Jan 05 2008
Writing a novel or comic book/graphic novel about a psychic character? Here are some recurring challenges.
1. Psychic fights are hard to depict. In a comic book or graphic novel, you can draw Superman throwing a rock at someone. How would you show a psychic using his mind to throw a rock? Those little white lines going everywhere usually look goofy. In a novel, describing a psychic fight is even harder.
2. Psychic powers are usually hard to use creatively. Mind-reading, telepathy, mindblasts and (especially) mind-control are not very versatile. In most cases, these powers either solve the problem instantly or are completely useless. On the plus side, telekinesis gives more opportunities for creativity.
3. Secrets, fear and uncertainty add drama, but mind-reading powers pretty much rule out surprise and deception. That’s a suspense-killer. One way to avoid this would be to remove the mind-reading powers altogether. Failing that, you could add limits to your character’s mind-reading powers. For example, mind-reading is usually a discreet/covert ability, which isn’t very dramatic. You can raise the stakes by making mind-reading so intrusive that the victims know when their minds are read. That will encourage your hero to read minds only when it’s very important. Another option is forcing the psychic to touch the person before mind-reading is possible. That will make your characters have to do interesting things to turn on their powers, rather than just flip the switch and solve the problem.
4. Memory erasure/alteration makes a story vulnerable to “reboots,” when something important happens and the story later makes it unhappen. For example, someone learns the psychic’s secret identity and later the psychic erases his memory. That isn’t very satisfying. First, solving a problem simply by turning on a superpower is rarely very interesting. One more interesting alternative would be somehow using hallucinations or illusions to somehow convince the person that what he learned is not actually true. Second, it makes it hard to tell who knows what.
5. Forcefields usually don’t work out well for authors. They’re hard to depict, hard to choreograph (especially in novels) and aren’t very versatile. They also suffer from power fluctuation. (Typically, the villain can break them until the author wants the hero to start winning).
6. It’s hard to explain how a psychic could survive the routine blows any supervillain will land in a fight. Most superheroes have some kind of super-resilience so that their fights don’t end as soon as the villain lands a punch. But super-resilience doesn’t seem to fit with psychic powers really smoothly, particularly if the hero has an otherwise normal body.
7. “Why doesn’t she crush Dr. Doom’s windpipe!?” Readers will wonder why the Invisible Woman doesn’t make the most of her powers by rearranging her enemies’ organs. “But she’s a good guy!” and similar ethical qualms will seem really flimsy when the supervillain is moments away from conquering or destroying the world. It will probably help to create a stronger restriction. For example, your character’s powers only work on things he can see, or they only affect inorganic material.
For an alternate take on psychic characters, I recommend Writing Psychic Superheroes and Psionics.