Shifters: basically species that shift. In my books I have several. Dragons shift between human and dragon form. Werewolves have several forms and vampires too.
One of the problems with writing this kind of species is it can feel like a cop-out. Yeah they’re dragons, but when that’s not convenient they don’t have to be!
So, how do I personally fix that?
Well, there’s a couple of things.
The first and main way is by never letting them be fully human. They have what they refer to as a human form, but they don’t necessarily pass. They have slit pupils, claws and fangs and occasionally strangely coloured hair (dragons). Vampires too have fangs, white hair and red eyes. Werewolf’s have fangs and claws. They may have two legs, two arms, and a human face but not human is going to mistake them for one of them.
Plus it goes further than that. (From here on out I’m going to focus mostly on dragons as an example which are the species I work the most with in my book). My character’s don’t only have fangs, they use them. When angry a normal person might glare but dragon’s will growl or snarl. They’ll show their fangs and remind people they are capable of far more harm then appearance would suggest.
They exhibit behaviours such as basking in the sunlight.
They are often shown drinking freshly boiled tea without giving it a moment to cool down.
Sitting almost inside the fireplace on a cold day.
They may walk on two feet, but while writing I make a conscious effort to never let them be human, because they’re not. If I wanted to write humans I would. And I do. There are characters who are humans who are shown in contrast to them.
And on the other side of the spectrum, why do they shift? How does that work? How does that change their culture?
I don’t make a species into a shifting species if there isn’t a good reason.
Shifters in my book exist due to history, basically any intelligent species is a descendant of fairies. Humans are fairies who no longer posses any magic. Fairies have a humanoid form which is why many species also receive that form.
Dragons used to shift mainly for mating purposes. But as time went on the human form with their extendable thumbs and smaller size was perfect for much work that goes on.
Nowadays dragons us their human and dragon from almost indistinguishably, it’s often just a matter of preference which form one will take during their downtime. Although some older individuals do consider the dragon form to be the superior form and look down on the youth who choose to bask in the sun in their two legged form.
Making sure shifters feel natural in the world you create is important. Suspension of disbelief is hard to pull of but probably on of the most important parts of being a fantasy author.
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I hope this helped. What kind of a shifting character are you working on? Or what is a shifting character from media you enjoyed?