A group blog featuring an international array of killer mystery, suspense, and romantic suspense writers. With premises and story lines different from your run-of-the-mill whodunits, we tend to write outside the box. We blog several times a week on all topics relating to romantic suspense and mystery, our writing, and our readers. We welcome all comments and often have guest bloggers. All our authors can be contacted separately, too, using their own social media links.

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Julie Moffet . Cathy Perkins . Jean Harrington . Daryl Anderson . Nico Rosso . Maureen A Miller . Sandy Parks . Lisa Q Mathews . Sharon Calvin . Lynne Connolly . Janis Patterson . Vanessa Keir . Tonya Kappes . Julie Rowe . Joni M Fisher . Leslie Langtry

Wednesday, February 10, 2016

Creating Character Companions

I’m talking about the non-human variety. Be it a dog, cat, horse, or even a fish, the companion you pick for a character tells the reader something about that character. Spend time selecting the perfect pet by digging deep into your character’s backstory.

Did they always want a pet but weren’t allowed one or did they grow up with animals as part of the family? Or were all the animals a means to an end, a working cow horse or maybe a hunting dog that was never allowed in the house?

Things to keep in mind when you develop this non-human companion: How did he or she acquire that pet? What does it mean to him or her? What is it named? Male or female? Big or little? Color and breed? Well-behaved or a constant source of mischief? Does the pet reflect characteristics of its owner, or not? Why or how did they pick this particular pet? Did they choose it, or did they inherit it from a favorite or hated relative? Is it purebred or of unknown parentage?
Did they raise it from infancy or was it full grown? Did it come from the pound or a high-priced breeder? The answers to these questions tell the reader a lot about your character as you weave this list of traits into your story.

An animal provides a wonderful way for you to show, not tell, more about your characters. Why that particular animal? What does it represent to that person? Unconditional love, obligation, duty or a painful reminder of someone lost? Can the pet be a metaphor for issues the character is trying to work out? Does the animal reflect hidden characteristics, or does it represents where your character needs to be at the end of their transformation?

As a writer, you need to do your research if you don’t have any first-hand experience with that particular animal. In my current work in progress I have a twelve-year old boy who has a ferret.
I’ve only been around one in my whole life, so I took to the Internet—several hours later I had a few new scenes I could write that would allow me to use that boy’s pet to explore issues with his mother’s death. (Plus I had a ball watching ferrets’ play in a plastic swimming pool of packing peanuts!)

The relationship between the character and pet can be almost mystical like the Black Stallion and Alec Ramsay,
or comic relief like Stephanie Plum and Rex, her hamster and Eve Dallas and her fat cat Sir Galahad. Then there was Cujo a chilling antagonist brought to life by Stephen King. These animals became characters in their own right, which to my way of thinking is exactly what we should strive for—don’t let them be trivial—make them work and carry their own weight in your novel.

So, do you have any favorite character companions? What makes them memorable to you?


Anne Marie Becker said...

Interesting topic, Sharon. I'm not sure I've put a lot of thought into pets other than to consider the character owner, and what type of animal he/she would gravitate towards. And what they might name a pet. :) For instance, in my first book, my heroine is a psychiatrist and her cat's name is Sigmund. ;)

Sharon Calvin said...

I think we tend to forget what a powerful element a pet can provide--to the reader and the character. A pet makes an excellent confidant that allows "hidden" conversations our readers can overhear while the poor hero (or heroine) is kept clueless. Some of my best memories are scenes between the protagonist and his or her pet. We're allowed to be vulnerable and honest with an animal long before we're ready to open up to another human being!

Sandy Parks said...

Wonderful topic. I used an iguana once, more for the shock value of the historical time period. My character's father had brought it to New England from the Caribbean in the late 1700s. It's rather demonic looking colors and poise made it a fun creature to haunt the witching town of Salem. It also brought out the practical nature of my heroine who was a scientist and was quite proud to be educating people about the scientific world around them. Reminds me that is has been a while since I've added a pet to any of my recent stories. Must revisit that idea.

Sharon Calvin said...

An iguana is certainly memorable! Except for the ferret, I've stuck to the standard cat, dog, and horse pets. Well, then there's my Steampunk story--I have a very memorable mechanical parrot I dearly love writing! Then again, I'm not sure he really qualifies as a pet...

Rita said...

Working on a short story. The heroine, a police officer adopts the K9 officer who takes a bullet for her to prevent him from being put down. The K9’s handler was killed. She doesn’t like dogs. The K9 doesn’t like her. They help each other get over PTSD. There are chewed sofas and OMG moments that bring them together. Fun to write.

Mia Kay said...

What a great post, Sharon! I've loved pets in books since Laura Ingalls Wilder's Jack. :-) Until now, I hadn't realized how much I've used them in past manuscripts. The hero who gives the heroine a stray puppy because he worries that she's lonely and he wants her to feel at home. The kitten who brings a wary couple together.

This latest book, the pets were intentional. My heroine rescues animals - horses, dogs, kittens... They become her confidants, and her interactions with them reveal more than any back-story could provide. :-)

Marcelle Dubé said...

Huh. I've never given much thought to pets in stories. In fact, right now, I can only think of one of my stories that even included a pet--although this dog was companion, protector, hunter and friend, so much more than a pet. Still, you've opened my eyes, Sharon. Thanks!

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