Have you seen the clever Cat Diary/Dog Diary post that’s made its way around Facebook? The dog’s diary is basically a laundry list of things he enjoys (“Dinner! My favorite thing!”). I love the depiction of dogs as fun-seeking, good-natured optimists who look at the world through firmly affixed rose-colored glasses. The cat’s diary, on the other hand, is one long (and very funny) entry about the cat’s 963rd day of captivity. It paints cats as misanthropic beings whose outlook on life is a bit more . . . pragmatic.
My friend and I have long had a theory that people can be divided into these two categories – cats and dogs. As our theory goes, cats are self-reliant, generally not people pleasers, aloof. Dogs, on the other hand, are more social and eager to please, less content to be alone.
It’s not as simple as extrovert and introvert – because even the most extroverted cat is still, at her or his core, a cat. No matter how outgoing she is, a cat has a self-contained quality that those of us who are dogs don’t quite get. And dogs wear their hearts on their sleeves. Like the fictional dog in the post, dogs tend to see things in a positive light. They are more idealist than realist and prefer to live in the moment rather than wait and plan.
Consider the people in your life. I bet if you think about it, you’ll be able to categorize nearly everyone you know. For me, my mom is a dog, my dad was a cat. My husband is a true, could-survive-on-the-mean-streets-with-only-one-eye cat, my twins are dog’s dogs – some big, goofy breed that greets the world with a madly wagging tail and a slobbery tongue.
In fact, if you really want to have fun with it, the “dogs” can be broken down into breeds – think Golden Retriever (friendly, good-natured, a little needy) versus Bassett Hound (stubborn, loyal, slow-moving) versus Poodle (proud, intelligent, dignified). Personality differences, certainly . . . but still dogs. You can do the same with cats.
I’d go so far as to propose that most couples are made up of a dog and a cat. Because there are gradations, you could have a social cat and a reserved dog together – or, like my husband and me, a cat’s cat and a dog’s dog. But as with many things in life, balance is required in relationships and the two species together provide that balance.
Of course, there’s a shadow side to dogs and cats.
Recently someone accused me of being too much of an idealist. When things don’t go the way you envision, he said, you flail at the world instead accepting the reality of the situation.
For those of us who are dogs, the risk of wearing your heart on your sleeve is having it crushed. And the risk of being an idealist can be difficulty accepting reality. For cats, perhaps the risk of being careful, of holding the world at bay with a pragmatic attitude and calculating demeanor, is that you may be too careful or close-minded – and miss out on some of the good stuff in the process.
So what does that mean when it comes to writing? One element of fiction writing is characterization, and while I don’t necessarily think about cats and dogs while I’m writing fresh manuscript, when I look back at a finished draft it does help to categorize my characters to make sure I have created balance.
Despite my dog-nature, most of my main female characters are cats. I respect their independence. It makes them good heroines in thrillers and mysteries – and their shadow selves are ripe for development as the novel progresses. But dogs are needed, too. As in the real world, dogs provide emotional openness and nurturing that can help bring life to a novel.
Neither is better. They’re just different. That’s why in fiction, as in life, there needs to be yin and yang, Mars and Venus . . . dog and cat.
As anyone who knows me will attest, I have a love-hate relationship (at best) with structure. Because of that, I won't promise specific blog entries on specific days. Instead, I'll try to share thoughts and ideas on some of my favorite topics (writing, parenting, food, organic gardening, inspirational stories and food (did I say that already? it bears repeating)) as the mood strikes. Catch me here three or four days a week, though. And I would love to hear from you!