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The Weaver
05-17-2015, 08:25 PM
A few weeks ago I discovered what is a apparently still a thing. A POC that is a shapeshifter and the implication that they have that power because there're closer to nature and more animalistic. I know that Save the Pearls had that trope and other than that I can't think of anything else. I'm wondering how common this in fiction because I have a Japanese character who can shapeshift. It's a pretty common power in the world that he lives in. Is that still ok? Even if I'm black and would never use the POC=bestial trope I fear that people will still find it offensive that I have a POC shifter at all.

lianna williamson
05-17-2015, 08:41 PM
I could be talking out my ass here, but I imagine it all hangs on what shapeshifting abilities mean in the context of your story world. So if you're somehow implying the ability to shapeshift into animal form implies a bestial nature, then yeah, that could be offensive. If you have a different interpretation of what it means to shapeshift-- say, that's a sign of self-discipline and intellectual mastery-- then the only people who would be offended by your POC shapeshifter would be those who haven't read the book. And fretting over the kneejerk opinions of those who haven't bothered to read the material they're pre-emptively getting offended over is a path to creative paralysis.

The Weaver
05-17-2015, 09:31 PM
I could be talking out my ass here, but I imagine it all hangs on what shapeshifting abilities mean in the context of your story world. So if you're somehow implying the ability to shapeshift into animal form implies a bestial nature, then yeah, that could be offensive. If you have a different interpretation of what it means to shapeshift-- say, that's a sign of self-discipline and intellectual mastery-- then the only people who would be offended by your POC shapeshifter would be those who haven't read the book. And fretting over the kneejerk opinions of those who haven't bothered to read the material they're pre-emptively getting offended over is a path to creative paralysis.

In my world the ability to shapeshift is something that someone is born with. Everyone is born with magic so it's seen as something normal and has no bearing of character or race. I know that I'm over thinking the knee jerk opinions but when you seen people being attacked for being offensive when they were not is worrying.

kuwisdelu
05-17-2015, 10:58 PM
I think the simplest thing to do would be to have other characters of the same ethnicity who aren't shapeshifters.

The Weaver
05-18-2015, 12:48 AM
I do have a few POC characters who have other powers besides shapeshifting but I thought that won't be enough when I was worrying about it at the time.

frimble3
05-18-2015, 08:47 AM
But, shapeshifting is one of those Japanese folklore things that even I know. Kitsune, tanuki, etc. So, not unreasonable that a Japanese-influenced character could shapeshift. It might imply 'trickster-ness' but not particularly 'bestiality'. Unless the character acts like an animal when in human form.
(I also wouldn't find it unreasonable that, surrounded by different animals, those different animals would also be shapeshifting templates.)

The Weaver
05-18-2015, 10:39 PM
But, shapeshifting is one of those Japanese folklore things that even I know. Kitsune, tanuki, etc. So, not unreasonable that a Japanese-influenced character could shapeshift. It might imply 'trickster-ness' but not particularly 'bestiality'. Unless the character acts like an animal when in human form.
(I also wouldn't find it unreasonable that, surrounded by different animals, those different animals would also be shapeshifting templates.)

Stupid me. How can I forget something like that? Thank you for the reminder. For this character though the shapeshifting is more like the Thing or Prototype but much weaker and not eating people.

EMaree
05-19-2015, 12:31 AM
Yeah, my first thought was kitsune. In your position, I'd focus on the Japanese character's traditions and home (or, if they're away from Japan, longing for home). Show how their magic connects them to their culture. I can't think of any yokai off the top of my head that resemble the Prototype style of creature (though there's a lot (http://yokai.com/bakeneko/) to search (http://yokai.com/bakeneko/) through (http://hyakumonogatari.com/tag/yokai-stories/), so I'm probably missing some (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_legendary_creatures_from_Japan)), but I'm check out the manga PARASYTE which has similar body horror, and UZUMAKI for another style of Japanese horror manga.

The Weaver
05-19-2015, 02:09 AM
Yeah, my first thought was kitsune. In your position, I'd focus on the Japanese character's traditions and home (or, if they're away from Japan, longing for home). Show how their magic connects them to their culture. I can't think of any yokai off the top of my head that resemble the Prototype style of creature (though there's a lot (http://yokai.com/bakeneko/) to search (http://yokai.com/bakeneko/) through (http://hyakumonogatari.com/tag/yokai-stories/), so I'm probably missing some (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_legendary_creatures_from_Japan)), but I'm check out the manga PARASYTE which has similar body horror, and UZUMAKI for another style of Japanese horror manga.

For the traditions and the customs I found a few good sources, but I need to find more in order to avoid him being a walking stereotype. He does live in Australia but he likes it there. As for the magic the it's more of a universal thing, but where your from could change the expression.

Yess Parasyte and Uzumaki are my and the former inspiration for how the character's powers work:)

Sorry if this post sounds incoherent I'm still not used to talking online.

EMaree
05-19-2015, 02:16 AM
You've got nothing to worry about, your post sounded perfectly natural to my digital ears. :D Also, *high five* for awesome manga tastes.

The Weaver
05-19-2015, 02:35 AM
Thank you *high fives back*. I was hesitant on the body horror shifter powers because I was worried I wouldn't be able to write them well in addition to the original topic. I realize that I don't have much to worry about now as long as I make him a person. Thank you.

frimble3
05-19-2015, 04:07 AM
And I know nothing about manga (and had to Google 'Prototype' (video game, right?) and the other names) but if you're looking for a more mythological variation, there's 'Proteus' in Greek mythology, who changes form as suits him. He's more or less a sea-deity, with all of the sea's changeability. The idea of a being who can change forms has been around for a long, long time.

As you say, 'make him a person'.

Indubitably
05-19-2015, 10:58 PM
There are non-Japanese characters with the same ability in your book too, right? Prototype-style abilities don't strike me as animalistic at all, since they're used so deliberately and manipulated with human intelligence. I could see The Thing as more brutish.

The Weaver
05-20-2015, 04:39 AM
There are non-Japanese characters with the same ability in your book too, right? Prototype-style abilities don't strike me as animalistic at all, since they're used so deliberately and manipulated with human intelligence. I could see The Thing as more brutish.

Of course. The symbiote will bond with a person regardless of their race. And now that you mention Prototype Alex did use his powers in a deliberate fashion.

PinkUnicorn
06-26-2015, 02:49 AM
I write a PoC shapeshifter in one of my series, and I've gotten several readers complain to me about him. The series actually never says what his natural skin color is, because no one knows what he really looks like. In one volume he's white, in another he's black, in another he's Asian, etc. In his natural form, he is in fact an animal (a horse to be exact - a Kelpie or Phooka [not to be confused with a Pooka] - which is a vampire-like water horse that eats people, it's a type of unicorn that comes from Welsh mythology) and because he's an animal, only mimicking what he sees humans around him doing and saying, he is written as acting like an animal.

The funny thing about the reader complaints is, I get readers "yelling" at me saying how I'm a white person making fun of PoCs.... One line stood out in particular for one reader. In one volume, he is brown and when asked by another character why he chose to look that way, he responded to say "I is colour of caramel taffy." One reader totally flipped out over that line (complaining that not only was I being racist for having him act like an animal, but also for describing him in terms of food.)

uhm....

Here's the thing...I'm brown, and if you hold a caramel taffy next to my arm, the colour is identical, and I describe my skin colour that way.

The character in question is also a chef and describes EVERYTHING in terms of food (not just skin colour), why? Well, I'm a chef, went to culinary arts school, write cookbooks when I'm not writing fiction, and I have a food truck. i think of EVERYTHING in terms of food.

The other thing the reader flipped out over was his really bad broken English... well, fact is, he talks just like me. While i can type in perfect grammar, I do not speak it and it's next to impossible for me to talk in anything other then what people have referred to as 'the language of mountain folk", my English is freaking terrible, and I write this character with "bad English" because, it's actually a relief for me to be able to write in the same language I speak.

But then another reader had a different reaction to these books and asked me:

"You're not white are you? I've never seen another author go overboard in describing white characters the way you do? In fact, I've never seen a white character's skin colour described before at all? White's not your default is it?"

Nope. Not white. Don't very often write white characters. Which is why it's funny that readers complain about this one shapeshifter, because, ALL the characters in the story are PoC, except for the one white dude I go overboard in describing the fact that he's white.

It did get me to thinking though, and I went back and looked and I realized I don't describe what most of the other characters look like, so it's possible my readers were not aware the rest of the cast were PoC as well? The only reason the shifter was described, was because he was changing forms so often. I wonder if I should go into more detail in the colours of all my characters, seeing how there is only one white character in the whole series?

I think the other thing, is I come from a culture where shifters are ALWAYS animals (tricksters) who deceive people by taking human form and are NEVER humans who can take animal form. I always get a knee-jerk reaction whenever I read a shifter and it turns out to be a human just taking an animal form. It's so opposite of the way folklore in my own culture tells shifters, that I end up avoiding most shifter stories. I just can not wrap my mind around human characters taking an animal form. To me shifters are always animals who trick people by taking human forms, thus why my shifters can be a human of any race/colour.

I always find it interesting how different cultures, can have similar things in their traditions, but then they are so different. Most cultures have shifter folktales for example, but the range of reasons, hows, and whys to what a shifter is/does are vast and totally different with each culture.

I wonder, when you mentioned the PoC=beast shifter you read, could it be the author came from a culture where shifters are animals pretending to be humans, and not the other way around? Perhaps the author wrote the shifter one way, but you translated it totally a different way, as a result of differing cultural backgrounds causing differing perspectives?

I've never written a human that could shift into an animal before, and I don't think I could, because I just can't wrap my mind around that concept at all. Every shifter I've ever written has always been an animal, that sometimes takes human form. I know that confuses readers too, because I've gotten complaint about it and it always surprises me how readers can think a shifter is a human who takes animal form!

You mentioned Japanese shifters...the Japanese tradition is similar to my culture's traditions, in that Japanese shifters are animals/trickster who can take human form, and likewise they are prone to be wild and act not-human at all. You might want to consider that, because it's possible, that Japanese readers could be offended by a Japanese HUMAN character taking an animal form (reverse of the Japanese tradition. Kitsune is after all a fox in true form and can take ANY other form human or non-human.)

I've been thinking a lot about shifters vs PoC lately, given the reader reaction to my own series (which I still find rather hilarious, the fact that I've had very little interaction with white folks or their culture and readers are saying I'm white and have no clue anything about PoC and yet, I am a PoC and have no clue about white culture. It think it's fascinating how different people can look at something and every one of them see it differently depending on their own predisposition.)

EMaree
06-26-2015, 01:12 PM
I write a PoC shapeshifter in one of my series, and I've gotten several readers complain to me about him. The series actually never says what his natural skin color is, because no one knows what he really looks like. In one volume he's white, in another he's black, in another he's Asian, etc.

Is he white in his first appearance? This seems hard to pull off without misleading the reader -- I could see it working if they're choosing their ethnicity to fit the scene (e.g. shapeshifting to white to go around a posh-and-racist suburb unnoticed?) but I'd want the story to address the impact of never having a 'true' ethnicity. Readers can get very attached to their *first* mental image of a character, which poses a lot of challenges in this situation.


In his natural form, he is in fact an animal (a horse to be exact - a Kelpie or Phooka [not to be confused with a Pooka] - which is a vampire-like water horse that eats people, it's a type of unicorn that comes from Welsh mythology)

Er, kelpies are *not* Welsh. Very, very not Welsh.

Kelpies = Scottish water horse, almost always vicious and dangerous.
Capaill Uisce = Irish water horse. Like kelpies, they're mostly dicks.
Ceffyl Dŵr = Welsh water horse, formidable or friendly depending on your part of Wales. It can fly. Likes to trample people or evaporate into mist and drop them to their deaths, but doesn't tend to drown people or trap riders like the others do.
Bäckahästen = Scandinavian water horse, tricks you and drowns you, very very similar to kelpies.

Amusingly, a Welsh Ceffyl Dwr is the one water horse that doesn't actually behave like the other water horses... :)

There are ways you *could* work a Welsh kelpie into a story, drawing on the shared language roots, but the way you talk about it here makes it seem like a research fail.


In one volume, he is brown and when asked by another character why he chose to look that way, he responded to say "I is colour of caramel taffy." One reader totally flipped out over that line (complaining that not only was I being racist for having him act like an animal, but also for describing him in terms of food.)

uhm....

Here's the thing...I'm brown, and if you hold a caramel taffy next to my arm, the color is identical, and I describe my skin colour that way.

Describing PoCs in terms of food is considered very problematic, especially because a lot of the food used (like coffee) has links to the slave trade. You might be fine with it, but not ever PoC is.


The character in question is also a chef and describes EVERYTHING in terms of food (not just skin colour), why?

This can work, as long as they're describing white people in food terms too. If they've done this, then (to me at least) you're in the clear. But there's a PoC board in this forum where we've discussed this a lot (http://absolutewrite.com/forums/showthread.php?265345-Describing-POC)and had opinions from a lot of our lovely PoC members.


The other thing the reader flipped out over was his really bad broken English... well, fact is, he talks just like me. While i can type in perfect grammar, I do not speak it and it's next to impossible for me to talk in anything other then what people have referred to as 'the language of mountain folk", my English is freaking terrible, and I write this character with "bad English" because, it's actually a relief for me to be able to write in the same language I speak.


This really sucks, I'm sorry you experienced this. A lot of people are against all dialect in fiction, especially heavy dialect.

It's an attitude that I take a lot of issue with, because a lot of rarer dialects and language quirks can be preserved and taught through fiction, and being anti-dialect feels to me like a disservice to the culture. But hey, lots of people hate it. You gotta shrug it off, they're not your target reader.


It did get me to thinking though, and I went back and looked and I realized I don't describe what most of the other characters look like, so it's possible my readers were not aware the rest of the cast were PoC as well?

If you don't describe your character's skin tone, they *will* read as white to white readers. It really sucks, but right now the only way to ensure your characters read as PoC is to describe them as such -- and do it multiple times, very clearly, because people will still ignore very obvious descriptions (http://jezebel.com/5896408/racist-hunger-games-fans-dont-care-how-much-money-the-movie-made).


I think the other thing, is I come from a culture where shifters are ALWAYS animals (tricksters) who deceive people by taking human form and are NEVER humans who can take animal form. I always get a knee-jerk reaction whenever I read a shifter and it turns out to be a human just taking an animal form. It's so opposite of the way folklore in my own culture tells shifters, that I end up avoiding most shifter stories. I just can not wrap my mind around human characters taking an animal form. To me shifters are always animals who trick people by taking human forms, thus why my shifters can be a human of any race/colour.

Looooveee this! Now I understand the shifting ethnicities. I hope this is clear in your story, because this is SUPER COOL and deserves to be highlighted in fiction.


I always find it interesting how different cultures, can have similar things in their traditions, but then they are so different.

Yup, like kelpies. :D


You mentioned Japanese shifters...the Japanese tradition is similar to my culture's traditions, in that Japanese shifters are animals/trickster who can take human form, and likewise they are prone to be wild and act not-human at all. You might want to consider that, because it's possible, that Japanese readers could be offended by a Japanese HUMAN character taking an animal form (reverse of the Japanese tradition. Kitsune is after all a fox in true form and can take ANY other form human or non-human.)

That's an awesome idea.

The Weaver
06-29-2015, 04:05 AM
PinkUincorn your shifter character is pretty cool and I would like to see him in action one day. Shifters to me can be either humans who turn into animals or animals into people so both are ok with me. For the people accusing you of being white and racist don't listen to them. Your experiences are valid and your views are insightful and funny. Thank you.