Friday, September 3, 2010

Cat Killer?

OK Junkies, I need some help.  I'm stuck.  All because of a cat corpse.

At our last meeting, my critique group hated the chapter I'd submitted.  I've never received such a negative response.  You see, in the chapter they read, a little girl accidentally kills her cat.

"You can't kill a cat!"  They shouted.
"Do you have to describe the cat corpse?" They asked.
"Really?  A dead cat?  You really want to do that?"

I didn't understand.  What's the problem?  That same night we read about dead grandmothers, suicidal rock stars, and murdered scientists.  Why couldn't I have a dead cat?

They informed me that people will hate me and hate my book if I kill a cat.  This seemed to be a basic rule of good craft everyone knew but me.  Show, don't tell.  Omit needless words.  No passive voice.  And don't kill any cats.

Basically, by killing a cat, I was killing my writing career.  They told me there's even a book on screenwriting called Save the Cat!  The book states that all you have to do to sell your screenplay is not kill any cats.  (I haven't read the book, but I'm pretty sure that's what it says).

I tried not to get defensive.  I tried to listen to their feedback, to process it, to see which direction my revisions should take.  And then I realized it.  I kill TWO cats in my WIP.  (And a baby bird, but I'm sure there's no rule on baby birds).

Well, I decided to stick to my guns.  I blew off the advice of my critique group.  They're probably all just crazy cat people or something.

Then I went to another meeting, with a different group of writers.  We discussed the atrocities of dead dogs in children's literature.

One writer even talked about an appalling scene in an adult novel.  She mentioned an extremely popular adult trilogy.  "I almost had to stop reading when they killed the cat!  It was just awful!"

I happened to have recently read the book she was talking about.  You mean the same book where the main character is raped and tortured in a graphic scene that has NOTHING to do with the plot?  You mean the same novel where dozens of women are raped and murdered, but the characters are more concerned about the Swedish stock-market?  You almost stopped reading because of the dead cat?

What's wrong with these people?

Then last week, I read Mockingjay.  SPOILER ALERT!

Of all the characters Collins killed, she saved the cat.  Buttercup survived.  Maybe there's something to this Save-the-cat theory.  After all, Rowling killed Hedwig but spared Crookshanks.

It's not like I'm some sadistic animal hater.  My dog and my cat are my only children.  I'm a freakin' vegetarian!  I don't eat animals, I just kill them in my fiction (but for important plot and character reasons, I totally swear.)  I just don't get why people seem to be more sensitive to the death of animals than to the death of humans in fiction.

So what do you think Junkies?
Do you hate books with dead cats?
Can anyone explain this never-kill-a-cat rule?

Is my WIP doomed if I kill a cat?  If I kill two?
Could I change my dead cats to dead dogs? dead babies?

Well, I might keep my dead cats because when the rejections for my MS start rolling in, at least I can blame it on the dead kitties, right?

*photo from here


  1. I'm not going to lie, I'd be heartbroken if I read a book where a cat died. I guess it depends on how much the cat is described, what type of scene it's in and the obvious important. If the little girl saw the cat die, then it wouldn't be so bad if our MC killed a cat, it makes it worse. Just my thoughts!

  2. I've read A LOT of books where the animal dies. And it's always central to the plot, and is gut wrenching, but important for the story. I say, if it's important to your story keep it in.

  3. Too funny! I'd say keep it in, but I'm a little superstitous so....maybe not. Mario Puzzo had some success with a dead horse????

  4. I stopped watching the TV show Prison Break the moment they killed the one inmate's cat. I hate seeing any animals hurt or killed in film or books.

    Maybe because we know authors do terrible things to people for the sake of the story, and we know it's all made up. But animals are unexpected, and most of us have a heartbreaking memory about losing a pet. We don't see it coming so it hits us harder in a vulnerable spot.

    Animals are like children. They're the ultimate innocents. But then, I cried at the end of Godzilla when the killed the big lizard, so I might just be a softie when it comes to this :)