In the past, I have written about using cats as characters since there are cat-like creatures in my fantasy trilogy, The Elemental. Today, I want to focus on using any type of animal in your novel, whether they are there just as an animal or as a character within the story.
Okay before I begin, I guess I have to differentiate between just having an animal and having a character that just so happens to be an animal. If your character is feeding the chickens or walking her mom’s dog than most likely these are only animals in the story. These animals are more like props to help set a realistic scene rather than integral to the story telling.
However, if the horse your hero rides has a habit of biting people, being stubborn or making his own decisions and these traits play a part in the story, then, in my opinion, your animal has gone from just being a prop to being a minor character. In my case, my animals play a much bigger role as they even communicate telepathically with the humans and in some cases major characters.
When including animals in your novel – whether as story props or as a character – you need to know how these animals would behave. It helps if you have spent time with the animal and know how it moves and reacts. I choose cats as I am a cat lover and have been around cats my entire life. I like to think that my knowledge of cats comes through in my writing and that my cat characters behave in ways you expect cats to behave.
If you don’t have personal experience with the animal you are writing about there are lots of options for you to read up on their behavior or better yet watch videos of the animal to help make your descriptions accurate and realistic. Again, research is key.
Now having animals as characters is not limited to fantasy writing. Many other authors use animals as characters such as Rita Mae Brown in her Mrs. Murphy mysteries or Lillian Jackson Braun in her Cat Who series.
One thing you will need to decide when including animals as characters is how they will communicate with humans or other animals. Will the animals speak to each other as they do in Charlotte’s Web or will they be restricted to animal-like behavior such as the cats Koko and Yum Yum from Braun’s mystery series? Animals can convey a lot non-verbally.
Or perhaps they can communicate with humans. It is your world, so they could talk or be telepathic as my “cats” and dragons are in my trilogy. You could even change the animals behavior to include things we mere Earthlings would be shocked to see but could be the norm for the people of the world you create. So animals could be able to pick up items, walk on two legs, smoke a cigar or open doors while here we just expect them to meow or purr.
Just remember that if you are using animals as a character, you will need to develop them as you would any other character. This goes beyond their physical description. They need a history, their own quirks and problems. In other words, you need to do the work to make the real to your readers.