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Friday, March 18, 2016

Kids, Garbage & Dogs

Years ago when I was busy raising my six children (and tearing my hair out most days), I had a friend whose favorite saying was, "Kids, garbage and dogs." It was her belief that the greatest source of trouble between neighbors was--you guessed it--kids, garbage or dogs. 

Or, all of the above.

Especially in the days of 33 gallon garbage cans, if a neighbor left the lid loose, or over-filled it so the lid would not fit, or it got tipped over by the local dogs in search of the tasty garbage treat they could smell inside, one could find trash strewn all over the front lawn and down the block. If you think the garbage truck driver was going to pick it up, guess again. If the can was tipped over, he might not even take what was left in the can. And, if you think that the neighbor whose dog tipped over your can was going to pick up the garbage strewn across THEIR yard, think again.

Then there are dogs that bark and howl all day and especially all night. Or, the neighbors let them out early in the morning so they can poop on YOUR lawn for YOU to clean up instead of keeping the mess in their own yard.

As for kids, it would take volumes to discuss the kind of trouble they can cause between neighbors. As the mother of six children, trust me on that.

On the other hand, when it comes to writing, kids and dogs, especially, can provide important elements to your story. There is a reason they turn up in supporting roles to the main characters in so many books and movies.

Dogs are loyal.

Dogs are loving.

Dogs can warn of danger.

Dogs are protective.

Dogs are playful.

Dogs can get their masters or mistresses into all kinds of trouble as well as out of it.

Then there is the cuteness factor.

If you want to add that emotional element that can only be filled by a non-human, consider adding a dog as one of your characters.

Another cuteness factor is children. Children are small, vocal beings with minds of their own. They usually don't think in the same terms as adults, which is what makes their voices so refreshing.

And honest.

Or humorous.

Or profound.

Or entertaining. 

Don't want your adult characters to start taking themselves too seriously? Add a kid as a supporting character. The child will keep the adults on their toes and add that emotionally satisfying element that only non-adult characters can provide.

In all fairness, although cats are not part of the saying, it may not hurt to throw one or more into the mix every now and then. 

Cats have different personalities and traits than dogs. 

Cats are independent.

Cats are territorial, but they don't recognize the same boundaries that humans do. (I hate it when the neighbor's cat comes into MY yard and picks a fight with MY cat...)

People don't own cats; cats choose their owners.

Case in point, several years ago I rescued a half-starved, half-grown kitten who had been abandoned by a neighbor who moved out in the middle of the night. It showed up on our front porch and I fed it. Within hours, it was in the house. I foolishly declared that now I have a cat; Archie was mine.

Archie had other plans. He gravitated to my husband, the cat whisperer, just like all the other kitties in the house have.
Another household that lists itself as being headed by a cat.

There is a reason why I chose this cartoon for a humorous break in my genealogy PowerPoint presentation on how census records lead to other records. Those who do not have cats may not get it. Those of us who do understand this cartoon perfectly.

As for the garbage, there is already enough of that out there in the writing world. We don't need any more of it. Like in real life, keep the writing garbage in the can--with the lid on tight.


Zina Abbott is the pen name used by Robyn Echols for her historical novels. Her novel, Family Secrets, was published by Fire Star Press. 

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  1. This was a great blog, Zina. I haven't added a cat to any of my stories yet, but I certainly should. I have dogs, kids, and horses. They all bring that special element of emotion to the story that only they can provide.
    I haven't written about garbage, and I really hope I haven't written anything that would be considered garbage. There are those times when I feel like what I'm writing in that moment is pure crap, but you have to write a lot of crap to get to the good stuff.
    I enjoyed reading this blog, Zina. It's full of good advice. I did get the joke in the cartoon. I own a cat--the mistress of the house where she allows me to live.

    1. Thank you, Sarah. The garbage can be part of the conflict in the story, I guess, but like you said there is that special element of emotion that can only enter into a story through introducing children or favorite animals. They touch our hearts, and that is what often people will remember about our stories after they have forgotten the details of the plot.