Writing–Dogs vs. Cats

I killed a dog once.  In a story.  It was back when I was still writing mysteries.  And I got some pretty strong reactions from editors.  “How could you kill a cute, little dog?”  Now, mind you, I’d killed a few people in this novel, but that was par for the course.  Kill a dog, and I heard about it.  But more than a few editors responded with notes that said, “Killing a dog in a mystery is risky, but NEVER kill a cat.”  I guess that an inordinate amount of mystery lovers are cat lovers–so just like in Egyptian times, kill a cat & the gods might smite you.

I wrote some short stories for a Barnes & Noble anthology once, Crafty Cat Crimes–got lucky and had two accepted–but the trick was to have the cat solve or help solve the crime.  I know that a lot of my friends are fans of Lilian Jackson Braun and some of the new “cat” mysteries, but I had never, ever written a mystery where an animal brought justice to the villain.  I have to admit, that slowed me down for a minute.

I learned from experience, though, that I got strong, passionate feedback when I included animals in stories.   I wrote a novella where I had the hero race his horse home, hand him to a groom, and tell the groom to give him an extra treat–that he’d earned it…and got feedback about how the horse should be wiped down and walked to cool off, etc. BEFORE he went to the stables and was fed.  Which was great, because the reader obviously loved horses.  And I obviously should have mentioned that the horse was well tended.

I’ve used children in stories, and I think they add a nice, not-adult view of happenings that give a different take on plot points.  And people seem to like kids in fiction, but I don’t get nearly the strong feedback on a kid as on a beast of some sort.  In my Babet/Prosper novellas, I had a wise, poisonous boa constrictor (magic makes her poisonous) that chooses to be Babet’s familiar, and a few people actually squirmed at my writers’ group when I read about Morgana slithering onto Babet’s shoulders and wrapping her coils around Babet’s arm.

All that I’m saying, I guess, is that people aren’t the only characters that can make an impact in a story.  Weres and shifters aren’t quite as effective.  In readers’ minds, they’re still humans–just with a few animal instincts thrown into the mix.  But toss in a dog, a cat, or a parrot–and you’d better treat them right.  Readers will forgive grisly murders, betrayals, and mass destruction–but kill a dog..or a cat.. or a bird.. and you’re in a LOT of trouble:)



8 thoughts on “Writing–Dogs vs. Cats

  1. When I was much younger, I began a novel killing a dog for no reason. Seems sort of cruel now, something that would not occur to me, but back then, I thought the shock might intrigue people. Nearly every person who read that piece scoffed. Never killed off a cat either, and I have to agree. People get much more upset about dead animals than dead humans.


    1. When I wrote the scene where I killed the dog, it was for a mystery. The dog barked all the time, so the villain had to get rid of it BEFORE he killed its owner. The poor owner got offed, and no one batted an eye–I mean, it was a murder mystery. But boy, I never heard the end about the dog.


  2. Odd, isn’t it? Characters are expendable, but pets aren’t:) Guess when you think about it, though, pets are comfort. No author should mess with that.


  3. :)))I can relate to that. As a huge animal lover, even fictitious animals benefit from my interest and affection. I admire your application to use animals in your work, it seems like a really tough and complex job to me, I am still learning…:).


  4. I’m still learning too. I hope I grow better with each story, but some turn out better than others. Sometimes, I have to bump through a learning curve before I get a new skill right.


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