Hi! So I’m writing a book and two of my protagonists are shapeshifters (one can turn into a tiger and the other a wolf). In the heat of battle, how can I (rather, how /should/ I) write the lines when they’re changing so that it doesn’t take up a whole lot of time and space on a page, but still seems graceful and fluid?

By
remembering that your audience has a memory. Depending on your preferences, you
probably want to focus on the transformation in detail, one to three times.
After that, your audience is going to have a fairly solid grasp on how it
works, and the only time you’d need to revisit the process is if something new
was happening.

Revisiting
it, with a full sequence, every single time is fetishistic. Now, if that is the point of your story, then, sure, go
for it every time. However, as you’ve noticed, that will slow you down a lot.
If your character’s transformed into a nine foot tall snarling deathbeast fifteen
times, there’s really not much value to writing up the sixteenth, (or the
fourth, for that matter).

The
basic theory, when I said one to three, is that the first time you’re telling
the audience, “hey, this is happening, this is how it works.” The second and
third time you’re reminding them, “hey, remember this thing that happens?”
After that, it’s enough to say, “yeah, it happens,” and skip the irrelevant
details. By the time you’re getting into this stuff happening in fight scenes,
it’s something that you should be able to roll over in a sentence or two. Also,
depending on your preferences, this can apply to any similar transformations. One protagonist transforming will
(probably) count for the other. Though, you may want to make sure each
character gets at least one detailed transformation before you completely gloss
over what’s happening. It’s a new character, that is something new happening,
after that, your audience should be able to keep up. “Ah, that one’s a
werewalrus, got it.”

This can
get significantly more complicated, if you have characters that can transform
into multiple distinct forms. At that point, you’re probably going to be stuck
writing it out, or at least spending more time explaining what’s going on, each
time.

When you’re
walking the audience through the process, the early transformations can chew up
a lot of space. That’s okay. You’re laying out the ground rules for how your characters’
powers work. In this sense it’s a lot like establishing exposition. You’re
explaining the world so that, later, the audience is up to speed when you need
to stick these transformations in tense moments when the pacing doesn’t allow
you to stop.

Once you’ve
got the transformations nailed down, then you only really want to go into
detail when accounting for something that hasn’t happened before. Dealing with
wounds that carry over would be one example. Especially if the characters are
usually fully healed by their transformation.

As to
the graceful bit, that’s a lot more complicated. It ultimately comes down to
how you define “graceful” for your own purposes. It’s something you’d bake into
the transformations the first couple times you’re using it, or (if the story
starts with their first), it might be something that manifests as they’re learning
to control their powers. There isn’t a simple solution on that point. It might
also be worth the time and introspection to decide exactly why you’re thinking
you want the transformations to be graceful; that might help you find a way to
better operationalize it.

Once you’re
having your characters transform mid-combat, you want to be at a point where
you can simply say your character wolfs out, and your audience is already knows
what that means and is on board. As you’ve realized, if you have to detail the
transformation in the heat of the moment, it will murder your pacing.

-Starke

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