Monday, March 05, 2007

It's Instinctive

“Telling us to obey instinct is like telling us to obey "people." People say different things: so do instincts. Our instincts are at war.... Each instinct, if you listen to it, will claim to be gratified at the expense of the rest....” - C.S. Lewis

“To destroy is still the strongest instinct in nature” - Max Beerbohm

My dog, Bailey, is possibly the sweetest, kindest, gentlest dog in the entire world, and I'm not just saying that because I'm biased. I could easily find fifty people who would tell you the same thing. I never worried leaving her alone with my daughter as a baby; I've never had a thought about her biting anybody or even snarling. I can recall once, when she was about a year old, our neighbors very young daughter walked into my house, up to my dog and took the pig's ear that Bailey was gnawing on right out of her mouth. The dog didn't so much as growl, just looked up at me with pitiful eyes as if to say, "Would you please get that back?"

Just look at that face:

My sweet, kind, loving dog killed a bird yesterday.

Sadly, she was outside with my daughter who got to see the whole thing. Apparently the little thing couldn't fly very well (I suspect his wings were wet from the rain/snow thing we had for about five minutes) and CHOMP! It was a goner. I was especially upset because it was at the bird feeder. I have a real issue with inviting someone to dinner and then killing them -- it's why I fight every year with DH about baiting the deer in our backyard. It's just wrong.

It also goes to show that no dog is entirely tame.

And it got me to thinking about characters. Yes, I can work anything into a post about writing. But, seriously… think about your characters. Do they have a trait that they've tried desperately to overcome? Temper? Alcoholism? Depression? Do they manage to keep it under wraps most of the time? Don't we all?

But when you strip it all away and get right back down to a moment when they (or we) act on instinct, what happens? That's right -- we kill a bird (so to speak).

I have a temper. Mostly, I keep it well under control. I've never hit my daughter or my dog… BUT...

But several years ago, a good friend was involved in an abusive relationship. I managed to talk her into leaving and she moved in with me temporarily. The first night she was there, along with a close guy friend of ours, her ex lurked outside the window. I saw him, and that was it… I was after my bird. I didn't even think. I just took off after him because, damn it, no one hurts someone I care about and gets away with it. I chased him down, cornered him and proceeded to whale on him, yelling something about the fact he was too afraid to beat up on a woman who wasn't scared of him (in retrospect, it's a good thing he was). My guy friend had to pull me off.

Instinct is a funny thing. I surprised a lot of people that night, including myself.

Do your characters surprise you that way?

Tonight, I gave my dog a bit of people food. My husband looked at her and shook a finger. "Pizza, yes," he said firmly. "Birds, no."

I'm sure she'll remember that. Until the next time.


anno said...

Thanks for giving me an idea that's had me thinking all morning!

Tori Lennox said...

When I was a kid we had a dog with much the same temperament. Only she got ahold of a baby rabbit. :(

Ceri said...

A very timely post. I've been thinking about my hero a lot over the last few days even though I haven't written one word about him. He's most definitely going to have flaws that he's going to find hard to fight.

Sorry for the bird and sorry that your daughter had to witness it. Could be worse. My mom's cat has been leaving half squirrels by her bedside.

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