Sunday, January 10, 2016

Don't Forget the Dog #MFRWAuthor

It's well known that dogs add to the character of our stories. Movie makers learned long ago that viewers would accept many levels of violence, as long as the dog survived. The same applies, obviously, to books. Dogs can add, or be a main part, of the story line. Even if we don't set the book in a dog environment (grooming shop, animal shelter, dog show), adding a dog or two can help grab interest. Where our characters acquire their dog, what sort of dog they have...all these things serve to enrich our stories and add depth to our characters. It just takes a bit of thought and research.
If you are going to add a dog, please don't do so as a prop for one or two scenes, unless for some reason the dog is specifically that: a prop for the character to use to get someone's attention. Which does speak to the kind of person your character is, doesn't it? Also think about your character's personality. Are they strong willed, or wimpy? Do they cave in when yelled at or do they stand up for their rights? Using their interaction with their dog, or their choice of dog, gives you a great opportunity for subtext.
She looks pretty here, but she's going to need to come in soon, get her feet warmed up and a snuggle.
Those dogs with long flowing coats you see in commercials? They require grooming. A LOT of grooming, pretty much every day. The extreme length of coat is generally only seen for commercials or dog shows. Otherwise their hair is kept confined and out of dirt or branches. You need to remember that if your character takes their dog on a tramp through the woods.
Dogs need regular exercise. Both the going to the bathroom sort (and don't forget the pick up bags unless you are showing a negative aspect to your character) and the moving around with energy sort of exercise.Big dogs can live in a small apartment in the city but it's not easy, and it takes a lot of effort. Leaving a dog confined for too long can be cruel, especially if they have are fastidious, most especially if you don't want the house to smell when your characters come home for an evening of people interaction. Nothing turns off a non-doggy person so much as doggy smells.
An untrained dog is not fun to run or bike with; you might add a line or two about how easy or difficult it was to bring them to a safe level of cooperation. If the dog was a rescue, did they come with trust issues, or maybe they were already trained and had been turned in due to circumstances beyond their former owner's control?
If you want to add personality to your characters, you might think about incongruous choices for your character's dog. A large, tough, man with a small dog is good for a giggle or two but it's not necessarily out of character. Dainty women with guard dogs they can't control don't appeal to me, but that dog, well trained, maybe left with her by someone who had to go away (maybe a brother who was deployed?) I'll go along with that story line, no problem. Hmmm, just a second, I want to jot that idea down.

Just, please, remember the dog. They are not props. They need to eat, drink, eliminate, and interact. Because of this, I've only added a dog in Teach Me To Forget, since it helped give depth to Bethany's character, showing how the Irish Setter, Baron, had become such an integral part of her life, a friend instead of the guard dogs her husband had used to intimidate her. Jonathan becomes impatient with her for thinking of Baron before she thinks of herself, because in the beginning of the story Jonathan is a bit of a jerk. He changes, of course, learning to put Bethany's needs, and her dog's, before his. Doesn't love do that to all of us?

Monica Stoner w/a Mona Karel
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Lucky me, when I did meet the man I knew I'd spend the rest of my life with, he was also involved in dogs, my same breed in fact. When we retired to the high plains of New Mexico, we looked for a place with enough space for the dogs, and for our own souls. It ended up a perfect choice for both of us. Writing stories about people lucky enough to find that perfect partner in spite of whatever else might be happening in their lives. So far, I have not added Salukis to any books since they are way too time consuming!
I am privileged to be able to help MFRW as a Moderator (yeah, I'm the one who asks you to please trim)
I am happy to answer dog related questions, or guide you to the where you can best find that information.