Friday, June 15, 2012

Your Main Character's Special Powers

Inspired Writing

Tip of the Day

I want to discuss magical and supernatural powers for a moment.

We aren’t going to spend a lot of time on this, mainly because most of you will be or have written novels involving perfectly normal people.
On the other hand, there are many, many writers exploring the supernatural world.

Me included.

Very early on in my writing I came up with rules for my made-up world where extraordinary dead people have jobs in Heaven. And making rules can be a lot of fun.
In my world: Angels must earn their wings. All Belgians are sex offenders. A demon and a damned soul are not the same thing. Every second Thursday of the month in Heaven is Taco Night at God’s house. The French automatically go to Hell when they die and the Swedes automatically go to Heaven. Why? Because the Swedes invented the Volvo and the French are, well….French. If you become labeled as a Beyond-Salvage demon, you must have really pissed off God. Father God has a three-legged dog named Lucky and really likes the soft drink Tab.

Silly? Yes, absolutely. Fun…you bet.


Making up rules, special powers and minor characters for your world can be the most exciting part of inventing a realm for your main characters to interact in. Have a blast, let your hair down and come up with some crazy stuff.
I remember a book as a kid that took place on a spacecraft. Here’s the thing that blew my mind, the spacecraft was a hollow sphere built around a planet. You never forget things like that, and I encourage you to do the same.
Invent a world that some kid never forgets.
Fantasy authors have recently gifted us with superb new places, ideas and characters. What has JRR Tolkien contributed? Frodo’s journey. Stephanie Meyer? Sparkly vampires. J.K. Rowling? Hogwarts. Anne Rice? Vampires that don’t sparkle. Lewis Carroll? Alice. Christopher Paolini? Err…not much, actually.

By the way…the true master of ‘world invention’ is without a doubt the late Douglas Adams. If you have never read his work, I highly recommend diving into a few of his books one rainy weekend. I would say, more than any other writer, Mr. Adams made me start writing. He had enormous problems with deadlines, and was quoted, ‘I love deadlines. I love the whooshing noise they make as they go by.’
His greatest book is Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy. Maybe you’ve heard of it.

Rest in peace, Doug.

What Fascinates Us?

What is it with elves, trolls, gnomes and sorcerers in alternate worlds…as well as vampires, werewolves and other magical creatures? What fascinates us? I guess it is the same thing that fascinated comic book readers in the late 1930’s when Superman was introduced…we want that power for ourselves. If we can’t have it, then we’ll settle for reading about someone who does have super human powers.
I think that’s probably the draw with most super heroes - take Peter Parker, for example - average Joe receives special powers and saves the world. Turn that around a little bit and you basically have every fantasy novel ever written.

What about vampires?

Okay, I have to admit, I don’t totally get the appeal. But I have paid close attention to women who shiver with the thought of Edward Cullen touching them. It works, when done right. And obviously, Stephanie is doing something right.
Her books, in my opinion, have opened up an entirely new genre. Horror/Fantasy/Romance. I also think that, at least in the case of Twilight, the mysticism of vampires and werewolves is more of a backdrop for the romance between Edward and Bella.
There is absolutely nothing wrong with this, but I have noticed an alarming new trend that Twilight has spawned - gay vampires.


Two dudes, sexual hunger, a crossroads of passion…and they happen to be vampires. 


I’m more of a Bram Stoker kind of guy…creepy vampire, half-naked woman, hero that saves the day. You get the idea. Anne Rice’s vampires were a little to homoerotic for me….but they were attention-getting. A nine-year-old undead girl? Freaky.

A Bit of a Prude

I may have come off as a prude concerning these types of books. But I grew up on Piers Anthony and his Xanth series, which is as mystical (and weirdly sexual) as it gets.
And of course, Stephen King, the granddaddy of horror….but we are here to talk about powers.

Well Defined

The special powers that your character possesses need to be well-defined before you ever start writing.
What will harm your hero? What will kill your hero?
What can your hero do that other characters in your book can’t? These questions need to be answered before the story begins.

We’ve been over this. Do not write your character into an impossible situation and then give him/her a special ability that fixes everything. Readers notice this and it frustrates them to no end. Don’t worry about what I think…I’ll just close the book and chuck it into a cabinet where it will gather dust, unread. Oh, wait…yeah, maybe you should worry about what I think, because that’s exactly what the majority of the buying public is going to do.

You’ve heard of movies like Green Lantern that were slammed by Twitter and blogs on their opening weekend, right? 

Same thing is going to happen to your book. The book-buying public, just like the movie-going public, expects value for their money. 

And they ain’t dumb.

Is your hero telepathic? If so, does your hero struggle with this gift? How does this gift help your hero? Can your hero manipulate others with this gift?
How about shape-shifting? Are limitations to your hero’s ability to shift? How does your hero keep this ability hidden?
Taylor Lautner, a shape-shifting werewolf, invented what I like to call the Swish Factor. Any problem you can think of can be solved by the Swish Factor. A car with Bella at the wheel has crashed and is about to plummet into a ravine? Taylor Lautner shows up, off comes his shirt - Swish - problem solved!

Taylor is also the luckiest werewolf I’ve ever known.

Somebody was stashing caches of clothing for him all over the woods. Switch to werewolf, rip up Old Navy outfit…switch back to human, retrieve fresh Old Navy outfit from secret cache, then reappear in public. Switch to werewolf, rip up Old Navy outfit…switch back to human, retrieve fresh Old Navy outfit from secret cache, then reappear in public.

Like I said, lucky guy.

What can you take from this post? 

Be uniform with the special powers you give to your characters. Your goal here, I would think, is to not incite your reader’s ire by giving or taking away powers as the situation your heroes face changes from chapter to chapter.

More than likely your reader is a hard-core fan of the genre you are writing in…and hard-core means just that. They will notice if you screw something up or take shortcuts.

What superpowers or abilities 
do you like most?

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