How do you like your animal characters – as a side dish or main meal?

I hadn’t considered the pros and cons of  animals in my stories until I started writing a novella, one I’m woefully behind on, in which a Basset Hound named Mosey steals the show.  This is how I’ve got my Mosey pictured (the dude on the left).  In fact, this picture lives on my wall while I write his story.  Ahem…while I write the story he’s in.

He’s as big a character as the heroine and refuses to drop to secondary character status. Now because it fits, and the story, kinda revolves around him, I’m going to let him get away with that sass.

My animal characters are instrumental in developing the main characters into a richness I’d have struggled to achieve otherwise. In Tuesday’s Child, Samantha saves a damaged German Shepherd, knowing that in doing so, she might be able to save herself on some deeper level. In Hide’n Go Seek, book 2 of the same series, (and yes, it’s almost ready for release!) Kali is the human half of a search and rescue team with Shiloh being her gentle, teddy bear loving canine partner.

In all three stories, I’ve used dogs. Now that’s interesting because I adore cats.  I serve 4 felines in my house now. Yet, I’ve never put them into a story. Maybe I don’t think I can do them justice? Or I haven’t gotten there yet, I can’t say at this time.  However, in all these cases, the animals are side dishes – or secondary characters (Yes, Mosey, even you!)

Obviously some authors love animals in their books. Our very own Edie Ramer and her book Cattitude is a great example where a woman and a cat exchange bodies. Then Edie has a dragon character in Dragon Blues, so she’s obviously got that whole animal thing going on well.  She even wrote a cat story as her short story, The Fat Cat, in Entangled.

I’m not talking here of the very popular paranormal critters that drive so many of today’s stories.  I mean the good old standard dogs, cats, horses, etc.

Animals have long dominate young children books, think Winnie the Pooh, Barbar, and well, any Beatrix Potter book for that matter.  Then there are the cartoons – who doesn’t love Scooby doo?

We all know the various movies where animlas dominate – Lassie, Babe, Flicker to name just a few…but what about books like these?

As main meals, animal stories don’t necessarily come out on top.  It might be a classic, but I’ve never liked Animal Farm.  Then I could see the events happening a little too clearly and so didn’t want to go there in my mind!

However, there are many other animal stories that made me stop and think  – consider Raven Quest, The Sight, The Good Dog, Venus of the Fishes, The Seekers, Watership Down.  These are main meal animal story where they are the story and the story is usually told from the animal’s point of  view.

So the question I’m asking you, the reader, is – do you like your animals in large doses, main meal size doses…or would your prefer your animals to be in the background – a side dish so to speak?  Or are you happy when they slip into the middle where they become sidekicks and try to steal the story?

About Dale Mayer

Dale Mayer writes romantic suspense, with or without paranormal elements like TUESDAY'S CHILD (2011) and now young adult books in various genres like DANGEROUS DESIGNS (2011). Writing stabilizes her in a life gone wild! The other stabilizers? Cheesecake and her four cats! Of course, she's dreaming to think she'll get a piece cheesecake once her four kids find out she's been baking!
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24 Responses to How do you like your animal characters – as a side dish or main meal?

  1. Both those dogs look worthy of their own books, Dale! What characters!

    I’m happy for animals to take a major role in a book, as long as I’m sucked into the story, I don’t much care who ends up being the main lead. Just give me a good story!
    Michelle Diener`s last blog was …Guest blogging at author Cynthia Eden’s blog

  2. Amy Atwell says:

    Dale, great post–and a super photo. How could you *not* write about basset hounds after seeing that? I’m an animal lover. As a kid, I cut my teeth on The Black Stallion, Black Beauty, Lassie, and Call of the Wild. I do tend to prefer human protagonists with animals as the sidekicks or side dishes. Watership Down and The Plague Dogs were emotionally rough for me, but then again, so was The Horse Whisperer (read the book, couldn’t bring myself to view the movie). Animals tap an additional level of my sensibility somehow. I’m sure it’s that way for a lot of people. But I love seeing animals come out on top–like my own Edgar the Rabbit in Lying Eyes. I think he’s starting his own fan club!

    • Dale Mayer says:

      Hi Amy,

      Every time I see that picture I have to laugh. It’s definitely keeping Mosey on character! It’s interesting how some animals can just rag on our emotions. i haven’t read Horse Whisperer – can add that to my TBR pile now, thanks.

      You were horse crazy growing up, too, weren’t you? I missed that stage. I was busy reading Hitchcock then. LOL.
      Dale Mayer`s last blog was …Another wonderful review!

  3. Dale Mayer says:

    Hi Michelle!

    Isn’t that a picture! I saw it and immediately connected to Mosey.

    It’s truly about the story isn’t it. Regardless of the elements, characters, and side dishes. Maybe I’m not loving several of these stories then for the few that I’ve read I just couldn’t get into.

  4. Cynthia Eden says:

    Hmmm…tough question. I think it depends on the story–and what the writer can do with the story. Different stories–different animal dishes!
    Cynthia Eden`s last blog was …Chat On Saturday!!

    • Dale Mayer says:

      Hi Cynthia!

      Spoken like a chef – or a writer! :P For me, it takes a lot of skill to handle a full on animal meal. I’m not the person to do it. Now obviously, some of these authors do a wonderful job of it.

      I guess I’m a side dish person with a penchance for side kicks!
      Dale Mayer`s last blog was …Another wonderful review!

  5. Dale, that picture of those dogs is SO ADORABLE that I just want grab them and hug them. :razz: For me, I almost always like animals as side dishes and I’m happy when a great animal character enters a book as a main dish, too, but I do think it has to be really well written — not only to draw me in but to keep me there.
    Marilyn Brant`s last blog was …For the Love of Comedy

  6. Jill James says:

    I like a variety. When I was a little girl, Black Beauty and A Dog of Flanders were two of my favorite books. Dean Koontz has dogs in his books and sometimes they do steal the show. Kari Townsend had a cat with attitude in A Tempest in the Tea Leaves. I read a lot of romance, so I love animals in my stories, but no babies and little kids. A dog or cat interrupting the moment is funny, a little kid; not so much.
    Jill James`s last blog was …Book Reviews – eBooks vs. Paper

    • Dale Mayer says:

      Hi Jill,

      Variety is good! I’m that way about genres. I have never read A dog of Flanders, I’ll have to look it up. Interesting point on the animals versus babies issue. I tend to agree with you…maybe because I’ve been through the young kids and babies interrupting thing…not much funny about it at the time either :)
      Dale Mayer`s last blog was …Another wonderful review!

  7. Misty Evans says:

    As a reader, I like the protagnists to have a pet or rescue one because it shows their nice and compassionate. As a writer, I love to throw in an animal to complement the protagonist or even to spice up his/her life a bit. Animals are wonderful for doing that in a story. Like in Jennifer Evanovich’s series. I also like the way Jennifer Crusie has animals in hers.

    Edie is the master at making her protagonists animals. I like how she writes them.

    Generally, having the animal be the protag doesn’t work for me, unless it’s in children’s books, like Charlotte’s Web. I’m a fan of Eric Carle and other authors who do a great job showing life through human-like animals for kids’ books.

    • Dale Mayer says:

      Hi Misty,
      Pets are great for rounding out a character aren’t they. I prefer my animal characters to be side kicks and HATE it when they are killed off in the novel. Sigh. I’m a softy.

      I think you have to be a master to pull that whole animal protag thing off. I’ll have to look up Eric Carle – he’s another one I don’t know1
      Dale Mayer`s last blog was …Another wonderful review!

  8. Thanks for the great post, Dale. I agree with the consensus, if the story is great I don’t care about whether it’s animals or not. Watership Down is one of my all time favs. Who didn’t love Charlotte’s Web? There are so many stories that feature animals that are simply great. Marley and Me was a great story about how an unruly, undisciplined dog can become a soul-mate. I also love all of Edie’s books and the anthology Entangled, which I finished last night, was a wonderful collection :)
    florence fois`s last blog was …Hello … I’m back!

    • Dale Mayer says:

      Hi Florence!

      I adored Charlotte’s Web, still do :) I’m so happy you read the anthology and enjoyed it. It is a great collection of stories!

      I saw the movie Marley and Me, but haven’t read the book. might be an interesting experience to try that one.

      Thanks for stopping by.
      Dale Mayer`s last blog was …Another wonderful review!

  9. Liz Kreger says:

    I like animals to have a strong role in stories. Mostly as a sidekick, which is what Jezebel the Cat is in my Dragon Magic story (currently in the hands of my agent). I modeled her after my own calico (whose name just happens to be Jezebel :wink: ). She turned into quite a character and it was loads of fun writing her.

  10. I like my animals to be a sidekick trying to steal the scene. I enjoy books where the animals help the hero/heroine to get from A to B. I loved reading Charlotte’s Web to my students as a teacher and I am a Scooby Do lover. Animals can bring fun to a story and make you cry (Old Yeller). I love your picture and I had to smile when I saw it. At the moment I am writing a story with a mouthy parrot in it. I enjoy when he is trying to steal a scene. He may become more important to the book than I thought. LOL! Hope Mosey steals a few scenes.
    Juanita Olson`s last blog was …I did it!

    • Dale Mayer says:

      Hi Juanita,
      Now a mouthy parrot would be lots of fun! I agree. I love when an animal unexpectedly grabs your attention, stealing the show when you least expect it.

      And no worries, Mosey has ALREADY stolen several scenes.

  11. Mary Jo says:

    I like my animals to be what they must be for a story and like my characters my animals often show me the way. I have one book with Churchill, an Old English Sheepdog, who was supposed to be “just” a pet, but became central to the story and deservedly so.

    • Dale Mayer says:

      Hi Mary Jo,

      I love the name Churchill for an Old English Sheepdog! I think animal characters speak to a special part of us, the way different characters speak to us. They can make a story, or ruin it. Another reason for a writer to write what they love, as that passion comes through.

      Thanks for coming by.
      Dale Mayer`s last blog was …Another wonderful review!

  12. Edie Ramer says:

    I love bassett hounds! Mosey looks like he’d be a great character. I’ve tried to write a story with dogs, but they’re not as easy as cats. I have two dogs and one cat, so I know the heroine can’t just go away for hours and forget about the dog. And when the hero and heroine do what heroes and heroines do best in romances, the dog thinks they’re playing and wants to join in. The cat will turn her back in disgust.

    Obviously I don’t have a problem with an animal taking center stage. As long as it’s interesting, that’s all that matters. We don’t want no stinking rules!

  13. Dale Mayer says:

    Hi Edie,

    I agree on that no rules thing! I find writing about dogs, is that they are so involved in the protag’s life I tend to forget to mention what they are doing in each scene. My cp is forever writing, what’s the dog doing? Or where’s the dog? And I’ll realize that I’ve lost track of them. With cats, at least if they were on a bed curled up and sleeping, you know they are good for several scenes in the same position!
    Dale Mayer`s last blog was …Another wonderful review!

  14. Deb Maher says:

    What a great photo, Dale! Mosey could easily take over a story. I’ve never had animals as characters in my books. I guess mainly because I write historical; somehow animals (other than the necessary horse or two) never seem appropriate. But I’m currently working on a mystery; a cat just might add more color to the book.

    Jill James mentioned Dean Koontz’s work. I fell in love with Einstein in WATCHERS. We’re not dog people, so much responsibility, but that book almost made me go in search of a Golden Retriever to adopt (a really smart one, of course). Didn’t do that, but almost. :-)

    Thanks for a fun post!
    Deb Maher`s last blog was …“Mining Your Backlist” at NJRW

    • Dale Mayer says:

      Hi,

      If your cat is anything like my cats, then it will add a lot of color to your story. I’ve never written a historical, but I can see what you mean. I do know that every time I add in an animal character, they tend to walk all over me to get more showtime.

      I’ll have to look up WATCHERS, it’s a new one to me. That’s what’s so fun about blogs like this – finding about new stories to love.

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