Naked shapeshifters? A writing problem.

pixabay image compilation

I’m about 21,000 words into my latest WIP after a week of NaNo. Can I keep up the pace? Not a chance! But it feels good that the words are spewing – yeah… spewing. 🙂

But I have a problem… naked shapeshifters. They’re distracting, and I refuse to bog down the story to deal with all the nudity or the logistics of finding clothing. I’m curious as to how you might handle it.

The challenges of keeping your clothes on while shapeshifting

My human characters are shapeshifters. The story is an adventure that takes place over four large territories. Shapeshifting is a convenient way of traveling, spying, stealing, protecting oneself, and escaping some sticky situations. There are extreme drawbacks to shifting, so it’s a choice that has to be carefully weighed.

Anyway, when a human shifts into a bird or leopard or beetle, for example, their clothes don’t fit anymore and, logically, are left behind. (Yes, exceptions abound, but I’m not going there .)

So the animal travels or escapes, and then shifts back into human form somewhere in the mountains or jungle. It would follow that their tidbits are fully exposed to the elements, to the terrain, and to each other. Naked shapeshifters dangling and bouncing, wrapping themselves in handy fern fronds, or keeping a thousand stashes of plastic-wrapped outfits all over the vast territories doesn’t work for me. What to do?

Of course, I googled this problem, and I’m not the only one to face it.

Here are some ideas based on my research:

1. Clothing is a part of the shifter’s physical organism and when he changes, his clothing goes along for the ride. It’s part of his being. Damaged clothing could regenerate just like physical injuries.

2. Shapeshifters transform by rearranging the space that their physical organism and clothing occupy. The matter that makes up clothing transforms with them.

3. Similar to fey glamor, a shifter doesn’t physically reconfigure matter or change form, only appears to. Thus clothing is optional, and only the shifter knows the truth.

4. A shifter’s pattern, or archetype, is not limited to the physical body and appearance, but includes, personality traits, quirks, instincts, and training, as well as a distinctive choice of clothing. Just as the pattern of a wolf or bear includes a specific coloring of skin and fur. When a shifter changes into another archetype, the clothing disappears with his humanness. When he retakes his human form, the human imprint reappears. The shapeshifter simply transforms from one archetype to another, and back.

5. Another take on patterning – Magic is a form of energy. It interacts strongly with matter and can be controlled consciously. A shifter transforms by mentally reforming his self-image into an animal. The mental image provides a pattern for the magic, and they shift to match. Same thing in reverse, with clothing.

6. Shifters perform a ritual using the carcass of the animal they wish to turn into. They wear the skin or furs of that animal, and when they shift, the ritual pulls through the “bonded” matter around the shifting body. When transforming back, the spell returns the shifter’s body and other matter to its former arrangement.

7. Shifter clothing is crafted from animal skins and furs so it can morph with the shapeshifter. Inorganic items cannot shift and are left behind.

8. Clothing is made for a child-shifter using hides, hair, feathers, and other animal materials. During a ritual, the clothing is patterned to the child, who eventually learns to shift with them. Until they learn this skill, they are shifting in the naked human form.

9. A shifter imbibes a substance that permeates the body and gives the shifter control over his physical organism, integrating consciousness with anatomy. The substance reacts based on the conscious commands of the shifter.

10. The clothing is made of psychoactive fibers that meld into a shifter’s body when he transforms, completely hidden from view.

11. Shifters wear some kind of charm that allows them to change or create appropriate clothing.

12. Magic requires no explanation – it just works.

13. Clothing doesn’t exist in this world.

14. Deal with the nakedness.

15. Have everyone wear ponchos.

Is there one or two of the above that appeal to you? Any other ideas?

Happy Writing!

183 thoughts on “Naked shapeshifters? A writing problem.

  1. Bel says:

    Diana, it’s either magic or deal with the nakedness 😂


  2. Antonia says:

    Isn’t Google great? I like #5 and #11. Zoe likes #11, if you want a little girl’s perspective. Wow, 21,000 words! I hope you have been doing well, and have a great Thanksgiving, Diana!

    Liked by 1 person

  3. leellington says:

    This is my fourth year of NaNoWriMo and it would scarcely be possible for me to be more behind. Good luck on your November journey!

    Liked by 1 person

  4. I always wondered about this! Which is very time-consuming because I read a LOT of shapeshifter stories so…
    Loved this post, Diana, so very informative and clever 😉

    Liked by 1 person

    • It was really fun researching the approaches to clothing, Sophie, which also impacted my conceptualization of shifting in general. I want all the “powers” of the different races in the book to integrate, so it makes sense in the world as a whole. It was fun to get everyone’s ideas. Thanks for popping over, and Happy Reading!


  5. Teri Polen says:

    ‘Have everyone wear ponchos.’ I laughed out loud at this one, Diana – and congrats on the word count!

    Liked by 2 people

    • Thanks, Teri. Only one other person mentioned that option. You and I think alike. Actually, the recommendation is robes or capes, but ponchos work just as well. I’m cranking out the words after a dearth of writing over the summer. Lots of rewriting ahead though. 🙂 Happy Writing!

      Liked by 1 person

  6. Khaya Ronkainen says:

    Sounds like your muse is on your fire; 21 000 words in a week. 🙂 Happy writing!

    Liked by 2 people

  7. I read this post with envy (21,000 words!), humor (shapeshifter lists on Google), and anticipation. I can’t wait to read this next book of yours and find out which way you go. Knowing you, I think your characters may end up naked. ✌️

    Liked by 1 person

    • Yes! Ha ha ha. After all that work figuring out how to incorporate clothes, I’m leaning toward nakedness. You know me so well, Pam. It complicates some situations which is good – more hassles and danger for the characters. Otherwise it won’t be a big deal. I hit 30K today. It feels sooooo good to be writing, even though I know the rewrites are going to be monsters. I hope you’re getting some words down too, my friend. ❤

      Liked by 1 person

  8. Adele Marie says:

    I have had this problem too but I like solution no 2 and no 8. In my book about selkies, shapeshifters into seal form, they carry their clothes with them in a skin bag as they shapeshift the bag becomes part of the animal then when shifting back into selkie form the bag returns to a bag. xxx

    Liked by 1 person

    • That sounds like a simple solution, Adele, and perfect for your book. One my characters will be turning into a beetle on occasion, so I can’t really give them anything to carry or keep track of. Ha ha. I’m kind of sliding back toward letting the nudity happen without making a big deal about it. It will create some interesting situations that the characters are going to have to figure out. Thanks for the votes though, I sill have to work out the magic/science of the transformation, clothes or not. So this is very helpful! Happy Writing!

      Liked by 1 person

  9. While I can imagine this being a fairly widespread problem with authors, the googled list amuses me to no end. Some of the ideas are brilliant, others just good common sense, some really gave me a chuckle. I didn’t know you were participating in NaNo this year. Good luck to you, my friend. Cheering from the sidelines. *shakes pom-poms*

    Liked by 1 person

    • I’m off to a good start with Nano but have numerous interruptions coming up. *Sigh* I’m going to just keep going through the winter and try to get the first draft of a trilogy done before spring. There were so many ideas on this issue, Sarah, and I distilled them down to what I thought was useful. Some were very funny and I had to share. Thanks for the visit and Happy Writing!

      Liked by 2 people

      • 🎶 Just keep writing, just keep writing, just keep writing, writing, writing, writing… What do we do? We write, write.🎶 🐠 (I know about interruptions. They can be tough, but I’ll be thinking of you and cheering for you.)

        Liked by 1 person

  10. […] Wallace Peach wrote a great post recently about thinking around how the magic in her writing worked (in this case shapeshifters) and […]

    Liked by 1 person

  11. Sounds very intriguing Diana. Have you read John Perkins Shapeshifting; Shamanic Techniques for Global and Personal Transformation? I found it very thought provoking.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Oooh. No I haven’t, Brigid. I do believe that we are in many ways Shapeshifters, that we impact energy patterns creatively – it’s merely a matter of choice and practice. I’ll pick up Perkin’s book. Thanks so much for the recommendation. 🙂


  12. Solitaire says:

    #9, have a wonderful adventure! 😊

    Liked by 1 person

  13. cath says:

    Nice going on your NaNo, that’s a lot of story happening.

    That thought about shape-shifters has occurred to me when watching or reading a story involving them. If I were writing them, I’d probably opt for number three. However, i think any of your solutions are feasible, so long as you convince us, within the story world, that this is how it works.

    But I’m sure you already know that, and have probably already got an idea about how to work it out…

    Liked by 1 person

    • This discussion has been great, Cath, simply by helping me focus my thoughts into what might work. Whatever I come up with will need to integrate across the world-building as a whole, it will need to serve the plot, and it will need to make “scientific” sense in my mind. I’m a firm believer in the idea that as long as the author follows the rules of the magic system, it doesn’t need to be fleshed out in minute detail for the reader. 🙂 Thanks for sharing your thoughts and Happy Writing!

      Liked by 1 person

  14. Jina Bazzar says:

    Hmmm, i read a lot of fantasy with shifters and weres, Diana, and the ones that make more sense to me are the ones who roll up their clothes into a necklace before shifting – their clothes get ripped in the process to accomodate the body. This one makes more sense because clothes have no DNA to be part of the shift. However, when i was drafting the trilogy, i didn’t want people to go running naked in New York – you can see the problem here? – so i had a special made type of cloth – comes from the Sidhe land – that allows a body to shift with the clothes back and forth. However, only one person in my trilogy was granted clothes from the Sidhe land, and even she can’t predict when to wear them (the material shifts color and oozes heat)or if she’ll need to shift or not, so she has embarrassing moments. .I’d say from your list, #6,8, and a few of the last one – can’t remember the numbers now – appeal to me, though they dont solve the problem.

    Liked by 1 person

    • I was thinking about you a bit as I wrote this post, Jina, since you have some shifting in your books, that you handle well, in my opinion. 🙂 Stories and plots impact our decisions as well, which makes this all so interesting and the results unique. I find it fun to discuss with other writers and think through- like a puzzle. Thanks for the ideas and feedback! Happy Writing!


  15. Weighing on point no. 12 — “Magic requires no explanation — it just works” — I would add a caveat to that: It needs to be logical and consistent. Magic shouldn’t necessarily be explained — we can accept that witches conjure spells somehow, or Superman’s birth on an exoplanet gives him powers here on Earth, or the flux capacitor enables time travel — but the rules, limits, consequences, and potential drawbacks to those powers need to be defined and consistent.

    We know that Superman’s alien constitution gives him the power of flight, invincibility, and X-ray vision here on Earth, but a writer isn’t free to make up new powers on the fly when it’s narratively convenient! Furthermore, his power comes with a weakness: He is susceptible to poisoning through “Kryptonite” — that is, radiated fragments from his home world. Thusly, however you choose to explain the shapeshifters’ clothing conundrum, just be consistent about it. It isn’t important that we understand the how of those supernatural abilities so long as we’re clear on the rules that govern them. That’s what allows us, the readers, to believe in magic!

    Liked by 1 person

    • “…the rules, limits, consequences, and potential drawbacks to those powers need to be defined and consistent.” Absolutely, Sean. That’s why #12 makes me wary. One of my challenges is that whatever I come up with has to integrate with other elements of the world-building and work with the plot too. I prefer a quasi-semi-science basis that ties it all together and is logically consistent. Perhaps limited manipulation of matter. I’m also considering going with the nudity, while at the same time, not focusing on it. I’ll need to make a decision soon as the magical parameters are going to impact the story, and I’d rather not do major rewrites. Thanks for the comment! Happy Writing!

      Liked by 1 person

  16. I read this the other day, but I had no clue which option sounded the best, so I didn’t try to offer a suggestion. At the time, I leaned toward number 5, but there was something about it I didn’t like yet didn’t know what. Today the problem became clear (to me). What if the shifter was unconscious upon shifting? How would he/she mentally visualize the proper clothes? Hmm. And number 12? I agree, in part, that magic doesn’t need explanation, but on the other hand, I’m curious and want/need to know how things work and why. I think you do too. I’m confident you’ll come up with the perfect solution. Forgive the long comment that wasn’t even helpful! Happy Writing.

    Liked by 1 person

    • I so appreciate you coming back to give your thoughts, Mary. My shifters won’t be able to shift while unconscious (at this point). It’s going to take some focus, but it takes so much physical energy that they are unconscious upon completion – so that’s a big problem for them. A lot of bloggers like #12, but I am a big fan around limits and rules for magic, so I’m going to need something more. It’s been lots of fun to explore this and the feedback has been amazing! ❤ Have a wonderful week, my friend.

      Liked by 1 person

  17. C.J. Stuart says:

    I have 2 ideas and the first 1 is they could simply activate a glow thus obscuring their body except for the face until they could aquire clothes. 2. When transforming back that clothing would bade from whatever fur or feathers they transformed into. And ok 3. How about tattoos…maybe the have fur or feathers already inked onto their skin in most places…or 4. They have sev. Tattos in did. Places on their body and can use any of them…animals…dif. Sets of clothes…

    Liked by 1 person

  18. I’d have to go for #11, but instead of a charm I would have a shapeshifter have a device that sits just below the skin behind their ear or under their armpit that when pressed produces an outfit for where they are – e.g. shorts and teeshirt for warm climate, waterproofs and wellington boots for a rainy climate. Just my thoughts after reading your appeal, Diana, but I hope they help.
    Good luck.

    Liked by 1 person

  19. Well done on 21000 words in the first week 🙂
    I like the sound of 7 and 8 best, although 12 is tempting!

    Liked by 1 person

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