Writerly Wednesdays

Bark Factor: Pets in Novels

My dog’s Instagram account has an insane number of followers. He’s cute, cuddly, and doggone it if Winston doesn’t outsmart me repeatedly. Animals have personalities of their own. But how should we use a pet in our novel?

Softer side. After all the action in the world’s greatest spaghetti western, The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly, the main character reclines with a kitten. Both are comfortable in each other’s company. This softer side is a unique dynamic in a film of cruelty. A breath of fresh air.

Pets listen, so we talk to them. In Turner and Hooch, the main character, played by Tom Hanks, wrestles with the dog, both literally and emotionally. Yet, we learn so much about the main character’s deep personality, wants, and ideas. Because people tell their pets far more than they would another human, an animal can be a fantastic way to show a character’s emotions rather than telling them.

Revenge. In John Wick, John’s dog is hurt in the film’s first few minutes. And oh, my goodness, you’re completely okay with his rampage of revenge. Pets are innocent. They can’t care for themselves; their only job is to be cute and add comfort. As well as some measure of care. Bad guys who hurt animals are just plain evil.

Pets are their own character. Give them personality. Life. Expand your manuscript with an animal that interacts and plays a role. Many readers are in a place in their lives where they will relate to the animals more than they do humans. Draw readers in with a nuanced animal.

Weird pets. It’s a well-known fact that after a short time, the pet and the owner begin to look alike. Take this opportunity to match up your character to a vulture. Or a turtle. I knew a college student who resembled his piranha. And why would she house a deadly snake? Why does he let tarantulas roam about the house? It’s hilarious when your character and his horse have the same laugh.

Adding a pet to your novel can be a rich source of content. Don’t be afraid to bring in that loveable ball of fur, scales, or exoskeleton. Your readers will thank you for your effort.

Beliefs represented by individual authors are not necessarily shared by all members of ICW.


  • Peter Leavell

    Peter Leavell, a graduate of Boise State University with a degree in history and a MA in English Literature, was the 2011 winner of the Christian Writers Guild’s Operation First Novel contest and 2013 Christian Retailing’s Best award for First-Time Author, along with multiple other awards. An author, blogger, teacher, ghostwriter, jogger, biker, husband, and father, Peter and his family live in Boise, Idaho. Learn more about Peter’s books, research, and family adventures at www.peterleavell.com

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