7 Tips to Giving Your Heroes and Villains Exotic Pets

Drizzt and Guenhwyvar

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.

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. 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.
  5. When it comes to villains having pets, DO NOT have them randomly kill them just to make them appear evil.  That’s tacky.
  6. 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.
  7. 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.

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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21 Responses to 7 Tips to Giving Your Heroes and Villains Exotic Pets

  1. Another good post on the topic. I always try to give any pet character a bit of personality, and a reason to exist. Even the AI versions can serve a role much like Alexa does today.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Reblogged this on Chris The Story Reading Ape's Blog and commented:
    More great tips from Charles 👍😃

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  3. L. Marie says:

    Great tips! It’s great when these pets have a purpose. I can’t help thinking of Blofeld’s cat in the James Bond movie, which seemed to exist simply to sit in his lap and be stroked. It wasn’t as exotic as the Joker’s/Harley’s hyenas, which really fit their characters well.

    I loved that Combustion Man in Avatar had a pet–a raven eagle that did his bidding. That type of animal seemed to fit Combustion Man’s personality well.

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    • I think Blofeld’s cat was for evil. That and there was one movie where you learn he copied it. Tested the procedure on it before himself. Forgot about the Airbender one. They added a lot of animals into that series.

      Liked by 1 person

  4. I liked these tips. Don’t plan on having any animals in my stories but you never know.

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  5. Reblogged this on Author Don Massenzio and commented:
    Check out this great post from Charles Yallowitz with 7 Tips to Giving Your Heroes and Villains Exotic Pets

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  6. Pets should definitely have a purpose in the story, like anything you decide to include. But that purpose really shouldn’t be to die at the dramatically appropriate moment. That comes off as manipulating the reader, and most readers don’t like that!

    One time, I had a villain who was trying to win a mage over to his side. The mage could communicate with animals, and the villain thought bringing along a small dog would help sway her. But the dog was all cringing and meek, so it didn’t exactly work.

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    • I can see how killing a pet is manipulation and you’re right that it can’t be the only reason. Then again, we have loved ones die to trigger emotional reactions all the time. I always find it strange that many people have pets as a no kill area in fiction.

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  7. ospreyshire says:

    That’s great advice and you brought up points I didn’t even think about like how they would fare in battle or how a mythical creature could be treated in general.

    Like

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