Feb 20 2010
1. It doesn’t matter much whether the superpowers you use are unique or not. It is virtually certain that several published superheroes will share the same main powers as yours, and possibly a few of the secondaries as well. The key to differentiating your characters is giving them distinct personalities, voices, attributes, flaws, goals, obstacles, backgrounds, etc. If you have those things, you don’t need unique superpowers. If you don’t have those things, unique superpowers won’t save you.
2. The superpowers are merely a means to an end, an interesting story. But the superpowers themselves are rarely interesting. When you’re picking powers, please focus more on whether the powers can make interesting scenes than on whether the powers are original.
3. I would recommend against spending more than a few sentences explaining a character’s superpowers in the submission. In most cases, each extra sentence spent describing a character’s superpowers (or, worse, how they work) is a sentence not spent on something that develops the story.
4. If you’re dead-set on using unique superpowers, it may be easier to use unusual combinations of well-known superpowers rather than really exotic powers. Readers are familiar with martial arts-based characters and a bajillion varieties of elemental controllers, but probably not too many martial artists that control an element (besides Avatar). One of the advantages is that you don’t have to spend much time explaining the powers and they may have unexpected and interesting uses. For example, the aforementioned earth controller/martial artist might hobble his enemy’s footing by messing with the ground and then beat him silly. In contrast, if you go with a power that’s very rare (like the ability to control something unusual like gravity), then you’ll spend more time explaining to readers what the character can do.
5. If your character’s powers include the word “reality,” tread very carefully. To me, “reality warping” and “reality manipulation” are code for “this character can do whatever the author wants,” which will make it very hard to challenge the character and/or explain the powers to readers. Will you be able to set up limits so that readers can understand what the character can and cannot do? Can you come up with enough ways to challenge the character? If not, please go back to the drawing board.
Are you writing a fantasy or sci-fi? I think these guidelines apply to magic, supernatural abilities and the abilities of nonhuman races just as easily as superpowers.