As we continue our exploration into fiction character archetypes, this week we look at the shapeshifter.
Examples of shapeshifter characters:
• Norman Bates
• Lando Calrissian
• Sirius Black
• Remus Lupin
• Count Dracula
The shapeshifter character is one who is not who they appear to be. The alternate form can by physical, ie, they change their physical bodies like werewolves, or the transformation can be internal and hidden from both the hero/ine and the reader. These changes can make the character troublesome to identify and may also make the character untrustworthy, like Edward Norton’s character in Fight Club.
Shapeshifter characters may:
• Change their physical appearance regularly
• Change their personality or moods depending upon the situation they find themselves in
• Change physical form
Your shapeshifter can wear disguises or personalities to navigate difficult situations. This ability can be viewed both as heroic and cowardly by the reader so be sure that the shapeshifting isn’t just used for convenience of the writer to get the hero/ine out of a jam. If you are going to use a shapeshifter, they should be integral to the plot, and character arc of your hero/ine.
Remember that shapeshifters are characters pretending to be something they are not, and they are (usually) careful to conceal it. How will these characteristics impact your hero/ine or plot?
Shapeshifters can be both good or evil, but the shapeshifter is not the villain of your story. The villain is a separate archetype. But – the shapeshifter character may appear to be the villain for a while, and then turn out to be an ally. Or they can start out as an apparent ally, but become antagonistic, and they can change allegiances multiple times. The shapeshifter character makes it difficult for the reader (and sometimes the writer) to pin them down, which means the shapeshifter character can be perfect to add twists and turns to your plot.
Be careful not to confuse shapeshifters with tricksters. Loki can change form but s/he is a trickster, a mischievous joker, not a shapeshifter.
If you are going to add a shapeshifter character to your novel, you will have to detail out their traits in advance and force them to act only according to the parameters you have set up:
• What is purpose of the shapeshifting? For battle? For disguise?
• What are the limits of the shifting? Can they only transform into animals? Or people? Or inanimate objects?
• Is the physical transformation painful?
• Do they have additional senses or powers when shifted?
Take the time to ask yourself many questions about your shapeshifter's skills and abilities. This will help you know exactly what they can and can't do.
You can always create a brand-new kind of shapeshifter. You aren’t limited to werewolves. Just be sure to flesh your shapeshifter out in full before you write them. This is where plotting and outlining is your friend.