Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Animals in Books -- an emotional hook

I really like animals in books. No, that's wrong. I love animals in books. I love the ordinariness of cats and dogs that act just exactly like cats and dogs. I also love it when I must suspend disbelief and accept behavior that simply would never happen in real life. Even made-up, fanciful animals are fun. In fact, it's not just in books where animals delight me. Movies, TV, plays, you name it. The animals can steel the show and seal the deal for me.

Writing "Blackie" in Death By A Dark Horse was a joy. I dipped into emotions, feel, and smell that were right at the surface. No digging around in unpleasant, buried memories. Even those scenes where Thea has dressage training problems were easily accessible. Difficulties in riding are usually learning experiences -- events you want to keep available so you can remember how to solve the problem when it occurs again.

Best of all -- from a novel-writing standpoint -- the relationship between my protagonist and her horse add a dimension to her that would be otherwise difficult to show, and wouldn't be nearly as much fun to read. Any time a writer includes an animal in the story and shows a character interacting with it they are accessing the reader on an emotional level. When your aim is to hook the reader you can't beat emotions to get the job done.

In a book I read recently, one of the main characters began acting in a rather dangerous manner. His behavior had me worried. I'd wanted him to be a good guy. In fact, the author had built the story up to make his good-guy-dependability essential to the plot -- to the survival of the other characters. I was worried, really worried. But when the guy fell asleep (worn out as he was from his bad behavior) and three dogs and two cats cuddled up and refused to leave him, I knew (even if the other characters were still doubting) that at heart he was good and the author would be using internal as well as external conflict to challenge this character. The author didn't need to say anything else, the character didn't need to do anything different. I was hooked on an emotional level I had no control over. My initial prediction of the demise of this character was replaced by the foreshadowing of a plot twist. I wanted to find out how this character was going to solve his problem and what was going to happen next. I was rooting for him because of the animals.

Those of us who love any animal feel the connection in our hearts, and have felt it since we were small children with big imaginations. As writers, it's an opportunity to make use of, no matter how brief, that will impact the reader on a visceral level.

I love animals in books. It's a relationship that's worth a thousand unwritten words.