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The Tail Tale
by Phil Geusz
©2003 Phil Geusz -- all rights reserved

It has often been said that most transformation fiction falls into three broad categories. These are furry, age regression, and transgender. While certainly there are many other types of transformation stories out there, and I've even written a few of them myself, I think that it is fair to say that these three broad categories do indeed predominate. This column on furry stories in intended to be the first of a series of three columns dealing with the ins and outs of writing each of these story types.

It is not at all hard to find furry fiction on the internet. However, it often seems far more difficult to find good furry fiction. This is because few fields of literary endeavor have become so stylized and cliché-ridden as furry fiction (though the transgender genre definitely takes the title). Indeed, one of the most hilarious pieces of work I have ever read was a spoof of furry transformational fiction. It was laid out as a sort of random story generator, in which rolls of the dice filled in key blanks in the tale of a young man made into a furry creature. As best I recall, the protagonist (who is fascinated by a randomly generated species of animal) enters a...

roll for store type
curiosity shop
shoe store
costume shop

...and encounters a...

roll for accessory type
old pelt
large ring
dog collar

...that he simply has to take home with him and try on. Then he...

roll for TF speed

...turns into an appropriate fur, morphed...

roll for morphing degree

...and his basic identity is...

roll for basic identity

As I said earlier, I consider this work to be one of the funniest things I've ever read. This is not only because it so perfectly parodies the typical furry transformation story, but also because the thing is so well crafted that the resulting tales are actually a cut above typical internet fare in quality. That a random generator is capable of this speaks volumes about the writing skills of the typical internet-dwelling techno-geek. However, it also tells us that this kind of tale must somehow fill a very deep-seated need for many authors. Otherwise, the pattern would not be so obvious.

It is most unfortunate that the needs of an author, no matter how deep-seated, have little or nothing to do with the quality level of a piece of fiction. While the wants and needs of a human soul can and perhaps even must work their way into a piece of fiction in order to bring it fully to life, things like characterization and plot and pacing and theme will do far more to impress your Gentle Reader than a foreword which says "These stories mean so much to me! I'm sure that they will be equally significant to you as well." I'm not saying that you should never write a cookie-cutter "Look! I'm a tiger!" story, but I do think that when you're done you might well want to avoid showing it to anyone. The hard fact of the matter is that your Gentle Reader is awash in such tales, and most likely is desperately seeking something else entirely.

So, how do we produce 'something else'? One of the most frustrating things that I've ever encountered in dealing with new writers is a seemingly built-in belief that the transformation has to be the story, that not only is there no need for any other plot elements, but that such 'innovations' are impossibly difficult. I roll my eyes in frustration every single time that I encounter this sentiment, and have to forcibly restrain myself from pounding my inoffensive keyboard. "Impossible to write about anything else?" I roar out to the heavens above. "Impossible to write about anything else? My god! What planet does this poor soul live on?"

Stories are crystallized chunks of life, and furry stories should be crystallized chunks of the life of a furry person. The subject manner can be as long and wide as life itself, and equally unlimited in depth and scope. Write a story about furs running rapids in the Colorado River, for example, or about furs who work high iron. Write about furs who are cops and firemen and politicians and thieves. How does being at least in part another species impact their experience? How does it manifest itself in their daily lives, and in their interactions with others? Most of all, how does it impact who they are?

In many ways, writing good furry transformation stories is akin to writing good SF. It must explore an alien viewpoint in depth, and by showing how the perception of reality changes with one's form demonstrates what it means to be human. Like good SF, furry transformation stories must delve into similarities as well as differences, and yet leave the characters human enough to be empathized with.

The techniques involved, in my view, are very similar as well. One excellent way to begin a furry TF tale is to describe some sort of unusual situation in which transformees have to react or behave in an inhuman manner. Right away, from the narrative hook on out, you are working on your Gentle Reader's sense of wonder and telling him in a moderately subtle sort of way what this tale is to be all about. One excellent story beginning that a friend and I worked out once involves humans morphed into a species of birds that by their nature must form very large flocks. From there, it follows that one central city would be chosen as "home ground" for transformees from a very large area, and therefore the bulk of the flock must be new arrivals who need new ID cards and such. Since these birds must do everything together, I picture them traveling as a group every single day down to the County Seat to square away the paperwork of their newest member. Since this takes several hours, by the time you move a few hundred bird-morphs, then it follows that they would have time to do little else. Therefore, their lives all must become an endless series of trips downtown to sit and wait while today's "new guy" fills out government forms...

Now, I'd never try to write a tale from a flock-member's point of view. Writing about an experience that alien while maintaining the reader's empathy-bond to the protagonist lies far beyond my abilities. Fortunately, however, reality offers an unlimited supply of alternative viewpoints. How about, for example, the security guard at the front door, who must let the flock in every day? What does he sit and think? And if he's a furry-morph too, how does that affect his musings? In other words, what does one ex-human think of a bunch of other ex-humans and their special problems? That, in my view, is the right way to kick-start a furry transformation story!

Another excellent way to avoid having your work lumped with the thousands of other "Look at me! I'm a tiger!" stories is, quite simply, to make it a point never to write about the transformation itself. While the transformation has to have a cause that is "swallowable" to your Gentle Reader, there is no need to dwell on it in depth. Indeed, the more you say about it, the worse it's likely to come across. Instead, begin your tale weeks, months, or better yet years after the date of the Big Change. Doing this not only makes your work stand out, but forces you to deal with those pesky plot, characterization, and thematic issues that an "I'm a tiger!" story so neatly sidesteps. It may be a lot harder to write a work placed many years on your character's future, but it's a lot more satisfying as well, for both you and your readers.

Another very satisfying area to explore is mental change. It is considered normal for an accident victim who loses a limb to change psychologically as a result. Body chemistry changes have been known to radically alter personalities as well. Yet in story after story, we find furry transformees, whose physical and biochemical alterations are far more profound, acting exactly like they did as humans to the point that except for their physical descriptions they are totally normal and mundane. Personally, at least, I tend to put aside such works very early on. Not only does such a stance overstrain my willing suspension of disbelief, but I find it terribly boring to boot. A story about mundane humans in fursuits has to be judged by exactly the same demanding literary standards as a story about mundane humans without fursuits, which is to say 99.9% of all fiction. When a story would not need to change substantially if normal humans were substituted for your furry creatures, then in my opinion you should make the substitution. If there's no need for fur or scales to justify the behavior of the characters, then why did you bother? I've failed to finish several otherwise promising works because I saw that I was falling into this trap.

Lastly, I wanted to talk about the species thing. I am, much to my chagrin, best known as a writer of rabbit tales despite the fact that I've done my level best to write about everything under the sun. In my works, I've dealt with furry transformations ranging from the more common subjects like foxes and tigers to alien sentient prehensile-footed tree sloths. Indeed, though I've never toted it up I would imagine that over half of my work is non-lapine in nature. Writing about one species over and over again, to the exclusion of all else, is a terrible trap. Not only does it bore Gentle Reader, it also makes you stale as a writer. I can only deal with so many snuggle sessions and vicariously flee from danger just so many times before I have to do something else and explore a new species. Once I've done so, it is far easier for me to return willingly to the security of the warren. Not only does my non-lapine fiction help to keep me fresh, it gives me perspective on rabbithood, as well. Without a doubt, writing about alien tree sloths and even age regression and changing sexes makes me a better rabbit writer. Those of you who are fixated on only one species and one subgenre, please take note. Having a forte is one thing; being stuck in a rut is another entirely. Eventually, rigor mortis will set in.

Writing furry transformation fiction is one of the major joys of my life. It's taken me places I never dreamed I could go, and introduced me to the finest group of people I've ever known. Furry TF fiction is the stuff of life for me, and I always feel a little thrill down deep inside of me when someone tells me that they've enjoyed my stuff. The very best furry TF fiction come from down deep in the heart and soul, just like the "I'm a tiger!" stories, but is tempered and structured by skill and discipline. Love is a necessary ingredient for success, yes.

But so are craftsmanship and a firm understanding of precisely what makes a story tick.

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