Tuesday, July 24, 2012

The Metaphysics of Shapeshifters

I'm working on the second book of my Spirit Binder's series right now. Shapeshifters feature prominently in the story. For those who may not be readers, my brand of shapeshifters involve a smattering of animals.  As the series name might suggest, the basis of my shifters is more spiritual.

Shapeshifter theory in my world centers around the existence of a Spirit Binder. That is, someone with the supernatural ability to bind spirits together. Typically, this results in the pairing of human and animal. One of my main characters, Kiara, is a prime example of this. She is paired with the spirit of a wild cat. This pairing grants her a few supernatural abilities, as well as allowing her to alter her form into that of, you guessed it, a cat.

Now, I didn't need to be super specific in my first book, but just because something didn't make an appearance in a novel doesn't mean it wasn't given a whole lot of thought. In fact, my experience with fantasy writing so far has turned out something like 100 words of research/theorizing for 10 words used in the story. This isn't to say I'm actually over-writing by 90%, just that I get a bit into my mythos (as I imagine most fantasy authors do) and don't end up using a whole lot of the brainstorming debris. A good analogy might be a tornado of ideas, a whole bunch of boards and nails and whirling around that somehow accidentally build a house. The construction process is hardly efficient, and there's a whole bunch left over when I'm done.

Does that analogy work at all? Maybe not. Oh well.

Anyway, in the first book I asked a question that I never really answered. Matthias, one of the vampires, asks shapeshifter Kiara what happens to an item if she's holding it in her hand when she changes. It's a great question, and for anyone who's spent time playing a Druid in World of Warcraft... not an original one. It's a bit of a on-going joke about Druids (who are shapeshifters in WoW)... where do they put their weapons when in bear or cat form? Not to mention nightmare seal form...

I wanted to answer the question in the second book. I'm not sure if I'm going to be able to work it in yet, but I'm going to try. I have plans.

It actually took me a bit to answer the question in my own head. A lot of the shapeshifting I've seen of late ends up leaving the characters in the nude. Clothing does not survive the change. If any of you are True Blood fans, you know what I'm talking about.

I am not writing an HBO-level novel. That is, I didn't want a whole lot of nudity. Not that I'm particularly averse to it, or anything, just that it causes a lot of uncomfortable issues at a character level. You get the cliched scene where characters end up naked and embarrassed and someone needs to bring them clothes or gawks. I just didn't really want to go there.

Still, avoiding an annoyance is a poor reason to chose to write a certain way. I'm sure worse decisions have been made, but I wanted more behind my choice. I wanted to understand why.

Now, I don't want to ruin the surprise in here. If you're a reader and would rather wait until the novel is out... do not proceed to the comment section. For anyone else, if you'd like to know look there. For those of you seeing this in your RSS reader, I apologize. I'm really not trying to force anyone to click through.

I will offer this somewhat vague explanation: I wanted a solution that somehow melded with the fact that this power descended among ancient Samurai warriors. The spiritual aspect of my power lent me certain leeway that a more scientific approach wouldn't have. I chose not to worry about things like the conservation of mass, for instance. (Though I did attempt to describe the character as somewhat resembling their animal of choice. I didn't want a big dude turning into a mouse, for example.) The key is in what the character believes, deep down in their soul.

I'll leave a comment with more info on my choice, but feel free to chime in/discuss. Doesn't have to be my world....


Matt said...

Okay, so a lot of old Samurai stories mention how Samurai believe that their swords are part of them, an extension of their being. That provided the key inspiration for my mythos. My shapeshifters, then, would only be able to shift with what they believed to be part of them. Could be a sword, knife, purse, whatever.

It may seem odd to think of your clothes as part of you, yet I think many of us feel like something is "missing" when we're naked. Case in point, the good old dream where you show up to some public event... only to realize that you're naked. That sinking feeling of "oh crap, I forgot something..." That, I think, was enough to make a case that generally people think of their clothing as a part of themselves. Not necessarily a celebrated part, but a part nonetheless.

This idea leaves room for expansion. In the first book, Kiara never shapeshifts with a held item. In fact, Mike carries the sword to the final battle. I'd like to add a sequence of scenes where Kiara learns to shapeshift with a sword. I think it would be really interesting. I suspect Mo, Jin, and Naotaka already can do this, having had more training. An expert shifter might be able to shift with anything of their choosing... so long as they can wrap their mind around it.

The concept also provides a natural limitation. The bigger something is, the harder it is to integrate into your being. One could not, say, shift with a car. (Though maybe a professional driver could, what with some of them describing a sense of belonging with their vehicle. Who knows?)

As far as where the actual atoms go? Well, like I said, I'm choosing to ignore conservation of mass. I suspect that they get rearranged and altered as needed. For science nerds out there... maybe we've got some Higgs-Boson level stuff going on. I've not really delved to that level. Perhaps that makes me lazy. If so, then consider me guilty as charged.

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