A recurring theme of this journal, no doubt, will be treatment of the anthropomorphic animal characters that tend to show up in my work. When presenting a story to an audience conditioned to expect and like that kind of character, fine, no explanation needed, except maybe enough to fit them into one of several archetypes: four-foot, two-foot, plantigrade, digitigrade. For an audience without those preconceptions, the process of explaining what the characters are has to be quick and painless, and therefore has to use images and concepts that exist in the mainstream. Again, if it’s just a smart/talking animal, not so much a problem. “Fluffy lounged in the afternoon sun, occasionally lifting her head to tell her pet, Carol, to open another can of cat food.” But if the characters are more humanoid, then what?
I think this relates to the big question: what element of the story requires a humanoid animal character? When bringing in those descriptions of the characters, be sure to relate it back to that part of the story as much as possible. If it’s the differences from humans that matter, emphasize those. If it’s more of a parable with furry critters subbing for different social classes, highlight the species differences.
And then you get into what to call them. “Anthropomorphic animals” is unwieldy and too vague, anyway, applying as it does equally to Hazel from “Watership Down” and Disney’s Robin Hood. The term I’ve come across most recently that I think works is “human-animal hybrids” (thank you, President Bush). That gives you a definite starting point that implies physical attributes of both humans and animals, and the most natural result is a humanoid creature with animal traits. The reader can then wait for you to fill in the animal traits.
I’m going to try that one out, but if anyone has other thoughts, I’d love to hear them.