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Old May 13 2009, 02:00 PM   #1
Anareth
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Default Writing Discussion: Super-powered characters

From the other thread--maw mentioned a problem of having magic-using characters but giving them problems magic can't solve. I've had that issue, especially as my characters are SUPPOSED to be the most super-charged magic users on the "good" side.

For me, what's worked so far is--1. they are woefully behind learning how to use their abilities. Basically they just found out they have them. Using these powers to any effect requires understanding them and being able to control them, which they can't at this point. 2. Energy use requires energy expenditure. This is a pretty common solution in fiction--using magical energy requires physical energy. Move that mountain, you migth give yourself a heart attack. 3. They're limited in what kind of magic they can manipulate. One can sometimes do what the other can't. 4. Sometimes it's just easier NOT to use magic. You can swat a fly with a sledgehammer, but it's overkill. 5. They are, for the moment and the most part, still physically vulnerable. See Raiders of the Lost Ark and the "sword fight"--that guy was probably an awesome swordsman and could kick serious swordfight butt, but a tired schmuck ten feet away with a revolver still took him out. My characters can still be physically attacked, and are not impervious to all the normal ways of dying.

I've had a similar problem with my vampire. Val can become incorporeal and pass through solid objects, he's much stronger than a human, can move faster than a human, has teeth and claws, has more stamina, never gets sick, never ages, can't be killed by conventional means, etc, etc. As anyone who's read Twilight has learned painfully, totally invulnerable vampires are really dull. He can be killed by destroying the heart or severing the spine. He is more vulnerable than most humans to fire. Physical injuries hurt a ot and require recovery time and 'refueling'. While he's not incinerated by sunlight, he's not as strong and particularly at high-contrast times his eyesight is severely limited.

Basically, if you have a character who has the potential to be rules-lawyered into something unstoppable, find the disadvantages to whatever powers they have.
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Old May 13 2009, 09:25 PM   #2
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Default Re: Writing Discussion: Super-powered characters

I've found that it's easier to write about characters with super powers as long as you very clearly deliniate how they work. If you have rules in place, you can explore the results of working with those rules--characters and plots will emerge naturally as a result of your rules. Wasn't Asimov the one who made the laws of robotics, then wrote a bunch of stories that showed how those rules could be (or seem to be) broken? The stories arose from him having put the rules into place in the beginning...the stories couldn't have been written otherwise.

As an example...I'm currently working on two different novels, each set in a different universe of mine with different rules. The first novel (I call it American Goetia) is set in a world that I started when I was 16, and uses characters that started as characters FIRST. My world-building skills have improved massively over the last ten years, but I find that my characters stay true to themselves...IE, I know which characters can bitch-slap everything else into oblivion, and when I try to impose rules on the magic system to put a limit on that behavior, it's very, very difficult to make my characters "obey" them. The characters have existed with a sloppy magic system for a long, long time, and it makes it difficult to work with the characters, and the story, because the magic system has no "hold" on them...they just want to continue like they have since I created them 10 years ago.

In stark, stark contrast, my other universe (The Dragon King's Wife) started with some very strong magic and world rules, and the characters and plot rose after, or at least alongside, those rules. Their world and rules confine the characters, define them--affect them. There's some pretty kick-butt characters in this world, really quite powerful compared to the "ordinary folks" in the world, but their limits and rules are sharply defined...I know exactly how they can be knocked down. It is much, much easier to write in this world, because the character personalities work with the magic rules. And the magic rules and world rules naturally makes the plot flow. In my American Goetia world, I have to force the plot in. In the Dragon King's Wife world, since it's put together much better, the plot just arises on its own.

So, it's not that hard to work with super-powered characters...IF you do the legwork first and figure out how their powers work, and what the limits are. Like Anareth said, a popular "rule" or limit on magic is energy/exhaustion--the "mana" concept. As long as you have something in place, and stick to it, working with "super powered" characters becomes much MUCH simpler.

I personally use a "contamination" rule in my Dragon King's Wife world rather than an "exhaustion/energy" rule...magic use leaves poisons like nuclear radiation in mages, and the build up needs to be cleansed periodically else living stuff starts to get sick and die (or go insane). Like nuclear power, it can be safely contained when used properly, but it's very dangerous when safety precautions aren't used (or aren't discovered yet).
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Old May 13 2009, 09:25 PM   #3
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Default Re: Writing Discussion: Super-powered characters

I think another important handicap can be a person's attitude or personality - if they're so obnoxious no one will help them or tell them how their powers work, or they don't trust anyone. And there's mental issues, like paranoia, vertigo (didn't someone use that in a movie?) - I'm thinking of Siglen's issues with travel/heights, as transferred to Rowan, David, and Capella.
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Old May 14 2009, 01:39 AM   #4
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Default Re: Writing Discussion: Super-powered characters

Drats, just when I find something good, my sight has to fuzzy on me. Sorry about the sourness in my post folks, I have been trying to follow threads and I don't quite know how to word this post. "Sighing"

I realy don't have any fan fic right now. I have a few ideas, which I am have a dilly of a time trying to keep them mix up or loss in y mind. Sorry if I am bit off topic. But reading is get fuzzy so I well have re-read this new thread later.
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Old May 14 2009, 02:21 PM   #5
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Default Re: Writing Discussion: Super-powered characters

On the other hand, if you write a 'fic with a character who's canonically and virtually unstoppable, then the question changes from "What can they do?" to "What can't they do?" It depends on the character's personality, and how it can happen in the structure of the canon.

Take the guy in my icon: He's Locke, from a Seventies manga series called "Choujin Locke", which means "Superman/Superhuman Locke". He's immortal and has psychic powers out the kazoo: Shapeshifting, healing, immense telepathic and telekinetic prowess, and he can survive in space without a suit, among other things.

But while he can kick ass and take names, and has, he doesn't until his life or someone else's is in danger, and he holds back in fights because he genuinely wishes he was somewhere else. (In fact, Locke often spends his time living anonymously.) He's gotten almost fatally hurt several times, and even brainwashed on one occasion, despite the fact he could have avoided that.

So even though Locke is the Godmodder From Hell, there are "chinks in his armor", and his personality to consider. 'Fics involving him or characters like him would still require a lot of balance to portray well or correctly without irritating the reader. (And considering his canon stories lasted thirty years, it can be done! XD)
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Old May 17 2009, 04:55 PM   #6
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Default Re: Writing Discussion: Super-powered characters

You can use character personality to put a stop to things too--the problem with that solution, for myself at least, is that even if ONE person doesn't have the personality to use it, someone else in your world might not have the restraint. Then, if your super-powers don't have any rules, it's really easy to fall into a trap where *some* character, bad guy, good guy, or just random guy in your world, can do whatever the heck they want. Which can work, if you really want it to--you can try very hard to make the only person with those powers your character with the personality that makes it hard for them to use them.

In my shoes, I suspect I might fall into a position where I'd end up being a hack with my own work...I'd end up giving SOMEONE else the powers, and they would certainly have a different personlity. At least if I put rules on the "physical" nature of magic, I can keep myself from cheating.

Oh, temptation...
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Old May 17 2009, 05:04 PM   #7
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Default Re: Writing Discussion: Super-powered characters

Quote:
Originally Posted by Brenda View Post
I think another important handicap can be a person's attitude or personality - if they're so obnoxious no one will help them or tell them how their powers work, or they don't trust anyone. And there's mental issues, like paranoia, vertigo (didn't someone use that in a movie?) - I'm thinking of Siglen's issues with travel/heights, as transferred to Rowan, David, and Capella.

I completely agree here. This sort of thing exists and is a rather large factor in real life; why shouldn't we bring it into fiction? Take a challenge, any challenge. . . uhm. . . an untied shoe. (Really! That's apparently a problem to some.) One person would step on their shoelace, notice it's loose, tie it up and move on- all within the space of about 5 minutes. Another may fall spectacularly when they step on their untied shoelace, sit on the ground and cry And complain about how much it hurts, and then shake their fist at the sky and blame it all on that evil force, gravity.

"It's not about what happens to you, it's what you do about it." was said by someone, and they were right!

So. . . the plague. Sh'gall was just a dissapointment, as close to useless as one can get. Moreta worked around him, and Leri advised her to get rid of him! I bet if F'lar had been alive during that time he would have handled the whole plague issue much differently.

I personally am a big fan of giving my character's challenges and then not making them go away-whish!- to watch them work through whatever just happened. The very human (but certainly not just limited to humans!) ability to adaPt and overcome is fascinating to me. Just about everyblody has it inside them, just in some folks it's furthur down thAN others.That's the super-power.
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Old May 24 2009, 02:45 AM   #8
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Default Re: Writing Discussion: Super-powered characters

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Another may fall spectacularly when they step on their untied shoelace, sit on the ground and cry And complain about how much it hurts, and then shake their fist at the sky and blame it all on that evil force, gravity.

"Curse you, ground! You have uncouthly braced me again!"

XDD Sorry, that was a joke made by a former friend and I couldn't resist in this context.
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Old May 25 2009, 09:48 AM   #9
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"Curse you, ground! You have uncouthly braced me again!"
I like it- I think that I'll use that next time!
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Old May 26 2009, 07:43 PM   #10
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Default Re: Writing Discussion: Super-powered characters

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I like it- I think that I'll use that next time!
I had one just slip from the depths of my mind, its gone between while working on other things.
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Old May 27 2009, 07:50 PM   #11
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I like it- I think that I'll use that next time!
XD Go for it, but maybe "Curses be on you, ground!" might work better.
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Old Jun 20 2009, 08:07 AM   #12
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Default Re: Writing Discussion: Super-powered characters

Loops and flaws in superpowers is one place where it's handy to be able to bounce ideas around with someone else. It's easier for someone other than the creator to think of ways that the super-character might be vulnerable.

During the time that my son and I were pinching each other's characters, he played my telepathic Flamelord High King as a half-elf in a Dungeons and Dragons scenario. Until, that is, one of the other characters accidentally killed him with a cone of ice that backfired. After that my son was forbidden to play super-humans. I'd never thought of Avorel being vulnerable to ice or cold, but it made sense once someone else pointed it out. It turned out that wasn't all that my telepathic exotic aliens were vulnerable to. By the time we'd bounced ideas around, shape-shifting telepaths weren't able to have babies, some were prone to teleport sickness, and all were vulnerable to mind-flash - the effect of being too close when somebody loses their temper, some could go flipside, and most were prone to burnout. And that was only one afternoon of discussion.

I'm not sure I want to let my son loose on my exotic telepathic aliens again!
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Old Jun 29 2009, 07:29 AM   #13
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Default Re: Writing Discussion: Super-powered characters

Just a late chime in to the thread...

I like to Role-Play from time to time.. Star wars stuff at the moment. You basically have the same issues, trying to make a campaign fun and interesting..but in such a way that a Force User (Jedi) can simply run all over you.

Two rules I like to remind folks, is that the Force does not ALWAYS work in the way you think, or in all areas or people. There are things that the Force cant deal with..Superman was a super being here on earth, but back home, he would have been just one of the normal folks. There are always ways to negate a power or ability. And any character that places all of his faith on only the abilities and nothing else, usually learns a hard lesson.

Also, folks who tend to 'show off' their abilities and such, and constantly use them, tends to draw the attentions of OTHER beings, who would simply LOVE to get a hold to that person.

I used to have a player in a Highlander game, who went around flaunting the fact that he was immortal. Well, this game also had other "immortals' in it as well, and they quickly found out, that Vampires simply LOVE the food source that would not die...

And, as someone else pointed out, there are ways of setting up challenges, that their powers alone will NOT get them out of it. Keeping a story or game balanced, takes a bit of practice.

Good luck!
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Old Jun 29 2009, 09:44 PM   #14
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I used to have a player in a Highlander game, who went around flaunting the fact that he was immortal. Well, this game also had other "immortals' in it as well, and they quickly found out, that Vampires simply LOVE the food source that would not die...

Actually...particularly if your Immortal liked a little pain...that could be one of the most awesome symbiotic relationships EVER.
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