Shape shifting: point of view problem

How do I shape shift humans into animals?

I’m editing two chapters from the middle of THE MAGIC QUILT where Katharine, her grandmother and Sara Revere have shape shifted into animals. I have been struggling with the narrator’s POV. Should I call Katharine “the cat” or “Katharine.” Likewise, should I use “the red bird” or “Grandma.” And should the narrator refer the animals as it or she?

Here is an excerpt where I’m struggling with POV:

“Come. Follow me.” The red bird flew, sun reflecting off its necklace.

Katharine felt herself shrink to an ordinary white housecat and leapt into the trees. She followed her grandma, a flock of blackbirds surrounding her, and her friend Sara running behind her on silent black paws.

At a safe distance, the red bird flew down and sat on the ground.

Katharine sat on her haunches, wrapped her tail around her feet and put her head down. Tears wet the white fur on her face. “I couldn’t save the baby birds, Grandma.”

“You weren’t meant to save them, child. Bad things sometimes happen that even wizards can’t control.”

“But, it’s not fair! I wanted to save them.”

The red bird sighed and said. “I agree. It’s not fair, child.” The bird took a breath. “Along with your magic comes great responsibility. You will have to follow the laws that govern wizards. We can never use our power to change history, no matter how badly we want to.” A tear glinted in the red bird’s eye.

“Why?” Katharine was curious.

The bird’s eye twitched before her grandma said, “If wizards went around changing history for their own purposes, the world would be in constant and utter chaos. Now, we must go back to the school. Follow me.” She flew back to the tree overhanging the schoolyard.
The cat climbed to the top branch and sat next the red bird.

Likewise, when the evil wizard shifts into a cockroach, should the narrator call him “Dr. Ziegawart” or “the cockroach”?

Here is an excerpt that shows the POV problem.

Cafeteria trays clanked, the sound nearly deafening the small creature. Unaccustomed to these eyes, he could see only a kaleidoscope of large shadowy figures. The cockroach turned his head for a better view of the room, his antennae twitching. The corners of nearby tables and chair backs loomed like mountains. And the smashed cookie next to an almost empty potato chip bag on the floor could feed him for over a week. He was delighted that children were so careless and sloppy.

A large roach, as long as a tube of Chap Stick, he clung to a trashcan by the hooks on his six legs, unnoticed by the rowdy students eating lunch in the cafeteria. None of the teachers (who were all imbeciles) or the cafeteria staff (who were about as intelligent as slugs) saw the cockroach clinging to the trashcan, waving its antennae in constant search of a change in air that could mean danger to a small insect.

Four of his legs suddenly slipped from the trashcan. He shuffled all six legs, clinging harder to the slippery plastic. What was happening? He could …not … not … remember … His great mind had became muddled. With that realization, Dr. Ziegawart felt an emotion that was foreign to him, fear. He turned his head slowly … could hardly move his head. It was too heavy. His heart thumped once and slowed. Mustering his strength, the roach crawled up the trashcan to hide in the dim light under the rim.

I posted this POV question on the Writers Net Discussion Forum to get some help.
Here is the advice that I received. Thank you to the writers who took the time to reply to my question.

If Katharine is your main character, then it’s important that the reader never loses her in the text, that’s what having a POV is all about. If it’s strictly Katharine’s POV then you can’t leave that without it feeling awkward (except in certain circumstances).

Remember, even if your character turns into something else, they’re still your character – it’s still Katharine in there, referring to her as the animal all of the time is confusing. It only works when Katharine is observing someone as the animal, such as in the beginning when it says “the red bird flew”. That is an instant where Katharine is observing the red bird, so she might call it that before identifying it as her grandmother. But Katharine still has her mind and her own thoughts as well as the other characters, so it makes sense to just refer to them as their own name for most of the time. This sentence works fine:

“Katharine sat on her haunches, wrapped her tail around her feet and put her head down.”

As long as you remind the reader that Katharine is now a cat – have Katharine explain how it feels to be cat, what new senses she has, how much smaller she is – we won’t forget that she has changed.

I thought you did it well with Katharine in the beginning of the piece by referring to her by name, yet using animal descriptions.

The second part with Dr. Ziegawart is much better. You combine his thoughts and observations with the fact that he is now a cockroach. If you compare the two different passages, you can see how much better the words flow in the second one.

Also, be careful that your characters are doing only what their animals are capable of. Can cats cry? Can a bird sigh?

it’s good that you recognize something is off. That instinct will help you become a better writer.

I am so happy that I asked. I can see that in the section from Dr. Ziegawart’s POV, I was writing as a cockroach. I had researched roaches (gross) and wrote from his POV with roaches in mind, even including that light shuts down the roach metabolism. I knew I liked that section, but hadn’t considered why. I haven’t written Katharine as a cat from a cat’s POV consistently. I need to be more aware of what the animals are capable of.

To plagiarize from a former post, Children’s fantasy demands the strictest logic, consistency, and attention to detail. It’s damn hard to “build the lie” that fantasy demands.

This post comes after I debated about what to submit to my writing group for critique. I wanted to work on a new story that exists currently only in my imagination. It will be titled “Into the third and fourth generations,” about the personality disorders passed down through the generations. I believe the beginning will be a young girl in a psychiatric hospital and the story will follow her family tree to the origin of the personality disorders. Or, I thought about submitting a story that I wrote several years ago around this time, Stand-in Santa. I’ve never submitted it to my writing critique group and it would be fun to hear their feedback. It is almost December, after all.

Then I reminded myself of my goal. Finish THE MAGIC QUILT by December 31st. If I work on anything else, I won’t finish the YA novel. So I reluctantly looked through THE MAGIC QUILT’S table of contents and struggled over which section to submit? I thought about a chapter which I’ve just finished polishing, and am rather proud of. I resisted and submitted the chapters that need the most work. This was a hard choice for me, because I am reluctant to let anyone, even my critique group, read my work before I’m happy with it.

Interview: Sean Lindsay on NaNoWriMo

Sean Lindsay, an outspoken critic of National Novel Writing Month, is interviewed by Stephen Jayson Harris.

“The concept of NaNo seems to be to give people the feel-good buzz of being a ‘Novelist’, with the barest minimum of work to justify it.”

Completing 50,000 words in 30 days is a challenge for most people.
“Can you hit the spacebar 50,000 times in a month, with some letters in between?” It boils down to finding the time, and nothing more.

50,000 words is a significant portion of a modern novel.
But it’s only a portion of the process. It’s the first draft of half, maybe two thirds of a novel. Imagine if someone announced they were going to build their own house: they purchase some tools, and cut 50,000 pieces of lumber to length. Then they abandon the project, say “Now I’m a carpenter!”, and leave the wood to rot. Read entire enterview.

I am happy to hear Sean Lindsay say what I’ve been saying ever since I heard about NaNoWriMo. It is impossible to write anything but a first draft in one month. And such a draft would be sketchy at best. To pull out a Thanksgiving rerun from a former post, Ignorance may be bliss, but it won’t get you published.

NaNoWriMo plays into the naïvity and ignorance of writers who think they can write a novel in a month. National Novel Writing Year would be a more realistic contest. That way quality wouldn’t be thrown out the window. Writers could revise, edit and polish their novels. It takes time to get to know imperfect characters, to bring out their point of view, to buildup tension toward conflict or danger, and create a sense of place. It takes not only time, but patience, sweat and plain ol’ hard work. We have to get our hands dirty with the messy lives of our characters. Otherwise we are left with a pile of lumber and no carpenter.

It feels good to be writing again. I’ll be posting a progress report on my YA novel. I may not reach my December 31st deadline, but I’m going to start nailing boards together and give it my best shot.

Wine News From Across the Hall

I am not yet writing effectively since my father’s passing. I aimlessly surf the Web and then try to concentrate on the novel, or even this blog, but the creativity just isn’t there. So, I thought this would be a good time to introduce a guest blogger. My husband Harry Calhoun writes a monthly wine column, Ten Dollar Tastings. I asked him to contribute to WORLDS THAT NEVER WERE with a note about his column. I hope that he will consider posting on a regular basis.


Hello wine lovers!

The latest column (November) is now online. Fall has fallen on us, but at least here in temperate North Carolina, it hasn’t fallen too hard yet. And the terrible drought that has caused severe water restrictions has been slaked by at least a few good rainfalls, so we’re breathing a cautious sigh of relief.

Sadly, my wife Trina’s father passed away earlier this month, and we are still struggling with that loss. In an odd coincidence, in my department at work, all three marketing writers lost a parent this year, and now Trina has suffered the same fate. Perhaps it’s not a coincidence that this month’s column starts out talking about ghosts and the ghostly.

In more positive news, Trina has cut back to a 91.5 percent schedule at her job, which gives her more time to write. Our black Labrador Alex is doing great, having been through obedience training and getting used to having two doting parents. I’m still plugging away at my day job and doing a little freelance work — writing wine labels for a well-known winery and doing brochures and other materials for a local dog trainer.

As far as this month’s column, you’ll find out all about ghost wineries and hear about some wines that are spookily good and (as always) affordable. So are the incredibly priced wines of Surazo winery and my pick for Charlie, a Shiraz that low in price but high in fruity satisfaction. And of course, there are plenty of links to The Wine Merchant so you can scope out and purchase from their incredible selection.

Remember that you can access back editions of the column from the archive on the right nav bar. And don’t forget to tell your friends about Ten Dollar Tastings.

As always, I hope you enjoy Ten Dollar Tastings. Comments are always welcome. If you have any suggestions, or especially if there are topics that you’d like me to explore, please drop a line. And thank you for reading!


Harry Calhoun

Web site:


My father passed away Monday morning. Having suffered through chemo and radiation treatment for Non-Hodgkin’s Lymphoma, a very aggressive cancer, he died of heart failure. I am finally crying for the first time today. I feel relief for him, and hope that he has found peace.

He was my inspiration. A physicist with premature grey and then white hair, it was rather like being raised by Einstein. So, when my four sisters and I learned that our father had passed, we compiled this list of the odd, quirky and fun things he did. These are the things that we remember about our father.


I waited each night for Dad to come home, he’d always greet me at the driveway.

Dad modeled parenting skills that I use today – spend time with your kids –if it works, use it and have fun, who cares what it looks like.

Dad ran with me in his business clothes during one cross-country practice when I needed encouragement.

In his funny voice, he’d mimic Mary’s basketball coach “Pass the ball harder next time.” The next pass smacked into the wall and he would crack up echoing the coach “not that hard.” He was so proud of Mary.

He waited in rollercoaster lines for hours. He would talk about physics and I had no idea what he was talking about, but somehow it didn’t matter.

Dad did donuts in parking lots on snowy days when mom wasn’t in the car.

He took us fishing at midnight because that is when the fish were biting.

Dad cut the top off a tree in the front lawn for use as our Christmas tree. There in the front lawn was the stub of a pine tree. The neighbors immaculately trimmed lawns adjacent. He then stuffed the whole Christmas tree in the fireplace and Mom screamed “Louis” while flames engulfed the mantle.

He calculated the cost of heating fuel required to heat a bedroom closet that was left open.

Dad made an entire set of Lincoln Logs, in the basement. He made some lengths that couldn’t be purchased. I literally had the best set.

Dad made new wooden doll beds for us one Christmas on his lathe. He stayed up all night building them.

He played Nertz, spades and other card games with us for hours on the living room rug. He never seemed to get bored playing games.

Dad took me to chess club with him on Friday nights.

He made us bike helmets out of hockey helmets — I was so embarrassed by them as a child.
Dad calibrated the cadence of each of our bikes gears and glued cards with the numbers on our bikes, so that we knew which gear to shift in when he told us to shift.

He took us on 20-mile bike rides until we were exhausted and he had to bike home to get the car and haul our bikes and us home.

Dad ate my horrible cooking while I was learning how to cook. I believed for years that he liked burned food.

Dad said some things that brought me through tough times. 1) If you work as hard at getting a job as you would at the job, then you will get a job. 2) Keep 6 months of bill money in the bank. – that one saved my bacon a few times.

Dad prayed when it got tough.

In loving memory of my father. May his soul find peace and comfort.


Please send your own Dadisms. I’d love to read them.

Skunk or dog?

I recently received this e-mail from a reader:
Good luck finishing your WIP. I don’t know about you, but even when I have a day off from teaching (or whatever work), there are so many other things to do…

It is so true. A day off work can mean catching up on household chores and errands, or just recovering from the stress of the work week. I will really have to work to protect my writing time on my Fridays off. If these days do become “catch up” days, then I will have to use my weekends to write.

As an example, and the reason for this post title:

Yesterday, which was my first day off work on my part time schedule, I spent two hours at the vet with our black lab, Alex. Harry and I noticed that King Alex was bleeding from his rectal area when we were walking him Tuesday evening. I immediately thought that he ate something bad, like glass. He had just gobbled our Halloween decorations, I think consuming some wire. Too late to go to his regular vet, we went to the after hours emergency vet to find that Alex had an abscessed anal sac, a very painful condition. Anal sacs are the same type of organs that a skunk uses to scare away its enemies – didn’t know that a dog had them. Because most dogs live in an environment that has no enemies, the sacs are rarely emptied, so these organs are an ideal environment in which bacteria can grow. It turns out that black labs are a breed susceptible to anal sac disease.

Our boy was sedated and had emergency surgery Tuesday night. Needless to say, his care and check up at the vet Friday has interrupted my writing schedule. But, Harry and I are happy that Alex has healed and is pain free.

I still managed to get four hours of writing done after the vet appointment yesterday. I have to admit that I wasn’t motivated and it shows in the revisions that I did yesterday. So I am spending this morning revising my work from yesterday and then moving on to new revisions. But, I am working.

Harry and I slept ten hours last night. It feels good to be able to write on a Saturday morning, having already recovered from the work week, revived and awake. I am optimistic about my new schedule.