Furry Writers' Guild Forum

Question: Species-specific research?

Hi guys,

I was reading a furry story the other day that featured an Arctic fox character, and the story made a point of mentioning that in the winter this fox’s white coat blended in well with his surroundings but in the summer it did not. This small detail was jarring to me because the coats of real Arctic foxes change with the seasons. I have also seen furry stories that describe how when night came, a wolf or a bobcat or whatever had a harder time seeing in the dark, and had to light a lantern or whatever… but such creatures that are often active at night (well, the real ones) have great night vision, so they wouldn’t need such tools to see in the dark. And of course, real wolves and hyenas and other large carnivores have such incredible jaw strength and sharp teeth that using a weapon like a sword would be completely unnecessary for them. And, come to think of it, for furbearers and others, clothing is technically unnecessary, too.

I was just wondering, as a newcomer to the furry writing community… How much research do you do into the template species you use for your characters? How much of their actions/behavior/appearance/abilities is based upon the same traits in the template species, and how much is fanciful/imagined? How much value does the “species” of your character hold to your story beyond a purely symbolic one? Not meant to be a criticism - I am just genuinely curious. Obviously if we’re making animals walk upright and talk, wear clothing, etc., we are already departing significantly from the template of the “real” animal. But how much do you, personally, depart, and still call the creature a red fox, a long-tailed weasel, a marmoset, etc.?

Thanks for your time. I’ve been wondering about this for a while! :slight_smile:

I can’t speak for other people, but I tend to go a bit overboard when researching a critter for a story. When reading fiction, incorrect information will shatter my suspension of disbelief so I’m usually very careful about avoiding that in my own stories. Granted, there’s a bit of fudging the facts involved in an anthropomorphic critter, but I like to keep certain key traits if I can. (Cats see in the dark, wolves howl, etc.)

Everyone’s approach is different. I try not to make glaring errors-- though I have, particularly early-on-- but I also assume my reader probably hasn’t done even casual research on the matter. Since I’m writing a story rather than an article, I tend to sink most of my energy into characterization, theme, plot, etc. When I don’t like a specie’s natural attributes in a certain situation and don’t wish to bend to them, I remind the reader than an anthro is part-human and that this aspect of their nature has an effect as well.

One thing that I will say is that I tend not to appreciate it as a reader when someone not only does a ton of research, but then sort of feels obligated to use it all in the story in a manner that’s either inappropriate or simply doesn’t fit well. When reading fiction, I don’t need a lecture on guard-hairs or reflective retinas unless it’s truly pertinent. If more than one plot-point hangs on an unusual or little-known animal trait, that’s too much. The story starts to feel contrived, at least to me, and becomes more of a natural-history lecture than a tale I enjoy.

Again, this is just my own .02. This is a matter of taste, and tastes vary enormously.

I tend to write animals I’m reasonably familiar with - cats, dogs, foxes - and steer clear of more out-there species, though I’m sure I make mistakes. There’s also a tendency to fall into what TV Tropes calls All Animals Are Dogs, and have every species use doglike ear and tail movements to show emotion.

Sometimes a point of biology or behaviour can seem like a wonderful gift to the story and fill in a key detail or even take the plot in a direction you didn’t plan. This also ties in with furries-as-symbolism, when you either follow lifelike behaviours or turn them upside-down.

And quite often, I use the comic strip approach, where my characters are more or less people in animal costumes and I only refer to species behaviour in order to make a joke along dogs-chase-cats-chase mice lines.

Like Searska, I look a lot into the critters I’m writing about. But then I sort of pick and choose what would fit the story best. They’re animals with human characteristics, so if a human failing serves the story, they’ll end up being more human than animal. On the other hand, if they’re a stealth warrior skulking through the forest, that night vision of the bobcat might be just what the story needs … so it’s all contextual.

A sword brings distance though. If I can cut you before you bite me, I have won. A lot of fighting and battles involve distance and the variety of weapons out there show further this line of optimal distances for weapons. “Never bring a knife to a gun fight”. Also when adding in the human aspect, it may be more respectable to fight with a sword while only a dirty rat uses his teeth. In hand-to-hand competitions you could bite your opponent, but this is looked down upon. (Do people still remember when Tyson bit off Holyfield’s ear?)

You can use fangs and claws as another toolbox in my character’s arsenal. It’s another character trait and one they should be familiar with. It’s also a way to show world building by why or why not they’re using their natural abilities.

I research extensively on species. Sometimes too much, really. I have to force myself to no more than 4 hours of research per species, and no more trying to look up obscure veterinary manuals for African bush species. (True story.)

Actually one day I’d love to write a House-esque medical drama centered around the freaky weird/fun facts of veterinary medicine, as applied to exotic species. I’m really big into atavism of anthropomorphic characters, and something like a medical drama demands that that atavism be plot-centric.

Whenever possible, if I go to a zoo or aquarium, I try to pay special attention to how animals of a species interact with each other, and express emotional states. Look for social interactions within a species and cross-species. Some gestures are infra-species, such as the ‘play bow’, which can be seen across most four-legged mammals on earth. Other gestures are conspecific.

One of the reasons that I haven’t written more is that I keep getting hung up on the differences between real animal abilities and instincts and the requirements of furry fiction.

Of the three stories I’ve had published, one, “Family Life” (in “Allasso” vol. 3) makes the point that an anthro dog and goat would not be biologically compatible. But if we’re dealing with fantasy, why couldn’t they be biologically compatible as well? I suppose they could be – but then this would just be a funny-animal story; too uninteresting for me to write. Mary Lowd repeats this problem in her “When a Cat Meets a Dog”.

In “Growing Fur” (in “The Furry Future”), I explored what civilization would be like if humans had fur. Would they wear clothes as well? Probably not, except for harnesses or loose vests for pockets, loose change, and the like.

In “Clearance Papers” (“ROAR” vol. 6), I briefly described aliens who look like bipedal humanoid otters with thick fur. Again, no clothes except harnesses to hold pockets. There is a s-f novel, “Cat’s Pawn” by Leslie Gadallah, about a human stranded on a planet of intelligent felines. They don’t wear clothing because they have fur, and they don’t understand why he insists on keeping all his clothes on as well.

I always find it confusing when people suggest something is “correct” or “incorrect.”

The characters in my primary universe are from genetically-modified human stock. They were designed, initially, and evolved from there. My arctic fox characters, for example, do not undergo seasonal changes to their fur color, but they also walk on two legs rather than four, wear clothes, spend most of their time in climate-controlled environments, have human features like opposable thumbs, have reproductive configuration more similar to a human (which allowins normal and cross-species reproduction) and so on.

Yes, I’m aware that in nature arctic foxes do not have opposable thumbs.

My characters are exactly correct in my context, and while I’ve done plenty of research and considered the interplay of variations carefully in most cases, all I can categorically say is that they were designed to be perfectly functional in their society. Given another setting, they might have evolved to be perfectly functional in their society. Unless someone is talking factually about vulpes lagopus in its native habitat on earth, how any other fact applies is generally at the author’s discretion, within the constraints of believability.

My 2¢.


Yes, I’ve also noticed that at least one group of arctic foxes in your novel “naturally” have purple hair.

I think it’s perfectly fine for authors to write whatever, so long as they’re consistent about it.

If one species has a seasonal reproductive cycle and relies more on scent than vision I’d expect every other species to be similarly animalistic. If another species is essentially human with fur and muzzles there had better be an explanation why they’re an exception.

For instance, in my primary universe the characters fall under two categories: “Parahumans” and “Uplifts”. Parahumans are mostly human, with just enough animal genes to look distinctly non-human, and once they unlock their reproductive capability most of the following generations are hybrids. Uplifts are animals modified for speech and human-level intelligence, such as primates, parrots, octopi; they’re more like real-life animals.