Aug 30 2011
One aspect about Alphas that seemed really believable and well-written to me was that a villain that could control physical events and influence probabilities became paranoid, reading malevolent intent into the failures of others. He had trouble understanding that most people don’t have that level of control.
Here are some other possibilities that come to mind.
1. Psychics might be very cynical or very optimistic about human nature depending on whose minds they have read. In a situation where their ability to read minds does not work (such as using email or talking over a phone), they may or may not be wildly distrustful because they don’t have the ability to know whether they’re being lied to.
1.1. A psychic might have privacy issues. Courtesies that might seem commonplace to most regular people, like reading a suspect his Miranda rights or not listening in on a private conversation, might not make any sense to a psychic. If the character grew up with other people that also had psychic powers (like an alien civilization), this would probably have a major impact on how he interacts with other people. For example, if you grew up among psychics, you’d probably be used to everybody in a conversation knowing everything important already. In a conversation with normal humans A and B, you might unwisely reveal something to B that A wants to keep secret.
1.2. A psychic might have major identity issues, particularly if he/she doesn’t much control over the psychic powers. For example, the psychic might have trouble distinguishing between his/her own thoughts and the thoughts of people nearby. In The Taxman Must Die, one decidedly scrawny psychic can’t quite remember whether that memory about rampaging through a bank vault is his or somebody else’s. This is one of the limitations I use to keep the psychic’s powers from short-circuiting the mystery angle. He remembers somebody committing a crime, but that memory has given him only a few vague clues to pursue.
2. A character with incredible speed and/or reflexes might perceive time as passing very slowly. If he does so all the time, he might get impatient with people that move/talk/think much slower (i.e. everybody). For a character with incredible reflexes, time might only seem to slow down at particular moments, like stressful events or danger.
3. Somebody with the ability to control and/or influence a particular element or phenomenon might be really sensitive to it.
- Somebody with the ability to control heat/fire or ice might be more sensitive to temperature changes, like somebody getting chills when they feel scared.
- Somebody with magnetic abilities might feel metal objects moving and might get bothered by rush hour. Maybe your Magneto can feel Wolverine approaching because Wolverine’s skeleton is mostly metal.
- Somebody with the ability to influence/control plants and/or animals might pick up environmental cues other people miss. For example, maybe your plant-controller is more likely to notice snapped twigs, a slight indentation in a patch of grass and/or leafs knocked from the top of a bush and conclude that somebody came through here in a hurry. The ability to empathize with plants and/or humans might affect the character’s mindset, as well. For example, Poison Ivy hates on humans (those plant-killing fiends!) and Beast Boy is a vegetarian. Incidentally, I think the best reason to be a vegetarian is not because you really like animals, but because you really hate plants.
4. Superpowers, incredible abilities and/or experience might make somebody more precise in a particular way. For example, if a character has a time-related ability or is as meticulous as Batman, he might avoid figurative phrases like “in a minute” unless he’s actually talking about sixty seconds. This could lead to annoyance/confusion when they’re talking with people that aren’t so precise. (“Why did you say you wanted a minute if you really wanted five minutes? That’s not even close!”)
5. Someone unusually intelligent might be unusually confident if he/she has had enough success shaping events to their will. Alternately, more intelligent people might actually be less confident because they’re more aware of their limitations and failures. Or both! Ozymandias was confident enough in his mental abilities to destroy New York City because he was sure it was the only way to save the planet, but he wasn’t sure that he could grab a bullet out of the air. (PS: If a superintelligent character is totally confident, he might have a crisis of faith if he fails to anticipate something or gets outmatched by events and/or an adversary).
6. Somebody with heightened senses might notice seemingly inconsequential details. For example, Sherlock Holmes creates and tests theories of a crime by focusing on minor details. (For example, in Holmes, he figures out that a supposed suicide is actually a murder by proving that the victim was actually left-handed).
7. A character that has incredible abilities might have trouble dealing with low-level threats and situations. For example, if you’re strong enough to hurl a tank, it might be really hard to just incapacitate an unpowered thug without breaking at least a few bones. Alternately, the character might be so concerned about avoiding unnecessary damage that he makes some tactical decisions that allow criminals to escape and/or have other undesirable consequences.
7.1. Incredible superpowers would probably make it more challenging to maintain a secret identity. If a super-speedster can run faster than 100,000,000 miles per hour, he might have trouble distinguishing between 30 and 60 miles per hour. Wouldn’t you notice if Wally West started running twice as fast as Usain Bolt?
8. Somebody that’s grown up with a superpower might have trouble relating to people that don’t have it (and vice versa). If a superhero (or villain) has a power that really affects how he/she experiences the world, it might raise interesting social, mental and/or medical challenges. For example, try imagining if you were the only psychic on Earth.
- How do you describe your psychic experiences to a non-psychic? (Which non-psychics would you feel comfortable enough with to try? Would most people find your powers unsettling and/or dangerous?)
- If you need a second opinion about a psychic or supernatural experience–“what do you make of X or Y?”–who would you ask and how?
- If you have some sort of medical issue relating to your abilities, who would you talk to? It’s unlikely the Mayo Clinic has seen anything like this. (Likewise, what if a superstrong character strains a muscle while stopping a train? “Take two aspirin and call me in the morning” probably won’t suffice).
9. A character new to superpowers might have trouble getting used to new sensory experiences, particularly at first. For example, hearing everything within a block of you could be a hassle when you’re trying to sleep. If your sense of smell has gotten a hundred times better, eating might feel decidedly unusual.