarah Raplee said...

There's nothing like a pet's unconditional love, is there, Judith?

Sarah Raplee said...

Thank you for the compliment, Diana. I love Your James the Octopus! He is so fun, being a Magickal Octopus and all. I'm so lucky to read your stories before they're published since we're critique partners.

Kelly McCrady said...

My cowriter and I gave our hero a rescued German shepherd who had more than a passing role. My parents laughed reading his behavior as the story dog mimics much of the things our retriever does. From nose-inspections to waiting under the high chair for the baby to drop food, to growling at a stranger at the door, to trying to *eat* that stranger when he takes off with the baby--we gave Zinni lots to do! I prefer showing characters with a rounded life, and that should include beloved pets.