Are Your Characters Too Super-Powered?

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Think back to high school (maybe you’re still in high school, and it’s not a far stretch of the imagination). Think about that girl who’s pretty, popular, kind, smart, and to top it off, the boy you have a crush on likes her. Or think about that handsome guy: the star of his chosen sports team, who coaches and teachers alike look the other way for him, has the newest car (or an awesome restoration), and has his pick of girlfriends.

No matter how nice or kind they are, you’re sort of annoyed by them, right? Even if you happened to be their best friend and they treated you well, you’d have days where you’re just jealous and resentful of how easy life seems to be for them.

Now take that seemingly perfect human, and translate that into a character. Ugh.

Yet we do this with our beloved heroes and heroines. We want to give them every advantage, every characteristic that is desirable, in order that our readers fall in love with how fabulous our character is. Unfortunately, that desire to make them dazzling will end up making them boring to everyone but you. If characters have already reached the pinnacle of their potential on page one, where’s their story going to go?[1]

Compare that to characters who are likeable but flawed – and in more than one way! Perhaps they have a physical disability that makes their Olympic dreams seem foolish. Maybe she’s always dreamed of being an astronaut, but never had the grades to get very far. His parents were poor, and he doesn’t have the experience necessary to understand how to “play the game” of connections to become a cut-throat businessman.

Or go a different route: in a magical story, your protagonist seems to have a completely useless ability, but work to get around what society perceives as their weakness.[2] Or perhaps they have no magical ability at all, and are instead mastermind strategists, or great at seeing how different giftings can be used together. Don’t let your characters get stuck in the trap of being special because they’re in a special world. Make sure they are special and unique because of who they choose to be, and keep their motivations and passions unique to the character.

We love our flawed heroes, and this goes back ancient story-telling – think of Achilles’ heel.[3] The great warrior disregarded his one small flaw, but that was his downfall. What about turning that model on its head? Only a very small part of your heroine is superpowered, but she doesn’t rely on that alone to get her by: she develops her weaknesses so they don’t become her undoing!

There are a lot of other options when it comes to giving your characters (or your setting) special traits. You could have a team of super-gifted but flawed characters who have to account for each other’s weaknesses in life and in battle, or a magical realm where ability is determined by diligence of study, geographical location, or any number of other factors. Your imagination is greater than you realize! See you in the comments,

katie-wong

 

Katie, signing off.

 

 


[1] You could take everything away from them and make them regain it, but that’s another post.

[2] And don’t cop out by making their weak ability suddenly the only thing that can save their world.

[3] I hesitate to go into modern-day superheroes, because the list is so long. But there aren’t any heroes that come to mind that are not flawed in some way, big or small.

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