I’m so tired of this trope. Why does the animal have to die in order to provoke an emotional response from the audience? I’m a huge animal lover. Open my photo roll on my iPhone and you can see more pictures of my dog than selfies of myself. And it’s not just dogs that I care about, it’s cats and dogs, and birds and pigs etc. Whatever animal life there is, you can bet I’ll shed a few tears when they die a senseless death on screen.
Killing the family pet is suppose to set the scene that there is something bad that is going on in the new family house or to show the character(s) have lost their innocence in some shape or form. But do we have to use the animal’s demise to show this?
I can already feel the keyboard warriors screaming at me. But hear me out before your rampage of heck.
I’m not going to whine and make others change their story for my fragile puppy hugging psyche. I’m not going to try and tell people how to construct their vision of their masterpiece. But what frustrates me is it’s a damn cliche. You don’t have to kill the pet to show how dangerous the situation is getting.
Here’s a quick example:
June and David are a quirky and lovable couple who decide to go on a road trip for the day with their dog Burt. We see them interacting with the world around them, and with each other. They both have good humor, are kind, likable, and interesting to the audience. Suddenly, their world is changed when they see a bright light flashing in the sky and David is acting out of character. June goes to follow him, leaving their beloved pup behind in the car. They’re abducted by aliens and many terrible things happen to them. They wake up far away from their car, and rush to get Burt. Even though they have this horrible experience, they cannot say anything without being branded as crazy.
No dog death. It’s solely relying on growing attached to the characters, and how unfair and terrible their situation has become.
Of course, I’m not saying, that animals cannot die AT ALL in every single story. If it suits the plot, then it must be done. But instead, we shouldn’t rely on this trope to get a gut reaction from the audience. As writers, it’s a cheap way to get the reader or audience to care. Which shouldn’t happen. It’s lazy.
I try to avoid these tropes. Emphasis on the try for a reason. It doesn’t always work that easily. And I’m aware of that. That doesn’t mean it doesn’t hurt. And my heart bleeds every time I hear that familiar yelp when the dog meets a very unfortunate end.
Some of my favorite books and films have an animal death, which has gotten easier to view with every visit. Somewhat. But no cliche shouldn’t be the get out of jail free card. Every event that happens should be consequential. So, if you decide to get editor happy and delete parts of your manuscript all willy nilly. Or alternatively, decide to keep that wicked ass scene that you’ve fallen in love with. Make sure that if you take it out, does it affect the story? Does it make it better? Does it make it worse?
But I’m not your boss. Do what you want with your stuff. I’ll just be over here and try to avoid watching Marley & Me again like the plague.