Writing: Powers

Do you know what I find the most fun about writing? Powers. I love giving characters super powers and following them as they develop it into something formidable. I especially love giving characters seemingly useless abilities as they slowly change them into something hero worthy.

I had a character capable of Physical Trait Absorption, who could only absorb the physical trait of an object. It’s kind of useless, since he’s not replicating the material, but just draining it, so he could only use as much of it as there was available. But as the story went on, he managed to learn how to phase through objects, destroy an entire building, and defeat another character who had the ability of Invulnerability, all while working within the confines of his base abilities.

And that’s what I find most interesting about characters with powers. The evolution of their abilities. Of course, a good personality and other characterizations are important too. But lets just focus on the power for now.

The holy trinity of super powers, super strength, super speed, and immortality, are usually the main culprits of the boring characters. The cast of Twilight being an example. The perfect beings, unbeatable, one-dimension, boring. Of course, you can have a character use these abilities and be interesting, but they are few and far between.

New writers generally stay away from seemingly weaker or other ‘useless’ powers, simply because they find them too obstructive, preventing them from writing the hero that they want. The two types of heroes they would usually end up with is the Superman template or the Batman template. A person with the power to do anything, and the person with the money to create gadgets that can do anything.

But if you ever find yourself writing stories with super-powered individuals, I’m here to say that weaker powers are extremely fun and interesting to explore as well, and they can turn into something amazing. One of the ‘weakest’ ability that I’ve ever explored is Lie Detection. This ability is usually introduced as a subset of another power, like Toph Bei Fong’s seismic sense or Daredevil’s super hearing. It is generally thought of as a passive ability, with next to no usability in battle. Which was why it was fun to explore.

So instead of the usual detective or lawyer template, I went with something out of the box with the ability. I made the character into an underground MMA fighter. Lie Detection is the ability to tell when someone is lying. And this comes in handy when your opponent is trying to feint an attack, as that is a physical ‘lie’. This could make a fighter unbeatable. A superhero born from the power to detect lies.

A challenge I always give myself is to connect a power to the possible effect of immortality. Pyrokinesis? How about flames focused enough to literally reforge the cells in a body? Cryokinesis? Freezing and slowing the body decay rate to the point where cells regenerate faster than they decay. Even if I don’t succeed at immortality, the maximum potential of an ability can come close to godlike. X-ray visions? Seeing through time and space themselves! Shrinking? How about matter condensation and black hole formation! Precognition? Couple that with enhanced instincts and the fella would be untouchable!

Weak abilities, when evolved, can far surpass the strong ones. A person with precognition might be restricted to seeing the future. But a person with X-ray vision that can see through time and space can see the future, and still have X-ray vision.

So here’s a challenge to all you writers out there. Come up with a power that you find weak or boring. Then tell me in the comments section or via Twitter, just how powerful you can make it! Think of it this way. If you can’t even make physics defying abilities interesting, how are you going to make a squishy, flesh-and-blood character engaging?


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