One of the most commonly used powers/augmentations in fiction is the physical transformation. It can range from a cybernetic finger to changing into a towering monster that eats planets. Some are natural while others are magical and still more are created by science. The thing they all have in common is that an organism’s physical structure is changed to some extent. With that being said, there is a wide variety of categories, which I’m going to try to cover as best as I can.
I’m going to get this one out of the way because it’s fairly straightforward. This is the merging of living flesh with machines. It’s entirely different than a robot (all machine with no flesh) and an android (robot designed to look and act human). You can have only part augmented or give the character a full body that holds their brain like in Ghost in the Shell. Power source is always an issue, but you can invent a fake system for your world that will work as long as it’s sensible. For example, they can be powered by the human brain since it produces a lot of energy.
There is a spiritual side to this category too. How much technology can be added to a person before they are no longer human? Do the machines begin to undermine the soul or humanity of the person? If they’re only a brain in a robotic body then can they be sure they truly existed to begin with?
Magical on Purpose
Another broad category, which might be what I stick to here. This is different than the curses that I’ll touch on below. Here is where you would find wizards and magical creatures that cast spells of transformation. They could have an artifact that bestows such power or went through years of training. Many times this takes on an animal or elemental theme. One of the advantages to this category is that it isn’t as restrictive as cybernetics and curses. It can be the most versatile one since the characters can change themselves into anything. There could be a spell for humanoid transformations and another for animal while a third turns them into plants. You can have them be specialists and create a long list of spells that have varying degrees of niche.
Magical by Accident
Mostly curses here, but you also have magical explosions that leave a victim with transformation powers. It doesn’t always have to be bad like werewolves that can’t control themselves. One example here is from ‘One Piece’ where characters who eat the Devil Fruit are cursed with a power, but can never swim again. They find very unique ways to utilize even the strangest of powers and many of them possess a transformation component. This deals much more with the origin and if it was intentional, which you can see it was not.
With this category, you can run the story towards a few different directions. There’s the classic push for a cure or gaining control if they can’t change at will. Other characters might see it as a way to make money. Another path is bitterness and rage, which leads to a villain who seeks to spread his or her own misery. A key component here is to determine how the character handles such an accident.
There is no technology or magic behind these characters. They have been born with the ability to transform like Mystique. Beast Boy might fall into this category too, but he got his powers when he was given a serum to cure a rare diseases and the side-effect was animal transformation. Maybe it’s better to say that the characters here gained their abilities either through birth or a natural, non-magical method. Still, they tend to have the easiest time. There is no casting of spells, relics that they can lose, a curse that they can’t control, or metal parts that require a power source. Instead, they can concentrate on a form and become it within seconds. Unless they are given a specific category restriction, they can change to anything.
A tough part with this character is that they are only as strong as the author’s creativity. I can put limitations on my shape-shifters to help me focus such as humanoid only or perhaps they can only change their arms. Yet, I can also skip that and let them become whatever they need to be. One has to be careful here because you can create such a powerful character that the audience loses their interest. So, you have to use this category (and the others) with caution.
Any other categories that you can think of? Have you ever tried to write a shape-shifter or have a favorite one?