One of my main characters can shapeshift into different animals and I'm unsure of how much and how to describe the process. Can you help?
You bet I can!
I’m not sure how shapeshifting works for your character (magic, technology, genetic mutation, superpowers), but you shouldn’t have to describe the process in depth too much. I think when you show the character first using the power you should go into a detailed visual description so the reader gets an idea of how it functions. You should also probably do it when he transforms into a really impressive animal (like a dinosaur) that’s out of the ordinary for him to use or a transformation that’s incredibly difficult. You can also use the description to establish a tone. I wouldn’t go into great detail other than for those points because otherwise it’ll become tedious for the reader.
I’m going to use Digimon as an example of that tedium. The first time I ever saw a digivolution sequence, it was pretty awesome. Then, the show started using the full sequences all of the time, for every transformation, and it got old fast. If you’re not familiar with that show, they do the same thing with the transformations from normal girl to magic girl in Sailor Moon. Showing how these things work is best used in moderation.
For the times where you don’t need to use a detailed description, you can simply say, “He transformed into a hawk.” or “When I looked at him again, he had suddenly become a hawk.”
For the rare, detailed descriptions you should consider these things:
What visuals are associated with the transformation? Does it happen in a flash of magic light? Does your character grow in size and burst out of his clothing or does he shrink and suddenly find himself swimming in it instead? Do the clothes transform with him? Does he have visible forms in between the human and the animal (half-forms) or does he just swap between human and animal in a blink?
What sounds accompany the transformation, if any? Can you hear the crunch and snap of bone as their structure shifts? Does your character make the sound of that animal when he transforms? What can he hear after, especially if he’s transforming into something that has a much better sense of hearing than humans?
How does your character feel? Is the transformation painful the whole way through, just at the beginning or not at all? Does he feel invigorated by it? Does the instinct (predatory or otherwise) of the animal he’s transformed into take over? How much of himself does he retain after a transformation? Does he run the risk of being stuck in different animal forms if he uses them for too long? Is there another type of consequence? Does he fear it?
What does your character sense after the transformation? This is applicable to any creature that has an extra sense or ability that humans don’t, including nightvision, heatvision, echolocation, enhanced sense of smell, electroreception, UV light perception, binocular vision, etc.
As an example, say your character was transforming into a gorilla: “He felt a sudden primal rush, releasing a roar that echoed through the empty warehouse. His muscles tensed and grew, stretching the fabric of his clothing until it burst. The remnants fell away, revealing thick, black hair all over his body and as he slammed his fists into the concrete, his beady eyes stared into the darkness.”
I hope that gave you a decent idea of what to do. Happy writing!
Shapeshifter as Dean:
He's sure got issues with you. You got to go to college. He had to stay home. I mean, I had to stay home...with dad. You don't think I had dreams of my own? But Dad needed me. Where the hell were you?
Where is my brother?
Shapshifter as Dean:
I am your brother. See, deep down, I'm just jealous. You got friends. You could have a life. Me? I know I'm a freak. And sooner or later, everybody's gonna leave me.
What are you talking about?
You left. Hell, I did everything Dad asked, and he ditched me too. No explanation, nothing, just...poof. Left me with your sorry ass.
AIN’T BORN TYPICAL for beasts that like to wear the skin of man while they stir up some trouble.
i. kings of the wild frontier - adam and the ant ii. children of the bad revolution - lana del rey iii. full moon - the black ghosts iv. wolf like me - lera lynn v. you’re a wolf - sea wolf vi. monsters - matchbook romance vii. who are you, really - mikky ekko viii. the wolf - fever ray ix. fresh blood - eels x. u.r.a. fever - the kills xi. kill of the night - gin wigmore xii. diamond dogs - beck xiii. teeth - lady gaga xiv. tear you apart - she wants revenge xv. monsters - hurricane bells xvi. werewolf heart - dead man’s bones xvii. the beast - austra xviii. keep the streets empty for me - fever ray xix. wolves - phosphorescent xx. l'il red riding hood - amanda seyfried xxi. the mob song - beauty and the beast
[ 8TRACKS ]
Genetics. If I see you drop the chromosome ball like S. Meyer I’ll personally write you a stern letter.
Go learn about wolves. Google. Read. Watch NatGeo. Just know your shit. Wolves are cool, it’ll be fun.
If you’ve got questions, write me. I gots some book recommendations as well if you want to know about wolves/books with werewolves and shapeshifters that I liked. -Evvy
P.S., Wolves got taken off the endangered list in the US recently so that people could shoot them, if you write something like The Grey I’m going to be disappointed in you. Real wolves aren’t shiny and mystical, or villainous beasts. They are (cool) animals.
I would really love your recommendations for books about wolves or shapeshifters that did them right. Also I really love your bloggggg, so helpful <3
‘Never Cry Wolf’, Farley Mowat (biologist spends time researching Artic wolfs at a time when wolves were still largely misunderstood, surprisingly funny at times)
'The Man Who Lives With Wolves’, Monty Sloan (biologist tries living with wild wolves, later works in conservation and with zoos- great information about pack behavior and gives you an idea of what it’s like to be a human with wolves (they are -not- dogs, friends))
'Three Among the Wolves’ Helen Thayer (More biologists studying wolves, they also have a wolf-hybrid that goes with them)
'Wolves At Our Door,’ 'Living With Wolves’, and 'Spirit Of The Wolf, by Jim/and or Jamie Dutcher, the last with Monty Sloan. The first two are accounts of a couple who made a documentary of captive wolves, (I haven’t seen the documentary, want to), both have gorgeous photographs, the former mostly text and the latter mostly photos. 'SotW’ is one of my 'picture books’ that I treasure for photo references, it’s photos and text.
Though it’s not wolves, I highly recommend 'The Daily Coyote’ as well, which is the story of a woman raising an orphaned coyote in Wyoming (the only non-biologist on the list! There are also beautiful photos).
(Ask my why Twilight is NOT on this list, and I will tell you)
'Blood And Chocolate’ Annette Curtis Klause (The heroine loves being a werewolf, and the book’s been on banned lists since it was written- what’s not to like? ***/5 Stars)
'Mercy Thomson’ series by Patricia Briggs (Urban Fantasy, great world-building, real quality protagonist, handles large cast well. ****/5 Stars)
'Shiver’ series by Maggie Stiefvater (I couldn’t love the characters when I got through the second book, so I never finished all three, but props to the author for originality and writing. **/5 Stars)
'The Immortals’ series by Tamora Pierce (Lead has general animal and shapeshifting magic, wolves are prominent in the second book- and, honestly, Tamora Pierce just knows her shit. She did her homework, as always. Good writer. ****/5 Stars)
'Raised By Wolves’ Jennifer Lynn Barnes (was okay, mostly I liked that the main was a human taking us on a tour of growing up among werewolves, and had a bit of mystery. **/5 Stars)
'Sharp Teeth’ Toby Barlow (Oh, my god, guys. Lycanthropes in LA written in verse. Go read it. ****/5 Stars)
You should also definitely watch 'Being Human,’ which is the BBC TV story of a vampire, werewolf, and ghost living in a house together, and I love dearly for it’s mix of gore, humanity, and Britishness
Also 'Wolf’s Rain’. How dare I forget 'Wolf’s Rain’. Probably my favorite anime. The wolves do not change shape, but rather cast illusions that make them seem human (like a glamour). Excellent musical score, too.