I’m not sure if all writers are plagued by what I call “the why factor,” but I know I am. What is the why factor? It’s the need to explain why something happened or why someone did something. It’s a constant search for ulterior motives and I tend to search for the why factor in everything. In writer jargon, it’s called back story, but I don’t limit my creative tendencies to story characters. I make up back story to explain the actions and conversations of complete strangers, family members, dear friends, and even rescued pets.
Rescued pets? Especially our rescued pets. They had a life before they arrived in our home and that life influences how they behave. For some reason I need to figure out the why factor to help me cope with their actions.
Let’s take Sierra. She’s a cute little beagle we found at the local airport last December. Shy, but willing to be coaxed close, she was suffering from malnutrition, fleas, ticks and worms. We brought her home to join our family.
First order of business was a trip to the veterinarian who checked for a microchip and found none. Several hundred dollars later, she was officially our dog with a microchip to prove it.
When we adopted her, we didn’t know our beautiful great Dane would be diagnosed with bone cancer within ten days. Bone cancer in large and giant breed dogs is a death sentence with a two to three month period to say goodbye.
Sterling was a huge guy, weighing in at 160 pounds. He loved to look out the office window and bark at anyone walking on the street. UPS and FedEx carriers were favored game. He liked to follow up his noisy alert with a personal, in-your-face (he was tall enough to do that) greeting when I opened the door to accept the package. After the first moment of terror, the carriers greeted him back.
Sierra seemed happy to join the barkfest, lending her yodeling cry to Sterling’s powerful alert. Everything we read about beagles said they were a vocal breed and we figured her barking would continue when Sterling was no longer there to help.
We were wrong. Without Sterling to signal the alert, Sierra quit barking. Since she’s a beagle and supposed to be noisy, the why factor kicked in for me. I had to make up a story to explain why she didn’t bark once Sterling was gone.
Based on her shy, quiet personality (all the vets and vet techs commented on her easy-going manner which seems to also be an oddity in the beagle breed), I decided she must have been in a family that had a more aggressive, alpha dog who wouldn’t let Sierra alert first. Which would explain why Sierra doesn’t know she’s supposed to let us know if someone rings the doorbell. In her earlier life, it wasn’t her job to respond, it was her job to join in after the alert was made.
Of course, I have no idea if this explains why she acts the way, but I think my tendency to write back stories for our rescued pets stems from my tendency to write about animals in my stories. Sometimes they are only peripheral characters mentioned in passing, more often they are supporting characters.
Oddly, I wrote Feather’s Last Dance, my recent Sweetheart Rose release from The Wild Rose Press, before we even owned a beagle. I decided to use a beagle in the story and named him Darwin because one of my daughter’s friends had a beagle named Darwin. One of my favorite story lines in Feather involves Darwin’s infatuation with Cuddles, the poodle.
My recent Regency adventure romance, Lady Runaway, features a foxhound named Sir George that Lady Riana finds in an alley when she is hiding from the villain. Sir George later plays a key role in locating Riana when the hero is looking for her.
Although I don’t have an animal in all my fiction, I noticed early on that animals kept popping up in my stories. By the time I wrote what became my first published historical novel, having an animal in the story had become part of my writing style and that novel revolves around the ownership of a beautiful horse. Since I’m an animal lover, adding animal characters seems a natural step for me. I don’t think I’d enjoy writing about my heroes and heroines quite as much if they didn’t love animals. And in order for those animals to be part of the story, I have to know how they became a part of the lives of my characters. This means I have to build each animal a back story and that way I know “why” they’re in the story.
Award winning writer, Ginger Hanson signed the contract for her fifth book last month. The author of contemporary and historical novels, Ginger’s articles, essays and short stories have appeared in newspapers, magazines, newsletters and ezines.
Feather’s Last Dance, set in the small fictional town of Tassanoxie, AL and published by The Wild Rose Press, is Ginger’s first foray into contemporary fiction. The second Tassanoxie novel, Ellie’s Song, is slated for a 2011 release. Lady Runaway, Ginger’s historical Regency adventure romance, was published in 2009 by Twilight Times Press. Her two earlier Civil War adventure romance historicals were published in 2004. Visit Ginger at www.gingerhanson.com
To learn more about the goings on in Tassanoxie, AL, visit with the town gossip, Miss Mabel at missmabeltalkstassanoxie.blogspot.com/