Animals: A Rant Against Cliches

There’s that old cliche “if the audience sees a gun in Act 1, it has to go off in Act 3.” Apparently, if you have an animal as a character in a book or a movie, they have to die an ugly death. Every damn time I see a dog in a movie I tense up, waiting for the awful way they are absolutely going to die.

Well, I’m sick of it. I think it shows a lack of imagination by the author. Surely you can find a more creative way to exhibit the nastiness of the villain or the harshness of the heroine’s life than by having her pet kitten/dog/bunny die of dismemberment, torture, starvation, or homeless wandering. Or have the hero ride a horse to death.

When I say I’m sick of it, I mean that literally. I get nauseous. I stop reading. I leave the theater. It does not add to the drama. It tosses me right out of the experience that you, the author or film-maker, have worked so hard to create. And, spent a lot of money while you were about it, money that you hope to get back from me, your audience.

I understand it’s fiction. Hell, I write fiction. I understand the disclaimer: “No animals were injured during the making of this film.” I get that the horse probably makes more money than I do. I don’t care.

I don’t like to watch this violence because in most cases animals are helpless against us, and having violent acts perpetrated on their (fictional) selves encourages real cruelty to real animals. I can’t prove this, but again, I don’t care.

If you are an author writing fiction, or a film-maker, be creative. Let the puppy live.

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Mary Holland

Mary Holland writes alternative-world fantasy for grown-ups. Her books include Matcher Rules, The Bone Road, and The Dog of Pel. She lives in the Santa Cruz Mountains with three cats and an ever-changing assortment of wildlife.

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