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Guest blogger: Tina Radcliffe

31 January 2016

Tina RadciffeWhy no story should be without a furry secondary character

I learned at the beginning of my writing career that no good story should be without a charming and furry, secondary character who generally tries to steal the show. There are more than enough reasons for this, and I’m sure you’ll agree.

Pets humanise our characters. Any protagonist who is loved by a dog or a cat can probably be redeemed by the end of our story. After all, animals are discerning and if they love the hero or heroine, so will we, eventually. Don’t however use your animal as a prop. Your character must interact with the dog or cat. Just like real animal owners, pets are considered part of the family and are treated as such. Your characters interact on that same intimate level with their cat or dog. An occasional woof or meow isn’t animal character development.

Dogs and cats bring something to our stories that often humans do not. Unconditional love. They are not biased based on religion, sex, politics or colour. Another reason why you should add them to your story.

Be very sure to match the animal to the story character appropriately. A cowboy herding cattle will have an active dog and not a fancy diva dog. A character who spends long hours away from their animal may be an ideal cat person. No walking the dog needed. Be realistic when you choose that animal partner. When you do your character interview ask your character the history behind that pet.

Let your reader believe that history.

Other ways to use pets in our stories.

Dogs and cats provide that straight man relief for our characters. They are in effect, the side kick. Our protagonist can talk to them, providing a break from narrative. This is the perfect opportunity to share backstory or for your characters to reveal internal or external conflict.

Even a dog or cat can depart pearls of wisdom, simply by their discerning behaviour. Animals don’t lie. They can spot the villain or the person in the love triangle that needs to be eliminated far earlier in the story than our hero or heroine. They let our hero or heroine know when they’ve messed up as well.

Our protagonists start their journey with much to learn. Animals can help you weave that growth into the story arc.

One way is with touch. Touch conveys many things such as compassion, empathy, sympathy, care, gratitude and unconditional love. Your protagonist expresses that and more when they are depicted touching an animal. A closed off character can learn to touch, to hug, and ultimately to love by first caring for an animal. What a terrific character arc.

Animals know how to work hard, but they also teach us how to play and how to relax, opening up a myriad of scene opportunities that can bring our hero and heroine together.

By the way, we can learn a lot from a cat nap. Cats have boundaries and they can teach your Type- A personality character about how to take time to rest. Like the trope where a protagonist is left with a baby, having your character forced to care for an animal for a period of time can also bring many wonderful scenes of character growth.

A final word of warning. Unless absolutely necessary to moving the plot forward, please don’t let story animals die. (Please don’t let it be an animal we’ve become attached to either). There’s actually a website that warns about movies where animals die.

What’s your opinion? Is an animal the perfect secondary character for a story? Do you love animals in romances?

catanddogI leave you with some thoughtful cat and dog quotes.

“A cat has absolute emotional honesty: human beings, for one reason or another, may hide their feelings, but a cat does not.”—Ernest Hemingway

“Way down deep, we’re all motivated by the same urges. Cats have the courage to live by them.”—Jim Davis

“A dog is the only thing on earth that loves you more than he loves himself.”—Josh Billings

“Handle every stressful situation like a dog. If you can’t eat it or play with it, then pee on it and walk away.”—Unknown.

Tina Radcliffe is a two-time RWA Golden Heart finalist, a 2012 ACFW Carol Award finalist, a 2014 ACFW Mentor of the Year finalist, a 2014 Golden Quill finalist and a 2014 ACFW Carol Award winner. She has won first place in over twenty RWA chapter affiliated contests in her career. Her thirteenth short story sale to Woman’s World magazine will be available in March. January marks the release of her sixth book for Harlequin Love Inspired, Rocky Mountain Reunion. Stop by and see her at or her 13 author blog,

She’s happy to share some of the furry characters in her stories with you and is offering two sets of her last two releases in ebook. That’s one set to two people. Leave a comment below to go in the draw. Winners will be drawn on 14 February. (The giveaway is now closed. The winners are Sherida S and LeAnne B.)

Tina Radcliffe books

  1. 1 February 2016 4:21 pm

    Hi Tina. I whole-heartedly agree. Some furry characters always adds a little something to the story and to the characters. Some of my favorite stories involve a furry character, but most of them on my lists are dogs. Guess if I’m a dog or cat person. Lol.

    • 1 February 2016 4:22 pm

      PS, no need to include me in the giveaway. 🙂

    • 1 February 2016 4:30 pm

      I’m a cat person, but generally dogs are better story characters. They “talk” more. HA! Thanks for stopping by, Annie!

  2. Anonymous permalink
    1 February 2016 10:24 am

    Way down deep, we’re all motivated by the same urges. Cats have the courage to live by them.”—Jim Davis

    What a marvelous quote, Tina. And thank you for adding about not having the animal die. I saw “Old Yeller” as a child — and have studiously avoided any movie/play/book with an animal death since then 🙂

    I read both books and totally enjoyed them. Thanks for sharing your talent!

  3. 1 February 2016 7:54 am

    Dogs and cats add a special touch to stories. I loved Stanley, the black Lab in Rocky Mountain Reunion, as he was faithful in the way he watched over Claire…..a sweet dog.

    Thanks, Tina, for he insights into how pets can improve our writing. Yes, the characters talking to their pets could reveal many things. I’ve definitely had whole conversation with animals……I even talk to the bunnies I see on my walks! 🙂

    I have both books, so please don’t enter my name.

    • 1 February 2016 8:22 am

      Hey, Sherida! Thanks for dropping by DOWN UNDER!! I agree. I had a sneezing spell this am and my cat Charlie started talking to me as though to ask if I was okay. They’re our best buddies.

  4. 31 January 2016 11:39 pm

    Hi Tina. How inspiring your blog article was. Interestingly, I just finished writing a short story about a struggling domestic violence abuse victim. I had a scene where she went to a Cat Cafe after visiting her shrink. (She got more out of those cuddles than anything else)! I am feeling all warm and fuzzy now, thank you! Jay

    • 1 February 2016 12:13 am

      Hi, Jay!
      I just learned about cat cafes. What an amazing concept! Thanks for dropping by!

  5. Malvina permalink
    31 January 2016 2:22 pm

    Tina, love your column today. I love animals in romances. There is a saying that you can tell the calibre of a person by the way they treat their pets. So, bring on the cats and dogs and other assorted animals! I enjoy their antics tremendously.

    • 31 January 2016 2:49 pm

      Thanks, Malvina,
      And you are so right. How they treat their animal and their momma. That is the secret. 🙂

  6. 31 January 2016 12:03 pm

    I love cats and dogs in stories. Often they can be the comedy relief. Thanks for the article, Tina.

    • 31 January 2016 12:04 pm

      Pleasure to be here V. Taylor!!! I love it when they are comic relief!!!!

  7. 31 January 2016 10:46 am

    Hi Tina

    Oh I do love stories with pets in them I just think they add so much to the story 🙂

    Have Fun

  8. 31 January 2016 10:36 am

    Oh my goodness! I had no idea there was a website like “Does the Dog Die?” What a great idea! excellent advice, as always, Tina. My latest manuscript has a dog in that helps the wounded hero come out of his shell. He was fun to write about. You know which pet is often overlooked, but is actually a fantastic companion? A rat. Not the kind you find in the barn, but domesticated rats. They are extremely smart, social, can be trained to use a litter box as well as a number of tricks. They are the perfect combination between the social, outgoing dog and the less needy cat. I think my new mission is to put one in my next story and change the stigma associated with them. 🙂

    • 31 January 2016 10:39 am

      Oh, my. I didn’t even know there was a domesticated rat. I’ll let you do that one. OH MY GOSH. Seriously? Wasn’t there a movie about a domesticated rat in the nineties? Romance and rat. This will take some mind bending!!!

  9. 31 January 2016 10:21 am

    Kav are you a martyr or what??? Thanks for stopping by!!! You know what I am thinking pet miniature pig in an upcoming story!!

    I need to blog more in foreign locations. This place is BEAUTIFUL!!!! Thank you to the ARRA for having me. You should see the room they had me waiting in! Fresh fruit and an Australian cowboy serving!

  10. Kav permalink
    31 January 2016 10:16 am

    Hey, Tina, I traveled halfway around the world to visit. Loving the warmer weather! And I am totally on board with pets in fiction. I’m an animal lover so I like to see that part of my life reflected in my reading life. And I especially love them in romances because it really does soften my heart towards say a surly hero if he has this special connection with a pet. Like you said, animals are discerning — even literary ones — so if they are devoted to a character than I know I can be as well. And honestly, sometimes I wish there were scenes with a pet POV — I think it would be hilarious to ‘hear’ their opinion on how the hero/heroine are dealing with romance. But I’m weird that way.

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