I have a real love for shape-shifting as a magical ability/superpower, and have two questions related to it, as I’m writing two stories that have it at the forefront.
1. How do I write transformation scenes without getting too gross/body horror-ish?
2. Since it’s such a diverse power with plenty of applications, what are some good weaknesses/limits to put in place?


Hi Kayla,

Great question.

You shouldn’t need to worry about body horror unless you get detailed and the transformation resembles injury or sickness. Like if you talk about bones cracking and shifting and skin stretching, that’s body horrorish. But sprouting wings, growing longer claws, or teeth sharpening into canines is generally not going to be an issue because that’s nothing like being injured; it’s just adding an extra thing. You can also stay vague about the specifics or focus on how the character’s perception of the world around them changes (such as the room getting bigger or smaller).

For limits, you have several options. First, you can limit what forms a shapeshifter can take.

  • If they can shapeshift into an animal but they can’t change their mass, that actually eliminates tons of options because an animal of human mass can’t get small enough to slip in through little holes, light enough to fly very well, or big enough to massacre people. If that’s too far, you can say they can change their mass a little but not a lot, or they can get smaller but not bigger, etc.
  • Changing into a specific person, like a doppelganger, is really powerful, so if they can do that, you might want to make that their only ability.
  • Similarly, if you want them to change into powerful fantasy creatures like dragons, you might want to pick a specific creature and say that’s it, or it’ll get too powerful.

You can also use their mental state as a limit. How do they think as another creature? Do they have the same cognitive capabilities as a human? Do instincts tend to take over? In some stories, characters can’t spend too long as an animal because then they might forget who they are and not change back. Giving them some kind of animal mental characteristics can also add novelty.

Finally, you can use a lot of the types of limits that other spells have. How often can they do it? Do they have to recover afterward? Can they do it instantaneously or does it require some ritual? Can they change when they’re tired, sick, or drunk? Is it more difficult to change into some types of animals? Before they can change, maybe they need a hair from the person they’re changing into, or a scale from a dragon if they want to change into a dragon.

I hope that gives you some ideas. Happy writing!


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