A Writing Prompt for Animal Lovers

dog playing with a sprinkler

Imagine that that’s the neighbor’s dog, trying to take the sprinkler home with him.

You know what’s great about animals and plot twists? People are used to animals being unpredictable and impossible to reason with. That means that pet behavior can be used to add unexpected plot twists that still seem real and believable. If you’re an animal lover, you may enjoy this writing prompt – a brainstorming activity for exploring the ways animals can complicate a plot.

  1. Set up the situation: What is the character trying to do?
  2. Pick an animal: What type of animal is it? Is it a pet? Is it a wild animal? Is it from the circus/zoo?
  3. Brainstorm ways the animal can make it harder for the character to achieve his/her goal.

You’ll be surprised at how many ways there are, from the dramatic to the mundane. Here’s an example.

  1. Lydia and Davian rush to her house to get the disc with the secret information before the bad guys can.
  2. Lydia’s dog, Zeus, a 1-year-old chocolate lab
  3. Here are 3ish options:
    • They get to the house to discover that the bored, lonely lab has chewed his way out of his crate and destroyed the house. Now, they have to sort through the mess to try to find the disc. Even as they start digging, the bad guys pull up. (dun dun dunnnn)
    • They get there and grab the disc. Lydia goes to get the dog because it won’t be safe to come back to the house. At the same time, Davian goes out back to keep watch. In the instant the door is open, the dog rushes out. They end up chasing him down the road. Before they can get back to their car, the bad guys pull up, and Lydia and Davian can’t get back to their car.
    • Lydia and Davian go upstairs to get the disc and hear a car outside. The bad guys come inside the house. Lydia and Davian hide, but Lydia hears the bad guys threatening her dog because he won’t stop barking. She breaks cover to protect him. Both Lydia and Davian are captured. Or Lydia is captured and Davian has to rescue her. Or Davian sees Lydia about to break cover and does it instead, telling her to get the disc to so-in-so (You see where this is going.).

These are pretty mundane, obvious, and common examples (as far as the dog’s behavior), but they can go from a pet biting the bad guy to stealing something and running off. Or in a fantasy/sci fi world, the pet could have some unknown power and go on a rampage. You can make it as simple or as complicated as you want – at least for this exercise.

Here’s an example from a movie (spoiler alert):

  • In Treasure Planet, Morph is the alien equivalent of the pirate’s parrot. He’s a little pink blob who can change his shape into anything and likes to parrot what people say. At a key moment of conflict, he steals the map from the main character, Jim Hawkins (Not to cause any trouble – to Morph, it’s an innocent game.), and when forced to choose between Jim and Silver, Morph hides the map in a bundle of rope. Jim gets it first, escapes, and discovers too late that he actually grabbed Morph who had transformed into the map – the real map was back on the ship. It’s a pretty useful plot complication, and it was made possible by a simple, believable action by a pet.

If you play with it a bit, I’m sure you’ll come up with great ways to use pets to complicate the plot. You might even be able to draw from personal experience – I know I will!

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