“Authors like cats because they are such quiet, lovable, wise creatures, and cats like authors for the same reason.” —Robertson Davies
The genre of furry, or anthropomorphic, fiction deserves a few specific comments as to the how, why, what, and so on. I’ll start right at the beginning and answer the question on most writers’ (and readers’) minds: Why write furry?
My short story “The Dare” was published in the first volume of the literary magazine Allasso, several years ago. On his site Flayrah, writer/critic Fred Patten seemed rather dismissive in his opinion of my story; all he said was that it “didn’t need to be furry.” Mr. Patten is most certainly welcome to his opinion; that’s not my point. The simple truth is that no story “needs” to be furry, with two exceptions: Transformation (the subject of the story transforms from human to furry, or vice versa) and Societal Conflict (humans and furries co-existing, for good or ill). There is no other reason why a story “needs” to be furry. Consequently, I must assume that Mr. Patten feels that nearly all furry fiction is not necessary, including (or perhaps especially) the fiction written by the luminaries of the genre, such as those whose work he finds more suitable to his palate.
So why write furry?
How about BECAUSE YOU WANT TO?!
And more than that, the furryverse offers a vast, wide-ranging, virtually unlimited palette of creative possibility based simply on the fact that your characters are, at their root, animals (of sorts) other than mere humans. The way so much of the human race is devolving, especially here in the USA, I would much rather spend time with more sophisticated and rational species, so hey-ho for the furryverse.
“The detective story, which is of course, only one kind in the broad spectrum of crime writing, which can stretch from the cozy certainties of Mayhem Parva to Dostoevsky’s Crime and Punishment, is admittedly an artificial form. But all fiction is artificial. It is the selection of the writer’s internal compulsions and preoccupations and external experience in a form which he or she hopes will satisfy the reader’s expectations, while conforming to Henry James’ definition of the purpose of a novel: ‘To help the human heart to know itself.’ ” —P. D. James, in her after-notes of the novel Death in Holy Orders
Quick Notice From the Political Correctness Enforcement Committee: I’m going to use “furry” in these blogs as a generic term. I’m not trying to ignore those with scales, feathers, fins, beaks, combinations thereof, or anything else that I’ve missed. Some of my best friends are scaly. It’s just easier to use the generic term. I might also use “anthromorphs” or “therianthropes” (or “therians”), even though they’re not literally identical terms. It’s just to save a bit of time. We downwiddat? Coo’. Bro-hoof. On we go.
Woof Woof It’s the Animal In Me
If you know that reference, you’re probably an aficionado of 1930s swing music, are gay, love Harvey Fierstein, or all three. Never mind; we’re here to talk about furry writing.
From the standpoint of literature (and barring the rather exclusive restrictions mentioned above), there are two primary reasons for using your furry characters in your story: They fit the character, or they fit the plot. There’s also the strong probability that you just plain want to write about furries, but let’s take a quick look at these two ideas first.
A Quick Glimpse of Furry Characters
We’ll be taking many looks at the aspect of character in your writing, but right now, let’s take a look at some things that will make your furry character have good reason to be furry. The first thing that pops to mind is that anthropomorphic characters are (ordinarily) still very much in touch with their animal natures, and therefore their senses are far more acute than those of mere humans. Scent becomes the most obvious factor, especially with canine characters. Touch becomes a major factor with, say, dolphins and other non-furred species for whom skin has become a primary sense organ. Sight and hearing are markedly superior, across nearly all species, compared to humans.
Another reason for using a furry character might be to contrast what is known about their species versus what they, as your character, really are. In my story series Expectations and Permissions, University Dean of Students Nelson Williamson is a wolverine; he is intelligent, calm, diplomatic, and even fun-loving, which goes against the stereotype of being easily-angered, fierce, ready to fight first and ask questions later. When angered by something, Nelson fights fiercely, but with words and his power as Dean, not with his claws. By using an animal’s stereotypical aspects, you can work “against type,” which adds richness and depth to your character. How did he get this way? What issues has it caused him, in his personal and working lives, in his family, in society? Or if he embraces his stereotype, does that limit him or amplify him? Look at ways your character both is and is not “of his species”; that will give you a rich palette to paint your story from. (Or “from which you may paint your story,” if you want to worry about ending a sentence with a preposition… but that’s mechanics, not story-telling; we’ll talk more about that later.)
An Equally Quick Glimpse of Furry Plots (or Plotz, if you speak Yiddish)
Using anthromorphs in a story provides some excellent opportunities to use that furriness as part of the plot. I’m old enough to remember the first time a white male kissed a black female on television (November 22, 1968 — Star Trek, “Plato’s Stepchildren”). This was considered “shocking” at the time, but it was set in a science fiction background, so the proud bigots of my benighted country weren’t too threatened. The point is that a fictional background like this gives you a chance to make plots and plot points pivot around a concept in a less-threatening manner than addressing them head-on. With luck, this will allow you to get your point across without threatening the reader openly.
The greatest short novella (right at 30,000 words) of anthropomorphism proving a social point to the world was George Orwell’s Animal Farm. First published 70 years ago, the book shows how the true essence of democratic socialism (or, some would say, essential communism) was subverted into fascism, as had happened in the Soviet Union of the day. In the detective-noir style of the graphic novel Blacksad (created by Canales and Guardino), certain species are presented stereotypically according to their actions — the detective is feline (curiosity), the information leak is a rat (“ratted out” or “ratted on”), the police detective is a German Shepherd (“dogged” determination, perhaps? Also, “police dogs”), and so on.
In a less direct sense, however, your plot could revolve around your furry characters precisely because they’re furry. I will risk defending myself against Mr. Patten’s observations by saying that my short story “needed” to be furry in that the young bear, caught touching himself in the cloakroom, did what he did because of the heightened senses of the furry. He had been dared to go find a young female’s gym pants and sniff them, and his keen sense of smell and his burgeoning adolescence combined to make the urge to touch himself irresistible; the animal senses and more direct connection to a procreative urge were the exact reason for the use of a young fur as the “victim of circumstance.” The essence (no pun intended) of the story is what the principal of the school chooses to do to “correct” the matter. In a human world, a young boy’s response might not have been as “automatic” (or perhaps “primal,” if you will), and in the human world, I can almost guarantee that no adult faculty or principal in the country would react with the compassion as did my tiger Principal Ryan.
This becomes part of the quality of both character and plot in the writing of furry fiction. There is an unattributed quote to the effect that “The difference between a human and a wolf is that a wolf is more humane.” Through furry writing, we have the ability to explore the full panoply of what it means to be human… or, if we’re lucky, more than human.
The epic of evolution that begins with the big bang provides a vision of the universe as a single reality, one long spectacular process of change and development, an unfolding drama, a universal story for humankind–our story. Like no other story it humbles us as we contemplate the complexity of the cosmic process, and it amazes us when we try to imagine its magnitude. Like no other story it evokes reverence as we feel its power, and awe and wonder as we visualize its beauty. Like no other story it gives us a scientifically based cosmology that tells us how we came to be and what we are made of… Like no other story it teaches us that we are all members of one family sharing the same genetic code and a similar history, and it evokes gratitude for the gift of life itself and inspiration for responsible living. Like no other story it gives meaning and purpose to human beings as the agents responsible for the current and future stage of evolution, psycho-social evolution. Like no other story it provides the individual with a meaningful worldview and a sense of belonging to a larger whole. —William Murry, Becoming More Fully Human