Hello, furballs, and welcome to the next part of my little writer's assistance guide! In my earlier guides, you've learned a bit about how to fight your way through writer's block, how to craft deeper characters and intricate settings amongst other things. What we're going to discuss here now is something that applies to all of the writers who are reading this: the anthropomorphic forms of the furry fandom that we love and hold dear.
First, a reiteration of some core facts about this guide. I am NOT a trained writer. I've done no courses, no workshops. I don't attend any writers groups, and I don't claim to have professional knowledge. I HAVE been writing for over ten years, and I HAVE sought out the knowledge that I can to improve my skills. However, this little guide is going to have little to nothing to do with technical writing, if I have my way. Rather, this guide is being provided as a way to motivate and inspire other writers here on this site. I'm not going to tell you what to write, or how to write. I only hope to provide you with some mental 'tools' that will allow you to craft your words to their greatest potential. That said, let us begin!
The next lesson is this: Writers show their thoughts through words, not pictures; an anthro without proper imagery is just a human!
This is a lesson that I still struggle with from time to time in my shorter works, the likes of which are commonly found on FA and SF. We all take part in a fandom where we assume so much about our characters, where it's so easy to simply state that Bill is a 'fox' and Harriet is a 'lioness' and we understand exactly what that means. It is, I believe, bad writing though to simply assume that all your readers will simply understand the visual intricacies of your characters if that is all you give them to go by.
Why do we write with anthropomorphic characters? It all comes down to personal preference for most people. Personally, I write with anthros because I find that they're far more interesting and expressive than any human could ever be. Take the expression of embarrassment. A human blushes and looks away. A wolf, however, could splay his ears back, tuck his tail between his legs, and drop his gaze (and we usually add the blush in anyway, as a characteristic response depicting this reaction). The diversity of expression is immense when you delve into anthropomorphic characters, and it is this diversity of expression that finds me drawn so strongly to writing furry works.
Yet the problem I have with my short pieces is a problem I see other writers in the fandom with all the time. We make the mistake I outlined above, where we state the species and little else. We carry on and write, and we leave it up to the mind of the reader to fill in the blanks. While I certainly believe that a large part of the scene of any story needs to be left up to the reader's imagination to fill, I believe that to use non-human characters without doing their species justice cheapens the work as a whole.
It doesn't take much to learn what different animals do in nature when they react to certain things. The information is all over the internet, for one, and we exist in a fandom where we can simply go ask other members what certain species behave like. It is through this little bit of research that a writer is able to take their furry character and elevate them above being 'just' a fox or 'just' a lioness. Description of uniquely anthro and animalistic properties in the characters lends them a sense of realism that deepens the experience of the story. It helps to keep the reader immersed in the world, while giving them a clear view of the characters that are playing across the page.
Take the two scenes below for an example of what I mean:
Terry bounded over towards Simon. The fox grinned wide as he pounced the startled coyote and pinned him down against the ground.
Christie's hackles raised as her teeth flashed into view, the wolf's ears flat atop her head as she offered a warning growl. Completely oblivious, Sarah simply grinned wide as her tail lashed back and forth excitedly.
The first little piece works. It's basic, but it works. We have this mental image in our heads of a fox pouncing a coyote, I'm sure. It's very, very simple, though. The second example however utilizes the animalistic nature of the character to present a completely different scene. By tapping into lupine gestures, we get a much more vivid view of an angry wolfess. It heightens the reader's awareness of the character's nature, mood and behavior when we tap into the core of what makes these characters what they are. I would wager that most of us appreciate anthropomorphic characters for their similarity to animals, not to humans. Why then do we do them the disservice of neglecting their animal nature?
The answer to that question is a simple one: we don't. Not deliberately, anyway. We forget to add these little details, more often than not because they're right there in our heads as we're writing. We know instinctively how the characters are going to behave and what they act like. Those who haven't done the research on the animals that their characters are based on probably do it anyway; they see the wriggling tail of a feline at play, the tucked tail of a scared canine, and they file it away subconsciously to use later. And because that information is inside your head, it's referenced when you write. I believe that, more often than not, the failure to integrate this knowledge into writing is simply the assumption that the writer in fact had translated it to the page.
This misconception is easy to make. After all, it's based on the same principle of why we need to give ourselves time before we make an editing pass on our stories (as mentioned back in my guide on Revision). We simply don't see these mistakes we're making, because in our mind we're putting the pieces together ourselves. We know exactly how things are meant to go, and so those blanks go unnoticed to us. We fill them in automatically. Our readers, however, are unable to. Some make the jump, and don't even notice how we've neglected the subtle mannerisms of our anthro characters. Others, however, will notice.
So, how do we make ourselves more aware of these little nuances? Only with time, practice and effort, I'm afraid. Force yourself to become more aware of the little things that your characters can do to make themselves seem more 'real' and you should find, in time, that you automatically will make reference to the actions that make the animal aspect of them seem right, rather than tacked on. We enjoy our literature with anthropomorphic animals in them, not with humans covered in fur who are named after those animals.
But I hear you cry, "Fae, what about dragons and other mythical creatures, or aliens? What do we do about them?" Well, that's a simple enough thing to cover, too, and it's done in the same way. A lot of mythical creatures are based on existing creatures (gryphons, the Pegasus, etc), and in that you have easy access to a large base of easily-accessible behavior. Some creatures don't have much for baseline comparison (dragons are, arguably, an example of this), and in that you have a lot more freedom. Try referencing the mannerisms used by other furry writers for these kinds of characters, and you might find something you can use.
If you're creating your own race of beings however, things become a little more... fun. As I've said, the little behavioral differences between a fox and a human mean the difference between a proper anthropomorphic creation and a human with vulpine ears tacked on. The same holds true for completely original species. First, consider what you're using as the base for your new creation. You're probably going to use something that's gone before as an inspiration. If you're going down the path of a species that ends up looking (mostly) like an anthro animal, then the process is the same as describing how such an anthro would behave. Just be sure to make references to the little differences between your creation and an ordinary anthro animal, or you risk a lack of differentiation between your species and the base creature.
The real fun comes in when you're wildly deviating from the norm with your new species. If we assume for a moment that they take a humanoid form (for the sake of argument), then you're best to focus on fur (fluffing and spiking could indicate fear or anger and aggression), ears (swiveling, twitching, flattening), muzzles (and specifically the display of teeth), eyes (narrowing, widening), tails if they have them (tucking, wagging, lashing), claws (extending, retracting), and the like. If they add more unusual features, use them! Take those aspects that make your species different from others, and use those new features to display how your character feels and thinks.
Creation of a non-human character is a simple process, but translation of the visual ideal of that character can be very hit-and-miss. In shorter pieces that only really see attention inside the furry fandom, we can perhaps be forgiven for our assumption that readers will simply pick up and 'get' how our characters look. However, if we consider showing our works to others, a policy of assuming that the reader has never seen an anthropomorphic character before allows us to better show them our vision of the world we've created and the characters that inhabit it. It's the difference between characters that a furry can understand, and characters that anyone can grasp.
So, bullet point tiems nao. What have we learned?
- We write anthropomorphic characters because we enjoy their diversity. Use it in your writing!
- Research the natural behavior of various animals before you write their anthropomorphic counterparts, to better capture their little quirks.
- Don't assume that the reader is capable of inferring the depth of a character's physical responses from simply giving their species; show how the character feels with how they behave.
- Practice, practice, practice! Eventually, using those animal mannerisms will become second nature!
- Most mythical creatures have a simple baseline creature used as their 'template' of sorts. Understand that, and you understand the myth.
- If you can't find information from general research, check other furry writers for how they convey emotion through mannerism.
- When creating a new species entirely, reference the base creature you're basing them on for their mannerisms. Make sure you add new mannerisms based on the unique physical differences of your new species!
With just a little bit of extra effort, any writer can take a simple, anthropomorphic character and create something far more lively and 'real' than they otherwise would be. Take note of that which makes your characters unique, use that uniqueness when expressing the character's emotions, and your readers will praise your attention to detail!
Every story has the main character, a protagonist that is followed from start to end. Every story has a villain, be they another person, a situation, or something intangible, that seeks to stop the protagonist at every turn. The flashy, delicate dance between these two sides is what lies at the heart of any story. Next time, we're going to dip into my thoughts on hero and villain characters, and what we as writers can do to give them that extra little spark to completely enthrall our readers. Until then though, take care and keep writing!