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Writing Overpowered Characters

Tantz_Aerine at 12:00AM, April 22, 2023

One of the most frequent ways to make characters stand out in fiction or myth is to give them a staggering, amazingly powerful ability. Something that mere talent doesn't give you. Something miraculous, larger than the largest life, unique and insurmountable:

Like a dude that can part an entire sea!

Or a dude that can burn the world with fire from every appendage of his, and fight a giant serpent dragon!

Or a girl that can make the earth itself be her weapon…

…that stays undefeated and awesome well into her old age!

A dude that does some kata mumbo jumbo with his guns that probably defies physics everywhere:

Or a spirit princess that becomes a devil after her kin has been eradicated, and commits genocide in revenge to forge a death-reversal cursed jewel out of their souls:

There's a lot more (add yours in the comments!), and they're all awesome when in truth, if you think about it, they shouldn't be. They're overpowered, almost invicible in their talents, and they should be ‘mary sues’ in that they can't fail.

But they aren't.

Although they are unlikely to be defeated, are ridiculously powerful, they don't break the story they are in. They are overpowered, but they are not perfect. They are loved by some but hated by others, and still others are indifferent to them.

And most importantly, they are flawed in ways that are important. These ways may not make them weaker, but they make them imperfect, force them to struggle with something in spite of their powers or abilities, and require them to still evolve and develop through the story. Each character I've referenced with the images has at least one significant issue they struggle with: from self-doubt and family issues to blindness, to a desire to fit in with their loved ones, to struggling with fate, to struggling with pain and staggering loss.

They are individuals that have to problem-solve. Their power(s) won't resolve the problem, no matter how immense. They, the character, will need to do that. And in that sense, all the power of the universe is useless, equalizing them with the average person that is watching the movie, reading the comic, or binging the series.

Because they need to problem-solve, they don't break the story. Because they have a very valid, convincingly serious risk of failure or destruction (however that translates in the story), the stakes are high and resonate with the audience. The setting they are in can hold, because they too have to work within it, and their powers only provide a scale or dimension in which the story can expand and develop. Because we can identify with the struggle, we can be immersed and connect with the character even though we'll never be able to cause an earthquake with our mind or fly or command the elements.

Do you have an overpowered character? If so, how do you handle them?

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PaulEberhardt at 3:37AM, April 23, 2023

Yes, this type of character is something very, very different from a Mary Sue. I'd rather suggest comparing them with real-life savants, only kind of in reverse. A character like this may have superpowers to turn the world upside down, but when it comes to everything else he/she/it is as dumb as you and me, with the same questions and worries. How does someone like that find his/her/its way in life? How do they manage to stay human (because even if they reject humanity, it usually turn out there is no alternative for them). Just about every novel by Roger Zelazny, to cite just one of the greats, is about just that, and the combination of overpowered protagonists trying to get by in combination with the worlds they live in (and shape) somehow always makes a fascinating read. My own human main character is basically a "light" version of an overpowered character, because I felt an in-depth exploration of that would lead to far away from what I want to draw.

paneltastic at 6:30AM, April 22, 2023

One of the more modern takes that usually works of this trope is the One Punch Man manga. The man is nearly invincible but he is so bored he wants to die.

JillyFoo at 6:06AM, April 22, 2023

Great gifs you used! Good story!

marcorossi at 1:25AM, April 22, 2023

I do not have overpowered characters currently in my comic. In fact I tend to give my characters more defects than skills/powers. I do this according to the logic that for a character to grow s/he needs to have some flaw in the beginning, but this doesn't work with powers/special skill. Yet it is evident that the human mind loves this kind of thing, so I would like to understand how it works.

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