SHOW ME THE LOVE: Revealing Character Through Love of Animals

From the book SHOW ME THE LOVE! All Kinds of Love for All Kinds of Stories by Pamela Jaye Smith & Monty Hayes McMillan.

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Got Love? Got enough Love? Got the right kind of Love?

No matter your genre or style, a good story needs some kind of Love to engage us emotionally.

Too often people think Love is just the romantic or sexual kind. But wait – there’s more.

Love of adventure, land, community, family, friends, warrior bonding, love of pets, love of learning, love of death and destruction, interspecies love, transformative chivalric love….

Nude with Horse
These articles explore the mythical and psychological aspects of different types of love, plus suggestions for the Shining Moment, Cinematic Techniques, and Symbols.

Join us for a journey through many different kinds of love that can enrich your characters, compel your plots, and move your audience. The first two articles were on Love of Adventure and Chivalric Love. This one is about Love for Animals.

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Some of the purest love on the planet is for and from our pets. Some of the most unconditional love some humans can bestow is upon their pets. Which is sad as those people often only seem able to relate to animals, not to other humans.

Pets are often thought of as members of the family. Depending on the family in your story, the pets may be more affectionate and loyal than some of the humans.

You know the saying that people and their dogs look alike? What kind of dog would your Protagonist have? Your Antagonist?

The Psychology

The value of human to animal relationships cannot be dismissed. Whether they represent a metaphor for the character, offer an opportunity for the character to relate to something outside themselves, or give them a chance to access their childhood, this animal-to-human connection can be a strong and powerful force of revelation and motivation for your character. See how Jack Nicholson changes in relation to the pet dog in As Good As It Gets.

Examples in Myth and LegendHarry_potter_and_the_sorcerer's_stone_poster

The first card in the Tarot deck Major Arcana is “The Fool.” A naive young man, travel bag and staff over his shoulder, is about to step off a cliff and into the great unknown for what he obviously thinks will be a merry adventure. There’s a small white dog traveling with him. The dog’s name is “Argo” and variously represents exuberance and love for life, loyalty, innocence, and the need to start any great undertaking at an elemental level.

Witches and wizards usually have an animal “familiar.” Harry Potter’s is the owl.

Examples in History and Current Events 

English King Charles II during the Restoration had little “foot-warmer” Corgis around him aAdopt a petnd they have remained the dog of choice for the English royal family.

PETA – People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals – has pressured change in many industries, including media production. Their beliefs and actions, sometimes radical, are rich fodder for dramatic conflict. Save the Whales, Greenpeace, and other animal rights organizations also offer opportunities for conflict in your stories.

Working dogs can lead the blind, sniff out epileptic attacks and cancer, keep elderly people company and lower their blood pressure, and help humans in many other ways.

Examples in Media

There is a long history of pets in cinema, perhaps because they play such a big part in so many people’s lives, and in great part no doubt because they evoke such strong emotions.

Stories sometimes have animals talking to animals in the presence of humans, like in Beverly Hills Chihuahua. Generally the humans don’t know they can talk so you can put a lot of insight, wisdom, and humour into the mouths of the critters.

Dragon ToothlessMythical, mystical, and totally imagined animals populate many fantasy, sci-fi, and supernatural stories. You can take great liberties with how the creatures look and what they do, as was so well done in Avatar and the How to Train Your Dragon series.

Symbols

The animal itself is often the symbol for a character’s personality: brave like a lion, crafty like a fox, soft as a kitten, loyal as a dog, etc.

Key Element – The Shining Moment

Recognition – The moment when the faithful pet recognizes the master no one else knows. This can also work for the Antagonist by having the animal reject or attack the bad guy.

Revelation – The animal leads the humans to learn something they would not otherwise have known about.

Cinematic Techniques

Shoot from the animal’s POV [Point of View] that determines how the animal character perceives the world and their place in it. Consider showing us how they actually see things. Dogs see mostly in black and white, birds and insects see infrared, flies see with a thousand facets.

Use a CU [Close Up] on some part of the animal’s anatomy that is symbolic of their character or situation: a snake shedding its skin, a glossy or mangy coat, healthy or wounded legs, wings, or feet, etc.

Conclusion

Keep in mind that secondary and tertiary characters are there to reveal something about your main characters. Use a pet or other animal to reveal some personality trait, a quirk, or an otherwise hidden agenda.dolphin + redheaded girl

If it fits in with your story’s style, keep in mind the inherent dignity of animals, their special intelligences, and their often rich personalities. They can be special story characters in their own right.

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Exercise #1 – Awareness

What is the most unusual pet or humanoid/animal relationship you can name from myth, history, media, or real life?

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Exercise #2 – Writing 

Select/write a short scene that has one type of animal active in the storyline. Then rewrite it with a different kind of animal: a parrot and then a python, etc.

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© 2015 Pamela Jaye Smith  & Monty Hayes McMillan

Pamela Jaye’s BOOKS & SEMINARS can be found at the Writers Store and on MYTHWORKS, where you can also learn more about her consulting, writing, and pitching services. Mythic Challenges  Alpha Babe Academy

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