Transforming Objects With or Without Permission

Fullmetal Alchemist

Changing a living thing comes with a lot of ethical questions even if it’s being done to oneself.  At least, there should be since I do remember one movie had kids turning rodents into cups without any hesitation.  There’s not that much of an issue when your transforming inanimate objects unless you’re shooting for ‘lead into gold’.  It can be a clear ethical problem if the change is being done to harm others, but mostly this is done to achieve a goal.

Now, I was going to categorize this topic like on Monday, but it all comes into the same vein.  Instead, I’m going to give a few tips if you plan on using this power, spell, or whatever in fiction.

  1. Try to keep the materials in the same school or give a reason why it will become something entirely different.  You might see I’m pulling a lot from ‘Fullmetal Alchemist’ in these tips, but the show does it really well.  You can’t change a wooden log into a metal sculpture.  There needs to be a connection in order to place limits on the power.  Otherwise, the character can turn whatever is around into anything, which means they’re never lacking a solution for a problem.  Don’t have a key?  Turn a rock into it.  Lacking a weapon?  Turn your shoe into a high-powered laser with two beverage holders.  It really takes the suspense out of situations.
  2. Amount of material should be equal or at least close to what you end up with.  If you take a regular piece of paper and turn it into a full-sized blimp then you will need to have some explanation.  Maybe the spell combines with a growth enhancement and there’s no reversing it.  It could have a weaker molecular structure, so it will break apart at some point.  Again, you’re trying to create some limitations here and avoiding having a power that unbalances the story.
  3. The character does need to have an understanding when it comes to transforming an object into something complicated.  If they don’t know how a radio works then the chance of them turning a box of parts into one is nearly impossible.  You can have it be that the magic simply knows how to do it, but then you have to explain why that is the case.  It could be a spell specifically to build a radio, which is oddly niche and restricts the system.  You can’t have a variety of items changed and created by one spell, but then there is this one for radios.  It isn’t too difficult to avoid this because you only have to make the character a reader.
  4. Think twice before having a character turn useless stuff into money.  Gold and possibly gemstones will work, but cash is a big problem.  The reason is because they have serial numbers.  This means the character would have to make each bill one at a time to avoid duplicate numbers.  Other issues is picking a serial number that is already in circulation, one that is too big, or one that is too small.  Will a cashier notice this?  No, but this is something a reader might point out.  You also have various anti-counterfeit additions that the character might not know about.  Just avoid this issue and have them make things to sell on eBay.

Those cover a lot of ground here.  It really comes down to being careful, especially if you make transformations a big staple of a series.  Doing it once or twice might not bring in any attention, but having it be a consistent activity requires a system of some kind.  It can be abused by characters and authors alike since you could feasibly solve any problem with it.  We’re talking almost god-like powers of creation here with the only difference being the mortal needing something to change.  Removing that last limit would make the story horribly broken too.  So, proceed with caution.

About Charles Yallowitz

Charles E. Yallowitz was born, raised, and educated in New York. Then he spent a few years in Florida, realized his fear of alligators, and moved back to the Empire State. When he isn't working hard on his epic fantasy stories, Charles can be found cooking or going on whatever adventure his son has planned for the day. 'Legends of Windemere' is his first series, but it certainly won't be his last.
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19 Responses to Transforming Objects With or Without Permission

  1. This is great advice. Thinking of the consequences works in so much of our fiction. All I can think of at the moment is how Ghostrider upgraded his bike. So many stories leave out the explanation and it jumps out at me. I still wonder why Gandalf didn’t just solve everyone’s problem early on. I mean, if eagles can fly out of Mordor, they ought to be able to fly in, too.

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  2. Amazing amount of thought went into this post, Charles. I never thought about the transformation of cash in terms of serial numbers etc. Things to sell on EBay might be the answer

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  3. L. Marie says:

    Great advice, Charles. You really get at the cost of magic, as did Fullmetal Alchemist (thanks for that gif). The Elric brothers are sad proof of that. Perhaps this is the issue sometimes when a character seems to have unlimited power. At what cost? Often, we don’t see one.

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  4. Reblogged this on Chris The Story Reading Ape's Blog and commented:
    More great writing advice from Charles 👍😎

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  5. Legends are full of transformations that have a time limit. Fairies might pay someone with gold, but by dawn light it turns back into pebbles or leaves. Cinderella’s coach and horses could only remain transformed until midnight.

    I could see a rat being turned into a cup, but like you, I wonder if that would kill the rat. If you immediately transformed the cup back into a rat, would it just carry on being a rat?

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