My Characters and Other Animals

Why animals make great book characters.

My current writing project features a therapy animal. She’s a cat called Ginger. Writing about Ginger makes me feel more cheerful. Reading about animals has the same effect.

Why do animals make such great book characters? And why aren’t there more of them?

Image of a ginger cat.
Photo by Hiang Kanjinna on

All the benefits, none of the hassle

There are many benefits of having a pet or being around animals in nature. These include reducing stress, loneliness, depression, and anxiety. And helping us develop empathy. Those are benefits many of us could use.

Therapy animals can help us let go of emotional barriers to enable physical healing. They are also sometimes used in prisons to help inmates process their emotions and achieve a calm state.

Whether you want to improve your mental health, your healing process, or your ability to connect with others, animals could help.

Of course, reading about animals isn’t quite as good as being with the real thing. But we can’t always be with the real thing.

Don’t have a pet? Can’t get out to see wildlife as often as you would like? Have allergies that prevent you handling animals? You can still enjoy them through books. We feel the same feelings when we read  fiction as we do during real life activities.

And you don’t have to remember to feed, walk, vaccinate, or clean up after your fictional friends. I guarantee they won’t chew your shoes or your toothbrush either!

Image of a brown dog.
Photo by Lum3n on

The limitations of animal characters

I think the main reason animals in books aren’t often given important roles is that they don’t talk. Not in a way that humans understand well, anyway. This reduces their potential functionality in a story. Often our animal friends are reduced to part of the scenery or a mode of transport. 

But there are so many things they can do. Knocking something over to reveal a clue that would otherwise have been missed. Sniffing out a lost or hidden person. Being a sounding board for a character. Alerting someone to danger. Providing comfort to a protagonist on the cusp of giving up.

Ginger provides the key clue in my story. I’m not going to tell you how but I can tell you it’s a dramatic reveal!

Where are all the animals?

There are plenty of animal characters in children’s books. Some of the best known children’s book characters are animals. From Spot and Kipper, to Black Beauty and Charlotte’s Web, kids have all the animals in books they could wish for. 

Young adult fiction is split. Fantasy stories often include animals in relation to magic (familiars, or mythical creatures, for example). Other genres are less likely to include animal characters.

And by the time we reach adulthood, stories rarely feature animal characters at all. But there are still myriad reasons to read about them. So I’m on the look out for more books with animal characters.

Have you read any good adult or young adult fiction featuring an animal character? I’d love to hear about it.

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