A Dog’s Life: What Animals Bring To Your Story

July 15, 2012 by in category Blogs with 2 and 0
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Today a reader e-mailed to tell me she loved my book, Hostile Witness*, because I hadn’t killed Max. I’ve been traveling a lot in the last three weeks and it took me a minute to figure out who Max was and why it was so important to her that he was alive.

Max is Josie Bates’ dog; Josie is the heroine of the witness series. I was touched by the reader’s concern for the fictional canine, Max, and that made me wonder: Why is a book that includes animals richer, more entertaining, and more engaging than one without? The answer was simple: Animals bring out the best and the worst in a human character. This makes for great drama and provides an emotional touch point that is critical for a memorable read.
 Max-the-Dog (his legal name) was originally created as a reflection of Josie, his mistress. Both had been abandoned, both had to fight for their lives, both were protective of others. But Max became so much more than Josie’s mirror as the series unfolded.

Here are four ways Max made a difference in the witness series:

MAX ENHANCED HUMAN CHARACTERIZATION: Those who attack him were inherently more evil than a bad guy who ignored him. Those who love Max were more admirable because they cared for and protect him.

MAX WAS AN ANIMATED SOUNDING BOARD: Internal dialogue can be tedious. Allow a character to speculate to an animal and the rhetorical questions or monologues sound natural.

 MAX’S PRESENCE SET A TONE: A scene tone can be set by the way a human character speaks to, or interacts with, an animal counterpart. A whispered warning creates a much different tone then a screaming command; a languid pet conjures up different visions than a playful puppy or kitten.

MAX HELPED MOVE THE PLOT FORWARD: An animal’s needs can put a human in a place they might not have been in. For instance, in Privileged Witness, Josie took Max out for his evening constitutional and ran into her fugitive client who was hiding outside. Without Max, Josie would have no reason to go outside and never would have discovered her client.

An animal’s heightened senses can also assist a human to warn of danger or alert a human to a change in their surroundings.
 From The Hound of the Baskervilles to Lassie and Blue Dog, My Friend Flicka and The Black Stallion, The Cheshire Cat and Puss-in-Boots, animals have frolicked as humans, served to reflect human frailties and strengths, and just plain worked their way into reader’s hearts because of who they are.

ʉ۬So to the kind lady who was concerned about Max, have no fear. He will never come to a violent end. No matter what happens to him his presence, or lack thereof, will be a decision motivated by story and plot and, of course, love, because Max is as real to me as if he sat at my feet while I wrote my stories.

 *Hostile Witness is free for all e-readers and is also available in print and audio formats.

 Pictured is my grand dog Tucker.


  • Anonymous
    on July 17, 2012

    Hey Rebecca, Greqt blog. As you know I have furry kitty children and I guess now I have some grand dogs but although I pics of our Grand kids no grand animals of I am so sure they are veried and some not so cuddly, but I always love a story with an animal. Tucker looks great, LOVED Max(I knew you wouldn't off him)Call me when you get a chance, please Michelle

  • Anonymous
    on July 16, 2012

    I remember Max even though I read Hostile Witness many years ago. Animals, esp. dogs, make for great characters and readers love them. Tucker is a very cute grand dog.

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