By Writing Excuses | January 21, 2013 - 11:43 am - Posted in Characters, Season 8

We called it “Pets” because it’s pithy, but what we’re really talking about here is how to give your story’s animals — horses, dogs, cats — a personality. Why is this important? Why might it be useful? What are the tropes and the common pitfalls? What is the difference between tortoise-shell, calico, and piebald?

(We don’t actually answer that last one.)

Whether you’re using animals as a sounding board, for raising the stakes, or as an early-warning system (or as all three) you’ll want to give this a listen.

Audiobook Pick-of-the-Week: Making Money, by Terry Pratchett narrated by Stephen Briggs

Writing Prompt: Write a human interacting with an alien, and the alien has a conspicuous companion animal who is critically important to the alien's life.

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This entry was posted on Monday, January 21st, 2013 at 11:43 am and is filed under Characters, Season 8. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. Both comments and pings are currently closed.

17 Comments

  1. January 21, 2013 @ 1:03 pm


    Thank you! This was just the podcast i needed!

    Still not sure if my pet will surive the revision but this did at least give him a chance. He very much thanks you for this.

    -TSD

    Posted by TSD
  2. January 21, 2013 @ 3:04 pm


    I expected an entertaining but not particularly revelatory episode. What I got was insight into how the human species out-competed my alt-history fantasy races who lack historical beasts of burden. Thanks, guys!

    Posted by Sam
  3. January 21, 2013 @ 3:46 pm


    The way McMurty writes about Woodrow Call’s horse in Lonesome Dove is an excellent example. Other cowboys keep offering him huge sums of money or barter for it so you learn its beautiful and valuable, and lots of the cowhands have been bitten by it so you know its dangerous. Its an accident waiting to happen and when that accident happens it takes the book up a notch. And its value is central to the conclusion of the story.

    Great podcast this week!

    Posted by Tim
  4. January 21, 2013 @ 4:11 pm


    Great episode. It sparked some great ideas, and fueled some others that were already lingering around. Thank you!

    Also it reminded me of this Gondry piece:

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=I07xDdFMdgw

    ..which is always a good thing.

    Posted by Sean
  5. January 22, 2013 @ 4:44 am


    @Sam

    Best comment of 2013.

    Posted by Tony
  6. January 22, 2013 @ 7:48 am


    Nice episode and a good reminder that I need to up the personality levels of my “Little Riding Rexes” in my current project, a misnomer as they’re actually herbivores.

    We occasionally do in-house dog sitting for other people and our poor shih tzu has to deal with the newcomers. He has developed a clear, “If I ignore this dog long enough, it will go away” attitude. It’s funny to see the cool aloof attitude appear when otherwise he acts like a grumpy old man trying to tell us young human whippersnappers off. There is definitely story potential here.

    Posted by Talmage
  7. January 22, 2013 @ 12:09 pm


    Folks –

    Great cast. Thank you. @Howard, enjoyed the prompt. The final tip, I thought, was quite valuable – that it’s okay for the pet owner to anthropomorphize, but not the narrator.

    Levi

    Posted by Levi
  8. January 22, 2013 @ 12:59 pm


    The wind shifted westward, taking with it all horses, which sent them hurdling off into space.

    Posted by Nick Enlowe
  9. January 23, 2013 @ 2:29 am


    In “Futurama” season 7 episode 4 a pet serves as part of alien’s personality (id) entangled via quantum means with the actual alien (ego). That’s probably the most ‘crucial’ alien pet I’ve ever seen.

    Posted by Cornell
  10. January 23, 2013 @ 6:48 am


    So long, and thanks for all the carrots.

    Posted by CM
  11. January 24, 2013 @ 5:55 am


    Wow, don’t they have farm animals in Utah? There’s a lot more than just beast of burden on a farm.

    While the rooster crows, the chickens scratch, the hogs root, the cows chew their cud, and so on…

    Here’s a transcript to keep the words rolling.

    Roll over, Rover.

    Posted by Mike Barker
  12. January 24, 2013 @ 5:57 am


    Wow, don’t they have farm animals in Utah? There’s a lot more than just beast of burden on a farm.

    While the rooster crows, the chickens scratch, the hogs root, the cows chew their cud, and so on…

    Here’s a transcript to keep the words rolling. (This time with URL!)

    http://wetranscripts.livejournal.com/69955.html

    Roll over, Rover.

    Posted by Mike Barker
  13. January 24, 2013 @ 1:23 pm


    Hey, will this podcast be helpful, if I have a situation similar to Princess Mononoke? Where the lead is raised by wolves as their child, rather then a human having a pet?

    Posted by Sarah
  14. January 24, 2013 @ 2:03 pm


    So… Bela was handled by a novice stable boy.

    Posted by Tomas
  15. January 29, 2013 @ 11:37 am


    Yeah, I always know something bad is going to happen in the Game of Thrones books whenever one of the dire wolves starts acting up.

    As well as sensing upcoming plot developments, animals are often used to reveal a human’s character. If an animal does not like someone, there is a good chance that character is a villain eventually. For example, the Trouble with Tribbles Star Trek episode.

    Posted by Andrew
  16. February 2, 2013 @ 10:01 am


    Interesting food for thought for pet development in fantasy worlds: Dogs digest carbs better than wolves do, thanks to people.

    http://www.latimes.com/news/science/la-sci-how-dogs-evolved-20130124,0,1620029.story

    Interesting to postulate the effects we may have had on other domesticated species.

    Posted by klmercer
  17. March 9, 2013 @ 10:17 am


    I know it is a completely different genre and very old fashioned, too. But I still think if you want to study doing good pets in novels, there is lots to be learned from the one and only Patricia Veryan. All her pets are engaging characters on their own, each very distinctive from the other. She uses lots of horses, but also some cats and dogs, a pig and a gander. They add lots of laughter to her stories, play important but realistic roles in key scenes, and are often addressed by the heroes and heroines when there is no one else to talk to. The most important role of the pets in Veryans books is showing the characters of the people around them. For example in one of her series Roland M. is one of the bad guys. But the way he loves his horse Rump endears him to the reader and in the end he gets his own book where he turns into the hero. And when torture does not break him, his enemy has the horse shot – and because you as the reader know about their relationship this works perfectly well as the ultimate cruelty he has to suffer. One of the most lovable male characters in Veryans books is Devenish, who has a temper and is playing the tough guy because he was teased so much about his boyish, pretty looks. But through the way he acts around animals, the reader always knows that he is a softie in the best possible way.
    By the way, Veryan also does a great job writing children, without getting all gushy about them.

    Posted by Christa