Novel Ideas: #14 “Dogs Must Live!”

You may think you have a perfectly rational reason for killing a dog in your novel.

Never kill dogs

Maybe he’s a very large, rabid dog. Death would be a blessing.

Or maybe he’s a devoted guard dog, destined to give his life in loyal service to his human family.

So, really, in both of those cases you would be justified in killing a fictional dog, right? Nope. Wrong. Your readers will still hate you.

People who don’t have dogs may think I’m crazy. “What?? It’s just a dog!” they will insist.

They’re wrong, of course, and we dog lovers pity the shallow lives that dogless people live. Sure, those people have clean cars and carefree vacations, but they are otherwise ignorant about the infinite value of dogs.

But I defy you to find, over … hundreds of pages, the death of a dog.

You might argue this point, too. After all, plenty of writers kill off innocent children fictionally; and children outrank dogs. That’s true. Sometimes in fiction, it’s necessary for a child to die. This is heartbreaking, even devastating, but nonetheless allowed when crucial to the plot or character development.

Bestselling author George RR Martin, the genius behind “Game of Thrones,” loves to kill off characters — from infants to the elderly, be they good or evil. In fact, Martin has likely killed off more characters than any serial killer in history. But I defy you to find, over the course of many hundreds of pages, the death of a dog. (Dire Wolves don’t count.) Martin’s not stupid.

“But wait,” you might say, “lots of dogs die every day. And some people like to eat them, too.” I say “yes they do” to the first, and “not in America!” to the second.

The important thing to note is this: We don’t write about those dog deaths. Check the newspaper, if you don’t believe me. No Dead Dog stories. (Well, almost never, okay?) Nobody wants to read about dogs dying.

Over the course of my life I’ve written dozens of articles and short stories. I’ve also lost several dogs from various causes. You won’t find any accounts of those canine deaths anywhere in my work, fiction or non-fiction. That would be repugnant.

Alright then, what creatures can you safely kill off in your fiction?

Your list of acceptable alternatives is enormous. You may always kill rodents and bats and birds. Wild creatures (except feral dogs) are allowed to die, especially if they’re scary. You can kill sheep and cows and horses, even pigs and chickens. Camels and llamas, ostriches and emus, donkeys and mules — all may die as needed.

You’re free to end the lives of farm animals and untamed beasts, as long as those deaths are essential to your story, and not merely inserted for shock value. Do what you must. Just don’t kill any dogs.

“But what about cats??” you ask. Oh, man…

questionDo you have some killer advice for your fellow writers? This is one installment in a series. I’d love to hear from you about character deaths and related Novel Ideas.  Share your thoughts in Comments, just below.

[Note: This post contains Affiliate Links (green). If you click them and buy something, I might get paid. If you’d rather I didn’t earn a dollar or two, please use your favorite search engine instead. ~Jim]


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  1. Better to kill a mockingbird…

  2. Better to light a fire…

  3. Old Yeller – ooh, I hated that book as a kid.

    Spoiler Alert:
    The author thought having a puppy at the end would make it OK? Nope.

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