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Transformation Writing Types
I had an interesting revelation this week. After years of gently banging my head against my hoof wondering why I enjoy some works of TF fiction, but not others, and why TF fiction in particular, I came to what seems to be the correct solution. As it also has implications for writers, I thought I'd toss it out for general consumption.
First, TF literature can be divided into three types. Porn TF, Physical TF, and Psychological TF. Admittedly these aren't the best terms, but once we get definitions out of the way they aren't too bad.
Porn TF: A story in which just the transformation is described in loving (or agonizing) detail. In the extreme case, the description of the change starts in the first paragraph and ends in the last paragraph. The story never deals with the reasons for the transformation, or the results/changes after the transformation. See Phil Geusz' essay on transporn for more information.
Physical TF: All transformations are physical, but what I mean by this is stories that concentrate on the physical sensations of the new form. What does it feel like to have antlers? When the skin is still coating them what sensations come from it? What is it like to run on hooves? What is it like to breathe through gills? An attempt is made to explain the imagined physical sensations of these new body parts in a way that allows the reader to vividly feel what it might be like.
Psychological TF: Stories that concentrate on dealing with the requirements of the new form, of experiencing the effects of the new body. What does it take to survive? What foods are eaten? What is society's reaction? In other words, what psychological adaptations need to be made? Thus, it doesn't matter what the sensation of running on four hooves is, but instead the uses and disadvantages of running on four hooves.
In some ways these differences are subtle, in other ways far reaching. Most stories have elements of all three but usually one tends to dominate. Most common is Psychological TF. Using the new form. Occasionally bits of Physical TF will be mentioned, but they are usually put in as interesting bits of description.
Now, what does this mean for all you writers and readers out there?
Well, for readers, it offers you a new way to enjoy transformation fiction. In the best stories you should be able to feel what the main character feels, so much that if wishes were granted you would assume the form of the main character.
For writers, it offers a tool to bring the reader further into the story. When the main character tries walking in the new form, toss in a little bit of description -- the distant coldness of the needles on the forest floor beneath the tough pads of a wolf's feet. The echoing thud of each hammer blow of a farrier as iron is nailed to your hooves. The twitch of muscles on the top of your head and the sudden change in focus of a sound as a ear moves to cup the sound. The stinging pain as the door closes on your tail that echoes up and down your spine. The almost bloated feeling as a hunk of meat is swallowed after tearing it off the hot steaming carcass with sharp pointy teeth. You get the idea.
Poul Anderson once commented that he tried to appeal to at least three of the senses on every page of a work of fiction. Sight is almost a given. Sound is almost as common. But by writing transformation fiction, the writer has a huge toolbox of physical sensations, of touch and taste to use, that is rarely or with difficulty used in more common fiction. It provides a toolbox that can create a full sensorium of unique sensations to transport the reader away from their computer and into the body of a centaur galloping through the woods. Each leap a moment of flight before the hooves pound onto the soft needle covered earth, the lungs being squeezed and wasted air blown out as the dull impact echoes up the bones of all four legs; crushing the needles and releasing a blossoming aroma of pine freshness. Then another bound into the air, yanking the ribcage wide open and sucking the pine scented oxygen into the lungs, the inhalation echoing down the long trachea feeling almost as though a mouthful of cold water had been swallowed. And then in a moment of joy, tired and with twinges of fatigue echoing along the long muscles of the legs, the centaur collapses to a stop, landing on the side of his barrel and feeling the cold earth and prickly needles through the thick hair-covered hide. And, finally, a human laugh that echoes through the woods, coming up from the lungs far down the trachea and seeming to cause the entire chest to rumble with their joy as he bends at the waist and rolls onto the back of his barrel, all four legs wiggling in the air, so that the scratchy pine needles can dig into the sweat-stained hide and get at that annoying itch along the spine.
Yes, I admit it. I'm of the Physical TF persuasion.