Sunday, March 29, 2009

What About the Cats?



In my post for the 27th, I revealed that I had promised a reader never to kill a dog in my books. In the comments, Victoria in California was quick to ask that I extend the same courtesy to cats.

It's a kind of unspoken rule among writers of cozies that you mustn't kill a cat -- or a dog or a child or anything cute and fluffy or any likable person.

But I don't write cozies -- I write psychological suspense. Sometimes bad things happen to nice people. . . or their animals. I'm not just trying to set up an interesting puzzle to be solved with some snappy repartee and zany hi jinks along the way --all done with a minimum of emotional involvement. No, I'm trying to make my characters real to my readers -- real people in real (well, except for the occasional touch of paranormal) situations where there is always some risk.
I'm trying to engage my readers' emotions . . . to move them to laughter . . . and sometimes to tears.



By making dogs, especially Elizabeth's dogs, immune to danger, I've lost a potential plot twist. I don't want to tie my hands any tighter by making more promises (next, the squirrel lobby will be pleading for an amnesty. And I like squirrels too; heck, I even like possums.)

I'm also very fond of cats. Ask Eddie and Miss Susie Hutchins. Even so, I've resisted, so far, giving Elizabeth one (in spite of Tammy of Fairlight Farm's encouragement that I do so.) Cats tend to take over mysteries, if given a chance.

In one of my books, there is a reference to a cat (or maybe two, I don't remember) that was killed in the past by one of the characters. Not, notice, a cat that we ever got to know. But I needed that reference to show the nature of a particular character. Remember, adult psychotic types often began by abusing animals when they were children.
I still can't see myself writing scenes of animal abuse. Indirect reference, though -- that could happen. Very indirect.

And, as always, I wonder why I (along with many readers) am more squeamish about the death of fictional animals (fluffy animals, it goes without saying) than the death of fictional people.


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12 comments:

TheWritersPorch said...

Animals give unconditional love and I tend to see them as helpless. So harming them even in fictional print turns me off.It won't make me abandon a read, just makes it a little less enjoyable.

Auntie Knickers said...

I agree that referring to a character's prior harming of animals is OK as a signifier of the character. I just don't like long descriptions of hurting animals (or really, of hurting people either). And I agree with TheWritersPorch --- animals are not humans and can't in any way deserve hurt or death. Whereas I've read mysteries where the victim "needed killin'" and it was more or less OK with me. Not in real life though. Beautiful cats by the way!

Tammy said...

I think my biggest beef with many writers is they 'write in' a pet for the sole purpose of killing it off. So when I find someone who writes (and obviously loves) animals and adds them in naturally to the lives of the characters, it is a breath of fresh air. Ha..I'm glad we all got amnesty on the dogs though, as I know that bad things 'could' happen. I hate to see any animal killed, but I also get pretty traumatized when a major character gets killed off too. I recently read a book where the story was told from first person, and in the end THAT person was murdered! I just couldn't believe it. The book got donated and I don't plan to continue the series. It just deflated me I guess. Or maybe I just didn't have anything invested in it after that. As an author I know it is a fine line for you to walk, but I trust you can pull off whatever is needed to bring the story home. (And I STILL think ELizabeth needs a cat..ha...;-) Tammy

Vicki Lane said...

I can't see myself doing a long description of hurting an animal-- as I said -- indirect references to what happened. And even with that -- I think I've always posited instant death.

Of course, everyone's sensibilities are different. I was once taken to task for being too graphic in describing the rape that occurred in DARK SEASON. I had described it at third hand and was VERY sparing of detail . . . but still, this person felt it was too much.

The problem, I think, is that we have active imaginations which sometimes. without our wanting them to, fill in the gruesome details.

And as for the victims who 'needed killin'' -- sometimes, might it not be their mistreatment of an innocent that makes their eventual downfall appropriate?

In which case, it might becomes the writer's lamentable task to set up that mistreatment to lead to the undoing of the villain.

This god thing is right wearing!

Susan M. Bell said...

I remember a while back I asked you about the killing of the cat that you had referenced in your book. And I do agree that referring to something like that in a person's past really shows what type of person they are, and when reading about real-life "psychos" it's common knowledge that thing like that do happen. I am so very glad nothing has ever happened to Elizabeth's dogs. There have been times I cringed as they ran off into the woods or some such only to breathe a sigh of relief. And I too hate it when a writer brings in a pet just for the sake of killing it later on. Sucks quite frankly.

Even when I listen to the news, I find myself just a bit more pained over the suffering/killing of an animal than a human. Children and animals...they are so helpless and look to us for protection and love. Makes their pain all that much worse.

Reader Wil said...

Thank you so much for your visit and kind comment.
I agree with Carol of "TheWritersPorch that animals give unconditional love. We had cats who were so fond of us, that they hated our going on a holiday. I hate stories of cruelty to humans or animals. I even believe that people who harm animals, will also harm humans.You have lovely cats!

Kaye Barley said...

Always a thought provoking subject!

As Auntie Knickers points out, sometimes humans just "need killin'." Whereas, oh my - look at the pictures of all these lovely creatures here on your blog. Those EYES! Those eyes look at us with trust and love and innocence. It's a cruel soul who doesn't see all that in an animal's eyes.

Star said...

I can tolerate any kind of abuse to humans in a book, but somehow it doesn't work with animals. I cannot tolerate them being hurt or dying for a cause. I can think of several cases where that has happened and I don't like it. It puts me off. Like Tammy, I have noticed (in films mainly) that as soon as a dog appears, I find myself thinking, "that's a nice dog, I wonder how long it will be before he gets killed?" From that point on I am watching and waiting and watching and waiting...
Blessings, Star

Vicki Lane said...

I agree with all of you -- but can't make any promises beyond quick and painless death if absolutely necessary to the plot.

Well, actually I'm not sure I agree totally with Kaye B -- Eddie's eyes don't strike me as particularly innocent . . . :-)

Victoria said...

Oh well, it was worth a try...

One of my cats, Chloe, insisted I leave a message from her to you on my blog. I should warn you, she has serious "delusions of grandeur" issues. ;-/

Victoria said...

Vicki, thank you for your hysterically funny reply to Chloe over on my blog.

Vicki said...

At least I know how to talk to cats . . .