Saturday, March 12, 2011

Writing Tip: Add a "Pet the Dog" Beat

If you're looking for ways to deepen your character, James Scott Bell suggests adding a "pet the dog" beat. In Revision & Self -Editing, he illustrates this screenwriting trick in two ways:
  1. Using a literal dog--Clint Eastwood is playing a cop. He's chasing a killer through dark streets. Bullets are flying. His back's against the wall in an alley when something crashes. He spins and points his gun at a scraggly old dog who has tripped over a trash can. Clint takes a moment to pet the dog. He's shown kindness to an animal in the midst of a shootout. (Is he crazy or something?)
  2. Using a figurative dog--in the movie The Fugitive, Dr. Kimble is in a hospital to gather information about the one-armed man who he thinks killed his wife. Cops are hunting him down. While trying to escape the hospital, he notices a sick boy on a gurney. He checks the chart and realizes the boy's been misdiagnosed. Kimble changes the chart and sees to it that the boy will receive immediate attention. He's taken time from his own troubles to care about someone else. (Now really, would he murder someone?)
Bell says, "A pet-the-dog beat, properly executed, creates great sympathy for the character, while at the same time may add to the suspense."

Have you ever heard of a pet-the-dog beat? Have you used one in your manuscript?

45 comments:

  1. I saw James Scott Bell at the Writer's Digest Conference back in January and he told us about this technique. It's a really great idea and James Scott Bell is awesome!

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  2. I think in a shootout or an escape I'd be too concerned with my own ass to pet any cuddly animals.

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  3. Hey Julie,
    I like that idea...I' mowndering how I could use that in the book I'm working on; thanks!
    I love your tips...

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  4. first off, I could spell and space my words correctly, yes?

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  5. I'd never really thought of this as a beat, but you're right! I love the examples you gave. I actually have this beat at the beginning of my story, though I never realized what it was called. I just wanted the effect it gave. Thanks for sharing!

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  6. Hi Julie and Tracy .. I thought Tracy had a new word there ... mowndering - good one I thought!

    That idea of a 'pet the dog beat' .. fun thought .. certainly stirs the pot a little - but as Rogue Mutt says .. I'd be running!

    Cheers Hilary

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  7. LOL I can't IMAGINE why you focused on this! He he he. I LOVE this tip! It's a great way to show another side of a character. As long as the character truly has that side.

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  8. it's also called Save the Cat. I guess you really can use any animal! :) I absolutely love that movie!

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  9. I've never heard of this term. Sweet, now I am smarter than I was! I never saw the first movie, but the "pet the dog" beat sure worked for me in the Fugitive! I'm going to have my eye out for this, and consider if it would be applicable to any of my scenes...

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  10. Ah, and they have a literal "save the cat" moment at the beginning of The Incredibles! I'm catching on!

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  11. It's an old screenwriting technique that Blake Snyder identified a few years ago called "Save the Cat." He's got three books in the Save the Cat" series that have lots of great tips like this that have been around for quite some time.

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  12. Combining Save the Cat and Pet the Dog, I have a 'Save the Dog' moment in my MS :D

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  13. That's Blake's "Save the Cat" type of moment - making the main character more likable. I have a moment like that in my book's sequel.

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  14. Thanks, Julie. Another great tip to keep on the brain. Thanks to Les for the Blake Snyder resource as well. Using screenwriting techniques add a welcome visual element to my writing. Keep 'em coming.

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  15. How clever. I think this technique could be very effective -- if I can remember to use it in an appropriate scene. Thanks for the tip, Julie.

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  16. So many examples of "pet the dog"... And what was the film where someone leaves a bathroom w/toilette paper on his shoe and the main character steps on it to detach it and keep the guys dignity?

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  17. Never used this, but it certainly made me think about it.

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  18. What a great idea! I haven't heard of this technique before - but it's a great idea to showcase the softer side of characters :)

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  19. There's a great Masters of Horror episode (there weren't many good episodes in that series, but there were a few) - in it, the MC is going insane because he has suddenly developed the ability to hear much more than usual. He's on a terrible rampage, smashing up his house with a baseball bat - he smashes light bulbs, the telephone - anything that contributes to the ambient hum. He turns to the fish tank - and stops. The fish are spared.

    It's a brilliant way to maintain sympathy for a character who is crossing way too many lines.

    Pet the dog; save the cat; spare the fish?

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  20. I have never noticed or heard of this before but it's pure genious! Great post!

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  21. What a great idea! (if done right) I love that Fugitive movie. :)

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  22. I had never heard of that technique but I love it!

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  23. I love 'The Fugitive' and that scene is excellent. Great tips that I'll take on board, thank you.

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  24. I have never heard of this but it is really cool. I'm glad that you shared it with us. I like this tip.

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  25. Interesting idea, makes for a good exercise I would think.

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  26. Hi Julie,

    Thanks for a great idea...now I'm wondering where to use this...

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  27. Julie, I just read your post about how we like the same authors and here you are posting about one of my all-time favorite movies: The Fugitive! I love the idea of a "pet the dog" moment for the protagonist. What is the character really about when nobody's looking? Have you seen Grand Torino? Clint's character appeared to be a complete ass but he had a heart of gold underneath, with many "pet the dog" moments.

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  28. Love this idea. Love it. I don't have any shootouts to insert into LOL but there are certainly lots of ways to show a sympathetic character without them:)

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  29. I love this idea. Definitely has the wheels in my head spinning.

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  30. I've seen or read this a million times but never knew there was a term for it. I love it!

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  31. I haven't heard of this but it's brilliant! Thank you so much for this post. I'll keep it in mind next time I need to soften a character.

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  32. Ooh, I love ths technique! Thanks for the post.

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  33. I LOVES this book! This is where I first learned about beats. This strategy can definitely make your work stronger and reveal character.

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  34. omg--this is a fantastic post! It kind of reminds me of someone I knew who was having a difficult time and we were at odds. This person was being a real jerk, then I found out he would walk the night-time perimeter w/the security guard at his building--an old lady he was concerned would get hurt... Pet the dog! :D (P.S. we're no longer at odds... ;o) <3

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  35. This is so, so, so good. Thanks for the post. I've put animals in my stories to make readers more empathetic to my characters, but I hadn't thought about it this way before. Wonderful tip!

    Amy

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  36. I love this book so far. I posted about it today too. I haven't gotten to the Pet the Dog moment, but I might have on in my WIP. Cool.

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  37. I haven't heard of this technique before, but I'd love to use it.

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  38. Actually, now that you've mentioned it I have used that, though I wasn't really thinking of it in those terms. But I guess it can be used in many ways and now I'll be more concious of the technique.

    Lee
    Tossing It Out

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  39. I like the idea, but so far I have never used it. Perhaps I will give it a try. Thanks for the tip.

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  40. What a clever idea. I've never heard of it, but I haven't got that far in SAVE THE CAT where it's apparently mentioned according to some of these comments. :D

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  41. I've never heard of it, but what a fantastic idea! I even know where I can put one! Thank you!

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  42. Great post, Julie!!This is like Blake Synder's "Save the Cat." I often look for it when I'm watching a movie.

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  43. I love this post! I'd forgotten all about this technique--I am definitely going to have to reread Revision and Self-Editing. It's amazing how I can pick up things only as I'm ready to hear them. And yes, I did use this in one of my mss, and just realized I need to use it in another. So THANK YOU for that!

    Martina

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  44. James Scott Bell is brilliant!

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  45. Banned complain !! Complaining only causes life and mind become more severe. Enjoy the rhythm of the problems faced. No matter ga life, not a problem not learn, so enjoy it :)

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