I have a character in a relatively fantasy novel who is capable of controlling water. Her signature is altering or removing the water in the human body, either by ripping it out of them or freezing it. What would happen to someone if one of these things were to happen?

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    $\begingroup$ The victim would die. That's it. $\endgroup$ Commented Mar 8, 2021 at 0:51
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    $\begingroup$ Natural or artificial dessication of an animal or human body is one kind of mummification process. Here are some pictures of some famous results of natural dessication. Here is another famous natural mummy. $\endgroup$
    – AlexP
    Commented Mar 8, 2021 at 1:00
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    $\begingroup$ "The answer I'm looking for is what would HAPPEN. As in, the pre-death effects/appearance of the corpse". That would be useful information to include in the question. $\endgroup$
    – Matthew
    Commented Mar 8, 2021 at 1:12
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    $\begingroup$ Not going into detail but a loss of 4% water is dehydration and 15% would be fatal, as you know water is universal solvent and it's molecule works like magnet holding cell structures together etc... TL;DR: a loss of 100% we become powder ;D $\endgroup$
    – user6760
    Commented Mar 8, 2021 at 2:36
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    $\begingroup$ This is what happens when water is removed from sugar. The human body will respond similarly. On that note, a chicken. $\endgroup$
    – nzaman
    Commented Mar 8, 2021 at 3:49

3 Answers 3


Drying: It depends on just what percentage of the water is removed. If the process is rapid enough, it will cause violent muscle contractions. Effectively, 100% of muscles will cramp immediately.

20% will kill within seconds, due to blood circulation ceasing.
Appearance: A dead person. Close examination will show sunken cheeks, dented eyes. It will look like someone that died out in the desert a week ago, and forgot to rot.

80% will give the appearance of a perfectly dried mummy. The rapid shrinkage of the body while still having intact skin may very well crush ribs, cause contraction to fetal position, etc.

Anything more, and you start ripping water out of molecular bonds. Proteins denature, various organic materials carbonize, and your victim will appear burnt

Freezing: It depends on the speed of the freezing, and somewhat on just how cold a freeze is applied. Any flash-frozen person is instantly immobile, but otherwise undamaged. They will not shatter if they fall over, although breakage is now more likely than denting or bending! Frost will slowly accumulate on exposed surfaces.

Truly instantaneous: Nope. Violates several physical laws.
The victim will explode like a bomb, as the body instantaneously occupies a fractionally larger space, and is given zero time to achieve the expansion.

In half a second or so: Perfect cryostasis.
You have a living person frozen with no damage(yet). The ice crystals are submicroscopic, the cellwalls are intact. Person looks untouched, just immobile.
Theoretically, with a lot of effort and unknown techniques, this person could be revived intact. If the temperature is below -40c or so, this state remain indefinitely. Between 0c and about -40c, the ice crystals will slowly merge and grow, causing similar damage as slow freezing does below.

Freezing over several seconds or longer:
Extreme agony, ruptured arteries all over the place. All cells are ruptured due to ice crystal formation. This is what happens when a person "normally" dies of acute exposure, except for the gradual loss of consciousness easing the ordeal. Think whole-body frostbite.


Freezing a thing makes it hard, brittle and frosty.

enter image description here


Of course if it is that kind of macabre fiction the frozen person has to fall down and shatter or get hit with a croquet mallet and shatter or some kind of shattering. Always the shattering after things freeze solid in fiction. Also on Youtube this video being no exception..

A dried thing will be dessicated and shrunken like a mummy.

freeze dried mouse

source for mouse image

The dried mouse is skinner than a live mouse because a lot of the flesh is water weight. The general outline is the same and the head looks very similar. Freeze drying carcasses can be used for taxidermy. You can get your dead pet freeze dried and keep it around. The freeze dried pets look good! https://slate.com/technology/2019/11/why-people-freeze-dry-their-pets-and-how-it-happens.html


Either one would be very bad, and very deadly, and possibly very gruesome.

Freezing would lead to massive cellular damage (ahem), but would probably be less immediately grotesque. In this case, Hollywood probably isn't too far off, at least visually. As long as the victim stays frozen, there may not be significant visible changes (meaning, there will be color changes, but the victim probably won't suddenly turn into a pile of goo, or explode, or such). I think they won't disintegrate upon thawing, either, though they will remain very, very dead.

Although the human body is mostly water, contrary to what Star Trek may suggest, I wouldn't guess the victim would actually crumble into dust. More likely, they'll turn the victim into a piece of human jerky. As noted in a comment, this will probably resemble mummification. At the very least, the end product will be significantly less mass than you started with.

For less than $20 (maybe for just the cost of a trip to the grocery store), you can get a pretty good idea through first-hand knowledge how freezing will work out. Go to the store, purchase a whole chicken, and chuck it in your freezer. (If the store sells frozen birds in see-through packaging, you may not even need to buy one.)

  • $\begingroup$ Well, it actually depends on how fast and cold the freezing is. The main reason the frozen food industry exists is because Clarence Birdseye realized that at temperatures of -60 or lower, the speed at which ice crystals form and their shape results in minimal cellular damage. $\endgroup$ Commented Mar 8, 2021 at 1:30
  • $\begingroup$ @Xavon_Wrentaile, I'm pretty sure "minimal" is not at all like "none". At any rate, I haven't heard of any successful cryogenic resuscitation yet. If nothing else, I don't expect the sudden cessation of brain activity is very healthy. Best case, the victim, after thawing, looks like a fresh-from-the-morgue corpse. Looking like freshly ground hamburger is, admittedly, probably a bit extreme. $\endgroup$
    – Matthew
    Commented Mar 8, 2021 at 1:56

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