Writing a story, building a world – part 6: HOW?

Read WHO, WHAT, WHERE, WHEN, WHY in earlier installments.

This is the final question.

Continuing –

Question 6: HOW

Going back to the trope thing, when I started writing the Were Chronicles it was with a lot of ideas in the back of my mind – and one of those ideas was something I’d never seen done before in anything I had personally read in the literature dealing with this particular trope: the basis, and the mechanics, of being Were.

In other words, sure, they were by definition creatures which shift into animal form. That was a given; that had always been a given. But few writers had stopped to delve below the surface and ask the questions of WHY they Turned, or HOW, or what the actual rules and parameters were (other than, yeah, you know, full moon, wolves howling at same…)

My educational background was perfect for this. Back I went to the field in which I hold an MSc degree, Molecular Biology.

I sat down and worked it all out. The basic genetics that differentiate the Were from their non-shifting human kindred. The pharmacology behind a drug that affected that change (and then its ramifications when it came to misuse and overdose). How – genetically speaking – is it possible for things to go haywire, what happens when the genetics is messed up, how things could be cured or made good. I invented gene therapy for Were creatures, in the end. I didn’t just take the trope and use it and throw it away – I pinned it out, and investigate it with the best possible scientific method that I could apply, and I reinvented the paper-thin thing, fleshed it out, made it real, made it live. It was a fascinating exercise, and it worked – because at least one reader-review squealed, with multiple exclamation points, “They fixed it with SCIENCE!!!” when “Wolf” first came out.

Suddenly – because I worked out the HOW of it – Were creatures were not just a figment of the imagination. It was possible to see how they could have evolved alongside us. How they could exist at our side in our world.

It was possible to give your neighbor on the subway the side-eye, while reading this book, and wonder briefly whether he turned into something interesting when the moon was right (before you reminded yourself that this whole thing was fiction, right…? Right…?)

I went a step further than that. I posited that the criterion for the type of creature a Were could change into had to be a warm-blooded creature (this left out insects and reptiles and crustaceans and fish) – but that included ALL warm blooded creatures. From a mouse to a bear. ANY shape or size was fair game. But it was fairly obvious that there would have to be rules about this. A human being could not change into something MUCH smaller than itself (like that mouse) or MUCH larger (like that bear) without something having to give – the difference in mass had to go somewhere. So I not only re-created Were genetics, but also Were physiology and anatomy and metabolism.

The solution I came up with (and shhh, this is supposed to be a Were secret…) is that you pay for size with speed and activity. In essence, you concentrate yourself as a mouse and you in fact become a supercharged mouse – and you had to make yourself thinner, as it were, to more rarefied, to cover as much space as a bear would, and so you would be a very very slow and slothful bear. Your metabolism would speed up or slow down depending on what size of creature you changed into.

And of course there would probably be wear and tear on the body. My Were died young. They WORE OUT. I never performed a mental autopsy on one of them but I would hate to think what their martyred organs, their tortured hearts and their twisting bones, would have had to go through for a lifetime of Turning for three days out of every month into a creature which was not human. How I put my poor characters through hell. They probably all hate me with a pure and incandescent hate. I’d better not meet any of THESE while they’re properly carnivorous during the three nights of the full moon, or they would take their righteous revenge…

No, it is not essential to have the HOW worked out so completely and meticulously when you set out to tell a story, any story. But when you can – and when it’s something you can do, even if the bulk of your worked-out mechanics never makes it directly into a book but remains something that you yourself know about and treasure and make use of on the QT to make your story gel (and nobody will quite know why…) – it’s exhilarating. And I highly recommend it.

Find out more about the Were Chronicles here.

 

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Writing a story, building a world – part 6: HOW? — 1 Comment

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