Listening to the whispers of your characters

About four months back I asked my Facebook friends for help with a plot dilemma.
My problem was this: should I kill a dog in a novel for children?

Everyone responded with a definite No.

Years ago I saw a film from the 60’s called Old Yeller. At the end of the movie the young protagonist has to shoot Old Yeller because the dog is rabid. I will never forget that scene.

Wikipedia says, ‘Old Yeller’s death is remembered as being one of the most tearful scenes in cinematic history’. I wholeheartedly agree.

I thought back to that movie as I deliberated over this one important plot point in my own story. But then I reached a decision. Even though it was going to be sad, this was a pivotal scene and the inciting incident for the novel. As well as that I’m writing historical fiction – Darwin, WW2 – and families being evacuated were told to kill their pets.

My little dog had to die.

To soften the impact though, I had everything happen ‘off camera’. My protagonist didn’t witness the shooting, she only heard the rifle shot. And that was the end of little Goliath.

Well, that’s what I thought until the other day when I was working on the second last chapter of the novel.

From out of the shadows of a shack, crept a little grey and white dog. Without my knowledge, Goliath had escaped, or his owner couldn’t face shooting him. I’ll never know which scenario played out.

I smiled with joy as I wrote that scene.

How I love it when characters do that, when they make up their own minds which way your story is going. Sometimes you have to stop the thinking and listen to what they have to say.

That is the magic of writing.

If you can bear to watch this tearful scene from Old Yeller, here it is.

2 thoughts on “Listening to the whispers of your characters

  1. I remember that scene so vividly that I have never intentionally watched another movie starring animals, i.e. Marley. Pets have the preeminent place in my heart.

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