Friday, December 23, 2005

Animal Crackers

Animals as supporting characters.
Not simply as part of the decor or to provide warm and fuzzy things about the major character - oh, they have a cat/dog/gerbil, how sweeet - but as minor characters.
I'm a sucker for them.
In the Del Shannon procedurals - which I have bored on about previously - Lieutenant Luis Mendoza has a triage of Siamese cats. One, El Senor, disturbs the contents of dressers, bookshelves and record cabinets, leaps from high places on unsuspecting shoulders and must have his half ounce of rye. These cats and others in the central character's menagerie provide a continunity to the series, are natural instruments to the introduction of new characters and plot twists, and reflect - without awkward emphasis - certain fastidious, curious, independent qualities of the main character.
Animals are a well-known device to initiate the First Meeting of the hero and heroine.
One such was named Blot - on the landscape, not escutcheon - and in my delight at the name, I remember the animal long after the standard plot is forgotten.
Animals are used as tools to explain the heroine's course of action: she is forced to live in a seedy walk-up because she will not be parted from her elderly cat Maximillian - squalor from which the noble hero rescues her , of course, and at the same time displays his sensitivity.
Those are the domestic types. Find them in cozies and romances and mysteries.
Animals are also familiar as the hero's faithful side-kick and shield-brother. The Companion. Usually, but not always, a horse or a wolf-hound, brave and clever. A sentient weapon.
They provide sarcastic counter-point conversation at times, allowing the hero/ine to reveal all sorts of backstory and exposition in a painless manner.
Sometimes they are Conscience, preventing the hero/ine from deviating from the noble path.
I hate it when they are Sacrifice.
Literature is littered with them.
Like Tarzan and his assorted wildlife, the apes, the lions, the elephants.
Like the Pack and Bagheera.
Like Cuchulain and his Hound.
They are myth and memory.
They are a step beyond or before the Noble Savage ( see Oded Fedr) and speak to the primal yearning we have to make treaty the other living beings in a fierce and wild world.
I think it comes down to that.
The simplicity of the cave, the fire and the wolf who crept in and whined.

10 comments:

Bonnie Calhoun said...

The animals in the original Tarzan were a little sad. The elephants were the wrong kind, so they had phony ears taped on them. The tigers stripes were painted on (so many of them died of toxins.....

I do love animals, but I never think to add them as backdrop when I'm writing.

Miss Snark has the Crapometer up and running! I was brave and submitted! How about you, Bernita?

Dennie McDonald said...

Coming from a critique group where several members have stories only consisting of animals, I am comfortable and familiar w/ them. One in particlaur works w/ for abused animals so No one in the group EVER has harm come to them!

More than half my books there is a pet (usually a dog). I have never in my life since the day I was born NOT had a pet - even when I just had a ferrett in my first apartment and the super didn't know - they are as intrical (sp?) as the best friend character to me =)

Bernita said...

Was thinking of the books, Bonnie, not the movies.
No, not this time, Bonnie, I think I know what has to be done to fix it but haven't yet. Think I'll just watch and learn.
Think they are an excellent addition to a story, Dennie, just as they are to living. But harm to them is about the only thing that will make me heave a book.

Savannah Jordan said...

Hey, Bernita. I hope you and all of your blog readers have a Happy Christmas!

As to animals, I've not really used them in my writing. Well, other than in a more animorphic sense, as you saw in my blog. :)

M. G. Tarquini said...

I've been thinking I should add a dog to one of mine. People always like dogs.

Bonnie: I'm trying to write my synopsis but my ability to write coherant sentences has fled. I feel like I'm being asked to do brain surgery.

Candice Gilmer said...

In Janet Evanovich's Steph Plum books, I always got a kick out of her relationship with her hamster.

I'm not an animal person -- pets are great, but I'm allergic to cats, my daughter's allergic to dogs (which we learned after she broke out in hives by petting a dog), so we dont' have pets. And as such, I don't think to put them in stories.

But that's me. They say write what you know, and I don't know animals, so for me, animals probably won't be in my stories...

Bernita said...

Thank you, Savanna and the same to you.
You are exploring mythic fragments, which is a neat thing.
Have you thought of expanding the theme into a series of encounters with a variety of knownsupernatural entities from myth and legend? Sexual Encounters of a Basic Kind?
If it's not been done, it might go over really well.
M.G and the Anthropomorphic Can Opener...
"Worms." Her voice was resigned. She crossed her arms and looked over her shoulder.
"Are you satisfied now?"
There are some "pets" I don't understand , Candace, so they won't appear in my stories either.

archer said...

Bill Sykes's dog. Definitely NOT Benji.

Maybe I'm just on a kick lately, but I often think there is nobody, nobody, nobody who does stuff better than Chuckie D.

Savannah Jordan said...

Actually, Bernita, I HAD been considering that concept. Kicked it around a lot lately... Sounds like a whole bunch of fun to me. :)

Happy holidays!!

Bernita said...

Good.
I hope you do.
Has mega possibilities.