Almost no matter where your novel is set, animals live there too. Maybe it’s moose and bears. Maybe it’s sloths and snakes. Maybe it’s pigeons and cockroaches. Whatever the animal, they’re there. And they can help your story. At the very least, they are great for atmosphere. Birds and insects chirping are background noises just the way that traffic or music or wind are. You would notice, wouldn’t you, if your neighbor’s overloud music cut off suddenly? You’d notice just as much if your pond full of peepers* went dead silent. Or maybe your character is nervous and alone. You know what might make them even more nervous? A bird taking off from a tree. A raccoon digging through garbage. A mouse scampering across the kitchen. A bug landing in their hair. These are living creatures who move unexpectedly and can increase tension (or release tension—maybe your character finds it hilarious that she was so over-jumpy and calms down). Or maybe your character is in a terrible mood because she failed a test and her boyfriend broke up with her and suddenly there’s a fly in her room that will not. stop. buzzing. I don’t know about the rest of you, but flies can drive me crazy even at the best of times.
We’ve also given animals a lot of symbolism throughout time, and subtly (yes, subtly—no one needs to be slapped in the face with it) weaving that into your book can be a boost, too. If you google “animal symbolism” you’ll see that there are approximately one bazillion websites on the subject. Many, many animals hold symbolism to at least one culture, and some animals hold symbolism to tons of cultures.
Now, there are some things I’d like to say about animals on the fringe of your story, interacting with your characters a little more than just as background noise, but not important enough that they’re not still part of the setting, but I think I have enough to say about that that I want to make it its own blog post, so I will end this post here, and ask you all: how much do you incorporate animals into the background of your story?
*A type of frog.