Furry Cred in Furry Literature; A Furry Opinion

Being an old curmudgeon, I tend not to put a lot of credence in the opinions of others until I’ve established who they are and what they’ve accomplished. I don’t accept medical advice from non-doctors or nurses, for example. Similarly, should I ever experience legal difficulties I’ll spend the money to see an actual lawyer, not ask the patrons of a local bar what they think about the matter. Credibility, in other words, is an important aspect of human existence, and has been ever since we learned to communicate. It’s important, something we weigh and evaluate constantly while going about our everyday lives. Doctors and lawyers are pretty credible as a rule, in part because they belong to professional associations and go through certification processes that at least attempt to keep them that way. But… Is the car salesman who claims you can easily afford what seems to be an outlandishly high monthly payment entirely credible? Or, for that matter, a politician seeking your vote? Just possibly not.

In keeping with the above theme, let me therefore establish my own credentials and perhaps earn a bit of trust in my own right. I’ve been writing furry fiction—mostly transformation-themed—since about 1997. That’s a literary career of almost twenty years and counting. To clarify, I don’t mean that I’ve been poking around at writing for that long, or that I’ve written a story here and there over that period of time. Rather, I’ve been a serious, high-output furry writer for almost two decades, having written roughly twenty-five published novels and novellas, probably about the same number of short stories, and maybe another hundred mostly “internet storyverse” works of various lengths. Accomplishing this— alongside maintaining a full-time job and owning my own home— has required me, in essence, to think about furry fiction and very little but furry fiction and the furry characters which define it for many hours a week, over a span of time that constitutes most of the history of the fandom to date.

Perhaps the thing I think about the most is, why should a given character be furry in the first place?

As mentioned above, I’m mostly a transformation author. When you approach the problem from that angle, the need to ask the “Why?” question is perhaps a bit more obvious. If you start with someone as human and want them to end up as something else, well… That’s something clearly out of the ordinary and the need for a credible explanation is glaringly obvious. Having written so much along these lines, I’ve come up with more different rationales than I can possibly list here. Sometimes, in science fiction settings, it’s been for a movie role or to perform in interstellar circuses or for animal research— I can’t possibly list them all. Other times, in less scientifically rigorous settings, my change agent has been an implausible virus or even outright magic. The bottom line, however, is this— If you’re going to start with a human and make any sort of ex-human out of him, there must be some sort of justification or else the whole thing is pointless. It’s almost inconceivable, even. As I type this I’m trying to form of a coherent picture of how I’d even approach writing such a piece, but my brain-boggler is spinning twice as fast as my imaginator; I can’t gain sufficient traction to get anywhere. A coherent transformation story lacking a credible reason for the Big Change is virtually inconceivable.

Somewhere along the way, while writing all these dozens of works of transformation fiction that required a justification for the transformation, I slowly came to a realization. Not only was coming up with a plausible explanation for the TF vital to the work’s credibility, but it improved the story in myriad other ways as well. For one thing, it often in and of itself suggested a plotline. Take “man goes anthro to make a movie”, for example. What an enormous treasure-trove that gives you, as an author! You’ve got your protagonist and his motivation right there, handed to you on a platter. A setting too, if you want to use it— the movie-set itself! You have a bajillion and six sources of potential conflict— rival co-stars, directors, funding, the actor dealing with his new shape…. You can go anywhere! In my own case, I decided that the movie would never be made due to world financial collapse. The protagonist was instead forced to pioneer an entirely new kind of life, working out new ways to leverage and explore his innate talents and gaining new insights via surviving a series of not-entirely-human adventures. Eventually he grew to the point that when what amounted to God was about to be born via the same technology that enabled his own transformation, my protagonist was there ready and waiting to make it all possible. Thus, my first novel practically wrote itself.

All of this originated from “How can I justify this transformation and thereby make it credible to my readers?” If you had a few hours, even all these years later I could still relate almost every step of the process. Indeed, these are among my happiest memories.

It never ceases to amaze me, how powerful this magic is— I’ve thought about it rather a lot, since first figuring it out. My current working theory is that creating credible transformations (and please be patient, Dear Reader— we’re going to work our way back around to mainstream furry, I promise!) not only does away with half the actual work of storywriting, but also and more importantly forces the would-be author to introduce a bit of badly-needed discipline into their own thinking. Take the example above— in order to created a transformed movie-star, I had to devote considerable skull-sweat to the technology required. After all, for the transformation to be truly credible it couldn’t just be a magic box. What might the world that created such tech look like? What might its other capabilities be, and how might they be abused? How would my protagonist’s life— or even his entire world— be affected by such factors? Most importantly of all, how much of this has real story-potential and how much much “fictional oomph” can be extracted from it?

Lots, usually! Tons and tons! More than you ever dare dream of, going in.

All of this is of course familiar territory to students of science fiction. In a sense, my “sudden insight” as to the importance of a credible transformation mechanism in writing TF stories was nothing more than a not-so-original variation on SF’s “what-if” premise. (Indeed, being a long-time science fiction fan myself, I’m a bit ashamed it took me so long to perceive the connection.) It’s almost not going too far to say that the entire SF genre is built on postulating an important change in the status quo— technological, sociological, environmental, even sometimes cultural— and exploring the ramifications thereof via the adventures of a protagonist. While my flavor of transformation fiction doubles down on this— not only has the status quo changed, but the lens through which the protagonist views it as well— the connection is obvious. Establishing credible explanations for why my characters became something other than what they once were practically forced me to tap into the same mechanisms and conventions— and employ the same rigorous creative discipline— that’ve made science fiction the enormously popular artistic success that it is. Even when employing magical or mystical causations, the very act of providing a defined causation at all, a reason why and a mechanism by which it all happened— and then rigorously incorporating this into all that follows— lends my work an air of confidence and, even more importantly, a sense of credibility and therefore believability. And how immensely grateful I am for it!

For… Isn’t willing suspension of disbelief the very first hurdle an author must conquer?

By the time I finally got around to writing significant amounts of “conventional” (by which I mean non-TF) furry fiction, I’d already long since taken this lesson to heart and incorporated it deeply into my writing process. Therefore, it’s natural that long before ever touching my fingers to the keyboard I firmly establish in my head why my characters are anthropomorphic. I’ve not yet written nearly as much conventional furry as TF stuff, so I haven’t explored nearly so many justifications. Despite this, precisely the same creative pattern has emerged. Once I work out why there are anthrocreatures in a given setting, the who, what, where and when become relatively simple and practically take care of themselves. Why is the only real toughie, and I think that’s the reason it’s such a stumbling block for so many authors.

The problem is that, unless you’re writing strictly for a furry-fandom audience, and not even all of that, it’s also a world-class stumbling-block for readers. Even I—and, I assure you, I’m a fur to the bone—can’t read a furry story in which the anthros “just are” without at some point wincing. While someday this may no longer hold true as we insinuate our soft, furry flexibility-of-viewpoint ever deeper into the soul of mainstream culture, for now and for many years to come unjustified anthros are and shall for most people remain absolutely lethal to willing suspension of disbelief. If an author seeks to be read outside the fandom, this becomes a huge factor. If after writing a million words of mostly-furry fiction (and probably far more) I still need some sort of justification in order to suspend my disbelief, then how can Jane and Joe Averagereader be expected to react? “Huh?” and a blank stare immediately followed by a search for something a bit easier to swallow is about the best one can hope for. And, as we all know but seldom admit, the reaction is usually even worse. Cartoons and such get relatively a free pass on this subject, yes. There’s something fundamentally different about how stories presented in a visual versus written medium are perceived— I suspect it may have something to do with the principle that being presented with a ready-made visual image is less mentally taxing (and therefore engenders less critical thought and mental intimacy) than constructing something from scratch in one’s own mind. If I want my literary work to be taken seriously, however, at some point I must not only explain why my bunnies are bunnies and not either ordinary people or many-tentacled octopods, but also smoothly incorporate said reason into the larger work. Not only must it be justified factually, but artistically as well. Even the work’s overall theme must reflect its innate anthropomorphism, or it’ll fall flat on its face and never be read by more than a handful.

(Unless it’s furry-porn, of course. Though, I’d submit, even there the existence of the anthropomorphic characters in a sense logically justified. Not in the author’s work, mind you. But rather, in the reader’s mind and libido. In this highly-specific case it’s a safe assumption that no further explanation is required.)

Given the overwhelming story-structuring and audience-widening benefits that almost automatically accrue from writing credible furries— whether scientifically/magically or (less commonly, and potentially the subject of another furry-literary essay entirely) through subtle shadings of symbolism a la Richard Adams and Rudyard Kipling, I often wonder why more authors don’t take advantage of the practice. Is it merely a matter of stylistic difference? Does it perhaps seem like too much work? Or… Perhaps many of our writers have descended so far down the rabbit hole in the furry sense that they’ve lost touch with the artistic sensibilities of “normal” people?

It’s not for me to say, any more than it’s ultimately my place to judge what does and does not constitute a good story. In the end there’s no right or wrong way to write, or for that matter to create any other sort of art. Personal taste is in the end its own utterly inexplicable justification. As my grandfather used to point out, they paint some cars red and some green. Certain people won’t own anything but green, while others insist on the exact opposite. In the end, even though neither group can justify themselves logically, the manufacturer has to offer both in order to please everyone. And yet… As a writer of considerable experience it is, I think, proper for me to point out the advantages of thinking things all the way through and establishing the existence of your furry characters as both credible and believable. It really does, in my experience, tend to create stronger, more thoughtful and better-reasoned works, while in the long run requiring only a fraction of the effort. Ultimately it’s also the secret of how I’ve been able to average well over a novel a year plus write tons of other stuffs over such an extended period of time.

Sweat the details, is what I’m trying to say. Justifying your furryverse may appear difficult at first, but in reality the justifications are as limitless as your own imagination. Who knows? You may find the benefits to be…

…In-credible.

About Rabbit

Rabbit Is the author of over thirty published furry novels and novellas as well as numerous columns and articles in other furry venues. He's a retired Tennessee auto worker.

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5 thoughts on “Furry Cred in Furry Literature; A Furry Opinion

  1. Phil, interesting stuff. It’s fascinating how any consideration of the “Big Change” (as you put it) that’s central to TF fiction naturally leads to speculative genre fiction, be that fantasy or science fiction. It’s in these genres that most furry authors seem to write, as do you, and perhaps not coincidentally those authors are the ones proving more of a reason for why furry characters exist.

    You only touch on one key, credible, reason for there to be anthropomorphic characters: where they serve a metaphorical or allegorical purpose. Books like Animal Farm or The Master & Margarita come to mind, and while they are neither written by furries nor written for a furry audience, they incorporate anthropomorphics as successfully as any book.

    The key, for me, is that the anthros are there for a /reason/. If they are explained as an integral part of the story and universe, as in your work, that requirement is met. But they can also serve a symbolic role without explanation, standing out as a sign to the reader that they represent an unsaid message, a part of the book’s subtext. This is another arrow in the author’s quiver – a tool that can provide clarity to a complex idea, or indeed drive the plot forward.

    As an example I’d point towards Televassi’s wordy but excellent dissertation recently published here on [a][s]: Shape Shifting and Spatial Shifting: How the Hybrid Body Allows the Werewolf to Transgress and Resist Disciplinary Spatial Orderings of the World in Three Nineteenth Century Werewolf Tales (http://www.adjectivespecies.com/shape-shifting-and-spatial-shifting-werewolf-tales/).

    I also like very much how the content of your article here follows the same form as its content. Your premise relates to a premise itself “why should a furry character be furry”, and the idea “because it provides logical content and conflict to a story” logically provides the content and conflict for your article. When I read this, with its big mostly-hypothetical questions and bright-eyed responses, I can’t help but hear a reflection of your thought process when you are creating a world for a book. While I suspect you banged out this article in a tiny fraction of the time it takes me, it’s a nifty piece of writing.

    1. I definitely agree that there can be a symbolic gain without necessarily having an exact explanation for the anthro characters’ existence. I think too many furry writers hear this kind of “why are the characters furry?” argument and take away things like “okay, I have to include an origin story for where the furry characters come from,” or “the furriness of the characters has to be integral to the story’s plot.” If that’s something that works with the story, great, but I agree that what’s truly important is that the anthro characters be necessary to the _story_, whether that’s plot or subtext or otherwise. Taking a moment to consider how the story might be different with a human character — or just a character of a different species — can often give writers and readers some insight into what the anthro aspect adds, or doesn’t, to the story.

  2. As a reply to:

    “I often wonder why more authors don’t take advantage of the practice. Is it merely a matter of stylistic difference? Does it perhaps seem like too much work? Or… Perhaps many of our writers have descended so far down the rabbit hole in the furry sense that they’ve lost touch with the artistic sensibilities of ‘normal’ people?”

    I think the answer is “yes” in all cases, varying by author, and to that last point I would also add: because the audience doesn’t require it. I think there are a lot of readers who just want to see their own lives mirrored in furry characters — who basically want regular fiction with ears and tails — so there gets to be a feeling of, if you’re writing for the fandom, then your reason for using furry characters is, “I’m writing for the furry fandom, and they expect furry characters.” You don’t need more of a reason than that; you’re just following the convention of the furry genre.

    Whether that’s good or bad, it’s an attitude I definitely see among some furry readers and writers.

    1. I think you’ve hit on the reason that there is a problem, or at least a perceived problem. If you’re writing a furry book for a furry audience, you’re going to have furry characters in it. Yet that’s a weak motivation for such a big style choice, in the absence of a narrative (or symbolic) reason for those characters to be there.

      Many writers and readers don’t care whether there is justification for furry characters (outside of it being a by-furry for-furry book), and that’s totally fine. But I’m a reader – only a small fraction of what I read is furry – and I think that furries-for-no-reason is a costly choice. But then I suspect that many furry readers aren’t comparing furry books with other books, or possibly aren’t reading much outside of furry at all.

      In the end it’s just my point of view, as a single reader. I guess none of us have the gall, non even our contrarian author/Rabbit, to sit back and act as if we our opinion is objective. But when I’m reading something and I don’t understand why I’m being asked to keep track of characters’ species as well as everything else, and species is all but irrelevant to the book, I question whether that’s a choice made in my (just one reader with an opinion) interest.

  3. First of all, thank you both _very_ kindly– JM and Renee– for taking the time to read the article and leaving such kind, thoughtful comments.

    I quite deliberately failed to discuss the “literary” justifications for furry characters in depth– though I carefully acknowledged them in passing– for several reasons. First, an A/S article, IMO, ought only to be just so long and I was already pushing the limit. Second, the bulk of the piece was structured on my own experiences and reasoning-out processes, and to be quite frank I can think offhand of only one or (with a stretch) two stories I’ve personally written which employ a literary/symbolic/artsy-type justification for the existence of furries. Therefore, this clearly not being an area that much affected how I reached my conclusions, both honesty and the need for a clean “flow” to the article compelled me not to assign much weight to the matter. The third reason follows from the second. While I not only appreciate but respect the heck out of authors who can pull that sort of thing off with both skill and panache, that particular skill is pretty much absent from my own author’s toolkit, again in my own opinion. While I’ve sold one of the two “artsy-justified” stories cited above and still have high hopes for the second, I’m not also not about to tout either of them as among my proudest works. Literary-rooted justification isn’t a subject I feel that I can discuss in a credible manner, in other words, though perhaps– if I’m lucky and work at it hard enough– someday as my skills improve I’ll feel better about taking it on.

    For what it’s worth, when literary/symbolic/artsy-type justification is executed well, in my most sincere opinion, it generally produces superior results. Orwell, Adams and Kipling all pulled it off in five-star fashion, again in my opinion, and this a major part of why their work is immortal while mine is but insignificantly-read in comparison. Though I mentioned the technique only in passing, in other words, I didn’t mean to give it short-shrift or imply a lack of respect. In an earlier draft I went into greater depth on the matter for this very reason, but decided– partly based on the opinion of the others but also my own convictions– that it was better I not even attempt the plunge. Besides, my entire approach was flawed anyway– it’s far better for everyone involved that I’ve left that discussion to a bonafide expert.

    Who, I hope, will soon step forward and write an A/S article of their own on the subject. I can’t wait to read it, and learn!

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