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How Pets Reveal Character

Part 1 of my Animals in Fiction series

How protagonists treat animals can tell you a lot about them as characters. There is the classic dynamic of villains are cruel to animals while heroes treat them with love, but human characters' behavior towards animals can give your reader more insight into their character than whether or not they should be in jail for animal abuse.

Does your protagonist adore some creatures but get squeamish around others? Are they comfortable with cats but get nervous around dogs? Have they ever had a bad experience with a certain kind of animal, and if so, how has this impacted their relationship with them?

Beyond phobias and personal preferences (cat people vs. dog people), pets and other animal companions can reveal subtle details about your character. For instance, what qualities in their pet inspired them to care for them and why? What are some behaviors they consider pet peeves? Are they devoted to their animal friend, or do they simply enjoy their company?

What names they call their pets can also offer insight into their character. In my YA mystery Unreliable, Dominick Turner and his mother, Paige, have three gerbils. Paige narrates the following when she arrives home after learning of the murder victim's death:

I opened the door to my apartment and stepped into the tiny living room. Our three gerbils, Caddy, Champy, and Cressie—Dominick named them, obviously—were in their cage on the oak mail table. Cressie got off the purple wheel to put her paws against the glass in greeting and the other two followed suit.
I chuckled. “Hello, girls.”
They squeaked hello back. Caddy is white with brown spots, Champy is all black, and Cressie grey with white tufts on her belly. They’re all close in age and love everyone they meet.
Most days, I’d stop and play with them. Not today.

Dominick naming his gerbils after legendary lake monsters is significant. He is an aspiring cryptozoologist, and his choice of names hints at his passion for the field before the reader learns this a few pages later. Additionally, his mother not stopping to play with them indicates that what she has learned is shocking to the point of disrupting her daily routine.

This has been part 1 of my animals in fiction series. Tune in next time for my next post: how to realistically write dogs.

Thanks for reading!


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