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.


One Response to “Shape shifting: point of view problem”

  1. […] November 27, 2007: Shape shifting: point of view problem I am fixing the POV problems I had with Katharine and her fellow wizards shape shifting into animals. I’m editing two chapters from the middle of THE MAGIC QUILT, where Katharine, her grandmother and Sara Revere have transmutated 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? […]

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