Wednesday, January 22, 2014

Themes: Transformations

Transformation is something that shows up fairly often in my stories in one form or another.  There is something that intrigues me about the idea of a person or thing becoming something something other than what they started out as.  I frequently make use of literal transformation and almost always end up with a matter of metaphorical translation if enough of the story moves along.

Sometimes the transformations are blatant and sometimes they subtle, sometimes they approach quickly and sometimes slowly.  Occasionally, the mind changes to match the body, but other times the new changes have to be adapted to slowly.

Transformation is a very basic, ancient theme in storytelling.  Everything from Heracles' apotheosis to the radioactive spider that bit Peter Parker are representative of the theme of transformation.  It always produces very interesting changes in the direction of the storyline.

The most interesting thing about transformation is not so much what the character transforms into, but in how the character is transformed and in how the people around him react to that transformation.

There are some very basic types of transformation.  There are accidental transformations, willing transformations, self-induced transformations and enforced/granted transformations.  There are also the transformations where the character is not so much becoming something new as they are developing naturally into what they have always been.  There are also transformations which weaken, transformations which strengthen and transformations that either enslave or empower.

For example, the Pandora Pox storyline involves a magical curse/disease which transforms women into supernatural beings on a ratio of 2-part nymph, 3-part other-creature, 6-part human.  These transformations are, by and large, accidental, strengthening and empowering.  The Pox is transmitted through a variety of means dependent on the individual strand and it provides superhuman abilities.  In addition, it is empowering rather than limiting, while they do acquire some behavior changes, overall "pandoras" take more initiative than other people around them and are less likely to allow themselves to be ordered about by people they don't respect.  Pandoras change mentally before they change physically and, as a result, they usually only find their physical changes "odd" rather than panic-inducing.  The mental changes themselves don't often remove character traits so much as they add new ones.  A sphinx would acquire a growing interest in riddles and word games, for instance, while vampyr tend to become more "Goth" and become more active in religious activities.

Likewise, in Heritage, Terra Black is descended from gorgons, specifically Medusa.  She accidentally awakens the development, but it isn't a matter of her really transforming so much as it is of discovering something that was already there.  There is no mental change, so when the physical changes happen, she starts freaking out and worrying that there is something majorly wrong with her.  In the end, she decides to use some of her acquired abilities to hide the finished transformation and try to remain fitting in with other people.  There is really no personality change caused directly by the change itself.  She doesn't suddenly decide she hates humanity and is going to turn everyone into stone.  Instead all her changes in attitude are the result of her reacting to things that she now knows are real.

By comparison, there are a number of transformations in online amateur fiction that are more demeaning despite an apparent increase in ability.  Probably the most easy of these to find are the sort of transformations where an individual uses some device, magical or scientific, to transform another person into their ideal.  Making the perfect girlfriend, for example.  These sorts of stories tend to involve the victim, and that is an appropriate word here, losing intelligence, free-will and often getting stuck with an uncontrollable desire/love or regard for the person changing them.

An example of this in my stories comes back to the Pandora Pox and what the contagious curse started out as.  It started out as a potion that could be given to a woman that would make them a physically gorgeous woman with character quirks beneficial for getting jobs acting in specific sorts of movies.  The changes were much less visible (the formula was 2-part nymph, 1-part other, 6-part human) and subtle, but they were still there.  However, it was also noted that even these proto-Pandoras tended to be more independent than their would-be handlers wanted.

A better example from stories in general would be the traditional vampire story where a vampire forcibly turns someone into their servant.  Yes, the end result is powerful and dangerous, but their overall quality of life has usually taken a severe nose dive.  At least, in traditional stories.  The new vampire has a reduced capacity for initiating new thought, is fixated only on feeding and has a number of limitations that further reduce their existence to something pitiful.

I tend not to use these sorts of transformations save as a threat or a source of danger.  If I have an enemy attempt to use one, then I often end up having the transformation not end in the bad-guy's desired result for at least one character.  And I'm back to my empowering transformations again.

Following the initial transformation, the character has the choice of trying to ignore the transformation, embrace it or hope to reverse it.

In my stories, reversing a transformation is usually impossible, and watching a character want to reverse it is very interesting.  Though I tend more towards the characters that either ignore the change or embrace it.  To some extent, Terra, my school girl gorgon, pretty much ignores her change and tries to simply live the same life she had before.  Winter has more or less embraced her nature as a pandora and even progressed to stage 3 and stage 2 of both her infections despite that being difficult for a dual-infected pandora.  Likewise, Kuwiko from "Ringing Neptune's Door" hasn't just embraced her change but to all appearances, she initiated it and worked at it from childhood until her teenaged years when she achieved her results.

Very often, the characters that try to ignore it have a very hard time trying to fit it into their understanding of the world.  It is sort of like a form of denial, a desperate insistence that nothing has changed.  They might not have lost anything specifically from the transformation, but it bothers them none-the-less and they try to keep everything else past that the same.  Regardless, however, they will have to take measures to hide the change which forces them to recognize it and the continued dealing with these situations leads to further character development.  Especially as they unwillingly grow used to the changes.

The ones that embrace it are either practical about such things, have undergone some mental changes from the transformation, had a poor life prior to the change and see it as a new start, or else the transformation is something that they have hoped for.  The most interesting situation for those that actively sought or willingly accepted a transformation is when they start to realize that there is more to the transformation than they first thought.  They will start having things that are different than they expected and things that don't match up to what they wanted.  They'll want to do somethings that they now will have difficulty doing because of the fact that they are very much different.

The characters that try to reverse a change often lost something from it.  Whether it was the ability to see the sun without bursting into flames or the ability to lead a normal life, something about the change has taken away something they value and they resent the result.  They will tend to make their life as much about the transformation as those who embrace it do, but for completely the opposite reason.  For them it is not a blessing but a curse and they would do anything to make it go away.  What is really interesting is cases where you have two people transformed in the same way with one who embraces it at first but hates it afterwards and another who starts out hating and then learns to accept and embrace it.

The reactions of other people around the transformee are also interesting.  Depending on the story setting, the transformation could be unique, rare, uncommon or even an everyday thing.  Regard "You're so undead" where the girl's major reaction is not to being a vampire at the end of the short film and the other girls treat becoming a vampire like losing one's virginity.  For them, the transformation is pretty much embarrassing rather than horrifying.

Likewise, in Pandora Pox, at the beginning, the changes are unusual because magic has long been gone from the world, but by the end of the story (once I start developing it) and when basically 1 in 10 human females are affected, the change sort of becomes much less concerning.  To the point that individuals have licenses based on how far they've progressed their own changes.

In Divine Blood, it is mentioned that Immortals who used to be human outnumber Immortals who have mixed blood between the two separate immortal races that exist at the time.  There are also mentioned to be "cuckoos" who are born looking human and eventually develop into a true form.  But overall, transformation in Divine Blood is fairly rare.  It doesn't happen in the first novel, though there are two individuals who have already gone through at least one transformation.  The book doesn't identify which.

Of more interest in Divine Blood is the fact that the two Immortal Races have gone through what amounts to a mass racial transformation so that they appear as humans for the most part.  The novel doesn't get into it, but the Immortals have so thoroughly taken to their human appearance that the majority of them are born, live and even die (though not by old age) looking human.  Their entire racial identity has shifted to accommodate the human form such that the form they originally had in the past is rarely seen even by them and no longer even first nature, much less second.

The concept of an entire species doing that is mind-boggling.  Though I can tell you that there are at least four races in Fred Perry's Gold Digger that likewise have gone through an entire cultural transformation in this regard.

In any case, the reaction of those around the transformed individuals is telling.  Do they see them as a threat?  A hero?  A monster?  Do they see through the change and find that the individual is still essentially the same?  Or are they blinded by their past relationship and refuse to see how the entire being has changed?  Or is it the reverse?  Do they blindly attack and refuse to see the inner person, or do they look past the outward wonderful change and see something dangerous?  Is the transformation something not even worthy of note because it is common place?  Or is it a matter for celebration or commiseration?

There are a lot of different possible reactions to a character who has been changed and the way the people around the character change or don't change in their behavior toward him can have a heavy impact on the manner in which the character develops and eventually responds to his or her transformation.

Out of this is my enjoyment of shapeshifters, though currently, I have no shapeshifters as primary characters in any of my published works.

Beyond simply having a single incident in a character's history, beyond which they are forever different, the character that can choose to go back and forth from one state to another is incredibly appealing.  While werecreatures and other such beings are the most common shapeshifter, I am also found of the doppleganger, the being that can look like any other person of any race, sex or body shape.

In any case, usually the process to become a shapeshifter involves a transformation in and of itself and the shapeshifter presents more situations of an interesting nature in addition to those of simple transformation.

Someone who has been transformed was one thing and is now another.  He is different, but what he has become is stable and concrete.  Perhaps slightly less stable in perception since they now know it is possible to transform, but still, they are what they are from that point on.

An actual shapeshifter has at least two separate forms and often has more than that.  It's like an identity crisis on steroids.  In such characters, what do they feel is their real, actual form or do they even think they have an actual form?  If they don't have any one form that they feel is natural, then what happens if they relax or go into shock or otherwise experience a sensation that causese them to default?  Do they default to a amorphous...something?  Do they default to a specific form?  Do they just stay where they are?

And how do you determine the "true" nature of something that might be able to imitate another being all the way down to the very DNA?

It's like they're a living variable.

What sort of personality would such a person have?

It is a very interesting thing to consider.

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