Monday, August 18, 2014

Strengthening Characters By Defining Limits

So, how strong is strong? An important question you need to debate is just how strong your characters are. It may seem trivial when dealing with worlds where strength seems solely dependent on the writer's whim, but it does help in consistency. More to the point, it gives you an additional tool when writing to play with.

Think about it: Once you establish a character's strength, it means you have established a limit, and limits, for a writer, are always a good thing. It means you can build a proper challenge for the character, and one that works for the readers. You need to establish that you will not add something just for the sake of making it easier for the characters, such as surprise new powers, as well as a reputation for occasionally allowing the characters to lose in a big way.

If readers know what the character can and can't do, and that they can suffer, then that creates a lot more suspense than if the character has the ability to grow new powers at will and you know he can never lose. That's fine is some comics, but those comics also buid suspense in a different way, by whettng readers curiosity as to what the character will do this time. That can work, but that's a different kind of story. Here, we're trying to build suspense through the character facing limits with the knowledge that he may not overcome them, and that's a great a tool.

Obviously a character can grow, and sometimes losing can provide that motivation. There is a reason that so many stories are pretty much lose-train-win; it's a working formula. If you have have a lot more room to play, such as with a novel or graphic novel, you can have the character find other ways to deal with his limitations, such as nifty new sword, upgrading his armor, or inventing a potion that allows him to overcome his limits. It's possible that one of his items can even become self-aware and start gaining abilities to enhance him or his familiar gain a more powerful form. Just try to actually define those abilities well enough that they are not either over-powered or a deux ex machina.

In essence, the better you define the character and what he can do, the more you can actually do with him. A simple point, but you would be surprised just how much you can get from it.