Furry Writers' Guild Forum

Making it furry

Much has been said and written about the question of making anthropomorphism matter and the animal nature of the characters relevant if a story is to truly qualify as a furry story and not just ‘humans in fursuits’.

What do you do when a story idea comes to you, and it seems like a great idea and you want to write that story, but there’s nothing about it that would make it furry in the sense discussed above, and if you wrote it with furry characters it would only be superficially furry? Do you write it like that anyway? Or write it with humans? Or find a way to rework/revise to make the furry aspect of it important?

I think it depends on the level of detail you give to the characters as ‘furry’ characters. Most complaints I have seen in regards to a character being a ‘zipper-back’ comes from them basically being humans with the odd comment about their ears flicking or a tail wag, and that’s it. (and generally one, maybe two mentions in the entire story) This is solved with adding more detailed animal traits that appear more often. It also means taking into account things like scent, tactile sensations, eyesight issues/benefits, etc.

I actually find writing purely human fiction limiting, because it takes so many tools out of my writer’s toolbox to do.

In the submissions and queries for The Dogs of War, I’ve noticed that those from FWG members tend to make the furry characters genuinely furry, while those from non-members often are about funny-animal characters in real countries, such as dog and wolf soldiers in U.S. Army uniforms fighting camel terrorists in Iraq or Afghanistan. I have to explain that furry means furry.

I just go ahead and make it superficially furry. I like reading stories like that, and apparently other people do too!

My stories tend to be pretty light on the “furriness.” I feel like anthropomorphism has already been tackled time and again by better writers than I, so why should I struggle to force that aspect in? The editors (literally) always make me do so, though! XP

Yes, I think this is somewhat undervalued in FWG circles at times.

The answer to “how is this story changed by being furry” might just be “because the aesthetic is different.” Maybe a story can actively explore what it “means” to be a six and a half foot tall wolf woman in a world where that brings a lot of baggage with it without leaning into a lot of details about wolf behavior; maybe that’s better for the story, if the underlying theme is that a lot of that baggage isn’t fair. Or maybe my main character is a rat because I want to play off the baggage you, the reader, bring with you about rats. Her “essential ratness” may not be relevant to the story in the story’s world, but that doesn’t mean her species wasn’t chosen for a reason.

I’ve banged this drum before and gotten pushback, but I’m sticking to it. I don’t think there’s anything wrong, per se, with “unless this story would be absolutely impossible if the main character wasn’t an anthropomorphic raccoon, I’m not going to make her one,” but I firmly reject “unless this story would be absolutely impossible if the main character wasn’t an anthropomorphic raccoon, nobody should make her one.”

Ooh, I like that. Might steal it.

I, for instance, am not especially interested in reading most romance novels, but I like furry romances, because the pictures in my head are cuter.

I actually have found myself in a situation somewhat like this.
I had begun to outline and write out a story that was set in the world of the D&D 4th Edition. After making a decent amount of progress, I stepped away from it to work on other projects. When I came back to that story, it struck me that it was highly unlikely that Wizards of the Coast would go for it (I think it’s going to end up being novel length when I get back to it).
What to do?
Well, my brain replied. Just make it furry. Take the humans and elves and dwarfs and everything and just slap ears and tails on them.
Part of me is rejecting the idea because when I sit down to write a “furry” story, I do usually try and think “Well, how would this situation be different for a fox?” in my brainstorming.

But looking at my previous work, it seems that I would just write it anyway to be superficially furry. I feel that most of my work has really been “humans with fur (or scales).” So I have made it a point lately to play up the “furriness” as it were.

For me it really depends on the story. Typically I try to write the characters in such a way that the advanced senses are used, however I am presently in the process of writing a story that is more “superficially furry” in nature.

For all intents and purposes though I think it does really depend on what story the writer wants to tell.

Going to chip in here,

I think most of the anxiety around making a story furry comes when a writer doesn’t set the work in a time, place, or location that is speculative. If the world is just a mirror image of our own, then it may break the fourth wall so to speak, and cause scepticism to it. Mind you, I think a desire to have stories that are not superficially furry may come down to a simple desire to justify what is being written. And as others have said, aesthetic reasons are a reason in itself. We might just be a little defensive.

When it comes to making a story furry, I’d say it’s about investigating the often set up binary in literature between nature and culture. By showing how furry brides and complicates that opposition, you can create situations that explore furry.

Many times lending a few lines throughout upon how the character perceives the world around them can do a lot to make a story truly ‘furry’. Simply because the setting might be someplace familiar to us doesn’t mean there can’t be mentions of the morning pains in joints that maybe weren’t quite meant to be entirely upright all the time, or the nearly silent rolling growl in the back of the throat or lashing tail when a character is agitated, or ears following the movement from someone in the floor above, or making note of how different scents are noticed before things are seen, or even how the scent of blood can have one reaction from a predatory character and a fully different reaction from a prey character.

So much can be brought in with the small details. I’d personally focus on getting the story down while the idea is blossoming, then work out the details.

That goes tenfold for the author, and applies to any other genre the author might not otherwise be that interested in.

As one who has been involved in discussions about whether stories need to be significantly and not just superficially furry, it’s good to hear from others whose opinions I respect that sometimes it’s okay to be toward the superficial end of things. And I agree it’s usually possible to work in a few non-furry details, even if they’re things that could be worked around if the characters weren’t furry. The aesthetic, as Chipotle says.

I personally won’t make a story anthropomorphic unless I think it actually needs to be. I currently have concepts for a series of novels and a standalone novel “working” in my mind, and there’s no compelling reason for there to be any furry characters in either of them. So, should I write them, there won’t be.

My places has been said a few times.

When I write, I do so exclusively in a furry sense. Most if the time, it is superficially furry. I don’t know how to write humans; the ideas I get always involve animal-people for some reason. Yes, the characters could be changed to people with little difficulty and most of the story would still work, but it’s what works for me.

Of course, when I do write, I try to make it more realistic and more focused on the animal aspects. Some times it is as simple as being more expressive with body language. Others times, it is a little more.

If the story would work the same way with an all-human cast, then making the characters furry seems like an attempt to attract a furry audience by superficial imitation of what they like.

For comparison: there’s a video of some cartoon imitating that popular pony cartoon. I’ve passed the imitator around among my friends and we all find it cringe-worthy even though we like the original and the graphics are pretty good. It’s obvious that the imitators said “what’s popular about that thing? Uh… Colorful horse characters, magic, a castle, and something about royalty.” They didn’t pick up on the actual appeal (humor, character development, tone, &c), so they made a shallow copy.

For me, anyway, it’s unsatisfying to read about raccoon-people who’re raccoons for no reason other than “they’re cute”. We can use furry characters to talk about race, to think about what it’s like to have a different body or mind, to write about transhumanism, and so on. The humans-in-fursuits kind of character means not using anthropomorphism in an interesting way. It’s like… if the impressionist artists had no reason for what they were doing other than “I dunno man, I just like slathering the paint on like this.”

I agree. I’ve just rejected a story for The Dogs of War in which the characters were anthro dogs and other animals (all conveniently of the same human size) in U.S. Army uniforms, fighting camel terrorists in Iraq. It was well-written, but there was nothing in it that couldn’t have been in a current Middle Eastern military story with humans. What’s the point of making the characters funny animals, except to sell it to a market that wants anthro animal characters? A readership that would accept it would too easily accept anything that was superficially furry.

When I use furry characters, I try to give them a reason for being non-human. I have a hard time writing a story where there’s no real reason why a character is an anthropomorphic critter. Although I’ve definitely written things where the explanation was more or less hand-waved. (“They’re foxes because in this time and place, people are foxes.”) But those are fantasy/fairy tale-esque stories, so it’s easier to sidestep the “furry problem.” In more modern or sci-fi settings, I feel like there has to be some kind of an explanation. I can’t exactly say “a wizard did it” unless I’m writing urban fantasy.

But that’s strictly my own work.

Thank you for writing this. I strongly agree.

Why do humans function as this default setting? Why is there a default to begin with? It’s like asking:

“Is there a compelling reason this story shouldn’t be set in America? No? America it is.”
“It’s interesting that this is set in the 1940’s. Is that essential? Could it be set in modern day?”
“I’m not sure why this character is black. Is that directly relevant to the plot? No? Will she experience racism over the course of the story? No? Okay, white it is.”

It’s insane. Those are insane questions to ask.

I write stories from a universe where humans have never existed. I shouldn’t need a disclaimer at the beginning of my story. Sometimes this argument seems to completely disregard the fact that we’re writing stories.

On the other hand, I fully respect the approach people like Fred have adopted. I understand that there exists a need to give furry writing a unique identity with signature characteristics, beyond “the characters aren’t human,” like nearly every other literary genre has. Especially when it comes to assembling an anthology that is supposed to represent furry writing, which involves distinguishing furry writing from “normal” writing. Which is often hard. Stories I write fall under that category. What looks like pasting furries over familiarity doesn’t work for a lot of people, and I respect that.

Different strokes.

To draw a distinction: in some stories the characters’ furry nature isn’t crucial to the story, and you could replace them with humans and still have it make sense. In some other stories, the furry characters’ species has no effect on the story. The second one bothers me more. (Though of course you’re welcome to read/write what I wouldn’t!)

I enjoyed Ton Inktail’s “Moondust” for instance, but it’d have been exactly the same if you replaced the species with human races, other than the occasional mention of spacesuits being a pain for people with hooves and tails. So, I’d rather have seen that one done with humans. In contrast, Mary Lowd’s “Otters In Space” makes more use of the characters being different species, like the otters’ flooded spaceship and the cat heroine not being crazy about living in it. Paul Lucas’ “The Shattered Sky” also isn’t totally dependent on the fact that the main character isn’t human, but her species has major effects on the story. I prefer how these last two examples handled their furry aspect.

This discussion reminds me of the controversy over the science fiction awards, particularly the story that won an SF award despite having no science in it. F&SF recently published a story in the same vein, a “fantasy” piece whose sole fantasy element is that the narrator is an Indian trickster god who listens to 1920s humans being racist. That’s it. (The same issue featured two others of what I classified as “Social Justice Stories”, one with no scientific or fantasy aspect.) So that’s part of my thinking about why it bothers me to see “furry” stories where there’s only the most superficial connection to what I like about furry.

I would think that Zootopia provides a good example of this. On the technical side, there’s no need for it to be anthros: the story could be told with humans. However, it touches on aspects of racism we see in our world without being specific to any particular group because it can use animals instead and use speciesism as an analogue. I think that this helps make the story more accessible to people.

People have been using animals that act like humans for centuries - whether they are talking animals that simply serve to give a moral or caricatures of people within society (Reynard the Fox tales, for instance). Sometimes it’s just easier to have an animal, even if it’s just pretty much a human in funny costume.