Furry Writers' Guild Forum

Making it furry

To me, this constitutes a “good reason to use anthros”. You’re using them for some storytelling purpose, in other words. So this is a case where I’d use them, too.

I would not use anthro characters to tell a story about the solution, say, of a difficult, unusual and interesting software problem. (A lot of early SF was this kind of problem-solving story.) Making all the humans in that storyverse into, say, shortfaced bears merely adds to the author’s difficulty in generating a willing suspension of disbelief in the reader. In the case you cite, in other words, anthropomorphism is indeed a key factor in making a story better-- it brings something to the table, and contributes. Enriches the feast, in other words. But when it doesn’t positively contribute, it’s like a fifth tire on a car-- it doesn’t make anything any better, and is something else to go flat and strand you.

I recently wrote a five-book series about a pair of twins who are taken hostage by (furryish) aliens when they conquer Earth in our near future. They’re raised as aliens from about age eleven, to become future trustworthy administrators of Earth. One essentially becomes an alien in both heart and soul; that’s where his deepest sympathies lie. The other remains human inside. The series is about how this happens and why, and where it all leads. Now…

Up until this series, I was mostly a “furry” author. (I still overwhelmingly am one if the measure applied is the percentage of anthrocentric works I’ve written.) While I could have written this series about a pair of anthro-short-faced-bear cubs instead of humans… Why would I? Sibling rivalry and twin-dominance are very human themes. What could I possibly have gained, except to make the series just that little bit harder to relate to for those who don’t heavily empathize with short-faced bears? It would’ve been a fifth tire, in other words. Something that could contribute nothing in the literary sense and only cause problems. So I contented my furry sensibilities by making the aliens in essence socially, physically and psychologically pack-living bears with extreme hierarchical behavior-patterns hard-wired into their nervous systems. The aliens had to be something inhuman, after all-- readers everywhere understand this and thus expect strangeness in this role. Non-humanity serves a definite purpose here, in other words. Therefore, why not something vaguely anthro? Indeed, the fact that I had so much experience writing anthros is what tipped the decision in that direction for me. If I had a legitimate, genuine need for non-humans, then why not select something I knew I could handle and would take pleasure in writing?

As the series progressed it became clear that I needed to develop several more alien species for minor roles as well-- they were the other conquered races. I made these anthro as well-- beaver-otters and tree-lizards-- because the plot also called for an overarching “enemy of all”. This life form I did not make anthro, to contrast it as much as possible from the rest. Indeed, I made it so bizarre and alien that its actions and motivations were to a degree incomprehensible. (For example, it has no face or even face analog, or anything that might conceptually be regarded as a face.) Something, in other words, that didn’t have a personality; the other species find it impossible to even communicate with it or grasp its motivations. Thus, I subtly played the angle that the anthro species, being at least somewhat humanlike and sharing common traits such as relate-able emotions and communication via audible speech and even things like a life-cycle that includes birth and death, finding that, in contrast, they share more in common than divides them. This creates an innate motivation to unite against this dangerous Other. So, I suppose, in the end even in the minor species and sort of by accident the anthropomorphism is present for a reason and serves a literary purpose.

And that’s my fundamental point, I think. It’s my opinion-- please note the word opinion, though I’m making the best, most powerful case I can to support it-- that anthropomorphism is just another tool in the writer’s box. A good, amazingly flexible and useful tool, even; probably my favorite of them all. But it’s not a universal one. Because the problem with having a favorite tool is that you can be tempted to use it when you shouldn’t simply because it’s so much fun. Carpenters and plumbers who add boards and pipes and fittings where they’re not needed just so they can play with their favorite saws or wrenches risk creating suboptimal or even outright ridiculous structures.

It’s no different, I’d submit, for we authors.

There are some great points on both sides of this to be sure! I like a story where the anthropomorphism means something, but I think there’s room for a purely aesthetic story too. If the characters as animals adds to the theme, it might elevate the storytelling a bit imo, but certainly I enjoy stories that are “fun” too, and I do like to read about animals for any reason.
One thing though about having to justify why you write this or that… A friend of mine writes incredibly successful S.E.A.L. romances. (Navy Seals, not sea animals) She could probably write those stories about any people, but she only does S.E.A.L.s because those are the books she likes to read, she has an interest in S.E.A.L.s and there’s a huge market for it. I believe any and all of those are good reasons to write about something.
And what works for each of us, probably will be enjoyed by someone out there.


I referred to aesthetics as a valid reason for using furry characters, but it’s worth noting that I don’t think Rabbit and I are really on wildly differing pages here: by “aesthetics” I don’t mean “I think wolf people are hot” as much as “evoking a specific response from the reader/viewer.” As Indagare notes, Zootopia falls into that category; we have reactions to the characters based on our associations with their species, and by using “speciesism” as the source of bias that creates some of the story’s problems, it (mostly) circumvents the responses we might have to stories about human racism or sexism. (I saw some critiques of Zootopia commenting on how those elements didn’t make a perfect allegory for racism, to which my reaction was, more or less: of course they don’t, because they’re the kinds of biases that would exist in their world, not our world. Not only weren’t they flaws in the movie, they were signs of good worldbuilding–and dare I say, rather science-fictional, in the best way.)

At any rate, I think my notion of “aesthetics” falls into Rabbit’s description of “using them for some storytelling purpose.” I’ve occasionally described this by saying that why isn’t as important a question as how: I’m not interested in why your characters are furries, unless the why is relevant to the plot. But I’m interested in how your characters being furries changes the story.

I’d write the story with humans unless there was an intrinsic need within the plot or the market for it to be furry.

The latter part is important. If a “zipperback” is what it takes to sell the story, then do it. But there’s so many more markets for non-furry work than furry work. You’re probably selling yourself short!

Write what inspires you to write. Let everything else fall where it may.