So you thought you’d read all you need to know about writing, did you? Today, RU rises to the challenge as author MELINDA LEIGH discusses how to give an animal a character arc. Since dogs are on the covers of half the books I’ve bought lately, I think Melinda has hit on a hot topic!
One of the most common comments I received on She Can Run was praise for my hero’s dog. Henry didn’t start out as a hero. The dog started out as a vehicle to show that my hero, Jack, wasn’t as irresponsible as he claimed. And to add some lightness to a plot that was very deep and dark. But partly by the magic of writing (luck) and party through by love of dogs, Henry evolved. Boy, did he evolve.
Here’s some background. Henry is a police dog reject adopted by my out-on-disability cop, Jack. Henry has been being passed around the police department and declared useless in every division. Henry is a goof. He’s lazy. He doesn’t obey a single one of Jack’s commands. In the beginning of She Can Run, his goals in life are to dig inconvenient holes, steal food, and sleep.
Here’s an excerpt of Henry in the beginning of the book when the dog first meets the heroine, Beth, and her children. The set up for this scene: Beth is on the run from an abusive and powerful husband. She is supposed to be starting a new job as caretaker on a secluded estate, but when she shows up, the old man who hired her has died. In fact, his nephew and heir, Jack, is in the middle of a private wake.
Behind Jack, nails scrambled on hardwood. He lunged for the door just as one hundred pounds of barking German Shepherd leaped over the threshold, knocking him backward. He grabbed a patio chair to recover his balance.
Shit! He’d forgotten he’d locked Henry in the den after he’d tried to jump into the casket. Henry had liked Uncle Danny. A lot.
“Henry, heel! Sit!” The enormous blur of tan and black fur streaked across the patio onto the back lawn and made a beeline for the trio walking up the path. “Get back here!”
Jack hobbled after the dog. Fifty feet ahead, Beth’s eyes widened with alarm when she saw Henry barreling toward her like a freight train. She stepped in front of the children.
“He’s friendly,” Jack yelled. “Really friendly. Brace yourself.”
Beth held her right hand in front of her body in a crossing guard stance and commanded, “Sit!” in a firm voice. Stunned, Jack watched Henry slide to a stop, haunches tucked under his body like a champion barrel racer. The huge dog’s butt bounced on the grass in barely contained excitement as she reached down and scratched him behind his enormous ears.
Son-of-a-bitch. Damned dog did know a command.
Panting, Jack hobbled over and stopped just short of them. “I’m sorry about that. Henry has no manners. I hope he didn’t frighten you.”
She stood maybe an inch over five-foot, somewhat elfish, with a slim body and long black hair that seemed unnaturally dark for her complexion. Even in her current travel-worn state, there was no denying her beauty: large eyes, smooth skin, delicate features. Still scratching the dog behind his ear, she straightened her shoulders and looked up at Jack. Her face softened with the hint of a smile, and Jack felt an unsettling pull deep in his loins. “I’m not afraid of dogs.”
No shit. Henry’s lips parted in a goofy smile as he listed to one side, his back paw twitching in circles.
“Henry’s a police dog reject. Officially, his file’s stamped retired, but he’s only four.” Jack grinned, remembering an embarrassing incident involving a high school drug raid, a locker, and a hoagie. His buddy, Mitch, in narcotics, hadn’t thought it was so funny. “I’m pretty sure he has ADD.”
It turned out that Henry, like every other character, needed motivation. Enter my heroine and her two children. Without human emotional baggage, Henry fell in love with the small family faster than Jack. Henry helped the children adjust and heal. And, just like Jack, love changed Henry.
I won’t give away the end of the book, but Henry was da bomb. He just needed the proper motivation.
I leave you with a short scene toward the end of the book in which Henry sensed something was terribly wrong and showed he’s not just a pretty, furry face. (Ben is the heroine’s son)
Hysterical barking woke Ben. He rose from his bed and padded barefoot into the hall to listen. Downstairs, Henry was going ballistic about something. He glanced in his mom’s room. Empty. After looking in Katie’s room and making sure she was still sleeping, Ben quickly trotted down the steps.
“Mom?” He ducked his head in the living room, then the study. His mother wasn’t in either room. Henry began to whine. Ben followed the noise to the kitchen where the big dog was digging frantically at the bottom of the French door.
His mom wasn’t in the kitchen either. Where was she?
The hackles on the back of the dog’s neck were raised. “What is it, Henry?”
At the sound of Ben’s voice, the dog grew more agitated, looking from Ben to the door. He began to growl and snarl at the closed door.
The note on the counter drew his attention. Mom was down at the barn. Ben was suddenly certain something bad was happening. The hair on his neck rose to mimic the dog’s.
He called his mom one more time. No answer. He picked up the phone and dialed Jack’s cell, but Henry was making such a racket, he could hardly hear the ringing on the other end of the line. Scanning the yard quickly, he looked down at the insistent dog. After turning off the alarm the way Jack had showed him, Ben opened the door. Henry raced through the opening and headed across the back lawn toward the path that led to the barn.
Have you ever featured an animal as a primary character in one of your stories?
On Monday, RU founders Tracey Devlyn Kelsey Browning and Adrienne Giordano tackle the delicate topic of critique partners. Don’t miss it!
Melinda Leigh is a fully recovered banker. She started writing when her youngest child entered first grade as a way to preserve her sanity. She Can Run, her debut romantic suspense novel with Montlake Romance, released in November 2011 and became a Kindle bestselling romantic suspense. A second romantic suspense, Midnight Exposure, is scheduled to release in April 2012. She is also the co-author of paranormal romance novella, Amazon Heat, just out from Carina Press.
Melinda is also an avid martial artist. She holds a 2nd degree belt in Kenpo Karate, studies Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu, and teaches women’s self-defense. She lives in a messy house in the suburbs with her husband, two teenagers, a couple of dogs and one neurotic cat with an inexplicable fear of ceiling fans. With such a pleasant life, she has no explanation for the sometimes dark and disturbing nature of her imagination.
You can find out more about Melinda and her books at her website, melindaleighauthor.com and at Attacking the Page: A Blog on Martial Arts & Writing Action.
- Weekly Lecture Schedule for August 2-6, 2010: Query Writing 101, Build-a-Blog, Melinda Leigh, Larry Brooks
- Can I Get A Moment?
- Congratulations Adrienne!!
- A Case For Story Structure by Adrienne Giordano
- And the hunt begins…