Animals in Stories

A common way to use pets in stories is to get us all emotionally attached to them… and then kill them off. And then we all hate you for it because WHY? How dare you kill off Fido! Pets have been introduced and killed off in nearly every book I’ve read or movie I’ve watched, and it’s always sad. Obviously this is a great way to evoke emotion from readers, but what if–what if–I told you that you could let the pet live? No really, you can do that.

Pets can be more than just your twisted idea of a sad chapter to bum out the protagonist (and the rest of us). They can do so much more for the plot line and your MC.

In the high fantasy I’m working on, one of my characters has a wolf who she often leans on for support in difficult times. He is her comfort and safety net. Without him she feels alone. Having an animal who is important to the protagonist in such a way can really give them the courage to face all the conflict ahead of them in the story–especially when separated from the pet at times when they need the pet to be brave.

Animal senses can also be implemented into the story to provide little hints, such as a dog growling or barking at a character who is revealed to belong to the dark side later, or a horse who gets skittish in certain parts of a forest rumoured to be cursed.

Pets can warn characters of danger or stop them from doing something dangerous. Instead of the MC risking their life fighting the minor thugs of the story, the pet can protect them instead. This shouldn’t be used as a crutch, but it can be used at the start of the story–before development–to establish the trust between human and pet. (Later, the MC must be able to stand on their own to show how far they’ve come.)

Not all animals can be on the protagonist’s side, of course. In Rise of the Planet of the Apes, humans clash against the apes in battle, and in The Hunger Games, animal-like creatures try to take a bite out of the heroes.

Just be careful what you write where animals are concerned (or violence in general). No one wants to read about animal cruelty. It isn’t cool and it certainly isn’t entertaining, and you’ll find your story being thrown aside pretty rapidly. But, of course, I shouldn’t need to point this out… unless you’re the kind of monster who grins the whole way through Marley and Me.

Happy writing,

Sandra

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Common Sense VS. Science

Who will win out: the scientists who have studied all their lives to solve this world-destroying threat OR this random character with no knowledge of anything who just happens to have a bit of common sense on their side? You guessed it! It’s totally the random character with no background in science.

This drives me nuts! It’s really insulting to all the science-loving characters in a story–and honestly just downright unbelievable anyhow. It’s also a really common trope in many books these days. Along comes the protagonist who just happens to have all the answers without really stopping to think or study the problem at hand. Years of studying has nothing on this character.

It ties in with the whole “chosen one” trope, where the MC is better than experts at basically everything and learns all they need to know almost instantly (or in the heat of battle). It doesn’t quite work that way in real life. If you throw me into an operating room and expect me to adapt and save the life of a dying person who is bleeding out on a table… I’m going to faint instead. And probably take a doctor or a tray of instruments down with me. So, maybe your character isn’t so iffy around blood, but they certainly wouldn’t be able to perform an operation without medical knowledge. I don’t care what you say to justify it otherwise.

When I begin a new story, I stop and think for a moment. Can my character do this? What does my character have to go through to accomplish such a task? In Sky Knight, my protagonist trained for years at an academy before taking to the skies to track down criminals. If she hadn’t trained for so long, the story would have been quite different. It’s good to think about where the character is going and what is needed to make it to the end of the story.

While you might have a good plot line going for you, if your character comes off as all-knowing, it really damages the story. Try to find balance. Have a good build-up, where your character can learn all they need to learn in order to overcome the conflict in the story, and don’t surprise the readers with additional problems halfway through the plot that the character can sudden master because of past studying we were never informed about.

I like to balance this all-knowing problem with having other characters around who all have skills helpful to the plot line. If you have several important characters, give them something to do other than slapping on titles like “the love interest” or “the sidekick” or “the comic relief”. While it’s cool to have a protagonist who can do anything and everything (looking at you, Smallville), it’s more entertaining and believable to have balance amongst your characters.

Happy writing,

Sandra

(NOTE: I actually LOVE Smallville. My issue rests solely with Superman.)

Instant Love in Stories

Today I’ll be talking about a common trope in many YA novels. (A trope is, by Google definition, a common or overused theme or device.)

Lately I’ve discovered a trope that I often overlooked as a kid, but now it makes my eyes roll. Unless the author purposely makes me roll my eyes, like when that really irritating character has yet again said something irritating to our hero, I should not be rolling my eyes at the story.

This trope is instant love, commonly abbreviated to insta-love, which is basically when two characters–you guessed it–instantly fall in love with each other shortly after meeting or instantly upon meeting. I absolutely hate this in a story, and I didn’t realize it until I had to force my way through a novel because of it. If you enjoyed Romeo and Juliet and Titanic then you might not enjoy this post, because the three-day romance trope, also known as instant love, is exactly what I’m going to be bashing.

If you’ve read through my old posts, you’ll know I’m quite fond of great character development and consider it to be one of my favourite parts of reading a good story. The problem with insta-love is that it (usually) eliminates character development.

Some writers invent two characters with the intent of having them fall in love, but then skip the journey of such an important plot line. To snap your characters together at the hip and have them instantly love each other within hours of meeting is not only unrealistic, but it’s insulting to those characters. You’ve given them a world to thrive in but you’ve robbed them of the character developing journey.

I personally feel deprived of a good plot line when characters fall prey to insta-love. It destroys any realism they held and pulls me out of the story (where I roll my eyes). Characters screaming they’ll do anything to save each other–even to the point of dying–merely fifteen hours after meeting is just ridiculous. Why are they willing to die for this other person? I mean, did they secretly promise them a lifetime supply of cake or puppies or Cadbury chocolate eggs off-page? I just don’t get it. What’s worse is when all the other characters act like this is normal and they’re “so in love”. Yeah, right.

(There are exceptions, of course. Maybe someone is under a spell or knew the other character in another life. As long as it’s written well, it can work.)

Insta-love also gives rise to extremely predictable endings. If the relationship is rushed from start to finish, you know exactly how the story’s going to end. It’s like the older Disney movies featuring romances so conventional it literally takes a frying pan to Flynn Rider’s face to make you forget about ballroom dancing, pretty gowns, and singing fairies that all encircle every princess’s whirlwind romance. I’m not saying Disney has gotten better at insta-love since Tangled, but it’s certainly more enjoyable to watch humourous characters fall in love over long journeys rather than meeting for the first time in a musty attic, where their first kiss beside a cursed spindle means they’re now in love and the girl is marrying a random guy who just conveniently happens to be a prince.

Perhaps I’m being too cynical, but maybe you should get to know a person before declaring your undying love for them?

Happy writing,

Sandra