One fascinating possibility to add to your creative writing toolbox are creatures known as shapeshifters—real, imagined, and metaphorical. Vampires and werewolves have been done, and of course, can be done again, but what about all the other mythological creatures in the world? Begin looking into the backgrounds of otherworldly creatures and the story ideas are endless. Read on if you write fantasy, horror or science fiction, but keep reading even if you don’t. You will see creatures of mythology can be among us everyday humans as well.
Shapeshifters exist across almost all mythology and folklore. Creatures with the specific ability to don harmless camouflage and trick humans, they change their appearance (which also means shifting to their true form and nature) so look out! Werewolves are most familiar, but what about others? You can research and find many different types, but here are a few to get your ideas started.
- Skinwalkers from Native American legends are creatures that turn into an animal (crow, wolf, coyote, fox, bear, cougar, etc.) and travel quickly, quietly, in the dark, stalking and hunting, and are actually witches with supernatural powers.
- Kitsune from Japanese folklore have the shape of a fox who can take on human form. A Kitsune has superior intelligence and magical powers and can drive people mad. They can also bend time and space.
- A Leshy is a Slavic forest spirit who usually appears as a man, but can change shape and will. In the forest he is the size of a tree, but one step outside and he shrinks as small as a blade of grass.
- Kelpies from Celtic folklore will take the form of a handsome man, but the creature is actually a supernatural water horse that haunts the rivers and lochs of Scotland and Ireland, luring victims in the water to drown them.
Writing prompts for Shapeshifters:
First, research all you can find as you build your shapeshifting character. Let the research be the start of your character creation and a jump off point to allow your imagination to do the rest.
For each type of shapeshifter (or your particular shapeshifter of choice) ask these questions:
- What is the goal of the (skinwalker) in your story?
- Is he the antagonist or the protagonist? Hero or villain?
- Where is he from?
- Has he always been a (skinwalker), or did this happen to him? If it happened without his choice, how? Was it a curse, or was he created like this?
- Did he choose to become one? Why? How?
- What does he want?
- How does he stalk/hunt humans? Why? What does he want from his victims? What does he get from them?
- Is his hunting sport or does his survival depend on it?
And what about shapeshifters who are human? Are there people in society who put on a benign friendly mask, only to disarm those they attack? So glad you asked…
Writing prompts for Metaphorical Shapeshifters:
- Write about a shapeshifter in a marriage.
- Write about one working in a corporation. Who is she and what position does she hold?
- What sort of mask/disguise does the shapeshifter put on? (For more about building a character mask with meaning and motivation including prompts, see The First Layer of Character.)
- How does she unmask and attack?
- What about a shapeshifter who is a child? How did she learn to be this way? Was it a necessity of survival? Why?
- Write about a teacher who is a shapeshifter.
- Write about a shape-shifting politician (okay, I realize that doesn’t take much of a stretch).
- What about other professions? A doctor? A biologist? An amusement park ride operator? An artist, child care worker, exotic dancer? What are the implications of each?
Now that you have some idea of the character of your metaphorical shapeshifter, ask these questions:
- What is her goal?
- Is she the antagonist or the protagonist?
- What does she have to learn?
- Where is she from?
- Has she always been a “shapeshifter” or did circumstances force this upon her?
- Or did she choose it? Why? What does she want?
- Does her survival (emotional, physical, spiritual) depend on her shapeshifting talents? Why?
Exploring shapeshifters, both in the fantasy and real world, will add depth and interest to your writing. And who doesn’t want that?
Kathy Steffen is an award-winning novelist and author of the “Spirit of the River Series:” “First, There is a River,” “Jasper Mountain,” and “Theater of Illusion,” available online and in bookstores everywhere. Additionally, Kathy is also published in short fiction and pens a monthly writing column, “Between the Lines.” She writes from a log home in the woods of southwestern Wisconsin that she shares with her husband and three cats. Find out more at www.kathysteffen.com