Please Like My Protagonist
At most conferences I've attended and online writing classes I've taken, the speakers have discussed this thing referred to as "pet the dog" which simply means get the reader to instantly like your protagonist. Whenever any character shows affection toward an animal, it will create this connection with your reader. How about an Orangutan? Remember Clyde in Every Which Way But Loose and its sequel? Best sidekick EVER!
Here's a quick example. When a cop picks up that cute puppy in an alley while searching for some bad guy, notice he gives it a quick snuggle before tucking it safely behind some dumpster? Now, back to the bad guy and doing the much needed deed, moving the plot along. It's not realistic, but it works. The cop has a soft spot, even while in the middle of a very dangerous chase. This cute scenario doesn't really belong in the story, but it serves one of two purposes for supplying elements which seem out of place. It adds to character development. The other would be to further the plot, which it does not.
Creating Conflicting Emotions
Two elements I love to experience at the same time are feeling my love for humanity and feeling love for a helpless NON-human type. How does one promote love for humanity? Um, you have an horrific animal which causes incomprehensible damage to society. Think King Kong, Godzilla, Food of the Gods, and Jaws. It's man against this indestructible creature wreaking havoc upon their villages.
And don't give these creatures any qualities that make them human, like King Kong actually falling in love with the girl. NOooooooo!!!! Now we have to like the creature, and that defeats the purpose of bringing society together to kill it. Talk about conflicting emotions for your readers.
In Jaws, the mother was protecting her 15 foot baby the fishermen killed! Those bastards. Of course, any mother would go after them murderers, and with great vengeance. How do you hate such a creature?
Creating Horror and Anticipation
One of the things in fiction that has a remarkable affect on readers, and I say this from my own experience as an avid reader of horror, is the mention of acts performed by domestic animals, acts we cannot deny but we cringe knowing of them. Like the cannibalism of hamsters when one of their own becomes ill. No, our pets are not cannibals!
Authors remind us of the horrors we wish to deny. They torture us with these tidbits of information, reminding our kindred of the evil which exists in our innocent world, the one we so desperately seek to escape. MWAHAHAHAHA!!
A stray dog wouldn't eat the scalp off a dead man. But, what if he'd been abandoned and was hungry, like the one in Stephen King's Gerald's Game? I think King described it like the sound of pulling up carpet? I don't care how hungry my Maggie ever gets, she'd never eat my scalp!
Promoting Religious Views
So, what does it say to you, the reader, when you read about the family pet who died? Pet Sematary is an example. Karma? Did you get a sense that the author had a particular religion they were depicting or did it just seem creepy to you? Coming back to life: evil times 3! I'm not suggesting this was the intent, but when I read the book, I felt a lot of ceremony in it.
Animal Farm is a great example of this, but that's literary stuff, so who cares? :) Read it!
I use animals in my short story Snow Leopard. The cats in my story are major characters and they play a very prominent role in how I feel about political dissidence in America today. They are tools and my intent has always been the hope that my readers will relate on a deeper level at some point.
Okay, I admit, I'm being overly harsh on the writers out there, but I want to know. Do you think about why you include animals in your scenarios? Do you ever wonder why you find the need to include them? I think it's okay to do it, I just wonder if you know why you do it and do these specific reasons I point out hit the mark?
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