Archive for January, 2013

On Superpowers – Part Two

(Warning: Links might take you to strange and amusing places…also, huge reveals of the true depth of this blogger’s nerdiness)

A while back I posted a quick (and completely unintentional) How-To ‘On Superpowers’, all about using superpowers in a story, and promised a follow up.  Months and months (and months and months and months) later, I keep my word!

As I said in my earlier article, introducing any kind of superpower into a story brings with it a whole slew of questions.  Previously, I addressed explaining superpowers either in a fantasy or sci-fi context, as well as, setting up capabilities and limitations.  Today I’m going to address: what exactly are ‘superpowers’?

Okay, I know, dummy moment, right?  You’re all saying, “Who doesn’t know what a superpower is?  It’s any ability possessed by a character that can be deemed extraordinarily outside of the normal range of capability.”

Yes, yes, I know, you are all smart cookies.  But that is a general, all-encompassing definition.  On an individual basis, what are these superpowers?  Even better, what superpower(s) should you give your character?  Better yet, what superpower(s) do you want to give your character?  And even better yet, what can you do with these superpower(s) to make your character stand out from every other character out there with the same superpower(s)?

In the world of sci-fi/fantasy, there are several basic superpowers that dominate the genres.  This post will cover those basics and what they entail, provide a few samples of each, and then briefly touch on how to brainstorm new and innovative super powers.

Let’s get down to basics:

Senses – one of the easiest superpower to come up with and utilize in any story is to take an ability a character already innately has, something simple that everyone is already born with, and crank it up to a ridiculously subhuman level.  Humans, for instance, all (well, mostly all…) have the five basic senses: sight, hearing, taste, touch, and smell.  How do we make these ho-hum abilities super?  Easy.

Take sight, we consider the best-of-the-best vision as being 20/20.  I’m not an optometrist, so I have no clue what that actually means, something about field of depth or something other perception…I give up.  Anyhow, some people might have slightly better than 20/20, a lot have less than 20/20, but for the most part, 20/20 is considered top performance.  Now to give your character super-sight, just multiply that 20/20 vision by…let’s say…a hundred.  No, that doesn’t mean we’re giving them 2000/2000 vision, or maybe it does, I don’t know, like I said, I don’t know what that actually means but now we’ve got this character that can see a hundred times better than the average person with great eyesight.  Voila, super-sight!

I know, I know…this is all no-brainer.  But do you know why this is all so no-brainer?  Because this superpower (super-senses) is so basic that it is gifted to nearly every superpowered character in creation.  In the sci-fi world, we rarely find a hero that isn’t either genetically supercharged with awesome hearing, sight, smell, etc., or that hasn’t built themselves some sort of device that gives them an edge on these abilities.  In the fantasy realm it’s the same deal, modern lore often incorporates into vampires, werewolves, etc., these gifts, whereas, flip-side, magic-wielders not naturally gifted with super-senses are always equipped with some spell that will boost these abilities.

So overused is this superpower, I’m not even going to bother with an example, though I can think of a super powered man that became famous for having every one of his senses kicked up a notch (you know who I’m talking about, Mister Leaps Over Tall Buildings in a Single Bound).  They’ve become mundane in their overabundance in the literary world; readers almost come to expect these gifts of the hero.

Strength – Speaking of Mister Leaps Over Tall Buildings in a Single Bound, we move on to the second most overused and perhaps what can possibly be considered the oldest super power in creation: super strength.  We can trace super strength back through millennia of story-telling mythos right back to good ole’ Gilgamesh of Mesopotamian fame, though Hercules from Grecian tales may be a more familiar heroic legend.  Super strength can range from being reasonably within human capability, albeit after a lifetime of hardcore training and with a few hormonal enhancements, to being insanely outside of the norm.

In its varying degrees, this is another super power that gets handed out to heroes like Kool-Aid in a cult.  Beyond Superman, with Hercules and Gilgamesh aside, some more modern examples of super strength may include sparkly vampires and their wolfy friends, cyborgs of every variety, and…oh, I don’t know, almost every comic book hero in creation.

I’d also throw in witches and wizards, but seriously, who needs super strength in a magical world of conjuration, there are so many other spells that can get the job done in a much more efficient or fanciful way.  Need to move a giant boulder, why not have it sprout legs and move itself?  Disintegration works just as well!  Or, instead of growing bulging muscles that allow you to toss it aside as though it were a pebble, you could just shrink it to the size of a pebble and toss it aside.  Oh yeah, feel the burn.

Invulnerability – Keeping in line with the most super of super heroes’ abilities, one such ability that usually, but not always, comes hand in hand with super strength is invulnerability.  This can be a limited ability in the sense that your hero can either be invulnerable to a certain degree or a certain type of damage (Dungeons and Dragon style, dwarves, invulnerable to magic effects) or be invulnerable at limited periods of time such as Colossus of the Marvel X-Men Universe, who can change his body into a metal form that is near indestructible, which brings me to an aspect of invulnerability that needs to be bore in mind when working with this super power.

There are different types of injury and different methods of attack.  When utilizing this ability in your story, it’s best to keep in mind what other super powers will be present in the story, and therefore, of those other abilities which ones your hero might be invulnerable or vulnerable to.  For example, keeping in the X-Men universe, one incarnation of the character Psylocke is shown to be invulnerable to psionic abilities, telepathy and other such mental intrusions from other mutants, this is a different type of attack.  Although Colossus, when in his metal form, is near invulnerable to numerous physical attacks, he may still be attacked through methods of mental aberration.

Speed/Reflexes – Way back in the late 1930s, when Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster first developed Superman, they said, what powers should we give our super hero?  All of them, of course!  Anyhow…uh yeah, eventually we’ll get to a super power that Mister Leaps Over…eh, you know the rest, does not have…

I listed super speed and super reflexes here together because one usually begets the other, however, these are not the same super power and don’t necessarily come hand-in-hand.

Let’s clarify real quick.

Super speed is the capability of moving at an abnormal rate, for example, the Flash’s main modus operandus (AKA: primary super power) is speed.  Technically it’s his only super power, he just uses it in creative and varying ways; like, for instance, running so fast against the rotation of the planet, he can turn back time, or vice versa to flash into the future.  Ah, puns, I kill me!

Super reflexes, on the other hand, is simply the ability to react with subhuman reflex to an action in the instance of its occurrence.  This implies that the process of seeing something occur or about to occur, analyzing and understanding this sudden occurrence (its cause and subsequent effect), making a mental decision of how to react to it and then having that decision communicated to all necessary parts of the body, and finally those parts thus moving as directed is much faster in individuals with this ability.  Need an example?  Probably.  Okay, Wonder Woman, while not capable of super speed, could deflect oncoming bullets using her invulnerable metal bracers, because her reflexes were so lightening quick.

Typically, we expect a person capable of superhuman speed to be able to hastily react to a sudden situation, thus super speed usually infers super reflexes, however, as in the example I gave, super reflexes does not always infer super speed.  One thing I should mention, super speed does not always necessarily mean that the character need have super reflexes either!  Keep it in mind when writing with one or the other super power, and remember the differences.

Superior Intellect (Extreme Egg-headedness) – You know, one of the super powers people tend to forget Superman is gifted with, including – ahem – particular television shows that utilized the character, is Superior Intellect.  He was supposed to be a genius in the comics.  Other genius super heroes that seemingly lost this trait in certain current media incarnations: Spiderman and Batman.  Its way more fun to watch them bash bad guys though, right?  Right.

At least Iron Man and Bruce Banner kept their intellect fully intact in the Avengers.  And Thor was still an ignoramus oaf, though he more than made up for it with his unabashedly good looks.  Nothing makes you realize how overplayed these super powers are, at least in the comic books world, than running the full gamut of the basic super powers and thumbing around for perfect examples of them.  Let me step outside the box (or panel, as they’re referred to in the comic world) a moment and look at other fine media examples for Superior Intellect, starting in the literary.  Sherlock Holmes, he defined the forensic detective subgenre with his Superior Intellect, can we deem his a super power.  Elementary, my dear Watson, this is my blog post, so, of course.  He used his extreme power of deductive reasoning to solve murder mysteries.  In television, short lived ABC show “No Ordinary Family” explored Superior Intellect in a somewhat different way, giving the youngest son of the starring super family the gift of intelligence.  He utilized his intelligence to calculate football trajectories on the fly, allowing him to become a star quarterback on his school football team overnight, although I have many, many reservations about using Superior Intellect in this sense, as a subhuman grasp of mathematics does not make up for lacking in physical capability and hand-eye-coordination, I certainly give the show points for semi-creativity.  A British show called Misfits went a far more innovative route (and I will discuss Misfits ad nauseum when I get into making old new because of their incredibly creative usage of old and development of new superpowers), gifting one of its characters, Kelly, with what they referred to as the “Rocket Scientist” super power.  Basically, she could look at any machine and know exactly how it worked.

My point in all this rambling being, oft overlooked and, typically given to super heroes as an almost after thought for use only on rainy days or when writers on certain shows suddenly remember the hero has it at all and need something to shake up the plot a bit, Superior Intellect on its own can be a really great super power and gives you extensive opportunities for more innovative methods of utilization.

Flying – I tend to get into odd moods, I think every writer does, where I start asking the strangest questions of people in my life, the kind of questions you only ask of your friends and co-workers when you’re at a social gathering forced to play so-called social games that force you to ask strange questions of the people in your life.  One such question was “If you could have any super power, what would it be?” Surprisingly I got telepathy a lot, once invisibility, and from my dad’s girlfriend, flying.  It took me aback a bit, as flying is one of my least favorite of all super powers, but it befits her personality I think – she’s an uplifting, free-spirited person.

Flying is another one of those old super powers, antiquated because I think it speaks to a deeper part of our human nature.  Every ancient culture has some lore of flying human like creatures, winged angels, and men from the skies that ride in magical vehicles (chariots and carpets and such).  We spent how many decades dreaming up flying machines, and running, oft-times deadly, experiments with various designs until the Orwell brothers finally got us off the ground.  Flying is also the last power on my list with which Superman is gifted, though obviously not the last that he possesses.  Yes, that means I won’t be talking about super breath or heat vision.

Other flighty figures: Peter Pan (Yes!  Been wanting to throw him in here), Angels (I said angels already, didn’t I?  Not to be confused with Buffy the Vampire Slayer-verse’s Angel, he does not fly), and witches and wizards on broomsticks – though, to be perfectly honest and not to cause any kind of fan war, I prefer Phillip Pullman’s flying witches to Rowling’s, any day; also, the Rocketeer, which if you’re wondering, jet-propulsion packs totally count as a Nifty Device gifted super ability (see original post On Superpowers).

Physiological Manipulations (Including, but not limited to; extreme contortion, localized or full-body stretching/elasticity, transmutation and transmogrification) – Thrown under this very basic of superpowers is a vast array of sub-superpowers that include anything which involves transformation of the hero’s body.  Contortionists in reality are superhuman in and of themselves, but subhuman contortionists like Mr. Fantastic and Elasti-Girl are Play-Do on a playground, they further supplement their ability with stretching/elasticity, by elongating either their limbs or trunk to ridiculous lengths.

Other forms of physiological manipulation include some already covered, such as Colossus’s ability to transform his body into metal (there are other forms of personal molecular manipulation, such as, super villain Sandman’s ability to turn portions of or all of his body into particles of sand, and the Human Torch and Iceman’s abilities to turn themselves fully into the respective elements fire and ice) and then there are shapeshifting abilities; this can be limited to one form, Dr. Jekyll can only become Mr. Hyde; or whatever form one chooses, like Odo on Star Trek: Deep Space Nine; or limited to numerous forms, like the Animorphs who can only transform into animals whose DNA they have managed to copy with a touch.

Invisibility, not to be confused with the ability to alter a person’s mental processing of their perceived surroundings thus making them unable to realize they are seeing your hero which falls under the telepathy (or mental aberration) superpower, and regeneration, like the oh-so-famous Wolverine, can also fall under this particular range of superpowers.

Telekinesis/Psychokinesis – Hands down, my favorite super power in the deck is telekinesis, sometimes referred to as psychokinesis, depends on how fancy the writer wants to be.  Maybe because it speaks to my personal level of laziness, but there’s always been something incredibly appealing about the ability to move objects with only one’s mind.  According to Wikipedia (the almighty resource), Telekinesis refers to any direct influence of the mind on a physical system.  This can be adapted to the digital age, altering digital readouts or causing short-circuits in electrical systems for example, and can include sub-varieties of telekinesis including manipulation of the elements, such as, fire, water, ice, and earth.

Examples of telekinetic ability are riddled through the sci-fi and fantasy genres.  As an extension of Superior Intellect you might see ideas littered through super powered stories that increased brain power would unlock other mental capabilities such as telepathy and telekinesis, this can be seen in the Observers of Fox’s sci-fi show Fringe.  In the recent movie from DC-verse, The Green Lantern, auxiliary villain Hector Hammond is also afflicted with this trio of abilities.  The television show Charmed featured telekinetically endowed witch sister, Prue Halliwell, who needed to incorporate some physical trigger (hand flick or eye squint) to utilize her ability.  And, as an example of limited telekinesis, in the old movie, Firestarter, a very young Drew Barrymore has the ability to manipulate fire, sometimes referred to as pyrokinesis.

Telepathy – Otherwise referred to as mind-reading, or ESP (the extra-sensory thing, not to be confused with the sports channel ESPN), telepathy is any ability that allows the hero to be communicated information about another living entity not by traditional means.  This can be a blunt “I can hear what you’re thinking” power like Sookie Stackhouse of the book franchise by Charlaine Harris and the television show they inspired, True Blood, as well as the flip side “And I can also make you hear what I’m thinking”, attributed to the most powerful telepaths in nearly all comic book universes like Professor Xavier of the Marvel-verse’s X-Men; from Mike Mignola’s Hellboy there is Abe Sapien, and in DC comics corner, the Teen Titan, Raven.

Mind reading is not a far cry from mind control, and many of the aforementioned telepaths have displayed this ability, though you should note that they are not one and the same, illusion/delusion, compelling and the power of suggestion are versions of mind control, altering the perception of the influenced to see/think/feel and ultimately do whatever the controller wants of them.  Syfy’s Alpha series features Nina, who “pushes” people to do whatever she wants by simply looking them in the eye and suggesting it.

Empathy is another form of “telepathic ability”, and now I get to reveal my old Japanese animation obsession which I have (somewhat) grown out of, Hisoka Kurosaki from the series Yami no Matsuei (Descendants of Darkness) is a prime example of an empathically gifted character; one touch and another person’s emotions quickly overwhelm him, making him a bit haphephobic.  Many writers skew the realm of mind-reading forms of telepathy and empathic forms of telepathy, perhaps, because emotions and thoughts are often very intrinsically tied, but there is an allure to separating the two, and thus creating a dilemma for your character.  Thoughts without the underlying emotions or emotions without the thought processes behind them can give an interesting twist to an age-old ability and makes for an abundance of plot fodder.

Another form of “telepathic ability” to explore is clairvoyance (precognitive or retro/post-cognitive abilities), that being the ability to see into either the past or the future of a living (and in some cases nonliving) entity.  Since I’ve already mentioned one Charmed sister, let’s throw Phoebe Halliwell in the mix.  I’m not sure where Phoebe was at ability-wise when the show ended as I jumped ship when the show jumped shark shortly after Prue died, but Phoebe’s original power was premonition.  She would touch a person or object and get a flash of that person or objects future or past.  In the beginning she couldn’t control when the visions came to her, and she was typically shown things because she needed to involve herself and her sisters and save the day.  Later she learned to control her ability, and force visions.  While most people think of crystal balls and tarot card reading when they hear clairvoyant, sci-fi has had its fair share of fortune tellers as well, notably, Trance Gemini from Gene Rodenberry’s Andromeda (Starring Kevin Sorbo as…Hercules!  No…wait…Captain Hercules!  Got to remember his title).  Trance was a little purple alien girl, that later swapped places with her white and gold future self (long story…) who was in a constant state of seeing the most probable futures given present circumstances, all of which were constantly in flux as situations changed.  Obviously this means that a clairvoyant character does not have to be able to see into both the past and the future, doesn’t have to have the ability on call at her whim, and probably doesn’t always have to understand what she’s seeing or how to change it.

As you can see, telepathy is a fun and diverse power; also, it’s often underused.  As I said, Phoebe eventually ‘lost’ her power of premonition; I guess, the show’s writers (falsely) believed it wasn’t very cool.

Immortality – “…I am immortal, I have inside me blood of kings…yeah…!” Admittedly, I probably only put this superpower on the list because I get to flashback to the late eighties into early nineties, and my childhood, waiting (im)patiently for new Highlander episodes to air (I was a wee one, but by God, I loved the violent clanging of those swords).  It still kills me that neither Highlander (Conner nor Duncan) had a Scottish accent.  And they both used katanas!  What was up with that?  Where were the Claymores?  Really?  There were flashbacks of them wearing kilts and that made them Scots?  Sidenote, Duncan, where did you always hide that sword?  Picture this, abandoned warehouse, Duncan walks in all cool like with tiny ponytail blowing in the wind, suddenly, the bad guy enters the scene, and out from the magic vortex inside his trench coat, Duncan pulls out his katana!

See…only reason this power is on the list.

Getting back on track, immortality is not to be confused with invulnerability, and vice versa.  Immortality is the ability to live forever, whereas invulnerability is the ability to…uh…not be hurt.  Immortals can still be injured or even killed; invulnerable characters can still die of old age.

Highlanders, and other immortals in their fictional realm, have amazing regenerative abilities, but a quick beheading and they’re done for.  Which reminds me of another immortal, previously mentioned but I get to throw him on here twice and my child at heart rejoices, Peter Pan!  Every child grows up, except one.  In current pop culture, vampires are perhaps the most well-known immortals out there, but if we’re talking vampires, let’s steer away from teenage angst vamps and stick with the types popularized by Joss Whedon and Anne Rice, and Syfy’s Being Human (which I just finished watching this week’s episode…so awesome) with special mention to its British muse.  In all of these cases, the ability to live forever comes with heavy price, as though watching everyone around you grow old and die, never being able to form attachments weren’t price enough.  No price was greater than that paid by Greek mythological figure Tithonus, who asked of the Gods that he be able to live forever, but the dope didn’t ask to be young forever too.  So he grew older and more decrepit with each passing century, begging for sweet release.

All of these are things to bear in mind when using immortality.  It does not mean invulnerability, living forever typically comes with a hefty price, and there is a huge difference between eternal life and eternal youth.

Making New the Old

Now that we know the basics, how do we come up with something new?  As you probably can see by skimming this post, there’s not a lot in the superpower genre that hasn’t already been done, and I haven’t even scratched the surface.  So then what do you do?  Give up?  Throw in the towel?

First, I’m going to tell you something that I feel doesn’t get talked about a whole lot in the writing community.  Here it goes: everything has been done before.

Okay, maybe not everything, but there is a quote, I believe it comes from Mark Twain (or Samuel Clemens, if you prefer), and I’m going to paraphrase horrendously, but we only have a handful of stories and we just keep retelling them over and over and over again.  Nothing you write will ever be, in its entirety, innovative.  Samantha Meyer did not invent the vampire drama, J.K. Rowling was heavily influenced by Tolkien, and likewise, Tolkien was heavily influenced by folklores and mythologies that have been handed down through the millennia.  This is not a terrible thing.  Too often, there is this great emphasis placed on innovation – which works fine and well in the free market, but in writing, you don’t actually want to create something so far off the charts that it is completely, entirely, utterly unique because chances are you will not have an audience.  Much of your story will springboard off the backs of stories previously told and there is nothing wrong with that, in fact, it is an inevitability and it is the beauty of writing, and humanity as a whole, that we find inspiration in the works of others who were inspired by the works of other and so on and so forth, in this endless evolution of the imagination.

That being said, unless you are making the conscious choice to blatantly rip off another person’s story, you do want your story to be different from what’s already been done, to stand out from the crowd, in order to catch the readers’ eyes and get your story sold.  How do you do this?

If the stories have all been told, and these superpowers have been explored inside and out, what does that leave?  Characters.

I know there is a great debate in the literary world, what is more important, story or characters, and I really don’t want to incite or incense those arguments at all, but I have always been a firm believer that characters are, without a doubt, the most important aspect of any piece of writing.  They are what move the story along, they are what the story shapes and affects, if they do not exist, there is no story, they are who the readers relate to, feel for, the reason readers come back again and again, and they are what stay with the readers long after the story has ended.

So how does this apply to superpowers?  I’ve gone over the various manifestations of the basic superpowers, they are at their root very simple, flying is flying, but for every superpower I have given numerous examples of characters with those superpowers, often times characters that have the exact same manifestation of those superpowers and I assure you there are worlds more.  Yet it is the characters themselves, how they use their powers, how these powers affect them either physiologically, psychologically, or both, and how it changes the course of their lives.

Take, for example, Superman.  He has a royal flush of superpowers, about half the ones on this list, and a plethora of others I didn’t even touch.  Yet, he’s not unique.  His cousin, Supergirl, for instance, shares all his same abilities, and has a franchise of comics and movies nearly as popular as his own.  Mon-El, member of the legion of superheroes, also has much the same powers, as well as, Martian Manhunter.  So what makes these characters, with these same abilities, so unique?  They do.  The readers aren’t interested in the superpowers, but instead, in the way the characters experience these powers, especially, the negative aspects of the superpower.

Everyone knows having superpowers is awesome.  Even if I had my least favorite power, flying, having the power itself would be awesome.  But what about the consequences of that power?  What about the costs of having it?  What about the side-effects that come with it?  I’ve said this before, and I’ll say it again, readers DO NOT LIKE PERFECT CHARACTERS.  They want to see the characters struggle, they want to see them suffer, they want to see them make mistakes, because in the characters’ screw-ups or their emotional pitfalls it is then, and only then, the characters feel real.

I know it’s hard to write flaws in your character.  Maybe not for me because I love torturing my characters, but I understand the appeal of writing the perfect character, the hero/heroine that is the shining example of all that is good and righteous in the world.  You want them to be smart, to be strong, to be daring, courageous, to always say the right thing, and always, always, have a great one-liner, they are beautiful, athletic, charismatic, and they volunteer at homeless shelters in their spare time because most of all, we want readers to like our characters, but they won’t, because they can’t relate to our characters.

Think of Peter Parker, why do people love him?  It’s not because he’s Spiderman, it’s because he’s that nerdy kid from school that all of us comic book nerds were, who gained superpowers (strength, agility, precognitive awareness, aka Spidey-sense, etc.) and at the start fell to temptation, used it for selfish personal gain.  Yet in a moment of anger, he failed to make the right choice which led to his Uncle Ben’s death, a consequence of his actions that will hang over his head for the rest of his life, and because of which he fights crime in an effort to find some sort of personal redemption.

When using superpowers in your writing, you always have to think about the consequences of having those powers and there must be consequences.

Going back to Superman, how many times have writers explored the negative impact of his powers on his psyche?  His powers put him above and beyond the majority of superheroes, making him a god even amongst the godliest of men, and it sure is lonely being a god.  It strains his relationships, how many times has Lois lamented that she isn’t quite his equal, not to mention, the unrealistic expectations and unwarranted pressures it thrusts on him.  If he’s the greatest of the superheroes, and the threat is beyond his capabilities, who does that leave to save the day?

Those are all psychological effects of superpowers, but let’s also examine physiological consequences using my all-time favorite superhero, Fantastic Four’s Ben Grimm “The Thing”.  Although the radiation he and his fellow Fantastic Four members drifted through in Mr. Fantastic’s space craft gifted him with super strength and enhanced physical durability, it also drastically altered his appearance into this ghastly monolithic behemoth, cursed for the rest of his life to look as though compiled of yellow stones.  No hero hates his superpower more than Ben Grimm, prone to bouts of depression and violent rages, and none would more quickly cast it aside were the option given, yet he still uses it, albeit grumpily at times, to save the day, despite the people he saves being more likely to run screaming from him than the evil villains.

How do you make the same tired old superpowers new and exciting?  It is all in the way you craft them into your character.

Blazing a New Path

Let’s say you don’t want to believe that everything has been done before and that you do want to try your hand at making a power entirely unheard of, how would you go about doing that?  How do you create new superpowers?  I’m going to touch on this very briefly, because I imagine most people wanting to write a superpower laden story already have the powers in mind that they want to use, and also, because I’m not going to hold your hand through the entire creative process.

For this portion, I am going to refer to a British show called Misfits, which is an amazingly creative spin on the “superhero” genre, with an interesting storyline, incredibly compelling characters and, most importantly, it features a very new take on superpowers.  In Misfits, a group of delinquent teenagers serving community service are trapped outside during a strange storm, struck by lightning, and wake to find they’ve developed superpowers.

The superpowers presented in Misfits, particularly in the first season, are typically manifestations of each individual character’s personal pathologies.  One of the characters is a shy, awkward introvert, and gains the power to turn invisible; another is extremely self-conscious, gains telepathy; still another is plagued by his past mistakes, namely the one that landed him in community service and sent his girlfriend to jail, and gains the power to turn back time when he experiences extreme regret.

I mention this show because it illustrates perfectly one of the best ways to brainstorm new superpowers: by looking at the role that power will play in the overall storyline, how it will affect the character that has the power and, how it will help to develop that character for the reader.  By using the characters themselves as the basis for what superpowers they develop, the show manages to create some very different superpowers.  For instance, one sub-character is a former drug dealer that gains the ability to take powers from one person and give them to another, but cannot use the powers himself.  Another single-episode character has the ability to telekinetically manipulate dairy products.  And yet another single-episode character is able to bring back spirits of the dead in order for them to resolve any unfinished business.

I’m going to wrap this up, but I will probably write a third part – hopefully sooner than I wrote this one – that goes more in-depth on superpower creation, and how it can affect the character’s world.

Remember, superpowers are a great tool to use in your story, but they cannot themselves be the story.  The only thing that will help your story to stand apart from the rest is the characters.  There are several basic superpowers, but they can manifest in various ways, and you can shake them up a little or a lot by looking at how the powers affect your characters psychologically and/or physiologically.

One final tip: Superpowers, like anything in a story, should serve a greater purpose to the story.  Don’t just throw them in there because they seem (are) cool.

(If you want to add some superpower examples of your own, feel I misrepresented a superpower or hero, think I left something out, could’ve expanded on something more, or didn’t quite get my point across, please feel free to share in the comments below!)

Quick Announcement

Real quick announcement, for anyone interested I’ve started a twitter account, just in case you want to follow me and read what I think daily…wow, that sounds like it’ll get old fast.  I promise not to post too many things that are random, annoying, and useless, though I can’t promise I’ll always be entertaining.

My username is: @dastardlyreads   (**Edited with a big THANK YOU to Karen for kindly correcting this twitter noob on proper twitter verbage!  Learning, one screw up at a time…**)

See, it goes with my blog.  I’ve already got one follower!  My cousin…does that count?  Maybe not.  And I’m already following @feliciaday and @neilhimself (aka, Neil Gaiman).  Trying to bumble my way through this new technology…not entirely sure I’ve got the hang of it yet, but I sent my first…tweet?, they’re called tweets right?…well, I sent my first one yesterday.

Anyhow, enough rambling, this was meant to be quick.

If you have a twitter and would like me to follow you, please post the username in my comments!  And also, please check out my twitter if my writing interests you.

Clip of Maybe Something Longer One Day

He checks the watch-face for the five hundred and fifty seventh time.  He’s missed his bus, but he couldn’t catch his breath.  She is cold stone, her eyes glisten yesteryear.

“Is this the end of the story,” he muses, soft symphony.

“It questions the start but wraps up nicely, I think,” she replies.

“Do we go on or stay put?”

“Everything goes on.  Besides, I’d rather not stay here.  We’ve been on this page far too long, I fear I’ve memorized every word in every passage.”

Too familiar, he thinks, mentally succumbs, drinks the tea in his hand and invites her to dance a moment as he steps in time to the dead man’s heartbeat.  

Take care, they remind themselves – gliding graceful in the stilted lights, if you stand with your hands held open, palms up, simply waiting, you might never grasp the moon.

No One Will Ever Call Me Beautiful…

I once had a boyfriend that told me he didn’t find me physically beautiful, but I had a beautiful personality.  I don’t know, maybe he thought he was being romantic, trying to explain that his ‘feelings’ for me ran beyond what could be seen.  For me, it confirmed a long held belief I had about myself: I was not and never would be considered beautiful.  Things didn’t work out between me and him, in case you were wondering.

Throughout life I’ve gotten a lot of comments about my appearance; cute, sexy, pretty, interesting is one I’ve gotten a bit lately, and I was once compared to an elf…that one was bizarre, but I have to consider the source (LARP-er), and on Halloween several years back a horny valet boy told me I was too hot to be a witch (I said “why thank you” while thinking, “I’m not sure if that’s very professional of you, hitting on the customers like that” as I went into the German-style restaurant/bar where skinny blondes in teeny-tiny shorts with breast implants spank you for ordering a shot).

But beautiful has always been one that’s eluded me and, goddammit, sometimes a girl just needs to be told she’s beautiful.

What’s the big deal, right?  One compliment is just as good as another, isn’t it?  If you’ve gotten ‘cute’, ‘sexy’, ‘pretty’, aren’t those all the same thing as ‘beautiful’?  They all pull up as synonyms when you type them into the thesaurus on Dictionary.com.

But tell someone you think they’re cute.  Tell someone you think they’re pretty.  Tell someone you think they’re sexy.  Now tell someone you think they’re beautiful.  Was the reaction the same?  I bet it didn’t feel the same when you said.  I’m even willing to bet that you didn’t say the words the same when you said them.

I had a friend, sweet girl that screwed her life all to hell, amazing personality though.  She was one of those people that could walk into a room and change the entire atmosphere just by willing it so.  I went out with her one night and the place we went to was dead when we got there, but – and I swear this is the truth – she literally turned it into a dance party.  A lame cover band was playing, and I firmly believe that the rowdy crowd that eventually gathered was less there for them and more so because of her.  That was, and I’m sure still is, her power.  And one thing that she did was she loved to tell people they were beautiful.

It wasn’t everyone, but people she genuinely thought were beautiful – it wouldn’t have worked otherwise – and it wasn’t always the obvious, media-approved beautiful people, but anyone with some trait or feature that stood out above the rest, she would bluntly and earnestly tell them they were beautiful.

The reaction was unmistakable, and something I’d never witnessed before from any other compliment.  It lit their faces, their entire demeanor changed, they were transformed before my eyes, they were no longer some average person going about their humdrum life but suddenly they were beautiful because she had proclaimed them so.

As I’ve said, she was a powerful person, but that reaction in them wasn’t her power.  It was the power of the word, and I know this, because I’ve used it.  Following her example, l have told people, perfect strangers even, that they were beautiful.  Men and women, the reaction is always the same, somewhat taken aback, slightly abashed, but suddenly holding themselves more proudly, suddenly smiling more brightly, and you know their day from that moment forth is going to be a great one.

Words carry power.  They hold in them a turbulence of emotions, connoted meanings that are drawn out by their mere utterance.  Writers, careful craftsmen, take their time choosing each word that goes into their writing.  Was the character angry or furious?  Did she whimper or cry out?  Did he snatch the object up or did he gently pick it up?  Words considered to have the same meaning can change the entire tone of a sentence when swapped for one another.

Cute is childish, a dog is cute.  It’s almost demeaning at times.  Cute is a younger sibling, a baby animal, or the crayon drawing your toddler drew on the wall.  Cute is never taken seriously.  Pretty is a compromise.  It’s non-committal.  It’s a grandmother clucking her tongue and disinterestedly commenting, “You look very pretty, dear”.  It just means you’re not ugly.  It’s the appearance equivalent of ‘acceptable’.  Sexy is…straightforward.  It makes no attempt at hiding what a person wants from another.  It’s objectifying to a point.  It almost can’t be considered a compliment if you think about it too hard, unless it comes from someone you that are intimate with, someone you want to think of you that way.

But beautiful is all encompassing and makes no mistakes.  Beautiful is pure and modest, yet it elevates above the rest.  Beautiful is more than skin deep, it speaks of the soul, the heart, and the outer shell.  It makes you feel all at once innocent and sensual.  It cannot be misinterpreted, it does not demean, and it does not take away yet always gives in return.

Think about the words you use.  When you’re writing and, more importantly, when you speak to others.  And every now and then, tell someone they’re beautiful.

I should probably end this by mentioning that, as it turns out, there are people in the world that consider me beautiful and have on occasion told me as much.  And if you’re like me, and you fret that no one will ever consider you beautiful, don’t worry, you are.

For Christmas I asked my little sister for an octopus. I don’t know why…but I really did want an octopus, is that so wrong?

Anyhow, this is what she got me:

IMG-20130109-00221

A bag full of gummy octopus! They were tasty. And underneath you can see that I am doing well in college…

Apparently, she had to hunt them down. Now I call that love. She also got me a daisy, but it doesn’t dance, so that was a bit disappointing, but overall, I was happy.

What to look forward to:

Currently working on a rant-style post — I suppose would be the best classification for it — about talent versus hard work.  Should be up some time this weekend.

I also have an essay post about writing constructive criticism (ah…that rare and elusive feedback writers crave) that should be up the first week of February sometime.

And a short story entitled “Junk Drawer Juju”, to be posted…February 14th sounds befitting.

Now I’m off to see the sandman about a dream.

Hey, I was just watching some videos on Youtube as I ate my breakfast this morning and came across this one from the BigThink channel (LOVE that channel by the way, so many fascinating things to watch).

It’s short, but impacting, I think.  Take a gander:

I really liked what he had to say about taking a situation in your everyday life and viewing it through the eyes of another writer, though I would take it a step further and suggest trying to view it through the eyes of everyone else present.  What is my father thinking when I sit down to dinner with him, what does he notice, what does he feel about what’s being said?  Where is my boss’s mind at as I’m giving him a rundown of my status on a current task, is he distracted, why is he distracted?  What is my professor seeing and when he/she looks out at the classroom full of students and how does he/she feel about it?

I was told once that avid readers tend to be more empathetic, because your whole experience reading is about putting yourself in another’s mind, but as a writer, you need to take that a step further and become that other or more specifically multiple other persons all at once.

I instantly thought of perspective when I watched this video.  One of my favorite things to ramble on ad nauseam about is perspective and how it pertains to writing and art.  Actually, I think I’ll be writing a post about perspective somewhere down the line and, so we’re clear, when I say “perspective” I’m not talking about “point of view”, I’m talking about climb on top of your desk and give an almighty yawp PERSPECTIVE.

So, I guess, think of this short video as something to whet your appetite for that eventual post.  Hope the holidays treated you well, now get back to work!

kgbethlehem

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