Tag: characters

The Problem With Powerful Characters

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 I, however, see it as a major and pervasive problem, especially among the young and mostly unpublished writers who are my peers.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!


~ Jared


In Which I Ramble

So… here’s the #1 problem with my new resolution to keep up with this blog… I never know what to blog about. It’s an annoying fact that whenever I want to say something, I can’t think of anything to say. Such is expressed through a character of mine, one of my favorites: her name is Katrielle Paige Imberman. She often complains of the way her words “fall out the hole in her head.” I’m sure everybody knows what that’s like, but it seems to happen more often to me (and Kat) than to most people. Maybe that’s just my self-centered view of things.


At any rate, now I have two possible subjects to blog about! It just takes a little rambling to get there, I suppose. I hope nobody minds if I start out most of my posts with rambling to find a subject. Maybe someday I’ll actually write something useful.


…anyway. Should I talk about characters and their similarities to their authors, or the human tendency to put oneself at the center of everything? Characters sound more interesting. I think we all know humans are dreadfully selfish creatures. This fact does permeate everything we do, including making characters, so perhaps this can lead into the rather hazy point I’m heading towards….


See, something I’ve been thinking about lately is the way we, as authors, put ourselves into our characters. Some people base their characters entirely off themselves. They put themselves into the story, as the hero, which can have all kinds of bad results, most of which stem from the way you view yourself. If you hate yourself, then you’re going to end up punishing your character far beyond what he deserves. If you love yourself, things will be much too easy for said character. See what I mean? I’m not saying it’s always wrong to base your characters entirely off yourself, because there’s an exception to everything, but generally it isn’t such a good idea.


Then there’s the authors who refuse to base characters off themselves even slightly. This used to be me. I thought it was all wrong to give my characters traits from myself, so I wouldn’t do it. On the one hand, this can eliminate the problems mentioned above. But on the other hand, writing someone who is totally different from you, to whom you really can’t relate, is not easy. You have to have a lot of skill to write a character that way and have them seem real.


And then there’s the in-between sort of authors, which are probably most authors. They take bits and pieces of themselves and other people, add in some stuff they came up with on their own, and mix it all into one character. This makes for, in my opinion, the most complex, the most real, the most living characters. I said that I used to be an author who doesn’t put any of himself into his characters. What changed this is that I started to realize that in my most alive characters, I had inadvertently placed some of my own traits–my own flaws. This was something of a revelation to me, and I began to explore further. Now, I put bits of myself into my characters increasingly often. It’s really very interesting how they can share some of my base traits, and yet be so completely different from me.


So… that’s my thoughts on the matter for now… yes, I rambled. I’ll try to be a little more organized in the next post. Good morrow!


~ Jared