I’m blogging today about a phenomenon that I may be guilty of in my own fiction. You’ll recognise it when I explain. It’s when a main character uses a pet as a confidant and ally. Let’s loosely call it ‘the animal as a literary device’.
Take a lonely single girl who sits around talking to her cat (or dog or hamster) lamenting her situation because nobody else understands her. Sure she might be a ditz and she might be a bit flaky, but dammit if she isn’t home every night to feed Fido or Whiskers and to lament her miserable life!
There’s a reason you see this in books and that’s because when it’s done well, it works. Here are some very successful examples that may spring to mind:
Janet Evanovich uses it in a lot of her traditional romances, and in the Stephanie Plum series it seems Rex the Hamster is almost the only thing Stephanie can keep track of (how one hamster has survived so many explosions in one apartment with just a cage to protect him is quite the mystery, but Stephanie needs Rex and so he has bravely powered on through nineteen books so far! Don’t let my cynicism throw you off, I’ve read all nineteen of those books!).
A great example of this done well in the chick lit genre is Must Love dogs by Claire Cook. I loved this book back in the day because at that time it was a fresh angle….eight years later, hmm I’m not sure.
Meg Cabot did it in The Princess Diaries (cat) and in The Boy Next Door (dog). If you can add pet-sitting into the story line you get double points. Well, not that there are points but you get the dog as the confidant and the fish out of water scenario as well. (In my first novel Mr Right and Other Mongrels the main character has the opposite issue – a crippling dog phobia – not much sitting around talking to the dogs in that one).
So what is my point you ask? People do have pets and they do talk to them. People really will race home to feed their cat rather than have a night of crazy sex with a new love interest – either because the cat really does need to eat or because it’s a nice way out when you’re scared you like him too much or you don’t like him enough – but either way it does happen. People do walk their dogs and meet new friends at the dog park, absolutely. It’s real life and that makes it realistic, sure.
I guess my point is that done well it is just fine to have animals as confidants in books but done badly it’s just another cliché. It’s another “here we go” moment for a reader and neither the author nor the reader wants that.
That’s why I say “Step Away from the Cat” unless he brings some unique energy or purpose that will have the readers caring about that animal, not just as a literary device, but as a real life character that they too would give up a wonderful romantic evening for.
Mr Right and Other Mongrels
Blissfully happy in her own universe Allegra (Ally) Johnson is the sweet best friend everyone wants to have. Quietly and independently wealthy she runs a charming second-hand bookshop in beachside Manly. Heck, sometimes she even goes downstairs from her flat to run the shop in her Chinese silk pyjamas. It sounds like bliss. But is it enough?
When dog-phobic Allegra is rescued from an exuberant canine by the chivalrous Teddy Green, Australia’s hottest TV celebrity and garden make-over guru, her life begins to change. Dramatically!
Unaware of Teddy’s fame Allegra finds herself falling for him, despite her best attempts to resist his charm. Supported by her eccentric family and her fabulous gay friend Justin, Allegra embarks on an on-again off-again romance with Teddy, complicated by his jealous ex-girlfriend, fashionista Louisa and her own narcissistic hippy mother Moonbeam.
Will Ally be able to overcome her insecurities and find happiness with this possible Mr Right or will Teddy’s celebrity lifestyle prove to be too much?
Mr Right and Other Mongrels is a light-hearted story about how one chance encounter can change your life.
About author Monique McDonell is an Australian author who writes contemporary women's fiction including chick lit and romance. She lives on Sydney's Northern Beaches with husband and daughter, and despite her dog phobia, a dog called Skip.
At University she studied Creative Writing as part of of her Communication degree. Afterwards, she was busy working in public relations and didn't write for pleasure for quite a few years although she wrote many media releases, brochures and newsletters - and still does in her day-job.
When she began to write again she noticed that writing dark unhappy stories made her unhappy, so she made a decision to write a novel with a happy ending, and has been writing happy stories ever since.