Wednesday, April 1, 2015

And Then the Dog Showed Up

I rarely read crime fiction that focus on animals as part of the investigative milieu. With a few notable exceptions, I find them too far-fetched. So imagine my surprise when I was working on Craddock #5 and a dog pushed its way into the scene. Okay, so somebody has a dog. That’s nice. But then after a while, the dog showed up again, and this time it wanted more attention. There was a new character and it was nice to have a dog to give her something to do.

But then, the dog stayed. It’s not Craddock’s dog, but I thought it might as well get to have some fun. It rode around with Craddock and went to his house and generally hung out. I didn’t mind. Seemed like a nice dog.

And then….the dog suddenly had an important scene.

Which brings to mind a question of how the writerly brain works. I didn’t set out to give this dog anything to do in the book. He was in the last book, too, as a little side note. Something to add a little jazz to a scene. So how come he showed up in the latest book and made a place for himself? I guess you could ask that about any character, too, but usually you know in advance that a character is needed to carry out certain elements of the plot. I rarely find myself completely surprised by a character.

It almost feels eerie to me that this dog appeared so naturally and continued to be a part of the book—almost as if he was in charge and I should get out of the way.

I would think of this as an anomaly, but it has happened too many times in my writing: something that pops up early later becomes important. In fact, in a couple of books, I realize later that the first few pages foreshadow everything that happens in the book—even though I had no conscious intention of that happening.

More than once I’ve told people that my first two books seemed to write themselves. Some writers say they have never had that experience and others say it has happened to him. I’d love to know what that process is—the thing that makes the story come full-blown into a writer’s mind, as well as the thing that makes a writer include a new character (even a dog) not knowing consciously what he’s doing there, and only realizing later that he or she is vital to the story.

Readers: Any thoughts about this?


Margie Bunting said...

I always find it fascinating to hear authors say that the characters in a book or story seem to have a mind of their own, with the result that sometimes the plot seems to develop in ways the author hadn't anticipated. As a non-writer, I don't know why or how that happens, but my guess is that it makes the characters seem more natural and true-to-life, including the dogs!

Anonymous said...

I'm not into the para-normal, but I have enough things happen to make me believe there are dimensions out there beyond out reach or immediate control. Like a physical problem - you do not go to the doctor asap, and in time what seemed serious to you vanishes. Or, something in your house does not work - you put off getting a repairman - and the problem, which was very real, goes away. In writing fiction, we stand on tiptoe and touch other dimensions without trying to - and often things happen out of the blue, or people ( or animals ) appear and quietly demand a role. This shows that writers tap into realms beyond our wildest dreams - all of you have had this happen at times. If not yet, just wait. Thelma Straw in Manhattan

Terry said...

Margie, I hope that's true!

Thelma, I don't know if it's paranormal or what--I just hope it keeps on working.

AmyShojai said...

As someone who has dogs (and cats) in both my nonfiction and fiction, I find that they easily take over and can have just as much of an impact as the human characters. The key for me is that they're MORE than set dressing, or a prop, or shortcut to give a "nice bit" to a human character. There's the stage rule that you don't include a sword on the wall in the first act if it's not used by the end of the play. I think pets are so much part of our life now that they do sneak in...and then insist on being more than the sword on the wall! (It happens to me with unplanned human characters, too..)

Cherie OBoyle said...

We had a great time with these questions about non-human animal characters on the panel at Crimelandia. Over 40% of households in the US have at least one pet, so what's actually far-fetched is not having any in your story. There is no need to endow non-human animals with any uniquely human characteristics (like talking - yes, far-fetched!) They have such rich and complex social and emotional lives of their own, just let them be who they are. So many plot elements flow easily - in my first mystery, the dog made a deposit in a strategic location which the bad guy later stepped in, proving he was there. After I wrote that I thought, well of course! We've all stepped in it a time or two. Why is there not more of that in fiction? Enjoy your new character!