Hello, internet! I think it’s time for another writing-related post. Now for… a pet peeve! Anyone who knows me well should know that I tend to get really annoyed by over-powered characters in stories. Most people shrug it off and don’t think it’s a big deal. I, however, see it as a major and pervasive problem, especially among the young and mostly unpublished writers who are my peers. What’s the big deal? people say. Really powerful characters are cool. And, sometimes, they are. There is something pretty cool about a character who can control storms and shoot lasers with his brain and bring the dead back to life and go for years without food. Does that character make for good storytelling? I really don’t think so, unless–and here’s the important part–unless everyone else in the story has a comparable level of power. The reason is that having a main character who is so much more powerful than most everyone else is a sure way to ruin conflict. If your character can get out of any trouble he’s in with one hand tied behind his back, then you have a serious problem. Such a powerful character usually results in a boring story, a story where there is no suspense because the reader is never in any doubt that the character will escape alive and mostly unscathed. It’s lazy. A character with brains instead of ultimate telekinetic powers is going to be a lot more interesting to watch, simply because he has to think a lot harder to get out of trouble.
What if the overpowered character is not the hero, but a side character? The best situation in that case is for the overpowered character to be a villain. Someone so dangerous that it seems there’s no chance the hero could ever win. Even then you have to be careful, because this can lead to lame cop-outs on the part of the author when the hero finally has to win the day. If the character isn’t a villain, then he usually doesn’t work as well. He can still keep everyone safe. The suspense is damaged because of that. It is especially frustrating when such a character chooses to interfere in conflicts between others and always tries to keep the peace. Given the power to enforce a busybody nature, he can be the most deadening influence on conflict imaginable. If the character doesn’t use his power to help the heroes, then you’re forced to wonder why he isn’t helping, and all too often the explanation is contrived or doesn’t make sense.
Finally, I often see issues with the way these characters are made. A more common problem is a really powerful character who doesn’t have a major flaw. By this I don’t mean a personality flaw or a scar or something like that. I mean a flaw in his power, a key to defeating him. If the only person who can take advantage of a weakness in the hero’s power is a demigod, then you have a problem. (this seems to happen a lot in anime) I don’t think the consequences of having that kind of power are usually explored very well, either. Such vast powers would have a huge affect on a person’s psychology. Power corrupts, which is an old maxim but one we can see in action every day.
I think that the best way to handle a character with huge powers is to treat the power as a curse. Explore its detrimental effects on the hero and don’t glorify it. Don’t treat it as “cool.”
There, my two cents. I think I might be able to explore this subject further in the future, but for now, a simple overview of my issues with overpowered characters. Peace!