University of Tasmania

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Reading and writing dogs in popular romance fiction

posted on 2023-05-27, 20:09 authored by Robinson, RJ
Genre fiction has enormous potential to reflect and influence human perception of nonhuman animals. This thesis examines the biggest selling of all popular genres‚ÄövÑvÆromance fiction‚ÄövÑvÆand the non-human species with whom humans form some of their closest relationships: dogs. Dog characters abound in popular romance fiction. As romance is fundamentally concerned with exploring love and relationships, this genre provides authors with an ideal canvas to craft the dog characters with whom the genre‚ÄövÑv¥s protagonists form relationships, some fleeting, others fundamental to their story. Yet, within this boundless opportunity lies the risk of portraying dogs as flat character types and cliches, anthropomorphized and stripped of their canine identity, or merely as props, not granted the status of ‚ÄövÑv¿characters.‚ÄövÑvp This thesis provides a model to guide the construction of canine characters that are as complex and individual as dogs in the ordinary world. It urges writers to approach dog characters with as much creative care as their stories‚ÄövÑv¥ human characters. The model also provides scholars with a framework to read fictional dogs as characters in their own right, beyond metaphors and anthropocentric analyses. The thesis comprises a creative artefact and an exegesis, which work together to respond to the overarching research question: how do we write non-human animals, specifically dogs, as fully formed and nuanced characters in popular romance, a genre anchored in the prioritisation of human agents? The exegesis mobilises theoretical debate and research from three areas of scholarship: one established field, narratology; and two relatively new fields, animal studies and popular romance studies. The site where any two of these fields overlap is an area of limited scholarship, and the site where all three overlap is the gap where my research seeks to make an original contribution to knowledge, including specialist knowledge that informs creative practice. The arguments are anchored in the collection and xi analysis of a corpus of one hundred popular romance works, interrogated closely and comparatively to reveal and critique current practice in the construction of dog characters. In the exegesis, I propose a model for reading and writing fictional dogs, specifically those in popular romance novels. The functionality of the model is twofold. First, it can be deployed as a lens for the analysis of dog characters. Secondly, it is intended as a tool for writers when they create dog characters, within and beyond the genre of focus here. The model demonstrates that the choices a writer makes when constructing a dog character determine the dog‚ÄövÑv¥s position on a spectrum of a developed‚ÄövÑvÆundeveloped character. Writers‚ÄövÑv¥ decisions are made across six primary dimensions: name, appearance, breed, backstory, gender, and age. Each dimension may be either present or absent in the text and, if present, contains coded information or other associated cues that signal the possibility of complexity. The sum of the authorial decisions across the six dimensions can be mapped, giving a visual analysis of the dog character‚ÄövÑv¥s embedded potential for complexity. The thesis‚ÄövÑv¥s creative work is a popular romance novel titled Wherever You Are, which tests and elaborates on the theoretical arguments presented in the exegesis. For this practiceled research, I crafted thirteen dog characters, each occupying different spaces on the developed / undeveloped spectrum and containing a different level of embedded potential. As a research endeavour, the creative artefact blurs the lines between the construction of human and non-human animal characters across the six dimensions of the model. Taken together, the exegetical framework and the creative artefact build new knowledge about the construction of dog characters in the popular romance genre.



School of Humanities

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