Is it a good idea?
Who was it that said that you should never work with animals or children?
If I’m honest, whoever it was, they were probably right.
However they do exist in real life. They’re in almost every family and with that in mind I feel that they should be included in our books.
There are different generations within all of my books. The first book I wrote was House of Secrets, where I created a three-year-old Poppy, the daughter of my heroine and her puppy Buddy, (a naughty but playful springer spaniel…)
I mean, come on… how many little girls wanted a puppy for Christmas…?
Give them a purpose?
I needed Poppy to be young and innocent. She had to be young enough to be affected by Liam. I needed Madeleine (her mother) to feel the need to protect her. The reader to feel empathy for her. And last but not least, I her to come over as vulnerable. If Poppy had been a baby, she wouldn’t have been able to interact, nor would she have been able to to create a link between Madeleine and Bandit, who immediately feels the need to look out for her and keep her safe.
Buddy had been a recent gift from Liam, Madeleine’s former fiancé. He’d been bought for Poppy as a bribe, after he’d shouted at her. I chose a springer spaniel because I needed a puppy that would learn fast and after owning spaniels myself, I know how intelligent (and crazy) they can be. I also knew that teaching a spaniel the command ‘speak’ was simple. Initially, Madeleine teaches Buddy to speak to earn food, a way of trying to get Poppy to eat. I also knew that the command ‘speak’ would come in very useful later on in the book and used this to my advantage.
Are they plot muppets or not?
It’s very important that your sub-characters don’t turn into ‘plot muppets.’ When your heroine has a child, she has one all the time. They’re always there and can’t just disappear because the scene doesn’t need them. If the child isn’t in the scene, they have to have a good reason why not. Maybe they’re sleeping, away at nursery, or school. Either way, they need to be looked after by someone, or you need to find a safe place where they might be.
It’s similar for the pet, a dog can’t disappear just because your scene doesn’t need it. As your novel progresses it’s important to remember that the dog needs walking, feeding and playing with, everyday. Even if there’s only a mention of, ‘Look at the time, Buddy’ll be platting his legs if I don’t take him out soon.’ (Like the child, you can’t just allow them to disappear without trace.)
What makes a good supporting character?
And of course this is only my opinion.
Each character in a novel has to be there for a reason. They need to have a purpose. Poppy’s reason was to create a bridge between Madeleine and Liam, she’s scared of him, barely eats. Because of how cruel Liam is, her mother has a natural need to protect her. She’s also instrumental in bringing Madeleine and Bandit together, she creates the softer parts of the book and shows Madeleine’s maternal side to it’s full.
And Buddy, well… he’s instrumental in the novel too and a character in his own right. But, you need to read House of Secrets to find out what happens next….
Wrea Head Country House Hotel, Scarborough http://www.wrea-head-hotel.co.uk/
Just for you… an exert from the novel which shows both Poppy and Buddy in action..!
‘Oh, Poppy, come on. Don’t cry. It’s not your fault. Mummy should have known better.’ She pulled the child away from her for a moment and stared into her tear-stained face. ‘I know, tomorrow morning, you remind Mummy and we’ll scrub-a-dub you all over until you sparkle like a princess.’ She watched as Poppy began to smile. ‘Come on, sweetheart. Let’s go and let Buddy in.’ Both glanced in the hallway mirror in a well-practiced manoeuvre, flicked their hair back simultaneously and laughed at one another, before running through the old Victorian terraced house, past the two rooms at the front and down the passage that led to the back room and the old kitchen that had long since seen better days.
Madeleine quickly placed Poppy on the floor and opened the back door where an excited Springer Spaniel puppy sat waiting.
Buddy jumped up and down. His tail wagged a hundred miles an hour and as soon as the opening was big enough, he burst in through the back door and straight into the arms of a waiting Poppy, who collapsed on the floor, giggling, as he licked, jumped and wagged his whole body excitedly.
Madeleine smiled. Poppy was so different when Liam wasn’t there. She was happier, playful and appeared to blossom in his absence. Whereas when he was home, she tended to sleep, play with teddy bears in her room or disappear to a quiet corner where she’d sit for hours playing with Buddy. It broke Maddie’s heart to see her daughter unhappy. But what could she do? She’d known moving in with Liam was a mistake but she’d had no choice. The block of flats that she lived in was being demolished. She’d been dating Liam for eight months and he had seemed the perfect boyfriend, loving to her and kind to Poppy, so when he suggested she move in with him, she’d agreed.
‘Look, Poppy, do you think Buddy wants his breakfast?’ she asked and Poppy started nodding enthusiastically.
Reaching for Buddy’s bowl, Maddie pulled a biscuit from the box, broke it with her fingers and crumbled the pieces into the ceramic dish. She then soaked it in milk before placing the bowl on the floor where Buddy immediately pounced, his nose disappearing deep within the dish as it began to rattle around the floor.
‘Would Poppy like some breakfast too?’ Madeleine asked hopefully, but knew what the answer would be. The immediate shake of Poppy’s head confirmed what she’d already thought. She’d noticed over the past two months that Poppy often refused food or only ate tiny amounts and Madeleine nodded her head in confirmation of what she’d been trying to avoid: the days that Poppy didn’t eat always seemed to coincide with Liam being mean to her and Madeleine knew what had to be done. She had no choice but to leave. She needed to take Poppy as far away from this environment as she could.
Madeleine pulled another biscuit from the box and knelt down on the floor. ‘Here, Poppy, watch Buddy eat his biscuits.’ She held the treat up in her hand and waited for Buddy to sit before her. ‘Buddy, speak.’ The puppy barked to order and both Poppy and Madeleine began to clap. ‘Good boy. See, Poppy, Buddy loves his breakfast. Do you think that you’d eat some lovely breakfast too?’ But once again Poppy shook her head, clasped her hand over her mouth and lay down on the kitchen floor.
Madeleine shrugged her shoulders. She had to get her daughter to eat and began searching the cupboards for something that might tempt her, but the cupboards were almost empty and she resigned herself to pushing a slice of bread in the toaster. Maybe she’d find a way to persuade Poppy to eat it.
Madeleine turned around and laughed as she caught sight of Poppy lying flat on her back on the kitchen floor, submerged in what was left of the milky cereal, giggling and squirming as Buddy pinned her to the floor, licking at every remnant he could find.
If you fancy reading any of my novels…. here are the Amazon links:
House of Secrets:
A woman on the run, a broken man and a house with a shocking secret …
Madeleine Frost has to get away. Her partner Liam has become increasingly controlling to the point that Maddie fears for her safety, and that of her young daughter Poppy. .
Desperation leads Maddie to the hotel owned by her estranged father – the extraordinarily beautiful Wrea Head Hall in Yorkshire. There, she meets Christopher ‘Bandit’ Lawless, an ex-marine and the gamekeeper of the hall, whose brusque manner conceals a painful past.
After discovering a diary belonging to a previous owner, Maddie and Bandit find themselves immersed in the history of the old house, uncovering its secrets, scandals, tragedies – and, all the while, becoming closer.
But Liam still won’t let go, he wants Maddie back, and when Liam wants something he gets it, no matter who he hurts …
What people are saying about House of Secrets:
I laughed, I cried, I gasped, I shouted – all out loud – which, to me, is the sign of a brilliant book. When I become so immersed that I lose the real world completely. And that is what this book did.Anne’s Book Corner.
House of Secrets is a gripping novel that kept me on the edge of my seat for several hours.Suze Lavender, Top 500 Reviewer