I was at the airport bookshop today and noticed that three of the bestselling books were about dogs. You know the ones…”heartwarming story of how Fido saved man’s life” etc. It got me thinking about how genuine some of these tales are. Most of us have loved dogs deeply and yet few have thought to write about their experiences and make a few bucks off it. Am I being too cynical? Here’s my formula for writing one of your own:
1. Call it a ‘memoir’.
People love true stories. Make sure you write ‘true story’ on the cover; even better, write ‘the amazing true story’ or ‘the unbelievable true story’. Doesn’t matter if some of the details don’t add up. People will get lost in the emotion and forget the loopholes in the plot.
2. Choose a cute dog.
Nobody wants to hear how much you love your Doberman. Small and fluffy works best (think poodle). Bigger dogs can work, but make sure they are popular dogs eg golden retrievers or labradors. A cute name helps too. “Banjo” is good. “Cujo” is bad.
3. Throw in some “life lessons” for good measure.
It’s always great if your dog has taught you the meaning of life. If your dog hasn’t, it’s OK, just make some stuff up and attribute it to the dog. Try and keep these lessons as non-specific as possible. “Make sure you floss your teeth every night so that you don’t end up with bacterial endocarditis” = boring and too practical. “My dog has taught me how to really love someone” …now we’re talking! So how do you really love someone? No need to go into details here. Think big picture people!
If you want to know if the ‘life lessons’ will resonate with people, try to read it in a slow, South American drawl. E.g. “My mama always taught me that only a dog can teach a man about life…Charlie was that dog for me, and in all the years I knew him, he never let me down…” (think My Dog Skip).
4. Include a sob story.
You can’t write about how you and your dog lived happily ever after. No-one wants to read that. Make someone get cancer or die (either you or your dog). Failing that, talk about how difficult it was for you to deal with your dog’s naughty behaviours. Be careful here. You want ‘naughty but adorable’ eg some chewing of furniture. Don’t talk about how your dog became aggressive and bit the neighbour’s child, and then turned on you. That’s just too much.
I hope this guide has been helpful for those of you who want to become published. Good luck and look forward to reading your next novel!
Do you have any other tips for the aspiring writer of dog memoirs?