Superhuman weakness

saturnAt one time there was a “story” circulating about the famous producer of modern supernatural fiction movies.

M. Night Shyamalan says “I have a new idea for a movie.”

“What’s the plot?” ask a cohort.

“There’s this boy, and he’s really a robot.” Shyamalan answers.

“That’s a plot device, not a plot.”

When giving a character a supernatural power, the author can become preoccupied with the special ability, showing it off to that character’s advantage. But carefully crafting an interesting protagonist, or antagonist, with unique powers requires attention to other things.

For example, what are the characters’ weaknesses? They need to have both an Achilles’ heel and a personality flaw (not necessarily fatal).  The physical weaknesses is like Superman’s Kryptonite or the dragon’s soft spot. There may be a plant, an element, an delicious food that doesn’t bother us ordinary humans but it can drain the supernatural character’s power or even cause death.

The personality flaw actually helps us relate to the supernatural.  We automatically assume that characters that walk and talk like people (at least some of the time) share the nature of humans. They could have drastically different thoughts, emotions (or lack of them) and needs. This kind of creature is more difficult to write into a story, but ultimately more fascinating when well developed.

Chatting with students about the changes in literary rules for vampires, many lamented the fact that the new breed of vampire doesn’t have to watch out for sunrise or garlic. They seem just like humans only they are stronger, dine on blood and are immortal. However, one astute student noted that even the modern “humanized” vampires were more interesting with the stories revolve around their interactions with humans and the conflicts that resulted.  When a story contains a character with superpowers so that problems can be quickly overcome, there essentially is no problem, no conflict, no plot – just a plot device.

Art work by S.L. Listman

This entry was posted in Literature, Story structure, Writer's resource and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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