Using Animals in your Writing (PLUS Giveaway)

As a writer and a veterinarian, I am acutely aware of the use of animals in fiction. According the Humane Society, 62% of all households in the USA own a pet. That’s a big audience. Often I feel that my fellow writers forget that you can use animals to enhance characterization and scene-setting.
The skittering of rats in a dark castle hallway, flies buzzing around a dead body, coyotes yipping in the night – we are surrounded by animals, birds and insects in our day to day world and they can easily be transposed into our fictional worlds.

Using Animals in your Writing (PLUS Giveaway), Guest post by Eileen Brady
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One of my favorite examples is in the thriller The Silence of the Lambs by Thomas Harris. His killer, Jame “Buffalo Bill” Gumb, kidnaps and kills women for their skins. A truly repellent character, but Harris gives him a twist – Jame loves his little dog. With that small unexpected detail he adds dimension to a murderer.

Consider this scene: A large cat lay curled up in an armchair next to the fireplace. Cynthia smiled, and took another seat. Now see how you can manipulate it. A large cat lay curled up in an armchair next to the fireplace. Cynthia frowned and pushed it out of the way. With very little effort you can use the way Cynthia relates to the cat to establish her character, and pet owners will definitely dislike that second Cynthia.

As fiction writers we also can use our imaginations to the fullest. Our favorite cat can teleport and dogs can predict the future. In many books, especially cozies, pets are more like little furry people. Anthropomorphism, putting human emotions onto animals, is rampant as genres blend like never before. But remember to establish a point of view – don’t have your donkey character be very realistic, then suddenly start to quote Shakespeare. You might end up simply confusing your readers.

Many of the books we read in childhood or in English classes used animals as symbols. Think of Moby Dick, a real whale and but also viewed as the incarnation of all of Captain Ahab’s obsessions. Remember Black Beauty, and Jack London’s Call of the Wild? Animals often are depicted as noble and loyal, and as symbols of freedom. Many authors describe animals as being far “better” than the humans they are involved with. But leave it to Steven King, on the other hand, to give us the rabid dog, Cujo, who evolved into a near demonic force.

One last suggestion. People react very emotionally to animal stories. Just recently, the shooting of the lion, Cecil, created a world-wide wave of anger. You may find your reader reacts to something done to an animal far more than if it is done to a person. That may not seem logical but it is true. How many of you were devastated when Bambi’s mother died? (I was – I was about eight and went and hid in the women’s bathroom) So, think long and hard before you harm an animal in your book. My books, MUZZLED and UNLEASHED, both Kate Turner, D.V.M. Mysteries, have plenty of animals in them, since my heroine is a veterinarian. Her clinic, the Oak Falls Veterinary Hospital, has a 100% success rate in saving her animal patients. Unrealistic? Sure, however I want my  mystery readers to feel comfortable turning the pages, knowing everything will turn out fine in the end.

I hope these thoughts on writing help a little. Now it’s time for me to get out of my pajamas and back to work!

Using Animals in your Writing (PLUS Giveaway), Guest post by Eileen Brady
Eileen Brady is a veterinarian living in Scottsdale, Arizona. She is a wife and mother of two daughters and often has to chase her six cats and two dogs away from her laptop keyboard. The Kate Turner, DVM Mysteries is her first series.

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  1. Very interesting observations about animals in books, especially mysteries. Thanks so much for sharing your insights with us.

  2. I like your point of view. We should pay attention what do we write about animals because most people really like them (even more than other people for sure) so you may easily offend some of them. During my essay writing process I make sure that everything I write is not going to hurt somebody's feelings


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