I'm writing about demons who live in an alternate world that exists below our own. They rarely venture into the human world because it forces them into a solid body, which they find painful and unnatural.

I have two possibilities in mind for their natural state. The first is that they exist as formless shapes made of what they call "essence" and move around by floating, almost like ghosts. They don't really have a physical form in this scenario, and their pain stems from the fact they are not naturally solid beings.

The second is that they are shpaeshifters who constantly change form, and in this case, their dislike of bodies comes from their inability to change while in the human world. Staying in one shape for too long even in their own world can become uncomfortable, and it's very painful in the human world.

Which concept is easier to understand?

  • 3
    $\begingroup$ Ease of understanding is a function of how the information is presented to an audience. That's more of a writing concern than a worldbuilding one. $\endgroup$
    – sphennings
    May 11, 2022 at 16:34
  • $\begingroup$ @Aelan. Your title is worded wrong. It should say "Shapeshifters or just no physical form?" Insetead is says "Shapeshifters or no just physical form?" $\endgroup$ May 11, 2022 at 19:35
  • $\begingroup$ @M.A.Golding thank you, i'll change it. $\endgroup$
    – Aelan
    May 11, 2022 at 19:58

2 Answers 2


Use both.

You have your head wrapped around both. They are not mutually exclusive. They are both cool for a story. These ghostlike creatures in their own environment take on whatever form pleases them, or none, or some hybrid. "Form" is sort of a joke and they think it is funny. They express themselves with form shifts as much as language.

When these protean creatures are in our world and locked into a body it is vexing in several ways. I am thinking of a human artist and free spirit who finds herself having to work long hours on a line at a fish processing plant. It is constricting and suffocating. But she needs the money so she tries hard to do it. She feels her mind withering as she does, or at least it feels like it is withering.

Maybe she looks for artistic expression in the fish. Maybe your protean underworlders look for ways to change their form starting with the human body they are locked into. There are humans who were born as human but who also chafe at their forms; maybe their efforts can give you inspiration.


Analogy counting

I think you're asking "which is easier to relate to." Ask yourself what analogies you could apply. The one that has the most analogies wins.

For instance, being stuck in just one shape can give them something similar to "restless leg syndrome." This is where, when a person is lying still, they have an urge to move their legs. If they don't, the urge becomes increasingly strong, and has been described as a pins and needles sensation. Eventually, the legs will twitch and spasm on their own.

Being forced into the corporeal could be a lack of freedom. Alternately, they could be constantly reaching out with arms and tendrils that they don't have. No matter what shape they take, it's like having half of your limbs amputated.

You might also want to decide which of them works better in the context of the rest of the story. Maybe you want it to be an allegory to some situation in the plot line. That can always be fun.


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