Impractical Applications (Designing Eira)

Earlier this week, I introduced Eira, a were-kiwi designed for my paranormal romance class. As were-kiwis are odd even by my standards, I thought it might be interesting to lay out where she’d come from.

A good part of my design was based on the idea of not using a normal shapeshifter story. Most of the time, when you see single-species shapeshifters, their alter-species is some sort of alpha predator, and it’s mostly about dealing with the predatory instincts… or just the animal instincts… and hiding their true nature from everyone who doesn’t have alternate forms with fur. I wanted to see how a world with active supernaturals would look for somewhat lower down; making her other form a flightless bird allowed me to work with standard prey animal situations and responses, and making her a kiwi meant that I could go the closet shapeshifter route without it being A Matter of Life and Death. Besides, I like kiwis.

The shapeshifting was the most interesting part, I think. As UZ pointed out, there’s the matter of the Law of Conservation of Mass, which admittedly is traditionally ignored to a certain degree in stories about shapeshifters. Where the mass goes niggled at me for a while, until I came up with an answer—I can’t share it, though, since Eira figuring it out is going to be vital to whatever first plot I throw at her. It’s fun how answers like that inspire stories. It also seemed important to me that it be possible to prevent it, and particularly from the human side—and since most animal species (with, amusingly, the exception of a large number of bird species) have, or at least are expected to have, strong senses of smell, tying it into scent sounded comparatively different. Then that got me to thinking about how that could be beneficial to the shapeshifter herself, and next thing I knew Eira made perfumes in her spare time. I’m going to need to do a lot of research on that, though; the closest I’ve ever come to perfume-making was a chemistry lab that focused on isolating essential oils.

And then I started toying with local details, and the influence of the species on the individual. It’d exist—I think it’s part and parcel of the shapeshifting, and let’s face it, it’s half the fun. But instead of something like wolf pack structure or a tendency to go into heat, I decided to go for some of the quirkier things I knew about the species, and about animals in general—and that included, since I love sending up some paranormal romance tropes, things that would make therians, or at least Eira, less likely to have sex rather than more. Did you know that with the exception of certain waterfowl, male birds keep their equipment on the inside? The rest was just quirky kiwi-stuff—things like having a better sense of smell than of vision by a long shot, being functionally nocturnal (technically the kiwis I’ve been anywhere near as crepuscular, but it’s a start), a fondness for snails.

And then we have the activism thing. That’d started when I was trying to name them, and came up with therian—even more amusingly, Eira’s rant about the appropriate terms was written before I’d seen the line in the class lesson claiming that “lycan” was a synonym for shapeshifter. Etymology, people! Somewhere, though, I realized that in a sense, Eira’s story was going to have passing as a major element, and that got me on to things like the thousand ways people can be cruel to people who aren’t like them and the thousand ways people who don’t have that problem can not notice when someone else does—and it seemed to me that someone as strong-willed as Eira was coming out, with the peculiar identity she had, would be right in the middle of the kinds of issues one would get in a world full of known shapeshifters. Then I had a realization involving a children’s book, her cousin and a school bully, and… well, it was certain at that point.

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