How Important Are Animals To a Story? #MasonsQuestions

All animals in this collage are ones I have cared for:
(from top left to bottom right) Theo, Ollie, Fluff and Franco.

It seems I’ve gone a bit berserk with the blogging challenges, but I couldn’t resist this question by Mason, “How important are animals in a story?”

I’ve enjoyed stories and books where animals are the main stars such as James Herriot’s All Creatures Great and Small or Gerald Durrell’s My Family and Other Animals. I like other stories where animals play a more supporting role, but I’ve enjoyed plenty of books where they have played no role at all.

It seems to be an interesting question for me, because I seem to be populating my fictional worlds with more and more animals. I think, with writing humor, animals can add a little humorous adventure to the situation.

I recently wrote a humorous short story, “Rube Would Approve,” for a Reedsy writing prompt, “Write about someone who goes to extreme lengths to return an overdue library book,” and which I republished here for the blog. In that one, a computer programmer named Steve thinks of the most outrageous method to return a library book without leaving his home office. He has quite a few pets, a few of which get involved in the action, such as Harpo the mouse, Zeppo the dachshund, Groucho the cat and Chico the Indian ringneck parakeet.

Photo by David Clode on Unsplash

Pets and animals are also an important part of the home life and “family” for many people, so they help to complete the representation of the character and his life at home. In my mystery comedy, Action Men with Silly Putty, my main character, Jack Donegal, a toy inventor/small company owner and amateur sleuth has a beagle sidekick named George, and their neighbor, Ellen Danforth, has a cat named Van Gogh. I think, like Mason, I will share an excerpt from the book where the animals are involved.

I should explain first that the Action Men stories are narrated by Jack’s best friend and roommate, Andy Westin. In this scene below, something has tripped a crazy alarm system that Jack has rigged up that blasts music at a very high decibel level.


“As adrenaline pumped through me, I knew I should do something, but I felt like someone who was shell-shocked and was shaking like I had jammed my finger into an electrical socket. For the second time that morning, an obnoxious noise had disrupted my peace.

Somehow or other, Jack managed the delayed alertness to beat me down to the nerve center of our security system and shut off the sound. I walked down to where Jack was, my entire body feeling liquefied like Jell-O. I only hoped the Serbian thugs had the full coronary that I half-experienced. “Are they gone, you think?” I asked, sitting beside Jack who was cool as an Antarctic penguin.

‘It wasn’t Serbian thugs who triggered the alarm,’ said Jack. ‘It was only Van Gogh.’

I sat down. George, whimpering and whining, put his front paws on the edge of my chair. I gave him a boost and let him climb up and rest in my lap.

‘Only Van Gogh?’ I said, laughing with some needed comic relief. “As in the ghost of Van Gogh? And was this Van Gogh with or without his ear?’

‘Van Gogh is Ellen’s cat.’ Jack pointed for the first time at the front window, and I heard the yelping of a tortured cat.

Photo by Patrick Reichboth on Unsplash

You’d think I’d know the name of Ellen’s cat by now, only, when I first saw it, I decided his name was Tiger. With his orange, tabby stripes, he seemed like a Tiger to me. “I forgot that’s his name,” I said. “To me, he’s Tiger.”

“No wonder he doesn’t come when you call him,” said Jack.

“Does any cat come when you call him?” I said.

Of course, it made perfect sense. Ellen, the owner of the Salvador Deli, would go and name a cat Van Gogh.”

© Susan Joy Clark

My Creature Kingdom stories, one published and others in progress are populated by woodland animals of all sorts: moles, mice, otters, beavers, bunnies … But I’ll leave more on that for another post.

Thanks Mason for a great question.