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Why it’s OK to have a dog in every story

It’s good to mix things up as a writer but don’t worry, if like me, you have a particular recurring character.

As a creative writing teacher and novel coach I often find myself encouraging students to step outside of their comfort zones and write about something new and different. Not only does this give your writing muscles a good workout but it can ignite a love of a new genre or encourage someone to come up with a wholly original character that they might never before have considered.

In my own writing I try to be inventive with minor characters, even if the heroes often tend to be mixed-up sorts, in need of a hug. I’ve written recently through the eyes of grumpy aliens, widowed men, sweetly optimistic teenagers and I really enjoy the process of seeing the world from a point of view different to my own. I also try to come up with interesting settings, wanting to be somewhere new as much as my readers do. But I have to admit that I always, always include a dog somewhere in my writing. And I always will. In every piece of fiction I write. I just can’t help myself.

At the very least they are in the background of a scene, being observed by a protagonist, but mostly they have a more central role, if not the starring role as my non-fiction book Happy as Harry did. (In this guide to happiness, dogs were front, centre and everywhere in between; it was all about being more dog-like; the narrator was a dog; it was co-written by my perfect, funny, little dog, Harry. I couldn’t get any more dogs in those pages if I tried. And believe me, I tried).

I think it’s that dogs are very much in my life and therefore very much in my characters’ lives. I think dogs are humans’ best cheerleaders and so I want that for my characters too – to have someone on their side as they battle loneliness, illness, relationship disasters, loss and whatever else I’ve decided to throw at them. It also allows them to always have someone to talk to, which is really useful in a novel. A human character (or indeed an alien) unburdening themselves to a dog and always being truthful about it (no one ever lies to their dog, not about the things that matter) lets you reveal so much about your character.

Whilst I can be relied on to feature a dog in any story I’m writing, I’m totally unable to have a dog die. I just can’t do it. I would be an emotional wreck writing it. I would be compelled to save it. It’s bad enough reading about the demise of a dog in other people’s stories. Spoiler alert: I’ve just finished reading the wonderful Miss Benson’s Beetle by Rachel Joyce. There is a very appealing dog in it called Mr Rawlings. I love that book. I love that little dog. And then he dies. It took me ages to get over this development and to carry on reading.

My canine co-writer and best friend, Harry, died last year and I will write about it one day. I can’t yet. For now, I’m writing a version of him in the book I’m currently writing, wanting to spend time with him in the only way I can. Which is how I spend time with my other much missed dogs – writing about them.

One more thing, I always read everything I write to my dogs. They always sit under my desk as I write which means they are my beta readers, my first critics. They are such a part of writing that I can’t not include them in my stories.

Is there something that you include in every piece you write?

-- Deana Luchia


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