Archive for October 4th, 2011

Oct 04 2011

How to Distinguish Your Hero’s or Villain’s Superpowers

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.

1. Maybe the superpowers have some cost to the user.

  • Fatigue. The superhero’s powers exhaust him.
  • Equal and opposite reaction. Perhaps your supergenius’s brain will overheat unless he lets his mind cool down after a mental stunt.
  • Energy. Your hero has a drainable and finite source of power.
  • Risk to self (or others). Your hero’s powers, once activated, are hard to control and dangerous.
  • Personality shift. Activating your hero’s powers transforms his personality or mindset, like the Hulk or Catastrophe.
  • Loss of sanity. Your hero’s transformation makes him considerably less stable, like The Hulk or Niki.


2. Your story’s superpowers have a limited duration or accessibility.

  • His superpowers only last a certain duration and have to be recharged.
  • His superpowers can only be accessed after a certain condition is met or at a certain time of day. For example, Captain Marvel has to say Shazaam first.
  • His superpowers are only accessible after he transforms.  May be voluntary (Captain Marvel), involuntary (a werewolf) or both (the Hulk).
  • Superpowers are accessible only through a particular item, usually a magical or technological item (Sailor Moon, power armor).
  • Achieving a particular power or effect requires the cooperation of unsavory characters.  For example, maybe the superhero needs to convince a brilliant supervillain to help him build a particular feature into his powersuit.  Alternately, in Bitter Seeds, every spell is fueled by negotiations with nefarious spirits, and each spell requires various unsavory deeds.


3. Your superpowers have an unusual origin or source.
  • Because the hero’s alien or otherwise unhuman (Superman, TMNT)
  • Because he’s a modified human (Spiderman, cyborgs)
  • Because he has some artifact (power armor or something magical)


4. Your superpowers have unusual limits.

  • Physical. Maybe his electricity shorts out in water or he gets really weak when exposed to Kryptonite.
  • Time. Hourman’s powers only last (you guessed it) an hour.

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