Animals as Characters

Like most writers when working on a novel, I usually create detailed character sketches of the main actors in my stories. These will feature physical descriptions, often including pictures of people who look like the image in my mind. I also create family background, education, likes, dislikes, traumas, good times, and lots more. While most of this information never appears on the page, it is vital to envisioning a fully-fleshed character.

Since animalIMAG0335s often play parts in my stories, I also create histories for them, but most often I simply think of ones I have known. This is particularly true in my novel FOREWARNING. I modeled several of the animal characters on my own. In fact, in my first drafts I used their real names to keep their pictures in mind while I wrote. Only later did I change the names to protect the guilty. J

Even though the first horse we meet in Forewarning is named after my childhood buddy Star, she’s actually modeled after my husband’s horse. Like Koko, Star is a sweet, laid-back, bay Quarter Horse, who anyone can ride. Kasey uses her as an all-purpose horse, available to students and friends. In contrast, Paris, the escape artist, is a smart, high strung, energetic character, similar to my Portia. Her antics reflect how I would expect Portia to behave in a similar situation.

Goliath, Kasey’s faithful friend, is very similar to a dog we used to have. Tippy was a Border Collie cross and one of the smartest dogs I’ve ever encountered. Not very big, she nevertheless had the protective instincts (and bark) of a much larger dog. One time she even took on a Great Dane, who had to be three times her size, because she thought he was threatening one of the kids. We suspect her desire to protect may have caused her death. We came home one day to find the gate open and her gone. Later we discovered she had been hit by a car. Perhaps chasing an intruder?large__8489462528

The last animal directly modeled on one of ours is the cat Tiny. He’s a reflection of BK (barn kitty) who we acquired as a five week old bit of fluff. Like Kasey, I had been injured (by a friend’s horse kicking at mine and getting me instead) and was spending two weeks in a recliner with my leg elevated. My daughter brought home this tiny, scrawny kitten and he spent the first few weeks nestled against my neck. To our amazement, he grew into a monster of a cat with absolutely no fear of anything. Among other things, he loved to wrestle and play with our Siberian, Oreo. When BK was a kitten, the dog would let him crawl all over him, attack his tail, and even gnaw on a leg. As the cat got older and bigger, Oreo began to retaliate and the fun would begin. They really enjoyed playing with each other, although sometimes they got a little too rough for the house and I would have to kick them out.

If you were writing a story, do you have any animals that you’d include? Have any made a big impact on your life?

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Cat photo credit: <a href=”http://www.flickr.com/photos/vivalivadia/8489462528/”>N’Grid</a&gt; via <a href=”http://photopin.com”>photopin</a&gt; <a href=”http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc-nd/2.0/”>cc</a&gt;

Categories: Books, Dogs and cats, horse personalities, Horses, Romantic suspense, Uncategorized, writing characters | Tags: , , , , , , , | 21 Comments

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21 thoughts on “Animals as Characters

  1. Great post Kate!

    I too always have animals in my stories and often write about my own. One of my favorites was a barn cat at the racetrack. He adopted me, moved right into my tackroom and took over. Chucky was a snow white fellow with a tiny nub of a tail, but shows up as, Merlin, in my first published novel.

    My horse characters seem to be more of a composite of several horses I’ve known, probably because I have known hundreds – grinning when I think back.

  2. Oh, yes, Kate. I love to include animals past and present that I’ve enjoyed in my life. I’ve written about my horse and one of my doggies who passed away. Nice post.

    • Animals are so important in our lives. It’s nice to be able to remember them in print.
      Glad you enjoyed the post.

  3. I love animals in stories (and very much enjoyed your Forewarning, Kate)! Besides simply being characters in and of themselves, they give the author the opportunity to deepen the reader’s understanding of the human characters they interact with in subtle ways. I always have animals — mostly horses — in my mystery novels. The latest, Shooting to Kill, is populated with a number of horses that were drawn from a lifetime of equine acquaintances.

    • You always have interesting horses in your books, especially Blackie.
      I agree you can tell a lot about a person by the way animals interact with him/her. Animals don’t lie.
      Good luck with Shooting to Kill!

  4. As I read this blog, I kept thinking, why doesn’t anybody write about boxers? You know, those muscular bodies, those soulful eyes. I love boxers, had five of them over the years. When I see one, I fall into a trance.

    • Interesting question. Boxers are beautiful dogs, but I’ve rarely seen any, besides the one my brother had when I was little. They don’t seem to be too popular where I live. I’m sure someone will write about them someday. Are they common in your area?

  5. Beaner (as in Jelly Bean) was a tiny little calico that we rescued. Her top weight must have been six pounds, but I’ve seen her chase our neighbors’ psycho German shepherd (also a rescue) out of our yard and then smacked him on his butt (I think just to let him know that she could 😉

    She also stood watch with me many times when I was sailing. She was a great boat cat. Bless her little heart, she has been in Kitty Heaven for more than three years now. I still miss her.

    • Beaner sounds like quite a character. Never heard of a boat cat before. I guess the water didn’t bother her?

  6. Hi, Kate — I enjoyed your post and plan to get a copy of your book. I write mostly about dogs, often from their point of view (but no talking, only thinking and feeling), and for children. However, I do have an adult non-fiction about living with my blind dog and the lessons she taught me. I’ve always loved stories with animal characters, and I’m glad to have found your post!

    • Thanks for coming by Gayle. Living with a blind dog must have been quite an adventure, and fun to write about.
      Hope you enjoy Forewarning.

  7. I love reading children’s stories where the animals are the characters. One of my favorite movies is “Babe.”

    • “Babe” is great. My animals don’t talk. They act like real ones, but have definite personalities and play real roles in the story.
      Thanks for dropping by.

  8. I love animals, both tame and wild. I adore my cats–fat sweet Lassie (a calico) and Russian Blue serial killer Ruusky, who frequently leaves mouse heads and gall bladders for me (not that I asked to receive these prizes!).

    I immortalized my old guard cat Simon, who shared my life for 19 years, in my Summer Westin mystery stories. That character is a wildlife biologist turned outdoor adventure writer, so I use my real wildlife adventures as well as ones I would like to have in those books, including cougars, bears, marine life, etc. And then I have gorillas that know sign language in my Neema mystery series.

    I respect natural animal abilities and skills, so I try to honor the real animals by making my fictional ones as realistic as possible. However, like all humans, I can’t help imagining what they’d all say if they could. I believe most of the time they’d complain about how difficult we humans are to train.

    • Yes, don’t you just love the presents they bring home. Even found a baby Jackrabbit in our front hall one night. Never knew which cat brought it in or how! At least it was alive.

      I like that “guard cat” -great term. I also want my animals to be realistic. Though fantasy can be fun too.

      I’m told that horses call humans “Gunsels” and that it isn’t a particularly complimentary term. 😉

  9. I love that you create histories for your animal characters (or borrow them from real life memories, as the case may be). I combined my former working dog Bo (died in 2011) and his buddy Rosie to create a dog character named Max in my romantic suspense, An Eye For Danger. Bo was the charmer, while Rosie is a firecracker. We use to say if our dogs were cars, she was a Porsche and Bo was a Ford truck. So you can guess who was faster on the field!

    Anyway, we just saw Rosie on Tuesday. I was throwing a ball for her so my new choco lab, Tucker, could run with her. And bang….she let out a yelp that made me cringe and she went down. We thought she’d sprained her leg or stepped on glass. Tucker and I ran home, got the truck, and headed back to the park to drive Rosie and her owner, Dave, home. He let me know yesterday she tore her ACL and the surgery is $2700 to repair it. Let’s just say I’ll be donating a few dollars to help Rosie recover. Once your heart opens to an animal, no matter who it belongs to, their pain is your pain.

    Thanks again for the great post about animals! They are such an important part of our lives. They make us better people!

    best,
    Christine Fairchild

    • Hope Rosie gets better quickly. And it’s so nice that you’re helping out!

      I so agree that animals are important to us and make us better. I just lost my sweet Portia yesterday and I’m going to miss her happy-go-lucky attitude so much.

      • christinefairchild

        So sorry to hear that you lost your friend. When I lost Bo, who helped me rehab dogs for behavior problems, I was devastated. (his story here http://everyonelovesbo.blogspot.com/ ). You never get used to losing a furry family member, and they each play a unique role in our lives.

        Power and hugs to you!
        Christine

  10. Wow, Kate, what a timely and moving post. Even the comments brought a smile and a tear. So sorry for the loss of Portia. I’m feeling your pain. Three weeks ago we lost our red, long-haired Chihuahua Simon and less than a week ago our Jack Russell Terrier, Scout. We rescued Simon when a woman ran into him in front of us. So we gave him an extra 12 1/2 years of life, but he gave us more. We inherited Scout when she was one from a daughter and her roommate. Scout lived to be 15–lots older than most of us will get. For the last 6 years I have worked from home. They are so entwined with every action I take. Sad times. Thank God for our animal family members. They are both in the 3rd book I wrote. It may never get published, but they’re in there. 🙂 I know they’re both running, barking, wagging their tails with sight and hearing, but goodness I miss them. God bless, Kate.

    • It was weird. I posted my blog early Wed morning, then went to critique group. As turned into my driveway returning home, I got a call from the barn saying Portia was down and they couldn’t get her up. She was 30 years old and hadn’t been “right” the last couple of days, so I was semi-expecting something like this. Still it was a shock. While we waited for the vet to come, she didn’t want me to leave her. If I moved away for any reason, she’d call to me. When it was obvious she couldn’t get up, the vet put her to sleep. I suspect she wanted to join Koko. They’d been together for 20 years. Now they are again.

      Sorry about Simon and Scout. Our animals give us so much joy, so it really hurts when they leave.

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