When writers create characters, they draw from observations of friends, relatives, acquaintances, and strangers. Then they mix those observations with a smattering of personal experiences, attitudes, and understandings.
I believe the same holds true for an animal character, like Zahra's heart animals. In addition to pulling from Uncle Jim's affinity for food, the nosy neighbor's side-eyed glances, and my literal view of the world, I tend to weave my pets' personalities into my animal characters.
For example, in Society of the Sentinelia, the first heart animal introduced is Gigesdi. She is a shimmery gray, fluffy kitten with amethyst eyes. Some of her characteristics are reminiscent of our cat Hal—short for Halloween. We adopted Hal on Halloween when we saved him from being run over by a car, after which he followed us door to door as we trick-or-treated.
We later found out he was one of three stray siblings in our neighborhood. His brother was adopted by our next-door neighbor. He, the smaller of the three, walked into our house after trick-or-treating and never left. The other sadly met its demise after not being saved from oncoming traffic.
Hal is a shimmery, not-so-fluffy, dark gray tabby. Of course, he doesn't have purple eyes because non-fantasy cats don't have purple eyes.
Some of Hal's mannerisms filtered into Zahra's heart cat, Gigesdi. Like Hal, Gigesdi is thoughtful, quiet, concerned, and protective. Neither Hal nor Gigesdi fuss, but they do get down to the business at hand.
Hal tends to disappear under a bed or in a dark corner for hours. He relishes solitude. However, when Hubby breaks out cold cuts or I've had a rough day, he appears out of nowhere. Similarly, Gigesdi suddenly appears whenever Zahra needs her, but is otherwise elusive.
I often picture Hal's expressions when I write the Gigesdi character. Sometimes he sits on my lap brushing the keyboard with his tail as I write. It's as if he intentionally lobbies—in his allusive way—to be part of my stories.
It's important for Gigesdi and the other heart animals in Zahra's world to have memorable, unique personalities. Through their traits and mannerisms, they convey how they drive the story forward. They also, I hope, endear themselves to my readers.
While Gigesdi isn't a fluffy, purple-eyed female replica of Hal, my feline certainly influenced her character. For that, and the fact that Hal camps out on my lap whenever I'm not well, I'm grateful. That's why he now gets a serving of seafood pâté several nights a week—and the odd cold cut from Hubby.