by Rebecca Forster
Today a lady wrote to tell me she loved my book Hostile Witness* because I hadn’t killed Max. I've been traveling a lot in the last three weeks and it took me a minute to figure out who Max was and why it was so important to her that he was alive. Max, of course, is Josie Bates' dog; Josie is the heroine of the witness series. I was touched by the reader's concern for the fictional canine.
As an author and a reader I had to ask myself: Why is a book that includes animals richer, more entertaining, and more engaging than one without? The answer was simple: Animals bring out the best and the worst in a human character. This makes for great drama and provides an emotional touch point that is critical for an exciting read.
Max-the-Dog (his legal name) was originally created as a reflection of Josie, his mistress. Both had been abandoned, both had to fight for their lives, both were protective of others. But Max became so much more than Josie’s mirror as the series unfolded. Here are four ways Max made a difference in the witness series:
HE ENHANCED HUMAN CHARACTERIZATION: Those who attack him were inherently more evil than a bad guy who ignored him. Those who love Max were more admirable because they cared for and protect him.
HE WAS AN ANIMATED SOUNDING BOARD: Internal dialogue can be tedious. Allow a character to speculate to an animal and the rhetorical questions or monologues sound natural.
HIS PRESENCE SET A TONE: A scene tone can be set by the way a human character speaks to or interacts with an animal counterpart. A whispered warning creates a much different tone than a screaming command; a languid pet conjures up different visions than a playful ruffling of fur.
HE HELPED MOVE THE PLOT FORWARD: An animal's needs can put a human in a place they might not have been in. For instance, in Privileged Witness, Josie took Max out for his evening constitutional and ran into her fugitive client who was hiding outside. Without Max, Josie would have no reason to go outside and never would have discovered her client. An animal’s heightened senses can also assist a human to warn of danger or alert a human to a change in their surroundings.
From The Hound of the Baskervilles to Lassie and Blue Dog, My Friend Flicka and The Black Stallion, The Cheshire Cat and Puss-in-Boots, animals have frolicked as humans, served to reflect human frailties and strengths, and just plain worked their way into reader’s hearts because of who they are.
So, to the kind lady who was concerned about Max, have no fear. He will never come to a violent end. No matter what happens to him, his presence or lack thereof, will be a decision motivated by story and plot and, of course, love, because Max is as real to me as if he sat at my feet while I wrote my stories.
*Hostile Witness is free for all e-readers and is also available in print. The picture is of my grand dog Tucker.