Archive for September 12th, 2011

Sep 12 2011

How to Limit Your Superpowers for Dramatic Effect

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.

Generally, the drama in most stories comes from characters struggling to accomplish goals.  If the characters accomplish their goals more or less effortlessly, the story probably isn’t very interesting.  If so, there are three main solutions (limit the protagonists’ powers/capabilities, make their external and/or internal obstacles tougher, and/or shift to goals where their capabilities are not as useful).  If you’re looking to limit their capabilities, here are some possibilities that may fit your story.


1.  The superpowers are not always available.  For example, they might get tired/fatigued if they use the powers too much, they can’t wear the power-suit all the time, they may run out of fuel or magical energy, there may be a time limit to how long the powers last (like Hour Man), the powers may only work at certain times or under certain conditions, etc.


2.  The character doesn’t have much control/precision.  This could limit a hero in a situation where there are civilians or valuable property.  This is a problem because most things that interest supervillains are in densely populated urban areas.


3. The character isn’t as skilled or tactically savvy as he could be.  He might get beaten by a better-trained opponent or one that cleverly uses terrain, civilians, distraction(s), the elements, preparation, the hero’s limitations, etc.


4. At certain points, the character may lack the materials/expertise/time to reload or repair.  Especially if a character like Iron Man is on the run and can’t restock, what does he do when his suit runs out of chaingun ammunition? Alternately, perhaps a wizard has some sort of periodic recharging ritual that involves a rare reagent or a location that might not always be accessible.  How can Jim get to Vampire Cove if his enemies know that he needs to go there to recharge?  (By taking refuge in insanity, of course.  Go at night and hope you don’t run out of garlic).


5. There are social limitations to the character’s powers.  For example, if a character’s power-armor is tied to his job, the threat of getting court-martialed might limit what he can do and/or force him to come up with jury-rigged solutions if he gets cut off from his regular resources.  Alternately, a rogue Green Lantern might have his ring confiscated if he does a good movie and magicians or mad scientists might be punished severely if they conduct too many demonic biological experiments.


Platypi are not of this Earth!

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