"PETTING THE DOG" -- Using a Hollywood Trick to Make Characters More Appealing
I'm sure you've seen it in movies and on television shows: the grumpy character falls for a pet and wins the audience's hearts. Remember Jack Nicholson and the Brussels Griffin dog in As Good As It Gets? Jack plays a cranky, obsessive-compulsive romance author who ends up taking care of a little dog that softens up the curmudgeon. Hollywood calls this device "petting the dog" -- a quick, visual way to let the audience know that a character has some redeeming attributes.
Fiction authors use the same trick. I particularly enjoy taking a big, bad Alpha hero and putting him together with a miniature pooch. It's so much fun to watch them bond.
I have little Chinese crested hairless dogs (aka "cresties") in all of my books and plan to keep including the unusual breed. Sometimes, a crestie might show up in a cameo instead of a starring role, but there will always be one in every story -- just like Alfred Hitchcock, who appeared in at least one scene in each of his movies. The ten-pound dogs often win the Ugliest Dog contests, but they are perfect for my humorous books.
There are a number of four-legged characters in my "Dr. Ally Skye, Sex Therapist" series. In the first book, Sex & the Single Therapist, Zack Crawford (the homicide detective hero) arrives at Ally's house to insist she drop her personal investigation of a patient's murder. Despite Zack's belligerence and frustration over Ally's amateur sleuthing, he's accepted by her two cats. Obviously, the cats have discerning tastes! And he's surprised at how difficult it is to hold onto his "mad" when petting a cat. Not long after, Zack ends up with a temporary houseguest, a canine crime witness. The scruffy mutt helps break down the wall around Zack's heart.
Animal characters have fiction-writing uses beyond making the two-legged characters more appealing to readers. They can be an important element of the plot (e.g., the search-and-rescue dogs in Nora Roberts' romantic suspense, The Search) or part of the conflict (e.g., the abandoned dog in Jennifer Crusie's contemporary romance, Crazy For You).
What are your favorite movie or television animals? One of mine is Eddie, the Jack Russell terrier from the TV show, Frasier. [Click on this link for a montage of Eddie's scenes: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FikDu-UN5ew&NR=1]
In addition to the LASR weekly prize, I'm giving away five copies of my At Her Command e-book this week (one a day) to a reader chosen randomly from each day's comments.
-- Marcia James
here. For an extra chance, leave a comment.