Becoming a Hero (Iron Man on Gifted Characters)

It’s been a while since my last post. You might remember I talked about creative exhaustion. Turns out, that’s not the only problem resulting from overwork. I gave myself repetitive strain injury from building too many suits and I’ve barely been able to type for a month. It’s not that I don’t trust JARVIS when I dictate stuff to him, but it’s not the same as using a keyboard to bash through writers’ block.

So that’s the only excuse I can offer for my absence. I’m writing this with splints on both hands -- I tried to tell Pepper via video chat that I was capable of building something far better to support my wrists, but she said it was building that got me into this mess and besides, that wasn’t what the physiotherapist had prescribed. (How does she know that? She wasn’t there. She’s 500 miles away right now and my whole existence is going to pieces.) So I’m basically vulnerable to attacks right now. Can’t fight, can’t type … it’s a tough life.

Let’s talk about something more interesting than my health, though: gifted characters.

Now, we at the YAvengers are better equipped to talk about this than pretty much anyone else you’ll find giving you advice, but whether your character is a superhero or a half-fairy with vampire heritage, there are a few problems you’re going to have to overcome, and a few things you need to get right.

What powers do they have?

More to the point, what don’t they have? Power without limits doesn’t make for a very interesting story. We need to know whether they can fly long distance, or whether they’re in danger of crashing in the ocean. Are their destructive gifts strong enough to take out a building in one go, or will they need to utilise something else to make the action quick enough not to get them caught? Maybe they’re super skilled with ice as a weapon, but can’t use it when they’re in too warm an environment. (Performance issues…)

Power needs to have limits. Make sure it’s established what they can and can’t do: it’ll be helpful for building up tension in fight scenes when they’re placed in a situation they personally can’t deal with. It allows you to look at their willingness to work in a team and accept help, too.

How are they going to learn to use their gifts?

Most of us aren’t capable of instantly mastering a new skill, especially without any help from others. If it’s a common skill, your character should find themself a mentor or something. But if it’s unique, there are going to be a lot of bumps along the way.

I would argue that this is one of the most important things in a hero’s story: becoming that hero. Things aren’t going to go smoothly at first. Look at me -- I’ve had plenty of issues and speed bumps with the suits. If a character gives up in the face of that, they’re not ready. If they push through and overcome, the reader will like them more. But careful: arrogance can be a fatal flaw. If they think their suit / gift is ready before it is, it could be their downfall.

To keep it realistic, make sure they screw up a lot first. Powers aren’t easy things to suddenly get. If they were born with them, of course it’s a different story. These days, however, YA fiction favours the ‘sudden revelation about supernatural heritage and development of powers’ trope, so I’m not going to address folks who are born special. They’re not even that interesting.

How are others going to react to their powers?

Society is important. Are they judged for what they can do? Do they have to keep it a secret, or will they be elevated to a higher class because of their gifts? Are they now an outsider, or has it opened doors?

Linking to the last point in this post, this can provide basis for allegory. Are they thrown out of their home for being different? Do they have to hide their true self and conform to what is perceived as ‘normal’?

These are all fairly self-explanatory, but they’re important questions to answer.

How will their body react?

Sometimes, humans aren’t equipped to deal with their gifts. You might not believe me, but I’ve seen it happen. It can destroy them. Are their bodies capable of dealing with it, or will it cause them pain? Explore the changes their biology might experience. (Do female werewolves have periods as well? Is the sudden growth of wings going to affect balance? Are they going to explode because of the magic or power inside?)

How will they react emotionally or spiritually?

This is important, but it’s often neglected in fiction. Your character has gifts. They might be thrilled. On the other hand, they might be scared. They might fear them. Some may have been brought up to look down on magic or whatever has given them these abilities, and are now forced to accept that they are their own enemy. This can link to religion. If they’ve been brought up in a particular faith, developing powers can cause a crisis of belief, especially when fairies or other beasties are involved. A lot of characters stop believing. Me, I think it’d be more interesting to see them reconcile their new life with what they used to think.

In this way, powers can be used as allegory. It’s up to you how to play that, but when people fight against an aspect of themselves because of society’s opinions and then gradually come to accept it and love themselves again, understanding that their gifts are for a reason … well, you can draw parallels with all sorts of aspects of life. Don’t neglect to explore the relationship a character might have with their gift. (This can also link to how others perceive it.)

Powers aren’t a fix-all solution. In fact they can cause more harm than good.

But they can be great fun to write. I hope this has helped a bit (behold, the pain I have put myself through to write this); if you have any other ideas, leave them in the comments and somebody will read them. Though it might not be me, because my hands will probably have fallen off.

1 comment:

  1. Woohoo, well said! Great points, great post. Sorry about those wrists. But I'd listen to Pepper if I were you! ;)