What Do You Look for in Literary Pets?

Riddick and his pet from the new movie

Riddick and his pet from the new movie

I watch a few Harry Potter movies this weekend while editing since I’ve seen them enough that they’re background noise.  Something caught my attention this time.  The familiars are there, but rarely come into play outside of a few events.  I had the same problem with Stiletto in Beginning of a Hero because it was so difficult to include him in a lot of the action.  As much as Luke Callindor said Stiletto wasn’t a pet, he was an animal that followed a ‘master’ around.  I’m starting to wonder what the true purpose of a pet or animal companion is in a story.

I think many times pets are in there for flavor and a mascot type of thing.  Maybe even marketing various merchandise to animal lovers.  It’s that I see most pets get left behind halfway through stories and forgotten until they are suddenly involved in a grand event.  I see this is typically their death or a brave rescue of their master.  Pets might be more of a ‘out of nowhere’ character because readers tend to forget about them unless they are involved in several scenes or brought up a lot.  Once forgotten, the pet can fade away or make a miraculous return to the reader’s mind.

Personally, I never pay attention to pets without personality.  I use them at times in my stories, but I truly don’t think of them when I’m a reader.  The exception I can think of is Tug the horse from Ranger’s Apprentice.  A reason he stands out is that he has personality, attitude, and is involved in a lot of the events.  He is treated like a main cast character instead of a secondary, which is not common among pet characters.  Still, it’s rather difficult to make a pet a main character.  This is something I’m going to think about and write up for Wednesday’s thought post.  Maybe a fun list of ‘how to use and misuse pet characters’ and throw some humor into it.

So, what do you look for in the pets of characters?  Do you even think of them?

About Charles Yallowitz

Charles E. Yallowitz was born, raised, and educated in New York. Then he spent a few years in Florida, realized his fear of alligators, and moved back to the Empire State. When he isn't working hard on his epic fantasy stories, Charles can be found cooking or going on whatever adventure his son has planned for the day. 'Legends of Windemere' is his first series, but it certainly won't be his last.
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41 Responses to What Do You Look for in Literary Pets?

  1. Maria M says:

    I look for the quirky and unusual, i.e. a polite social climbing lady of middle age would own a rude squawking parrot.


  2. I tend to use pets as foil characters, usually inspiring something in the MC that they don’t want to feel (closeness or chaos) and this makes them a great emotional catalyst throughout the story.


  3. quilltwist says:

    Reblogged this on QuillTwist and commented:
    Another pet in fiction that would be a MC in their own right would be Nighteyes from Robin Hobb’s Farseer and Tawny Man trilogies.


  4. OMG RIDDICK!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! SQUEEEEEEEEEEE!!

    Going to see that Friday 😀

    Any pets I have are more like companions than pets. They usually have some function in the character’s story other than to just be there to cuddle, like the dire wolves in GoT.


  5. Jae says:

    For my character his dog is his safety or stability. Even if everything going on around him is crazy, he can rely on that dog for strength. And on the flip side, when the dog isn’t there everything feels out of control.


  6. MishaBurnett says:

    I think my favorite fictional pet is Harry Dresden’ s Mouse, who I’d a Chinese temple guardian dog. He has some supernatural abilities, but he’s still a dog, with all the charms and foibles of the species.


  7. Kaufman's Kavalkade says:

    Well, I agree basically.

    Their own backstory, and compelling interests as a subplot perhaps.

    Kinda like Guen as an example.


  8. Jack Flacco says:

    Max, in the movie I Am Legend eventually becomes the main protagonist’s emotional soundboard. In a case where there aren’t any humans, a pet makes sense to have in the story for the emotional relief. Same as in Cast Away, Tom Hanks has a volleyball as his emotional soundboard. Had he not had that, the story would have been drier. At least, this is what I think.


    • I think pets have a better presence and use in movies. I Am Legend is a great example of how an animal can be used in the cast. In a book, it’s a little tougher because you don’t see the animal in the background unless the author brings attention to it. Us authors really do have it rough.


  9. Kirsten says:

    This is fascinating. I was an avid reader of all the Black Stallion books by Walter Farley where the animal was the main character. In fact, they drove the story. Then there was where the Red Fern Grows. If it had animals in then I was reading it. However, I’ve never included an animal in my stories…hmmm.


  10. jmcobbrn says:

    One of my main characters uses a spell to take control of a Shadow Hound (basically a horse sized wolf). She uses him to help her in battle. The spell goes wrong and now, when she sleeps she sees life through the eyes and mind of the Hound. He also follows her around.


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