Be Kind to Your Critters

2015 December 12 - be kind to your critters

Be Nice to Your Readers

Don’t make loveable anybody you’re planning to kill off in the first few pages. A reader won’t trust you anymore, and a reader has to be able to trust you in order to suspend disbelief. And to read the rest of the story.

Along the same lines, try not to kill off the family pet unless you’re dealing with a really despicable antagonist. The term “bunny boiler” has come into use on Inter­net dating sites to describe a woman who becomes psychotically attached to a man she’s had sex with. (I’ll give away everything if I tell you the name of the movie that spawned the term, so I won’t.)

In one of my in-progress screenplays, I kill off the dog (he’s dead by around page/minute 3), but that’s to warn my protagonist not to mess around with what he’s wanting to get involved in.

I have not, though, made the dog cute. I have made the dog intelligent — smart enough to know that what my protagonist is dealing with is dangerous.

The dog sacrifices himself to try to save his master. Killing off the dog during the Setup garners sympathy for my protagonist be­cause if his dog is willing to die for him, he must be an OK guy.

This will develop oodles of reader sympathy for the protagonist. If we can kill off a guy’s doggie, what are we going to do to our guy?

This helps to signal the genre as well. It’s thoughtful to let your reader know when something un­pleas­ant is lurking around the corner.

I have given the dog a name. Well, actually, my protagonist gave him the name and “Blackie” is prob­ably the umpteenth dog named Blackie that Jeremiah and his wife have owned. (Back story: Jeremiah is a no-frills kinda guy who has been hiding in the bush with his beloved Margaret for years.)

If you’re going to kill a person or a pet, give them a generic name. It makes it easier on you and on your reader.

Besides, if you go to all the trouble of coming up with something unique, it would be a waste to use it for only a page or two. Save it for somebody/something that will live until at least Chapter 10.


Next post — Two Books in One?

Sherrill Wark is the author of Really Stupid Writing Mistakes: How to Avoid Them:

… and Death in l’Acadie: a Kesk8a story (fiction):


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