Furry Writers' Guild Forum

Furries and Mystery Writing

(Mods, not sure if this belongs here or in the inspiration forum)

For those who weren’t a part/don’t recall, the “20 Voices” effort was to get 20 writers to write one mystery novel. When the outline for the plot was presented, one author had an interesting point.

The mystery was a solid mystery, that you would see in any other book. The comment was “This is a mystery in a FURRY world. Readers are going to expect that the anthro nature of the characters is going to factor into the mystery, in the sense that it shouldn’t be replicable in some way were they humans.” That chestnut of “if you swap the anthros for humans, the story shouldn’t work” is a pretty old argument, that has had harddrives worth of words arguing over it. That’s not the point of this post.

I notice that there is a dearth of mysteries, and the point is interesting enough that I wanted to bring it up to a discussion about anthros and plot, specifically in the case of mysteries:

My question: How, specifically, could anthro characters change a mystery’s plot? From either comiting the crime, or solving it?

The most obvious answer is “scent”, which both perpetrator and investigator will consider, so I am looking for either other elements, or at least going more in-depth with this element than merely mentioning it.

I would also imagine a fairly obvious way would be around species stereotypes. The example that springs first to mind is in a murder-mystery, carnivores are probably going to find themselves more likely to be suspects. If there’s been a theft or heist, ‘sly’ or ‘crafty’ critters like foxes or raccoons might be suspected.
It’d then be up to the author to run with or subvert these expectations.

There was an interesting detail in the Foxforce novels that stuck with me. Some species (especially those that are extremely scent-based) might not be able to recognize people from the way they look. They could witness a murder in broad daylight and then not be able to pick out the perp in a line-up unless they had caught their scent too.

For mystery, especially murder mystery, one could also play with the idea that certain things which are lethal to one species might not be to another. For example, for many species, losing a tail could be extremely traumatic, possibly even fatal depending on the blood loss. Skinks on the other hand…

I’m with the Furry stories shouldn’t work as a human story camp. But I try to only hold that standard to me.

I solved my problem by accepting that 100 species are going to have different laws and religions. And a different history. Turning Dwight D. Eisenhower into a Rhino name D.D. Einhorn isn’t really enough to alter that history unless you’re just being funny.

On the other hand, SF has always used aliens to convey hot button topics past the censors (both external and internal) and Furry can do the same easily enough, but what’s taboo today? Well, not as much, but still there are things… and I’m all for people to explore that. Some people can more easily write issues with Furries, too, giving them a distance they might not achieve otherwise.

I’m still new at writing mysteries, so I don’t know if I have any advice. I did give myself rules, not all of which I used.

[ul][li]It’s hard not to shed, so I had Blackie conscious of it in my first.[/li]
[li]Fingerprints… my mammals have them. The avian and reptile critters, not so much[/li]
[li]Different religions that encourage species to co-mingle, otherwise how do build crap like cities… and sometimes provide motive[/li]
[li]My mammals have all evolved to be omnivores to some extent, with equal senses more or less with a few “throwbacks” and “sports” So I could have a bloodhound with a “throwback” nose sniff out clues while all the other bloodhounds look at him bewildered. They can’t enter this scent in court… it’d be like putting a Long Island psychic on the stand… but it could save people. [/li]
[li]You can be much more graphic in the horrible things you do to your Furry characters because it’s easier to dehumanize the victim and create distance for the reader. This means your detective can witness more, and not just have a guy in a lab coat give you a clue check list. It’s up to the writer to bring the meat, the fur, dinner… back to being a “human” (although a dead one) so all that means something. That, of course, is not going to work for every writer, but I like to think it works for me. [/li][/ul]

This says it very well, because there are things to consider.

–Do you want witnesses? Cheetah’s and predatory birds can clearly see things that are very distant. Moles are nearly blind and would only hear the incident if they were right there.

–Methods of committing the crime? Bats don’t need light. Most cats don’t need much light. Moles/voles can tunnel. Birds fly.

–Ways to be found out? Rabbits don’t have paw pads(no prints.) Reptiles don’t shed(no fur/hair to leave behind.) Birds fly(alternative entry, no footprints.) Bloodhounds…well duh, noses.

Keeping the native traits opens possibilities. Giving them average abilities, reduces them to humans who look different(that’s the way I feel, anyway.)

In my writings, I tend to keep some of these traits, but I also consider the characters individuality. Does this wolf want to alpha the other dogs, or is he consider them friends and equals. Is this fox sly and cunning or a bullheaded. Why did this cheetah become a warrior and not a scout or archer? Is this squirrel jumpy or is she able to say calm when scared?

All are things to consider.

A quick thing to add to “scent”:

Several animals have one of their most potent scent-markers on the bottom of their feet. Most furry universes don’t contain characters wearing shoes all that often, so a scent-neutralizing shoe would be an absolute must in any crime.

I saw that comment, and I agreed. If this was to be a furry mystery, it needed to be a mystery that would only work in a world of nonhumans, and that would require a great deal more thought.

If you want a furry mystery, you have to build the world, and the characters, and the mystery concurrently. Standard murder mysteries don’t have this burden. It all depends on how far you want to build a society. Who Censored Roger Rabbit is an excellent example of an engaging murder mystery set a different world that has its own rules. Eric Garcia’s Anonymous Rex is also a good example of a detective that has to build a new society, and it balances mystery with world-building expertly.

Here’s another question to ask: most murder mysteries center around a murder weapon, but do weapons exist in a world of nonhumans? Perhaps they exist only for prey species as self-defense? Do predator species have their claws and teeth? Do prey species have their natural defenses? Would they have them removed at a young age for the sake of keeping the peace?

There are so many ways to approach it. It all depends on how deep you wanna dive into the worldbuilding.

There are a lot of ways to incorporate animal aspects into a mystery plot, even though I strongly feel it doesn’t have to be the cornerstone of the mystery. Nonetheless:

-Claw marks on a body/live person
-Scent identification (or an inability to identify scent)
-Species stereotypes for profiling
-Flight for bats and birds
-Species might have monopolies on certain products or craft specialties, which is evidence.
-Animal sleep schedules and their state of being (crepuscular or nocturnal animals having a rough time in the day.)
-Animal allergies to substances
-Infrared messaging (some ungulates can do this)

Ahh, the Sherlock conundrum -

How to make the detective work to prize out the culprit. When you’ve got a keen nose that can dissect scent as we humans might colors, what’s the bother?

It comes down to contrast. Take a sitting room of 20 assorted species in a somewhat old mansion.

Firstly, at least three will be able to hear the crime being committed anywhere in the house - bats most notably, but other species hear just as well. A host of them could obviously figure out the guilty party with just a sniff around the unfortunate victim (unless they were offed by something like a firearm - gunpowder would ruin any scent markers, but arrows and darts would carry a scent).
So then, could we carry off a closed-room scenerio in with such a cast?

Easily. A bloodhound can track one perp - but they get muddled when the guy crisscrosses their own trail, or goes into an area peopled with many of their species (dogs have absolute hell tracking in a mall, but not a private residence, golf course, or similarly low-trafficked areas). The perp could also mask their scent with things like skunk oil (which would be readily available if skunks number among the sentient species), capsicum, or the like. About as clearly as a witness watching the crime in progress would be rendered unreliable by a simple flashlight beam or very loud noise - it rattles their thought process and corrupts their recall. A perp dousing their victim with a good spritz of capsicum would all but obliterate a scent-based CSI’s olfactory observations.

The size of the cast would be of extreme importance in this instance. Six people around a seance table simply would not work (without a LOT of work on the writer’s part) because of the dearth of confusing stimuli. But one guy in a crowded theater opening up with a firearm? Good luck picking him out when everyone smells of fear, blood, and gunpowder. A crowded mall would make anything beyond visual acquisition of a target all but impossible - like humans trying to Find Waldo on a red-and-white Escher print.

The advantage here is in observation - the investigator merely has more acute senses, she does not have MORE of them (unless it’s fantasy or SciFi which grants an expanded sense pool). Like ‘Monk’ or the guy from ‘Psyche’; their investigatory prowess comes down to their ability to observe the additional minutiae their heightened senses offer. Where a human might miss the perfume or subtle musk, a canine or snake might be able to - but miss the obvious clue in a color photograph that those two species see as a low-contrast blob. Acute hearing can detect things on an audio tape more readily but can’t read the fine print label on the cassette.

And note that we humans overlook the obvious every day because we SEE IT every day; our brain filters it out. Imagine how much filtering dogs do in our own house? What they smell daily and overlook, what they hear that we cannot and learn to ignore. Non-human characters would do the same. Even the best of them might overlook the smell of a dog because they smell them everywhere, every day. Just as we miss faces in a crowd.

When it comes to detectives in a non-human genre, the strengths can believably come with drawbacks. Play to them, and that will make your story work with the Anthro, but not without them.

I suppose in a murder mystery involving a large carnivore, the matter of disposing of the body might get a bit into vore territory…

Such a nice plump frame whats-his-name has… had… has, nor it can’t be traced. Business needs a lift, debts to be erased, think of it as thrift, as a gift, if you get my drift. Seems an awful waste. I mean, with the price of meat what it is when you get it, if you get it… ;D

Not to mention a murderer could use a glove with claws to commit the murder.

Another question is the available technology.
A professional hitman or serial killer might own a variation of a ‘sterile room’ were he can put on a full body suit, so he doesn’t loose any fur at the crime scene which can identify him.
Distance weapons might become the weapon of choice. While they can be traced, they have to be identified first. Easy with firearms, more difficult to near impossible with handcrafted arrows or crossow bolts.

A murderer should factor in to make it look an individual from another species did it. If you have a limited number of suspects, it can be easier to figure out the perpetrator if some species simply could not have done it.

For every way to find something out, there is a way to make it more difficult or confuse it.

A good example is the novel ‘Demolition’ by Alfred Bester.
Bester came up with the concept of a PSI cop, a detective with telepathic powers. In his novel the statement of a telepath was not admissable in court, but he could use the information read in the perpetrators mind to connect him t the crime. “He did it, the weapon he used is in his secret safe.” For example.
Now, in the novel, the murderer owned a large corporation and before he committet the act, he breought some papers to his marketing division. Talking with the exec there, he steered the conversation towards jungles. Jingles you can’t get out of your head. And he asked his employee to hit him with the worst jingle in that regard. So, every time the telepath tried to read his mind, all he got was that jingle.
Thanks to a few factors, there was also no motive, at least it looked that way. The only reason the detective kept going after the murderer was a gut feeling. The murderer betrayed himself thanks to the detective’s tenacity.
The title comes from the sentence for murder in the book. An individum guilty of murder gets his personality demolished and rebuild to serve the society. Someone nearly getting away with murder is far to intelligent to be wasted.

And for those that find some details familiar, yes, Straczynski used these concepts in Babylon 5. That’s the reason why the main PSI Cop we see in the series is named Alfred Bester.

Back to the main topic. As we can see, even telepaths can be circumvented, so everything in a furry world shpuld be as well. A fire works as well to destroy evidence. As a swamp or a concrete basement disposes of a body and all evidence you might have left on it. Maybe lost a hair on the victim? Get the trash from a hairdresser and put more hairs on the body anyone could sort through in a sane amount of time. Or intentionally get some hair of another possible suspect and put it on the body. Some freely available cleaning supplies deal with any leftover scent.

I’ve stayed mostly in the present with my examples, but this goes for any era.
The more back in time it plays, the more sense makes it to simply set the house on fire for example. What is a little ason when they are searching for you for murder?