Friday, December 5, 2008

Animals as Secondary Characters

Hi! It's Lexie, and I can only apologize for not being around more lately. I've had a death in the family, Thanksgiving, and final exams. I can start to see the end of the tunnel now, though, so I plan on being back here almost every day:)

A month ago, I was privileged to attend the LowCountry Romance Writer's Association Beach Retreat and Master Class. I felt like I learned as much in that one week as I had in the previous year's worth of programs! One of the fantastic teachers was Robin Owens. After I plied her with homemade crepes filled with homemade custard (any lurking agents/editors out there, did I mention I'm known far and wide for my cheesecakes? bribes anyone:), I asked Robin if she'd mind blogging with us. Of course, the fact that she's a wonderful and gracious lady had nothing to do with it...

Please join me in welcoming Robin Owens...

Hi, I'm Robin D. Owens and I write fantasy romance for Berkley (the "Heart" Series – 7 going on 10) and epic fantasy for women for Luna (the "Summoning" series of 5 books, the last, Echoes in the Dark, is out in January). The latest thing in my career that has made me dance around bored cats is Heart Fate being named by the editors of Amazon as one of the Best Romances of 2008...and the Top Pick for Echoes in the Dark by Romantic Times.

I'm known for my animal or Familiar companions, and I'm quite sure that Zanth, the telepathic cat with attitude (redundant), sold my first book, HeartMate. Since then, in the Heart books, I've had kittens, cats, dogs, and a fox as my Fams – along with a wandering mole, etc.

In my Summoning series I have some magical beings who shapeshift into various animals. Miniature greyhounds and warhawks are the most common, though occasionally they have their catlike moments. I also have flying horses.

These characters are in the books for several reasons: mentors, friends, comic relief and occasionally under threat (they can get into trouble and some go to war). In the Summoning books, they also play a mysterious part in shaping the worlds' events.

You might call them archetypical characters. Mentors who advise (and may have their own agendas which also make them tricksters). Friends who are there to listen or nudge or nag (so, that's still a horse word but at least it wasn't badger...). Comic relief: this I use quite a bit, I like my tension built, released and built again.

Things to watch for when you're writing animals. First, my cats are pretty much cats, except they are slightly more intelligent and can speak telepathically. They are self-centered, they live in the moment, they have contradictions in whatever philosophy they have but it has meaning to them at the time. They're vain. They call all cats "Cats," capitalized and all dogs "dogs," NEVER capitalized. They look down on dogs. And they negotiate payment for favors.

I try to keep my animals close to what they are here on earth, and with those limitations. My puppy in Heart Thief adores her FamWoman...and piddles on the rug. My crippled and starving Noble Hound in Heart Fate (most recent book) resents having to eat leftovers that a hunting cat "generously" gives him. He looks down on cats because they aren't as loyal as dogs.

For research...I have cats and my ex-roomie had a puppy. I observed. There is a strategically vital place in my house and each and every one of my cats has found it and held it.

I read a lot of books on foxes and there are some in the neighborhood. Another thing, THE expert on foxes call a noise they make "chortling." Maybe the sound is closer to chortling than the standard, well-known "barking." If I used "chortling," it would pull my reader from the story to think about the word which is not something associated with foxes....

The mole came in handy in a couple of the stories and a fan who liked moles and stuck the idea in my head provided critique and tips.

I have friends who have horses and I studied "natural" horsemanship, went to a horse camp (I live in the city) given by another writer who has Lipizzaners.

So, from my point of view, don't make them too cute, or too smart, and keep them lifelike. People will love them anyway.

May all your writing dreams come true.

On Writing & Publishing
2002 RITA(c) Winner


Karin Shah said...

Great insights, Robin!

Love-love-love the HEART books and can't wait for the last title in the Summoning series!

I always find animal companions a big draw. I think it stems from my long-ago crush on THE BEASTMASTER. Grin.

Karin Shah
Samhain Publishing

Helen Scott Taylor said...

Hi Robin,
Thanks for joining us on Title Magic. Wonderful blog subject. I love animals in books and if they are paranormal that adds a little extra fun to the story. The heroine in my wip has a cat familiar. I've pretty much used the same 'rules' you mention in your blog. My cat is a normal cat with normal cat whims and wiles, but with a little extra power and intelligence. Mind you, I'm a cat lover and I think cats have mysterious powers in real life!

Anitra Lynn McLeod said...

Thanks for joining us at Title Magic! I've enjoyed all of the Heart novels and can't wait for more. :)

Also, I was wondering, how long does it take you to write a novel? Do you have a set time that you write? Do you write everyday?

Savanna Kougar said...

Robin, fascinating...wish I had a friend with Lippizanners!
I use animals and shifters in my stories as well...and have all my doggie babes for observation and understanding.
Thanks for your further insights.

Lexie O'Neill said...

Welcome again:) And thanks for the insight...strange, I'm working on a shapeshifter book but no actual animal characters. I think I'll add one, someone stuck:)

Anonymous said...

A great big YES to animals in a storyline. Even if mine tend to be smarter than their human companions (an attitude holdover from growing up with a Schnauzer). And why stick to just modern day? The first story I ever sold featured intelligent pterodactyls. Plus the animals always get the best lines. Funny how that works.

PS: if you're into owls, I doubt if you'll be happy with the last Harry Potter book. A word of warning.


Evonne Wareham said...

Welcome to TM. My two favourite special things in books are food and clever animals. I strongly suspect that Enid Blyton may be to blame. All those picnics, and I was captivated by Kiki the parrot from the 'Adventure' books, when aged about eight. Your animals literally take things to another dimension.

Robin D Owens said...

Wow, thanks, all. I enjoyed being here, though I had a couple of comments that mysteriously didn't show up...lost and cycling in cyberspace forever....

Trish Milburn said...

Hi, Robin. Thanks for blogging with us today. Interesting post. I like having animals in my books, and in fact the black Lab in my first book was central to the story and made and appearance on the cover.