Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Shapechanging Authors

Screen Shot 2012-12-19 at 10.19.35 AM

Ideas come from odd places. And the idea of having a shapeshifting hunchback as a main character was a doozy (that’s an official writing term, btw). I had been wanting to write a series inspired by the Victorian age and had been toying with a Sherlock Holmes-type character. Since I happened to be reading The Hunchback of Notre Dame at the same time, I thought, “Why not combine the two by turning the hunchback into a Victorian detective?” There was something fun and intriguing about mashing those stories together. And so Modo was born.

But, I soon realized that I had a big problem. If the hunchback was a detective then any time he walked into a room people would recognize him. Murderers and thieves would run away, never to be caught. So I had to find a way around this problem. Disguises would work, except it would be hard for him to disguise his body. So then the idea dropped into my head, “Why not give him the ability to shift his shape?” This solved several problems at once. No one would recognize him because he could take any shape that he wanted. I decided that there would be time limits on how long he could be in that shape, thus creating more drama. I could explain it all as an evolutionary trait, a very Victorian idea. And, of course, there would be that Beauty and the Beast thing...except he would be able to become the beauty for a short time before returning to his hunchbacked state. This created one very important question for me to explore: would he someday be able to stay in a more pleasing shape or would he learn to accept who he was and not care about how the world saw him? It is the overarching question of the series. 

This shapechanging ability meant that I could insert Modo into a variety of situations and his own friends and, more importantly, the reader wouldn’t recognize him until he was revealed. So it added an extra sense of intrigue. That was the fun part. The difficult part was always finding a new thing for him to do with these abilities. After all if he kept imitating the same people over and over again, that would become boring. I also soon realized that it would be best to turn him into a secret agent. There would be far more interesting situations for him to explore. My research was mostly in my own head. But I was concerned about having a plausible scientific reason for his ability and so researched the variety of fish, chameleons, and insects that easily change their colour or even their shape to fool predators. It was a much longer list than I’d realized. In the end it has been a grand adventure. I’m so thankful that the idea came to me out of the ether or out of the blue or from within the pages of Sherlock and The Hunchback of Notre Dame. Now that I think of it, ideas are the real shapechangers--always changing their shape until they take a form that an author can use to create a story.
 This post was previously posted on

No comments: