Let’s keep the subject going because maybe there’s more to this than we realize. After all, a character can be defined by their friends and that includes pets. Yet, you can’t just toss anything in on a whim. Not unless you’re being very random and think of animals as nothing more than window dressing. Totally possible and I’m not one to judge . . . out loud. So, here are some tips that may or may not help.
- The animal you pick needs to be viable for the adventure you have planned. If there is a lot of traveling then a hamster might not be a good choice. Traveling through a dungeon won’t do that goldfish any favors. There needs to be a way that the animal can be in the story without getting underfoot or becoming a hindrance. Otherwise, people wonder why they’re there and that’s really not what you want your audience to be pondering.
- Not every pet needs to be magical. I know we’re talking a lot of fantasy here, but that doesn’t mean every adventurer needs a dragon, griffin, or enchanted horse. Don’t get me wrong. These are fun additions and you get more flexibility with their care and habits. Much less of a chance that you’ll get an email criticizing how your hero gave venison to a hippogriff when they have an easier time digesting pork. Still, the use of a cat, dog, etc. can create a bond with people because they can emotionally connect to those types of animals.
- Do not forget that the pets are there. You might think this is an easy one to remember, but you’d be wrong. In the middle of writing a battle scene, an author usually focuses more on the humanoids than the animals. So, you create an issue where people imagine this animal randomly running through the battle. How would they know where to stand to avoid a friendly fireball? Why are they comfortable in such a noisy and chaotic situation? If you’re going to use them in the fight then make that clear and try to think about how that would happen.
- If you’re going to kill off the pet for a painful moment then make sure you’ve had it be a factor prior to that. Showing the animal at the start and then ignoring it until it’s getting killed will make the scene fall flat. With the character not paying any attention to their pet, it’s hard to believe they will care. This can easily be avoided by having it around and making note of it. The hero can simply be petting the animal or giving it food while talking, but at least you see there’s a connection.
- When it comes to villains having pets, DO NOT have them randomly kill them just to make them appear evil. That’s tacky.
- Consider if there is any gear or supplies needed for the animal. Dogs and cats might not need much if there is a lot of wandering in the wilderness. Yet, they need a proper place to sleep, especially if you consider predators could be around. Medicine is another thing to think about. Whatever the adventurers can take won’t necessarily work on an animal. Also, don’t pretend that the healer knows how to work with all forms of life. Magic can do that, but you need to know about the anatomy of whatever you’re working with.
- So, you have an animal in the group. Does it do anything useful? There’s nothing wrong with putting a pet in there to reveal something about the character’s personality, but you should look at it as another character. Give the pet some quirks and think about what they can do. Dogs can be used to track and certain breeds can fight. A cat, while not known for being trained, can be a night guard. Birds are messengers, snakes can be secret weapons with poison, and so on. Be creative and don’t forget to research the animal in question.