Jan 31 2012
I wouldn’t recommend giving your characters supersenses unless they develop a character and/or serve an important plot purpose. Otherwise, they’re probably wasted space.
1. You can use supersenses to develop an unusual point of view. For example, maybe a nonhuman is supernaturally talented at perceiving something highly relevant to his species and/or culture. (E.g. if an alien comes from a desert world, maybe he’s supernaturally aware of temperature and moisture and can apply those to social interactions—a human’s body temperature increases in stressful situations, for example). Alternately, perhaps the character is a skilled hunter (e.g. Wolverine). A musically-inclined characters might be able to hear emotions in a character’s voice that most people couldn’t, which may be useful in high-stakes social situations.
1.1. If the character has developed superpowers fairly recently, he/she may be blown away by extremely strong sensory experiences. That is one possible way to show how a character’s superpowers affect his/her perspective. Hat-tip to R.G. in the comments below.
2. You can do a scene or plot arc that hinges on only one character perceiving something. For example, Daredevil’s senses allow him to figure out who’s lying pretty quickly, but he still has to prove it to actually break the case. Alternately, you could do a plot where only one character can perceive a particular threat and needs to either deal with it himself or convince others that he’s not crazy.
3. Superpowers can cover a few inconvenient plot holes, especially for superhero stories.
- How did Superman know that the bank was being robbed just then? (He heard the alarm from across town).
- How does the superhero beat the police to finding the supervillain? Supersenses may play a role here—a hero might glean information from a crime scene that they missed, or pick up a trail that they missed. Note that this doesn’t actually have to be a superpower. For example, Sherlock Holmes and Bruce Wayne are both attentive but it’s not supernatural, unlike (say) x-ray vision. Alternately, maybe the hero’s senses aren’t that much better, but the hero has resources and/or tactics and/or contacts the police don’t have and/or won’t consider.
- A highly perceptive character might be more aware to characters surreptitiously trying to communicate something while being observed by hostiles. For example, if Clark Kent calls Lois Lane and she says she’s okay but sounds subtly distressed, that might tip him off that she’s actually being held at gunpoint by a kidnapper or burglar. Another possibility is that heightened senses can help partners/teammates coordinate while being observed. For example, in a superhero story, if a supervillain and his goons meet the superheroes in an attempt to blackmail the heroes, one hero might cue another that he’s about to attack. It could be useful in maintaining the element of surprise.
4. Heightened senses (superhuman or otherwise) can play a variety of roles in a story, particularly a detective story.
- Senses can tip off a character to another character’s intentions and/or a dangerous situation. For example, if a mysterious person approaches the protagonist, the ability to perceive a concealed weapon could really help the hero understand what’s going on.
- Heightened senses can really help in studying a crime scene and figuring out what happened. For example, if the police are stumped about how a victim was murdered in his house without any sign of forced entry, a lingering waft of perfume at the crime scene might indicate to a highly perceptive protagonist that the murderer was probably romantically involved with the victim.