You want to write about your pets. You know you do. And your pets are all for it. The cat’s been walking across the keyboard for days now. Even the dog, curled up in bed next to you while you work, looks longingly at you. You know he’s thinking: “Make me a star!”
People everywhere love pet stories—and some editors will pay for them. But you need to develop these stories as craftily as you would any other piece. Here’s a step by step guide to writing about your pet.
Column by Anne Kaier, author of HOME WITH HENRY (Oct. 2014, PS Books).
Her essay “Maple Lane” was mentioned on the list of Notables in the 2014
edition of Best American Essays. Kaier has been published in The Gettysburg
Review, Alaska Quarterly Review, The Kenyon Review, Referential and
Beauty is a Verb: An Anthology of Poetry, Poetics, and Disability which is
on the American Library Association Notable Books list for 2012.
Kaier lives in Center City, Philadelphia and teaches at Arcadia University.
Connect with her on Goodreads.
1. Gather Your Material
You know your pet’s ways. But your reader doesn’t. So you need to make your pet into a fully developed character. Here are three techniques to accumulate material for a vivid pet portrait.
- Go through the photos you have and take new ones with your phone or camera. Note your pet’s typical, funny poses and activities. This can prompt your memory and give you great raw material.
- Do you talk to your pet? Most of us do. Jot down three conversations you have with him or her. Keep notes on your phone or in a little paper notebook you stick in your pocket.
- Observe your pet in his or her favorite spot for ten minutes every day for three days. Write down everything he or she does in that spot. At the end of that time, you’ll probably have notes on characteristic gestures.
2. Do Some Exercises
Get warmed up and give yourself more material. Here are two winning exercises.
- Touch exercise: Make a detailed list of three moments in which you remember the touch of your pet. Examples: the downy hair on the back of her ear; the throbbing pulse of his purr as you scratch under his neck; the squishy feeling in a paper towel as you clean up her morning’s hairball. Use these descriptions in your story.
- Gestures exercise: Write down five gestures your pet makes along with the emotion each gesture conveys. Example: Sitting next to you and grunting - contentment.
Hook agents, editors and readers immediately.
Check out Les Edgerton's guide, HOOKED, to
learn about how your fiction can pull readers in.
3. Try Out Prompts
Remember, your first goal is to write a rough draft, not a finished manuscript.
- Memorable events prompt: Make a quick list of the five most memorable things your pet did with another human during the last month. Then circle the one that intrigues you the most and write about it. Example: After ignoring me all day, Coco came downstairs when my boyfriend came to dinner.
- Naughtiness prompt:Marley & Me was a best seller about “the world’s worst dog.” Jot down five of the funniest, baddest things your pet has ever done.
Get down to business.
- Look at the material you’ve gathered. Where are the possible stories? When you’ve focused on one, develop the drama. How does the pet interact with the humans in your tale? What does the pet or the human want that they can’t have? How do the creature and the owner change as the story unfolds?
- Sketch your story arc first. Then note which scenes best illustrate the stages in the drama. Make the most of these scenes, dramatizing them fully. Less important parts of the story can be handled in a speedier summary.
Here are some key things to look for in your revision.
- Sensuous details: Have you used all the quirks and gestures you noted about your pet in your beginning exercises?
- Vivid vocabulary: Fresh words and phrases will make your story memorable. Root out clichés and repeated words. Example: note the difference between “Coco slept all afternoon” and “For twenty minutes, Coco slept with her right paw covering her wet black nose. Every now and then she snorted or whimpered in her sleep.”
- Proofread: If you do, you’ll be a real pro.
Check Out These Great Upcoming Writers' Conferences:
- Oct. 28–30, 2016: Writer's Digest Novel Writing Conference (Los Angeles, CA)
- Nov. 19, 2016: Las Vegas Writing Workshop (Las Vegas, NV)
- Feb. 11, 2017: Writers Conference of Minnesota (St. Paul, MN)
- Feb. 16–19, 2017: San Francisco Writers Conference (San Francisco, CA)
- Feb. 25, 2017: Atlanta Writing Workshop (Atlanta, GA)
- Feb. 26–March 3, 2017: Writers Winter Escape Cruise (conference/cruise departing Miami)
- March 25, 2017: Michigan Writers Conference (Detroit, MI)
- April 8, 2017: Philadelphia Writing Workshop (Philadelphia, PA)
- May 6, 2017: Seattle Writers Conference (Seattle, WA)
- July 22, 2017: Tennessee Writers Workshop (Nashville, TN)
- Aug. 18–20, 2017: Writer's Digest Conference (New York, NY)
Other writing/publishing articles & links for you:
- Writing is More Passion Than Talent.
- Agent Spotlight: Laura Zats (Red Sofa Literary) seeks YA, MG, Romance and Fiction.
- Introvert's Guide to Attending Conferences.
- Selling A Manuscript Is Like Falling In Love.
- Follow Chuck Sambuchino on Twitter or find him on Facebook. Learn all about his writing guides on how to get published, how to find a literary agent, and writing a query letter.
Your new complete and updated instructional guide
to finding an agent is finally here: The 2015 book
GET A LITERARY AGENT shares advice from more
than 110 literary agents who share advice on querying,
craft, the submission process, researching agents, and
much more. Filled with all the advice you'll ever need to
find an agent, this resource makes a great partner book to
the agent database, Guide to Literary Agents.