Hello, jungle dwellers. Craig here again, and today I want to talk about the pet character. I’m using this term, but it applies to any animals and even things like SIRI or other artificial intelligence characters. For you paranormal fans, maybe it’s Grandpa’s haunted tiki mug.
Firstly, the pet is a side character. They exist in the story for a reason that relates to another character, usually the main character.
I find them useful when you have a loner. Your character is going to spend a lot of time alone, and if they talk to the animal you don’t have to write out pages of internal thought. Without even acting, the pet can serve a purpose.
The pet should act in some way, even if it’s just comic relief. I have a trunk novel where a dog threw a horse turd in the air like a ball as the enemy army approached. Maybe that wasn’t great, but it’s not unrealistic, and allowed me to make things tense twice.
I’ve written many pet characters, and am likely to do so again. In my novel, Panama, there is a horse that just doesn’t like one of the main characters. This character thinks he’s cursed to become a vampire, and because the horse is white, he reads more into this than he should. It’s a fun bit of stress for the main character.
I added a stupid dog to The Playground, to help with a loner type character. The character is a brutal thug for hire, but there has to be some humanity inside if he likes this dog. I like the scene where he scraped a microwave burrito onto the floor for the dog. He’s a slob, and he’s not into hugs, but it revealed a bit of character. Some tiny spark of decency exists in there somewhere. This can be used to make your antagonist more realistic than a mustache twirling evil entity.
The trick is to do something with the pet character. Having your bad guy simply petting a cat isn’t enough. The cat has to play a role of some kind too.
Most of you are familiar with my character Lisa Burton. Before she became the spokesmodel for my blog and books, she appeared in her own novel. Lisa is an experimental robot headed toward being dismantled. She rescued a giant rabbit destined for a butcher shop. Ah! They both faced a similar fate, and at least in Lisa’s artificial mind, they were destined to be together. They wound up helping each other, but Bunny’s part in that was small. Still, Bunny’s part happened and he existed for a reason.
Pet characters are great, but they should have a purpose in the story. They need to be more than that bad guy’s cat. They can add comedy, distraction, a shoulder to cry on, someone to talk to, fear, fear for, even a stress point in divorce situations. If they are more AI or haunted, they can add research and bits to the plot, but at some point they will become more of a main character if you let them.
Like in all things, there are reasons not to add a pet character. You may have read something about various tropes, like raping the girl to spur the hero to new heights. Killing the pet off has been done in similar fashion. I get it, it becomes a trope because it works. It’s also been done to, well, death.
I have never killed off the pet character. I’m not saying I never will, but I don’t like the trope and feel the same way about killing off mentors. Pet characters are some of my favorites, but they serve a purpose other than to entertain me while I write.
How about it you authors out there, do you use pet characters? Let’s hear from the readers too. Do you guys like the pet character in stories?