Psycho-Bunnies and Fiction: Using Animals in Your Writing

Bella sleeps... dreaming of carrots... and world domination

Some of you are cat people and some of you are dog people.  Some of you don’t like either (you are sad, sad individuals).  I am definitely an animal person.  From hamsters to gerbils to dogs to cats to rabbits to Peking ducks,  my pets have been varied and interesting.  My current roommate and nemesis, Bella the Terrible, is a wonderful companion, mostly because her dark little bunny stare of doom is so utterly adorable.

Writing fiction often involves writing animals into the story.  Sometimes, it is a necessity.  Think about your typical fantasy novel.  Horses are pretty much a given.  You might put your characters on some other form of transportation if you are being excessively creative, but most likely they are riding horses.

Eowyn says: "I can haz scene in your story?"

Then, there are the hawks that your noble heroes ride with, their loyal companion hounds, the sardonic cats lounging throught the houses of magic-users, the dragons that lurk in caves (my favorite!), the savage wolves that plague the woods, and the various other creatures that come along to help or hinder the heroes and heroines along their journey.

We often put animals in our fantasy stories because they are necessary.  However, we also add them because they are fun.  They add color to the story.  You know what I’m talking about:

  • The half-wolf/half-cocker spaniel named after an ancient hero whose massive teeth can shred a highway robber or bring down a convenient deer for dinner.  Of course, he’s also very good with children.
  • The grumpy, fat horse who steals food and sleeps on his back.
  • The enchanted bird companion who may or may not have once been a human but is now a sentient avian who carries messages and spies on the enemy

I could go on.  Animal characters can be very entertaining.  They can also be annoying and very cliché if the writer is not exceedingly cautious.  Like the comic relief character that shows up for no apparent reason and cracks jokes at all the wrong moments, an animal side-kick can become an unwelcome addition to the story, and so if you choose to add one, do so with care.

This sheep is necessary for your plot. Really. You must include him in your story. His name is Stanley, by the way.

Now, you could easily make the animal somehow integral to the plot.  Perhaps the sentient avian companion was human once and part of the hero’s quest is to return the bird to its former shape.  Just be sure that it is, in fact, a necessary, or at least believable, plot addition.

If you really only added the animal in as an interesting bit of variety to your story, take great care not to overdo your creature-character’s charm and adorableness or make your character spend too much time fawning, worrying, or thinking about said animal side-kick.  Otherwise, your reader might just hope that a stray arrow will take down the sentient avian, providing plenty of delightful angst while also ridding the story of an annoying distraction from the main plot.

I freely admit that my love of animals gives me the predisposition for tossing in the random animal character into my story.  Mikaela has her violently inclined horse Pride.  My Dagger of Bane Story had Lord Dervish, the werepoodle.  I’ve written two stories centered around Cupcake, the cat (or is he?), though he was a main character rather than an addition, so that probably doesn’t count.  I just happen to love animals and I am constantly resisting the urge to flood my stories with fabulous pets and creatures.

Using animals in stories is not wrong.  Rather, it is like so many things in writing: dangerous.  An animal that is integrated well into a story will be amusing or interesting enough that the reader will enjoy the moments that it enters the picture and perhaps wonder about it when it is absent.  A certain dragon in Stephanie’s story comes to mind, along with a squabbit in Brian’s.

Oh my gosh BUNNIES! Must put bunnies in story. ALL THE BUNNIES!

Animals have their place in stories.  Just don’t overdo it.  We don’t need to read the Saga of Freddy the Fluffiest Rabbit’s Cutest Moments Ever when we are expecting to hear about Alphonso the Awesomest Hero’s Quest to Save the World.

Okay… so maybe we might want to hear more about Freddy because, come on, a cute, fluffy rabbit!!!  But, for now, let Alphonso have his day and keep Freddy in the background.  (Or you could have Alphonso eat Freddy because, you know, he’s starving and he had to and we would weep, my friends, weep! Thus, providing delightful angst and drama to the story.)

So, my question for you:  What animals in fiction have you enjoyed as side-kicks to the heroes and what animals were, quite frankly, just annoyances?  (PS – You can’t use Narnia creatures.  They don’t count.)

98 thoughts on “Psycho-Bunnies and Fiction: Using Animals in Your Writing

  1. There was a character in the second prequel of Star wars..took me a long time to like him and of course the house elves in Harry Potter who eventually also turned out to be lovable.

  2. This post reminds me of my quirky 8-year-old daughter, who refused to see “The Legends of the Guardians” because, and I quote, “Those owls are much too pretentious, what with their British accents and all…”


    I kid you not.

    And I’ll admit to being an aforementioned sad, sad, individual — neither a cat nor a dog person. Only because both make my head swell up like a cantaloupe!

    1. Haha, your daughter sounds like my little brother Nathan (although he loved the movie and the books very much!). He is ten and uses words and phrases that make everyone blink and stare and surreptitiously reach for a dictionary.

      And you are excused from liking animals if they are so unkind to you. That can be an exception, I think. 😉

  3. Good advice, and you gave me something to think about. I’ve only had an animal in one of my stories, and that was because it is central to the plot. But perhaps I should put them in to add a little flavor, too.

  4. my father is actually writing a children’s book series where our dog stars as the hero. I keep telling him people don’t really need to know how wimpy he actually is. 🙂

    1. Awww, how cute! Sounds like my dog Lucky. He is a large black Labrador who scares the mailmen, but inside he’s a marshmallow.

  5. Of course there are the owls in Harry Potter, but I’ve used my dog Lucy a lot in my blog–to write about our recent adventures in Vietnam and Haiti. Not many take their Maltese to SE Asia, so it was a novelty–photographing her at the Temple of Literature in Hanoi, swimming in Halong Bay, etc. I know you’re talking about fiction, so this probably doesn’t count. And I was PROBABLY guilty of over-doing it–a little. I’ll come back with a fun link.

    Love your post, though, and congrats on being freshly pressed! Hang on for the ride!


    1. Your bunny is ridiculously cute and she and Bella could be twins! I love rabbits. So much fluffy angst!

      I remember enjoying Watership Down a lot too. Lots of stress though, in that book, as I recall.

      All hail the bunnies!

  6. I have few cute animals in my stories because of my bleak mythical-theologian themes of horror and dark fantasy. In fact, I generally have few animals, unless, monsters count – I’ve got plenty of those in my writing. The animals I do use for characters are tragic and/or weird. For instance –

    Lucy, A Sorrowful Tale is a short story about a cat and illustrates Saint Michael riding Satan’s back when the devil falls from heaven.

    My other story, Jenny, is an strange ode of love and commitment to a Black Widow spider.

    Please, read my stories if you’re in the mood for icky, creepiness.

    Matt Sawyer

  7. I’m not a pet person so I forget to give my characters pets. Then again, I’m a parent but never give my characters children. Kids have no place in my stories, so I guess I’ve condemned my adults to a life of impotence/infertility/celibacy.

    Sorry, characters. I want to give you better lives, but you’re less interesting that way. Maybe I should write one of those art/conspiracy thrillers and set it in the Vatican.

    If I did give my character a child and I had to put an animal in the story, I’d have the animal eat the child on page one. What? It could happen!

    1. Hahahahaha, that’s great. Yeah, I tend to have younger characters so they don’t have kids yet. I wrote a post a while back about how many characters seem to lack parents, but I haven’t really dealt with the fact that they rarely have kids either. People in my worlds breed by pollination, I suppose…

      1. Unfortunately, ordinary lifestyles pin people down in a story. I don’t want my hero to have to hire a babysitter before she rushes off to tangle with a serial killer.

        Then again, maybe there is something to that idea…

  8. I have been thinking of writing a short story with a few animals. Thank you for the enlightenment.
    BTW, I noticed the reference of the bunny in “the Matrix”, which was very “Alice in Wonderland” driven.

  9. Dean Koontz had a dog in pretty much every book (haven’t read ALL of them, but quite a few) and he incorporates them into the story very well (the dog in Watchers made me cry!).
    I just realized the other day that all of the stories that I’ve written lately have had animals in them in one way or another. This was not a conscious decision on my part, it just happened. The fuzzy bastards have taken over my brain!
    And how cute is Stanley? I haven’t written about sheep yet . . .

  10. Brilliant post! I’m glad stumbled upon it. 🙂
    I have curiously few animals in my stories these days. When I was younger I overused them, so maybe it’s a rebellion against that. Or maybe it’s because even though I’m an animal person, many of my characters aren’t. I do have one dog, though, that is used for bribe (teenage protagonist’s mother: “Won’t you come and visit us soon? It’s been so long. Also, the dog that you loved in your childhood is not going to live much longer.”) and a cat that becomes a big part of another story when it suddenly appears out of nowhere (or so it seems).
    (PS: Writing this with a cat in my lap …)

  11. The most memorable recent animal sidekicks I can think of are the horse and chameleon from the Disney movie tangled. Their actions were hilarious.

    1. They were absolutely fabulous, weren’t they? A lot of Disney animals are cutesy, but annoying. They made the movie in so many ways. I loved that they didn’t talk. That meant that their expressions had to be that much better.

  12. I have a dog named Ritter (in my current project) who is very very annoying and smart. Though like any good bloodhound, he gives up a hunting expedition at the prospect of food.

    Gotta love those dogs!

  13. I like your thinking on horse riding fantasy characters. Yes they do seem more regal. But i do feel that animals as main characters are more interesting to read. They appeal more at a certain level, especially to those who suffer from an overdose of reading about people, places etc. Like in the 101 dalmatians story it’s great fun to have human characters being secondarily important to the dalmatians story… how could they get more prominence anyways? there are a 101 of them. :-p

    1. I love books about animals, such as the Redwall series. If you haven’t seen them, you should definitely check them out! Medieval type world where mice and hares and badgers battle the rats and ferrets and wildcats. Very fun books written by Brian Jacques.

  14. I can’t remember his name, but the cat that followed Alanna around during the second half of the Song of the Lioness series. He kicked major butt.

    I very much enjoyed this post!

    1. Faithful!!! I love those books and he was great! Good animal sidekick choice there. If you’ve read the Immortals quartet, you might remember Daine’s pet Kit the dragon. Also a good sidekick.

  15. I love dragons!

    Do mythical beasts also count as animals? In that case, there are too many for me to count!

    I suppose my favourite (not counting mythical beasts, dragons,etc who have a human-like concious) would be spout in Charlie Fletcher’s Stone Heart Trilogy… Or maybe he’s the only one who’s standing out in my mind at the moment. Oh! How could I forget, Thirrin’s horse named Havoc in The Icemark Chronicles by Stuart Hill!
    I have a thing against unicorns, they offend me (I can’t explain it, there’s just something annoying about them that I can’t place)

    I never thought of adding animals to my writing before… Maybe I should. Now that I think about it, not one of my stories have an important animal.

    Congrats on being Freshly Pressed!

    I’m curious to see more of what your blog is about, I might be in touch again,


    1. Dragons are, hands down, my favorite animal. And don’t let anyone tell you they don’t exist. They do. They’re just very discreet! 😉 I did a whole series of posts on dragons as a testimony to my love for them, so feel free to check them out!

      I also like horses, so unicorns don’t really offend me (if you’ve ever read the Secret Country books, you might change your mind. Those unicorns are creepy awesome!), but I understand how they could be annoying. They are… “fruity” sometimes.

      Our blog is connected with our new publishing press called Lantern Hollow ( and we would love for you to stay in touch!

      1. I agree completely about dragons. They are far too common in mythology to just be figments of imagination (in my strange opinion, at least)

        I will look out for those posts on dragons soon!

        I like horses too, but I think I find unicorns too…I don’t know…Is girly the right word? In the mythical horse catergory, I prefer Nightmares, they are just fantastic!

        I checked out what lantern hollow is about, and it seems to have some useful tips. I’m Muslim, but I don’t discriminate against the fact that Lantern Hollow is christian organisation.

        Please do keep in contact!


    2. Dragons are definitely real! Glad you agree with that. 😉

      Yes, Lantern Hollow is a press with a Christian worldview, but we hope that our books and stories can be enjoyed by any and all who love fantasy and science fiction. Feel free to take a look at the stories we have so far in our first e-zine issue (the second comes out May 1st). My story is called The Holder Wars and I’m quite proud of it! =)

      1. Cool!
        I wasn’t going to sign up to your e-zine, but I think I will, at least for the first issue. can’t wait to read it!

  16. Chewy from Star Wars = Epic Furry Sidekick.

    I mean, seriously.

    He won awards and everything (and who can resist that guttural growl that sounds like a dying cow?)

  17. Dragons and Griffins! Oh yes! And maybe whales, because there’s a certain graceful mystery about them.
    Currently, my favourite would be Maximus the horse from Tangled.He’s made of epic!

    As animals that I would use in writing – it’s be dogs. Although I’m not really a dog/cat person. But I’d also use lab animals – mice, albino mice, rabbits etc. as lab animals, because those are something I sort of know about, since we work with them at college.

  18. Nana the nurse dog in Peter Pan!!

    By the way, great post! I’ve never really thought about writing animals in on purpose, but you’ve definitely opened my eyes to try something different. thanks!

  19. I’m curious now as to what sort of beastie a squabbit might be. 🙂
    As far as animals in fiction, there’s always good old Bill in “The Lord of the Rings.” Actually, pretty much any animal in LOTR and the Hobbit: Smaug, Shadowfax, that one bird that tells Bard where to shoot the arrow, the ‘oliphaunt’….

    1. It always made me sad when Sam had to say goodbye to Bill… =(

      A squabbit is a mysterious creature that shows up in the soon to be published book by Brian Melton (a fellow member of Lantern Hollow Press). Keep an eye on our website ( for updates on the release of the young adult novel to find out!

  20. Funny post! Let’s see, there’s the Chesire Cat in Alice in Wonderland; all the bunnies in Watership Down… But then my mind moves to movies with the two wonderful pig movies. There’s the pig movie with Maggie Smith where is pig is kept secret and fatten for a feast in war besieged England and there’s the Australian pig who is a sheep herder. These are two of my favorite movies! (Even though I can’t recall their titles.) The I loved the cartoon Pepi Le Phew about a romantic French skunk who kept falling in love with female cats. I put animals in my books. In The Romance of the Unicorn a Siamese cat was turned into a troll, so his person, Elayne enters a magical to find a way to turn him back into a cat. You certainly have given us pet writing authors a challenge with that sheep who needs a story, haven’t you.

  21. Enjoyed your post, congrats on being Freshly Pressed! Saw the bunny and was smitten. I, too, love ’em all.

  22. I think the best animal side-kick in a book I have read was Khufu the golden baboon in Rick Riordan’s “The Red Pyramid”. Khufu wears an LA Lakers jersey and only eats things that end in “O” like dorito or burrito (maybe flamingo?). He also drives the main characters (Sadie and Carter Kane) around in a Winnebago 🙂 If you haven’t heard of the book, I reviewed it on my blog –

    I was not fond of the owls in the Guardian movie….but I did like them in the book.

  23. I enjoyed your post, and it gave me something to think about. Thank you. Aside from prairie dogs on the side of the road and a camel spider, I have never used any animals in my stories. I think I will need to revisit a few of them.

    I am not only a cat and dog person, but I also have a fondness for chickens.

  24. Is this a case of plot bunnies?

    I am totally putting that sheep in my next short story. I’m entering a bunch of competitions, they all say ‘any theme’ … that is totally the opportunity to write about a sheep called Stanley. You won’t sue me, will you? 🙂

  25. I’m writing a children’s book about squirrels and moles and various other “wild” city animals. They are anthropomorphised in that they talk, but I’ve tried to keep faithful to their animal characteristics too. But I’ve become very fond of them as the story’s progressed, and I’m a bit sad that it’s coming to an end.
    But I LOVE your sheep called Stanley – my best part about animals in stories is naming them!

    1. Names are so much fun! They can be so meaninful, ironic, hilarious… I mentioned the main character of a short story series about a cat named Cupcake. He is a sardonic talking cat that is the terror of the supernatural community (vampires quake in terror when they see Cupcake coming). The name made it so much more amusing.

  26. I try and keep my 4 fur babies involved in my blog by mentioning them every couple of days so they don’t feel like a red-headed step child (a ginger) but I draw the line when they takle their little paws and hack into my computer and write a blog without my knowledge like they did recently

    Great Blog and congrats on being Freshly Pressed!



  27. Hmmmm, I’ll try to put your advice to good use. Naturally, I’ll be using it to creat human characters. I agree it’s a lot easier to make we pets more loveable or even sinister than Homo sapiens. Humans are so inferior they are loveable because of the outlandishly foolish behavior they exhibit. Actually it’s easier to write about them. As to your question – I’ll reverse it. My favorite side-kick is Jody Baxter the side kick of The Yearling in MK Rawlings classic. A close 2nd would be Holly Golightly, Cat’s side-kick in Breakfast at Tiffany’s. Least favorite? That’s easy, Cinderella. Rumor has it she had all the mice exterminated as soon as she became queen.

  28. The best example I can thing of is Where the Red Fern Grows (not the movie). The book, to me, did a good job of getting you attached to the dogs without making them to cliche.

    Great post.

  29. Best animal sidekick in recent memory: Blackjack the Pegasus in the Percy Jackson books. Now that I think on it, a lot of my favorite books as a child didn’t have animal sidekicks, they were actually about the animals. The Trumpet of the Swan, A Cricket in Times Square.

  30. Ever since Meg Cabot’s little dog in Insatiable, my dog has been trying to get herself written into my story. She puffs her chest out and stares at me, trying to get me to write her with superpowers.

  31. Love dogs and I have to agree, folks who don’t like animals definitely have a screw loose. However, I can’t profess the same fondness for rabbits that you seem to have.

    I have never written any animals into fiction. Actually I haven’t ever written fiction, period, but if I did, I’m sure I would put some animals in. Animals make their way into my professional writing whenever I can manage it, from sharks to birds. And they occasionally hijack my blog, including my latest post, The Spawning of a New Era, about my goldfishes’ reproductive shenanigans:

    As to animals in fiction, the moralizing horses of Black Beauty made a big impact on me as a kid, but I devoured pretty much anything about animals, from sled dogs to dolphins.

  32. Your post grabbed my attention because I used to makes films under the name “Angry Young Bunny Productions.” I’ve had a few bunny companions in my life, and there’s really nothing more endearing or exasperating than a bunny with a chip on her shoulder.

    To answer your question, I’ve always been fond of “Bunnicula.”

    1. Yes, I think many bunnies have chips on their shoulders… or, really, more like giant icebergs lodged on their shoulders…

  33. Some good thoughts about animals in fiction here. You’ve now got me thinking carefully about the place that animals might or might not have in my current project.

  34. Two thoughts.

    First, I’m a professional pet sitter and I’m pretty sure that I’ve cared for Lord Dervish, the werepoodle.

    Second, when I think of a writer who uses animals well, Elizabeth Peters comes to mind. While the stories are about Victorian era archeologists who also solve mysteries, almost all the books include at least one cat. It’s obvious that Peter’s has spent a lot of time around cats and she allows typical feline quirks to show up in small splashes of color throughout her novels. The end result is that one or two sentences in the course of a novel give a figurative head nod to cat lovers without distracting or detracting from the main plot.

  35. I wrote a story about bunnies that go to war. It’s in my soon-to-be-published book 🙂

  36. What? This blog has something to do with writing and superheroes and animals? I’m a fan! I have to say I’ve always been partial to the traditional nemeses of your bunnies: turtles! I used to doodle ninja turtles when bored. The comics are great–the real ones, not the goofy kiddie version by Archie Comics.

    1. If you notice, my profile pictures are all of ninja bunnies. It seems like the ninja bunnies and ninja turtles could go all out in an epic war. My friends nicknamed me the ninja bunny because apparently I’m too cute when I do martial arts… it kind of stuck. So I just go with it now! =)

  37. Did you ever read Patricia C. Wrede? She had a “Dealing With Dragons” series where humans and dragons pretty much lived together. When you’re 8 to 14, those are the coolest books ever (I still have a soft spot for them, but my little sister has usurped my copies).

    1. I adore those books! I actually mentioned them in one of my dragon-themed posts at one point… Dragons are my favorite animals, so I’m always looking for great books with dragons in them.

      Temeraire and Toothless are probably my favorites, though.

  38. Amazing obsession for animals you’v got !! Even i had a pet kitten which i rescued from a bunch of raging dogs.I also have a pet dog at my place and that’s how i realize what an amazing stress buster these creatures are and how a quality time spent with them help you unwind !!
    Hope you & all your pets stay healthy & happy.
    Cheers !!

  39. Well i’ve eaten some of these animals myself it’s hard for me to pick up some idea as i didnt notice their characteristics.
    But how about…a bear-man-pig…not original and taken from southpark.
    A half-man, half-bear and half-pig, don’t knw how that adds up. But if it does, possibly the most hideous and destructive creature to wreak havoc on man…;p

  40. I’m a writer and love animals (esp. cats) so I know exactly what you are referring too. At the moment, I’m reading graphic novel of The Crow, cats love Eric Draven, but James O’Barr doesn’t allow them to take over the novel, there are there in the background, providing atmosphere, and even when Eric gets a cat and calls it Gabriel, it’s still not IN YOUR FACE LOOK AT THE CAT. That is how it should be done.

    I have a mysterious cat in my novel, he is pivotal to the story but never takes over. I also have a little chihuahua who is a bit of comic relief but I needed to ensure it also didn’t take over. I remember considering giving my female protagonist a cat, when I realised it would be in the way when she is with my boy (who the novel is about) and would take away from the power of the scene: Here he is about to tell her who he really is, and look, there’s the cat on the sofa kneading one of the pillows….FAIL!

    Congrats for getting Freshly Pressed with this great post!

  41. Good advice! I have introduced just small glimpses of animals, really only to help describe a scene. I think making an animal character will be something to consider if not in my current work, then a future project. Thanks.

  42. I was going to say I could never stand Lassie, but he probably doesn’t count because he was the hero. So never mind him. I love love love animals too. If I didn’t have four children, the house would be awash with them (we now only have a big black wolfy dog and two very small mice who stink the whole house up).
    Love the post, love your writing style. Really like the name Lantern Hollow Press, very evocative. Also I am very intrigued to read a story that has a ‘werepoodle’ in it.

  43. Heya, fellow animal lover and occassional writer here!

    Interesting, I’ll have to keep this in mind.
    I admit I don’t think I’ve read/watched/played that many fantasy works that have animals other than the obligitory horses and dogs.

    However one way I found an animal companion to work out quite well is the Mabari Hound in Dragon Age: Origins. I guess it may be because he’s not just a dog he’s a useable party character. Also he interacts with your party members in the ‘banters’ the game has which is pretty funny as they seem to be able to ‘talk’ to him and when you’re at the party camp a few characters have interactions with him which are pretty funny. This video has them in there: (It’s long though) so I guess it’s more of a case of ‘it’s not just a dog, he’s a character’

    I’ve had animals in a few things. My now laid to rest (although some things are being played around with to use in other stuff) potentially epic fantasy story I started at the age of 11 had a dog in it that was supposed to be the loyal companion of two of the main characters but I don’t think they actually had that much depth apart from just being a dog actually.

    Also, Werepoodle? Colour me intrigued.

  44. I love stories involving animals! It always makes me laugh to think about them actually doing it. I have two cats and I’m convinced one of them has teamed up with Bella in a devious plan for world domination! Ha ha!
    Nice post! Keep writing!

  45. Wow, 85 and now 86 comments. This must be a record.

    I immediately think of Andre Norton and her teen oriented novels with telepathic animals. Practically all of these novels have multiple animals as serious characters. Yeah, it’s my generation, but you might look them up as an example.

    1. Eowyn thanks you. She’s very excited about her recent moment of fame on here. Personally, I’m sure she’s in league with Bella. At the moment, she practices for world domination by distracting me from my thesis.

  46. I used to have a black-and-white cat that helped me write, usually by sitting on the piece of paper I was looking for. (“Why does my servant put so many things on the floor, instead of feeding me?”)Animals in stories?

    Rowling was too derivative for my tastes. Andre Norton’s Maelen (“Moon of Three Rings”) comes to mind, though she wasn’t really an animal. The real trick is, indeed, breaking that anthropomorphic stereotype.

    Matthew Wright

  47. I think the best animal side-kick in a book I have read was Khufu the golden baboon in Rick Riordan’s “The Red Pyramid”. Khufu wears an LA Lakers jersey and only eats things that end in “O” like dorito or burrito (maybe flamingo?). He also drives the main characters (Sadie and Carter Kane) around in a Winnebago 🙂 If you haven’t heard of the book, I reviewed it on my blog –

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