Puppies Can Help Build a Novel ~ guest post from Gail Mencini

When I asked Gail Mencini, author of It Happened in Tuscany, if she’d write a guest post that provides advice to writers, I had no idea just how cleverly she’d follow through. Thank you, Gail! You’ve covered the writers, and non-writers can just enjoy looking at the pic of your adorable fur baby.

Read on to learn about Benjamin the Bernedoodle as well as about Gail and her books. Plus you can enter the giveaway for a chance to win a free copy of It Happened in Tuscany?


My husband and I welcomed an eight-week puppy into our family on January 30th. Benjamin, a Bernedoodle, is adorable. Of course he is! What kind of dog parent would I be if I thought anything else? See for yourself.

What? I thought both of these were my toys!

On one of my many trips outside with him today, I realized that many traits of a puppy could add richness to characters in a novel. Training a puppy is similar to constructing a novel.

  • Puppies are unpredictable. You don’t want your readers to anticipate all of your characters’ actions, do you?

  • Puppies are goofy and make you laugh. One or more comedic characters in a novel can help advance the plot and, occasionally, change the novel’s pacing in a good way. The “help” my character Joe Able offers Will in It Happened in Tuscany often suits Joe’s purpose more than Will’s. Joe’s warm goofiness is simultaneously endearing and frustrating, just like a puppy.

  • Puppies grow quickly. Each trick or task you teach a puppy can build on those already mastered. For example, you can string “sit,” “let’s go,” “walk,” “wait,” and “OK” together in different circumstances. “Sit.” I put his leash on. “Let’s go.” I hope my puppy will walk with me, but this is a skill he’s still working on. “Sit. Wait.” I want him to sit quietly and look at me at street corners. “OK. Let’s go.” As his leader, I’ve determined it’s safe to cross and have given him permission to do so. 

As a writer, you build a world that your readers come to know and trust. You introduce them to characters and you’ve given them clues what to expect from those characters. Your readers’ knowledge, expectations, and trust expand through the course of the novel, much as the commands I’m teaching my puppy expand his world. Your readers haven’t a clue, however, of what’s lurking ahead, around the corner, across the street, and on the next page.

Unlike with a puppy, you want to spring surprises on your readers, perhaps even shock them. These surprises should be within the realm of what is believable and possible in the world you’ve created.

If you treat a puppy properly, he or she will love and respect you and may even follow you wherever you go.

My goals as a writer are:

  1. treat readers with respect,
  2. build a believable world,
  3. create characters that are enjoyable to spend time with—whether readers love or hate or fear them, and
  4. entertain my readers with a good plot.

If I’ve done these four things, I’m happy. I admit I am even happier when readers anxiously wait for my next novel because they want to follow me to whatever worlds that I take them.

You can learn more about my novels at www.gailmencini.com and follow Benjamin’s exploits on Facebook: @GailMencini.Author or Instagram: @gailmencini.

Buy the Book:
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From the multiple-award-winning author of To Tuscany with Love comes a captivating story of the epic tug of war between honor and duty, the irrepressible power of love, and the concept of family.

In 1945, Will Mills and his fellow soldiers in the 10th Mountain Division scaled Italy’s treacherous Riva Ridge in the frigid night to break through the nearly impenetrable German line of defense. Severely wounded, Will was rescued by Italian partisans and one, a beautiful girl, tended his injuries until he had the strength to rejoin the U.S. troops.

Tormented and haunted by his decisions and actions during wartime, Will knows he has unfinished missions in Italy to complete. The passage of time and years of carrying this unfulfilled need have molded Will into a bitter, angry man.

Seventy-five years later, Will’s spunky thirty-two-year-old neighbor, Sophie Sparke, faces disaster in her life. Everything is going wrong—her job, her love life, even her dog. Part of the problem is that confident and fiercely independent Sophie lets her quick mouth get her into trouble.

Grouchy, mean-spirited Will finagles Sophie into traveling with him to Tuscany to find the partisan who saved his life. Will also secretly hopes to confront the demons his wartime actions created. Sophie and Will comb enchanting Tuscan hill towns on an improbable and unfolding mission with few clues to aid them. Will’s passionate tenacity drives their quest and in the process exposes their darkest secrets. The journey alters the course of their lives, and Will and Sophie find more than they had imagined in the hills of Tuscany.

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