A bit about writing furry characters by MLR

"Humans in furry suits", I think was the quote. Or "humans in animals suits", or something like that. It got bandied around a lot back when I was still involved with the furry writing community. I started to think about it again recently when I picked up a book that's been sitting untouched in my Kindle account for a few years now, one the author advertised and wanted to be reviewed to get it some more attention on Amazon. And no, I shall not slander the author by stating which book.

There's a couple layers to this, I think. The top layer is easy to fix, theoretically. In reading your typical furry story, you tend to run across phrases like this: "He woke up in a cold sweat", or "He pushed a lock of hair behind his ear". In fact, you may notice, you tend to run across these phrases in your typical story, period. They are used as cliche actions that characters make to express emotions without stating them outright. But it needs not be stated perhaps that in typical fiction, the characters making these motions are human.

In this case, let's say the character is a fox.


So, yeah. When would you ever get the impression that either of those two phrases was describing a character who is a fox? Or a wolf, or a bobcat, or an anything other than a human? A horse, maybe, but even then you get this weird picture of a horse lifting up its hoof and brushing part of its mane behind its ear, and... yeah....

Anyway, you get the point. And so authors try to fix this by occasionally throwing out reminders, using 'paw' instead of 'hand', making slant references to fur or whiskers or whatever. But if you don't do that frequently, because the rest of the time you're using these cliche phrases you find in all of fiction that describe humans, the reader easily forgets that these aren't human characters they're reading about, and the sudden reference to a paw is jarring. That's been my experience reading this particular novel on my Kindle.

So, furry writers, please: have more fun with your genre. When you start editing, pull a Thomas Nagel. What does it feel like to be a fox? What is it like physically, and what is it like mentally? How does it influence your personality? You don't sweat; you pant. Your color vision is more limited than a human's, and you're pretty near-sighted, so you don't get quite as much from a beautiful sunset. But your eyes are super sharp at catching motion and act like little mirrors at night. Your senses of smell and hearing are incredible, so you find yourself relying on them more than your eyes. Also, you're not a pack animal: you don't go for the whole 'complex social hierarchy' thing that dogs and primates seem to love so much. Your mom kicks you out of the den when you're a teenager and you have to go find your own little patch of territory, and then later on you meet a lady or a man you like and you stick together for the rest of your lives. You get a rush from killing things, you're cool with nibbling off a rotting carcass, with digging around in the garbage. Sometimes your anal glands really act up and you start to smell worse than a skunk. You get to know who's in the neighborhood by sniffing their pee.

You get the point. This is supposed to be fun, so have fun. And anyway, if you're not willing to try this kind of stuff, then you really have to ask yourself: why not just use human characters? If you can't think of a good answer, then just stick to publishing in places like Weasyl or FurAffinity, because no one else is going to understand the aesthetic.

P.S. And try not to use cliche sentences even if you are writing human characters. This is what I have learned: the fun part of writing a rough draft is plot, and the fun part of editing is language.

A bit about writing furry characters


24 June 2017 at 12:00:27 MDT

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    I mentioned this before and got slack for it. Probably one of the reasons I distanced myself from the community and backed away from the FWG. And yet, you brought up way better examples then I did.

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      Out of curiosity, what's the argument in favor of NOT doing this when using furry characters? In other words, why did you get slack for it?

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        Because most people wanted, in my opinion, to substantiate their own type writing. They said they felt the plot was more important than the furry aspect or they just like animal people and don't care if they can simply be replaced with humans.

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          Oh, okay. So there is no argument.
          I mean, if you plan on keeping your writing within the furry fandom for all time, I think using furries for the sake of it is perfectly fine. It's accepted within the community. But if you ever want to branch out....

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            I've found a lot of the defense of it anymore does just boil down to "We're writing for a furry audience, so 'because furries' is just as legit a defense as anything." (I also once heard something to the effect of "Artists don't have to justify using furry characters, so why should we," never mind that you're talking two completely different media.)

            The notion of asking 'why is this character a fox, and how that should affect the story' seems to be looked on these days as old-fashioned or nitpicking (or my favorite word, "elitist"), or I find often people still take it to mean "you have to have an origin story for where your anthro people came from," which was never the point to begin with.

            Like Duroc, I've found it's become a somewhat unpopular stance, and I've gotten tired of debating it, so these days I tend to just move on whenever it comes up.

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              To a certain extent I agree with this: "Artists don't have to justify using furry characters, so why should we", but again, only if you're planning on keeping your stuff wholly within the fandom. Furries don't question why the characters are animals, even if there's utterly no point to it within the story itself, so... you know, fine.

              It almost sounds like people are not quite clear on what people like you, me, and Duroc actually mean when we say these things. Maybe we're all not even clear. Like, I don't think you always have to have a plot (or thematic, or whatever) reason to use an anthro character; the point I was making in this journal entry, for example, is that I see absolutely no point in having anthro characters if you don't even do the bare minimum to establish their non-human-ness (and no, just saying "the fox" or "the bear" instead of "the man" doesn't count). The thing I like about writing furries IS the non-humanity. I like writing from an alien perspective. It's fun. And that's where I agree with you that writing and art are different media -- in art, you're stuck with just a picture (unless you're really good), but in writing you can go beyond that. My issue is then that so many furry authors choose not to.

              Is the furry writing community a ghetto? I know there's some good authors floating around, but I feel like even the good authors can't blossom as much as they would be able to in the wider publishing world. Like, how many furry authors get MFAs in creative writing?

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                I don't know about it being a ghetto or holding writers back, necessarily. It's a niche (at least for those who confine themselves to it outright instead of writing furry from a f/sf perspective), so in that way it's a potential place for authors who probably wouldn't be able to sell their work elsewhere. That said, it's also a place where yes, the bar is set much lower than mainstream traditional publishing (both in terms of short stories and book-length works), and that makes it a comfortable place to be. I mean, I know that if I write something novella- or novel-length that has animal characters, there's probably about a 90% chance I can get it published in the fandom. That's like the mirror opposite of traditional publishing, and better than straight-out indie because the small press can handle the layout, distribution, etc. that otherwise I'd have to do for self-pub. The tradeoff is a much smaller overall audience and lower sales, but I can understand authors feeling like they'd rather have that than spend years trying to get an agent and get published by a big press, and maybe not be a huge success in that realm anyway. (And again, if your reason for including anthro characters is "because furries," then it's probably not saleable elsewhere to begin with, so those authors have no incentive to pursue anything beyond the fandom)

                I guess the question becomes, what pushes authors to become better? Is it the external high stakes of trying to be good enough to get published, or more of an internal motivation, or a combination? An MFA is no requirement for excellent writing in other genres. (I know at least a couple of furry writers have gone to Clarion, but any six-week workshop requires a significant investment of money and time that a lot of writers of any sort just aren't going to have.) I still feel we need more critical reviews, not so much in the sense of directly helping the author, but just in raising the bar as far as what's considered top-level -- the way furry art has definitely evolved over the past 15 years or so. From what I've heard, the quality level of short story submissions to anthologies and magazines like Heat has gone up considerably even just in recent years, so though that's subjective, I take it as a good sign.

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                  I guess furrydom is just a small town, in the end. Kind of what turned me off.... It's so easy to find people willing to pat your back (even if your work is really not all that special) that it becomes hard to recognize when you're actually stagnating.