Recently, I wrote about dragons in my fantasy writing series. Today, I would like to address using cats as characters. Now, I chose cats because I am a cat-lover. But these same ideas could work just as well if you wanted to use dogs, horses or some other animal. And much of this can be used for other genres besides fantasy.
When developing cats as a character in your novel, one of the first things you must decide is will they be able to communicate or “speak” to other animals as the animals do in Rita Mae Brown’s Mrs. Murphy mysteries or are they going to be restricted to just cat-like behavior such as the cats Koko and Yum Yum from Lillian Jackson Braun’s Cat Who series.
In my novel, Summoned, one of my main characters, Tosh, is a small grey cat. Since this is a fantasy novel, I had the liberty to have the cats actually communicate telepathically with each other and the human characters. Cats with this ability are actually called STACS. (Yes, that is just CATS spelled backwards. J)
However, telepathy is not the only method of communication used. A lot of what a cat says is through non-verbal behavior, which provides another outlet for telling the story. I took many of the behaviors of my own cats and incorporated them into Tosh so that I had a good mix of cat-like behavior and intelligence that I would expect a cat to possess. Here is an excerpt from Summoned:
A veil of clouds passed in front of the moon casting darkness over the street. Tosh paused a moment, allowing his eyes to adjust to the dim light. The air smelled of smoke and cooked meat mixed with the woodsy scent of the nearby forest. The STAC silently crept to the edge of the porch roof and gazed into the night. His eyes passed over the closed shops, their windows dark. No one was about at this late hour except Tosh and the boy.
He had heard the boy sneak out the door a few minutes earlier. Curiosity caused him to leave his warm spot by Lina to see where he was going. Now Tosh spotted the youth as he wandered down the cobblestone street making no effort to conceal his movements. Tosh leapt from the patio roof, his paws hitting the ground soundlessly. Following the boy, he crept down the street sticking to the shadows. Coy confidently strolled down the street, never looking back, never glancing at the buildings surrounding him. As he neared the corner, he suddenly vanished. Tosh blinked. His eyes searched the street, seeking him in the shadows but the boy was gone.
Of course working with animals you are restricted with what they are able to do physically. You have to work around the fact that they can’t open doors or pick up larger items. And if you are going to have them in a major role such as Tosh, you need to develop them just like you would any other character. This goes beyond their physical description. They need a history, their own quirks and problems. But by taking something I know well such as cats and incorporating a little fantasy in there, I was able to produce a very unique character.