When its eyes met mine…
“On a gloomy March afternoon, sitting in the same high school classroom she’d been sitting in for thirteen years, gritting her teeth as she told her significant other for the seventy-second time since they’d met that she’d be home at six because it was Wednesday and she was always home on six on Wednesdays, Quinn McKenzie lifted her eyes from the watercolour assignments on the desk in front of her and met her destiny.”
Jennifer Crusie is famous for putting wonderful dogs in her books and this is no exception. Quinn’s destiny is a small black dog with desperate eyes and he isn’t a prop, a cute accessory for her heroine. He gets the opening line in Crazy For You, because he’s about to change her life.
Animals in books? Dogs, more dogs and a duckling or two
Georgette Heyer, seen here with her dog, was another author who used dogs, kittens, even ducklings to delight us. In a long scene in The Grand Sophy the ducklings escape, are recaptured and generally cause chaos.
Venetia‘s Flurry flew to her rescue when, shockingly, Damerel kissed her. Unfortunately Flurry desisted the moment he was commanded to “sit”, recognising a master when he heard one. But he was enough of a distraction for Venetia to extract herself. Once she’d done that, she was more than a match for the man!
And Ulysses, the disreputable mongrel Arabella foisted on Beaumaris, is a joy.
But writers beware!
Any creature, however small, if it has a place in your story, is as much a character as any of the humans who walk across your pages.
This is Hector, a hamster who, despite being a figment of Ginny’s imagination in The Billionaire Takes A Bride, caused havoc. And no one had to feed him or clean his cage! Perfect!
Not just dogs…
Like any secondary human character, animals in books must have a purpose for being there. But they can be trouble, if not for the hero or heroine of your story, for the writer.
I learned this lesson early on when I wrote The Bride, the Baby & the Best Man. In my head I could clearly see the handsome English setter following Harry March as he limped across the entrance hall. But that was it. In every scene I was faced with the the “Where is the dog? What is it doing?” questions.
And the answer was nothing. There was no reason for him to be there and when I’d written half the book and the dog had not appeared anywhere apart from that first scene, I knew he had to go.
There is no room for anything—animal, vegetable or mineral—that isn’t moving the plot forward, isn’t helping to define the hero and heroine and show the reader who they are.
But animals in books are not all cute
It’s impossible to imagine Bill Sykes without his bull terrier, Bull’s Eye, who is so much a part of him that it follows his master to his death. Or Baskerville without its hound, raising gooseflesh with its howls on whoever hears it.
And then there’s Rochester’s Pilot — “a great dog, whose black and white colour made him a distinct object against the trees.” — that Jane mistakes for a Gytrash, a ghost animal.
I haven’t entirely given up on the animal kingdom. Dora, a long-haired dachshund, certainly made herself felt in a recent book. A couple of French bulldogs have a walk-on part in Christmas Reunion in Paris, and then there’s Nigel, almost a Newfoundland, in Past Echoes, part of the Beach Hut Surprise anthology.
I have just bought my granddaughter a copy of Joan Aiken’s Arabel & Mortimer — Mortimer is a Raven. It was a Jackanory favourite when my daughter was a girl. We both loved it!