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Marumae
12-24-2011, 01:21 AM
(This is sort of a complex and long post and I am sorry I have no one else to ask :) !)

I've googled a few topics on this and gotten a wide variety of answers that were all very insightful, but nothing really specific to my question so I thought why not? My question is does anyone have any advice on how to help readers connect with my character without specifying sex or gender? I'm worried the changing pronouns may confuse and turn off some readers and that's really not my intention! Is personality and name enough to connect someone to a character? The character was born with one specific gender and sex but their abilities mean they never stay in one form for too long.

The characters very nature means they shift from one sex/gender to the other (they're a shape shifter) at will and when they do so they become that gender/sex or creature and I refer to them as such within the course of the story (example, at one point the MC is a female lemur and I call them she, then the MC shifts into the form of a male house cat and becomes he, whilst keeping the same name.) The theme behind it is discovering who you really are, the character (whose name is Gabe) is trying to find their father after their Mothers murder, because of hint that they will discover who the murder was and what happened to her if they find their real birth Father. As the story goes on it becomes a quest of the mc discovering and figuring out who they're meant to be/who they really are as a person. As Gabe has never known a father, the logic is "If I find out who my real father is I'll figure out who I am!" Of course as the story goes on and the real father is revealed (with much surprise, and dissapointment and shock) Gabe figures that you don't need anyone else but yourself to decide who you should be so at that point, gender and pronouns solidify.

But to get to this point there's a lot of going back and forth, and I think I may turn readers off...should I just refer to the Main Charater by the gender/sex they become at the end of the story? Or should I use the one they were born with? (which: SPOILER, the MC decides to stay the gender/sex they were born with) Or should I do what I originally planned shift back and forth as the narration goes along? Did I make any sense with this post? :ROFL:

kuwisdelu
12-24-2011, 01:35 AM
I'd avoid the pronoun problem altogether by writing it in first person. Could you do that?

aurinko
12-24-2011, 01:36 AM
From a reader's perspective, shifting back and forth could be interesting. Or at least I personally would find that interesting.

Marumae
12-24-2011, 01:40 AM
I'd avoid the pronoun problem altogether by writing it in first person. Could you do that?


I actually didn't think of that if you can believe it (lol) that's a good idea. That way I could gain more introspection from the MC's pov....I'll write a few scenes and see how it works!

Chasing the Horizon
12-24-2011, 01:53 AM
I wouldn't worry too much about confusing readers, unless this character is just one of a large cast (which it doesn't sound like is the case). Otherwise, just make it clear when the character shifts and what s/he has shifted into and it shouldn't be a problem.

Medievalist
12-24-2011, 01:57 AM
Shift. Or invent your own pronouns, or use some of the alternatives extant.

thothguard51
12-24-2011, 02:31 AM
For me, shape shifting is not the same as possessing the body of another , (human, beast, insect, etc), in which they feel all the urges and instinct of the creature they shape shift into. It is not a possession...

Shape shifting is just that, shape shifting. The character will still think and feel as they always have. If the character shape shifts into a bird, this does not mean the character is going to know how to fly immediately, or lay eggs. If its a house cat, that does not mean it will know how to hunt as a cat, or even purr like a cat. These are traits which are learned from observing other species.

Think of Disney's Sword and the Stone when Merlin turns Arthur into a bird and Arthur has to learn how to fly.

To me, a shape shifter is still going to think and feel like they always have, only their shape has shifted.

Now, if you mean your character can possess another creature and feel all their urges and instincts, then that is different from shape shifting.

If you understand what I mean.

DancingMaenid
12-24-2011, 02:36 AM
I think the first person option could work really well, but if you want to use third person, I don't think switching pronouns would be that confusing as long as it was clear that the character had shifted. Actually, I would find that interesting, and it could say something about how the character perceives gender (that maybe they don't identify with the concept much, aside from the roles they play). You also have the option of non-binary pronouns such as ze and hir (though some readers may not understand them). "They" is also an option, and one I would personally consider.

Jess Haines
12-24-2011, 03:02 AM
Didn't C.S. Friedman do this in THE MADNESS SEASON? It's been so long since I've read it I don't recall off the top of my head. I know the MC was a shapeshifter, but I don't recall if he always stayed male or if he switched genders at one point.

That book might be worth checking out to see how Friedman handled it.

IceCreamEmpress
12-24-2011, 03:33 AM
I think as long as you are always clear that it is Gabe to whom you are referring, regardless of Gabe's current gender identity, you'll be fine.

Starting a chapter with "He preened his fur" when in the previous chapter Gabe had been a female iguana would be confusing. But "Gabe stretched himself on the sun-warmed log. He preened his fur" will probably bring everyone along with you.

Readers are going to be expecting changes if the character is changing species and form; gender's just one more.

That said, I think kuwisdelu's idea of doing this in first person is fabulous.

Marumae
12-24-2011, 03:36 AM
From a reader's perspective, shifting back and forth could be interesting. Or at least I personally would find that interesting.


Thank you so much :D. I'm glad someone finds it even mildly interesting!

Now, if you mean your character can possess another creature and feel all their urges and instincts, then that is different from shape shifting.

If you understand what I mean.

I do actually and you have a good point and what Gabe does isn't in the true shapeshifting but possesion by your definition, I merely called Zir that for lack of a better term honestly. When Gabe shifts into an animal or being they take on the instincts or characteristics of that creature or object with a faint consciousness lingering within. This includes inanimate objects which is (by all accounts impossible but the truth of Gabe's origin when zir discovers it explains why this is possible for them) hard to describe, at one time as a child Gabeshifted into a chair and remained a such for three months, only a faint conscienceness lingered until Gabe's mum discovered zir. Gabe can do it but rarely so because shifiting into the form of an object is possible but difficult and frightening and hard to come back from.

Actually, I would find that interesting, and it could say something about how the character perceives gender (that maybe they don't identify with the concept much, aside from the roles they play). You also have the option of non-binary pronouns such as ze and hir (though some readers may not understand them). "They" is also an option, and one I would personally consider

Good point, Gabe doesn't really identify as either gender because of hir's transitory nature. I'm glad you're interested!

That book might be worth checking out to see how Friedman handled it.

I've heard of friedmen and have only read one book by her, this is a great reccommendation! Thank you! I will go check it out.

First person might be the easiest way to go and as I said could give me some insight into Gabe's personality and help readers connect with hir more. Thanks again everyone, this gives me hope that I won't sound like a complete loon as long as I'm consistent and clear.

LindaJeanne
12-24-2011, 03:38 AM
Off-topic, but what happens if your MC gets pregnant in female form and then shifts to male?

Or for that matter, if they shift to a female of a different species while pregnant, does the fetus shape-shift to match?

jjdebenedictis
12-24-2011, 03:42 AM
I read a short story once that had genderless aliens and the writer invented new pronouns like "se". I've also seen people on the internet use similar inventions if they don't know the sex of the person they're talking about, e.g. "hir".

But that's not really the situation you're talking about. I'd give switching the pronouns a shot as long as you use the character's name often, as IceCreamEmpress suggests.

In Kate Griffin's A Madness of Angels, the main character is possessed by a collection of entities that speak as one. The story's written in first person, so the MC keeps switching between referring to himself as "I" and "we". There's no explanation at first, and this worked surprisingly well as a mystery that kept me turning the pages to find out what was up with this guy and his weird pronouns.

Marumae
12-24-2011, 03:48 AM
Off-topic, but what happens if your MC gets pregnant in female form and then shifts to male?

Or for that matter, if they shift to a female of a different species while pregnant, does the fetus shape-shift to match?


A beta friend of mine brought this up when I was bouncing ideas off of her and I think solved it originally by making Gabe sterile, but if I wanted I could change that and honestly the fetus would probably not shift either since Gabe is the only one (in my multiverse) who possessess this ability (for a good reason as I said, Hir's very existence shouldn't be possible but it turns out to be basically a fluke/accident).

If I get right down to it depending on the Father and whether his nature is magical or not I imagine the fetus would not survive shifiting if Gabe becomes (and I have hir doing so) the entire creature/object itself obviously a human/dog/chihuahua/unicorn whatever fetus probably wouldn't survive in the body of a gorilla/troll/mermaid whatever.

Good question!

thothguard51
12-24-2011, 04:11 AM
Just some thoughts...

If Gabe does not identify with any sex, (Male or Female), then Gabe is going to go through a lot of emotional turmoil about the way other creatures react. Dogs and cats are always sniffing each others butts and Gabe might find this offense even if the creature he/she possess does not.

When Gabe possesses another creature, say a female cat and she is in heat, Gabe may be repulsed by what he/she feels and then when he/she goes back to being Gabe, Gabe is going to remember those emotions.

Could be a very interesting emotional crises...

In my current work, my main MC can shape shift, but his body is left behind somewhere and he has to be careful not to get injured or killed while in the shape of another creature. The shock of the injury would be too much on his human body. He also has to remember to think and act like the creature he shape shifted into but I had not thought about sexual matters. Could be a hilarious addition or a total freak out...

Good luck on this and keep tapping away at the story...

IceCreamEmpress
12-24-2011, 07:32 AM
Marumae, I hate to be a grammar stickler, but I am going to stickle at you a bit: if you are going to use any of the standard gender-neutral pronouns (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gender-neutral_pronoun), I would encourage you to use the standard nominative and objective cases.

People usually use "ze" or "zie" or "sie" in the nominative (where one would use "he" or "she"), and "zir" or "hir" (but not both) in the objective (where one would use "him" or "her").

"Ze stroked zir hair" or "Sie stroked hir hair" or similarly. "Zir stroked zir hair" is confusing to me and I presume to other people who are familiar with these pronouns.

If you create your own pronoun system, of course, you can decide if it has nominative and objective and possessive cases at all, and if so, what they are.

Paper Princess
12-24-2011, 07:37 AM
I agree with what was written above, writing in the first person might be a great solution.

Marumae
12-24-2011, 09:39 AM
Marumae, I hate to be a grammar stickler, but I am going to stickle at you a bit: if you are going to use any of the standard gender-neutral pronouns (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gender-neutral_pronoun), I would encourage you to use the standard nominative and objective cases.

People usually use "ze" or "zie" or "sie" in the nominative (where one would use "he" or "she"), and "zir" or "hir" (but not both) in the objective (where one would use "him" or "her").

"Ze stroked zir hair" or "Sie stroked hir hair" or similarly. "Zir stroked zir hair" is confusing to me and I presume to other people who are familiar with these pronouns.

If you create your own pronoun system, of course, you can decide if it has nominative and objective and possessive cases at all, and if so, what they are.


Ahh okay, I'm sorry for the mistakes! :e2smack:I'm still learning. I think to save myself some embarrassment and confusion I'll either try first person or do some double time back checking to make sure the audience knows which gender the character has shifted too in the next scene/chapter. However, I have another story in which a character will be referred too in gender neutral pronouns only so that link should be very handy, book marking for another day. Thank you!

brianjanuary
12-24-2011, 07:24 PM
I would think that if you clearly establish the gender switch concept, then readers will easily catch on to what's happening and will understand the pronoun changes, especially if you confine one gender to its own chapter.