(post written by Susan Meier)
Barbara Wallace, Shirley Jump and Jackie Braun and I had a blast writing THE BILLIONAIRE’S MATCHMAKER. We all agreed that Charlie, the Jack Russell Terrier, was the cutest thing in the world. And he gave the story a layer of emotion we knew wouldn’t have existed without our wonderful boy!
But we also learned a few things about putting a dog in a story.
My biggest take away was that an author who wants to put a pet in a book needs to give the dog a job!
Readers who love dogs know they aren’t merely cute window dressing. Lassie and Old Yeller were stars. In real life, dogs are beloved family members. They have personalities. They’re smart. And they are definitely part of the action! The story for THE BILLIONAIRE’S MATCHMAKER didn’t gel until we realized that cute and lovable Charlie couldn’t just walk from story to story. He had to play a part. And what’s more fun than a pup who realizes the people he’s with belong together forever as friends and lovers – life partners. Dogs are intuitive. Dogs are love wrapped in fur. Making Charlie a matchmaker was a perfect fit for both him and the story!
Barbara Wallace’s advice is to make sure the dog fits your “human” character.
“As in real life, when choosing a dog, you need to select a breed and personality that meshes with your characters’ personalities and lifestyles. Would your dark, brooding hero own a Chocolate Lab or German Shepherd? Depends upon his backstory and current situation. I once wrote a proposal in which my workaholic heroine had a dog who kept breaking out of her apartment. My editor rightly pointed out that a workaholic, city-dwelling career woman most likely wouldn’t make the commitment a pet requires. Likewise, a jet-setter or commitment phobic billionaire. The exception to this rule, of course, is if the dog exists to purposely create turmoil in your characters’ lives. Again, though, make sure there’s a realistic reason for the dog to exist. In Billionaire’s Matchmaker, Charlie’s crazy temperament works because 1) Nicholas Bonaparte didn’t select him personally, and 2) his crazy behavior is well explained by the fourth novella. (Hint: It has to do with Nicholas’ backstory.)”
Shirley Jump believes we all need to do our research!
“Not all writers own the types of dogs they put in their stories. That means the writer need to do some research—and real-world research is awesome for writing dogs into stories. Certain types of dogs are more hyper than others, some are more standoffish, some are quiet and shy. If you want a dog to do a trick in your book, then be sure it’s something that kind of dog can do or would do. My dog, for example, is a Havanese, and that breed refuses to play fetch. Having a Havanese do something like that wouldn’t work in a book. Know what makes a dog tick—does the breed you are featuring like to have his head scratched or his belly rubbed? Is he more likely to chase a squirrel or lay by the fireplace? If you don’t own that breed, visit a friend or a local animal shelter and grab some interactive time! Make notes of the type of bark the dog has, how the fur feels, what the dog looks like when he runs, sits, jumps, etc. The more realism you can add, the more of a character the dog will become.”
Jackie Braun’s advice is to not let the dog take over the story!
“When a pet is an integral part of the story, writers have to take care not to let it take over. Dogs and cats, not to mention puppies and kittens, can be adorable. But readers, even those who are pet lovers, want to know what’s going on between your hero and heroine. Adding in a little four-legged diversion is fine, especially if it helps set the tone or aids in moving the story forward. But including cute pets in a scene for no discernible reason can become annoying. Even more problematic, it can throw off the pacing.
So, if you’re not sure whether the pet is adding to a scene or stealing it, ask yourself this question: What does the pet do to enhance this scene? If the answer is nothing, then leave it out or at least marginalize it to a passing reference.”
We had a great time writing THE BILLIONAIRE’S MATCHMAKER. We all fell in love with fictional Charlie. We think you will too, mostly because we were true to the breed, gave the dog a job, chose a dog that fit our characters and story and – much as we loved Charlie – we didn’t let him take over the story!
We’d love to hear your take on dogs in stories!
Jen's note: Entangled Publishing sent me The Billionaire's Matchmaker to read (FTC disclosure: I was not otherwise compensated for this post), and the collaborating authors of that work put this collaborative post together for your pleasure! If this post has piqued your interest in reading The Billionaire's Matchmaker, you can get it here on Amazon: