Have you ever noticed how different the various breeds of dogs are compared to the various breeds of cats?
What does this have to do with writing, you ask?
Many pets, especially felines and canines, are in our everyday lives. So it makes sense they’d be in books too. But can you write any animal or creature into your novel? Whether real, mythological or completely invented by your own mind, animals need to exist to give more dimensions to a story or world. It could be the pet of a key character, a random interaction, or part of the story itself.
Lily inspired a pet cat that features in one of my novel series. But I have many animals and creatures, both wild and domesticated, who show up in my novels on realistic worlds as well as the fantastical ones. It helps with realism to make sure you understand the animals you’re writing about. I’ve had dogs and cats all my life, so I know their behaviour well. However, my feline and canine are not the domesticated kinds, so I did a little research on the fundamental differences between domesticated animals, and wild ones.
I have two characters who can shapeshift who display common traits of their respective animals. Feline and canine being the more dominant. It got me questioning what traits they should have. For example, some species of big cats don’t have the ability to purr like domesticated cats. Wolves and domestic dogs are highly family orientated, but wolves are significantly less accepting of newcomers and will stay away from humans unless they feel threatened. Most dogs will let anyone pet them or take them for a walk. At least most of the dogs I know will.
From lions, tigers, and forest cats to tabbies, short hairs, and Persians, all these cats have amazingly common traits, both physical and behavioural. Canines, however, vary massively, especially in physical traits. Jack Russels, collies, chihuahuas, and Great Danes, to coyotes, foxes, and wolves, dogs are incredibly different in instincts, builds, and general behaviour.
Here’s a couple of interesting mini-documentaries I found that confirm my point on cats and dogs.
Animals also feature in mythology and folklore. As far back as ancient Egypt, cats have interacted with humans. They even worshipped them as guardians on the Underworld and protectors. Foxes feature in many folklore as cunning tricksters or shapeshifters.
Of course, you have a multitude of purely mythological creatures who pop up in fantasy fiction all the time. Unicorns, gryphons, sirens, phoenixes, and my favourite, dragons. There are many more creatures that would take me all day to detail and talk about. These animals are an incredibly important part of worldbuilding for fantasy realms. They can also be part of the story in holding magic or guarding treasure or protecting the hero or villain from harm. Each one has key elements to consider when incorporating them into your literature.
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Don’t forget a furry, scaly, feathery, leathery, animal friends. They might just prove useful to the plot as well as enriching the reading experience.