So, you want to use a pet in your story. Good idea. There’s a long tradition of helpful animal companions of both natural and magical varieties. It all comes down to what you want you’re looking for. Here are some tips to get you started and know what to do with them:
- You can’t go wrong with a dog. Even Riddick has a dog now. The thing about dogs are that they’re loyal and come in a variety of shapes. You can do a lot with a dog because of how they act in real life.
- You can go wrong with a cat. Wild cats like tigers and panthers seem to work for primal characters like barbarians. They can come in magical varieties too. Sadly, a house cat might not work out too well for all characters. Something to consider is that many villains have cats like Skeletor and Blofeld. Although, He-Man has a cat too, so you can do whatever you want there.
- Birds are popular among thieves and wizards. When dealing with birds, you need to remember coloration. A brightly colored parrot can work for a pirate, but not a shadow-loving thief. Wizards tend to have a bird with colors that mimic their temperament. Owls and ravens are used because of their intelligence and wisdom. I can neither recommend or speak against the use of an ostrich as a mount.
- Fish . . . yeah . . . you better be writing about mermaids or Aquaman. Fish don’t do well outside of the water.
- Large animals such as bears and elephants. Go right ahead, but you better have some reasoning behind such things being tamed. Also, they can’t be stabled like normal animals. You need to factor that in before going this route. Think it’s easy to get a giraffe into a horse stable? It isn’t any easier getting it out.
- Rodents are an unusual choice. Again, you find them more with thieves and wizards, but also with children. Mice, ferrets, and rabbits are popular among children stories because they are less common than dogs and cats. These animals tend to be caged, especially the mice. You might be able to get away with a free range rabbit or ferret if you explain it easily.
- Use apes and monkeys at your own risk. By that I mean expect to be sued by the ghost of Edgar Rice Burroughs if you’re not careful.
- Magical creatures can be the sky’s the limit, but that’s part of the danger. Sure, your character can be riding a dragon and destroying everyone. Where is the threat and why is such a powerful beast listening to a human? Especially if you do this in the first book and the dragon is obedient to an untested character. It’s best to have this relationship grow within the book and over time. Think of it as a subplot as long as the dragon doesn’t eat the hero immediately. That would a quick end to the book and mean the dragon isn’t a pet.
- Bats are cool. I like bats.
There you have it. It’s really up in the air about pets in literature because you can go in a lot of directions. The key here is to make them important. You can make them the main plot, give them a chapter or section on their own, or any number of ideas. To give them impact, they have to be around for events. Those events will shape them. Giving them roles in both action and downtime scenes increases their connection to their master. Who knows? The pet character might end up being the unsung hero in your story.