Archive for March 11th, 2010

Mar 11 2010

Please Don’t Use Uncontrollable Superpowers to Angst Readers

I provide advice about how to write novels, comic books and graphic novels. Most of my content applies to fiction-writing in general, but I also provide articles specifically about superhero stories.

One of the more frustrating things I see is when an author tries to give a character a guilty backstory but one he is utterly not responsible for.  For example, the character’s powers might manifest by killing the town and/or pretty much everybody she knows.  (Please see the TV Tropes Power Incontinence page for more examples).

If you want this character to feel guilty about her backstory, why not make her actually responsible for the accident?  For example, instead of having uncontrollable poison-massacre powers*, which is merely awful luck, maybe the character has powers that he uses in a reckless or ill-conceived way.  For example, maybe a flame-controller accidentally blows up a neighborhood by lighting up a gas line.  It’s still unintentional, but at least this gives him a choice to regret and atone for. Overcoming that will be more dramatic than “Gee, I’m sorry I was born to be a town-killer.” If the goal of the story is to have the character atone for his sins, it probably won’t be too dramatic if he’s not actually responsible for the sins in question. Or, if the character’s powers are completely uncontrollable, perhaps the character played some role in acquiring them, like participating in some poorly thought-out scientific experiment.

*Which are a losing Superpower Lottery ticket if ever there were one.   Pretty much everybody else in Heroes has something cool like superstrength or flight or time-travel.  Poor Maya.  Even the psychopathic serial killer has more control over his face-ripping telekinesis than she does.  (Also, he spent  a lot less time moping about his body count than she did).

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