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Power levels and types of stories.

Discussion in 'Writing Discussions' started by Queshire, Sep 8, 2017.

  1. Queshire

    Queshire Auror

    If you get hit by the laser blast of a Dalek in Doctor Who you die. That's it. Even in the Doctor Who table top role playing game they say that it's instantly fatal. On the other side, on the TV show it takes the concentrated fire from a bunch of soldiers armed with assault rifles to just have the chance of breaking through its shield. Not even damage it, just break through the shield.

    This is fine though, because Doctor Who isn't a series about gun totting action heroes cutting through their enemies. It's a series where you need to out think your enemies.

    Superman often gets bashed as being boring because he's too powerful, but One Punch Man shows the potential comedy as well as the boredom and to a lesser extent the loneliness that comes with being powerful.

    Superman is THE hero. He's also from a destroyed world, never knew said destroyed world and with how powerful he is constantly lives in a world of cardboard. If you can't think of how that could lead to emotional drama then you should turn in your writer's card.

    I don't believe that a high power level is a problem. It can be dealt with. You can increase the scale of the threat to match that, or change what the story is about so that the high power level doesn't matter. That's my thoughts on it. What's yours?
  2. glutton

    glutton Inkling

    Dominance and formidability relative to other characters is more relevant in whether characters come off as unbalanced in a story than raw power level anyway. Piccolo is more powerful than 99% of characters in western fantasy yet he never seems OP in DBZ because he becomes a punching bag for stronger villains (along with most of the other supporting characters) rather quickly.

    Meanwhile most of my Bae characters are usually less powerful than a mid tier comic book superhero (especially offensively) but their worlds are weak enough that they tend to come off as the "big dogs." They're supposed to though because they're stories of cathartic Girl Pride awesomeness.

    Dominant aura! :D
  3. pmmg

    pmmg Auror

    Power levels certainly affects what type of tale is being told, but it makes no difference to the art of story telling. As I used to tell my players, it makes no difference what level your DnD character is, the villains you face will always be designed to keep the game challenging. If you have Superman, you can have Darkseid. If you don't have Superman, then the challenges cant be those that only superman could handle. It all kind of evens out.
  4. Peat

    Peat Sage

    I mostly don't think about this :p I think there's some things that people get hung up on/attach too much importance to and this is one of them. A quick survey of the 10 most popular fantasies of all time would probably reveal one protagonist who can't fight, can't do magic, can't do anything other than hide and keep most of his presence of mind when exposed to a source of incredible corruption, and one protagonist who is a master fighter, statesman, has a string of hotties after him, and is so powerful a wizard that he can wipe people out of time itself. And a bunch of characters in between. I don't think readers really care about power level as long as there's a good story and a consistent world.

    However, this has reminded me of a conversation about rpgs, where power level does kinda matter. And once upon a time someone told me the point of being obscenely powerful in a game like Exalted isn't "Can I do this" its "Should I? Do I want to? What will happen?". There are consequences for everything.

    And, much as I adore my old school epics where near-invulnerable warriors are finally taken down by their one weakness and world changing sword fights, I think "What happens?" is a more interesting question than "Can it happen?". No reason you can't do both in the same story of course - in fact, every reason that you can - but I think the consequences of the action become more important. Well. Even more important. They're kinda important already. But higher power does allow higher consequences.

    That's about it for my thoughts though :p
  5. Russ

    Russ Istar

    The problem with high power levels is not simply having challenges to match the power level (that sounds like a gaming problem to me, not a writing problem).

    The problem with high power levels is that the ability to identify with the protagonist with great power, that makes than every distance from a normal man, makes that protagonist harder to write in a way that the reader can really identify with, since you reader is likely a normal man. It is not an insurmountable obstacle, but one that must be carefully considered and compensated for in effective fiction.
  6. Annoyingkid

    Annoyingkid Banned

    Extreme power levels makes an unlikeable character more unlikeable, makes a bland character no longer bland for better or worse, as no one is ever indifferent to super strong characters. They're either loved or hated. Great power is a means of exploring a characters flaws, more so than their strengths. It's not about how big it is, but what you do with it that counts. What creative and dramatic possibilities are the magic or powers bringing to the table. That should ultimately be dictating how strong a character is. Not the cool factor or wish fulfillment. Ideally when a character does something powerful, it's setting something else up down the road.

    I'm still perplexed as to why Paolini didn't make Eragon an elf to begin with. Rather than making him a pseudo elf mutant in the second book with no downsides whatsoever. Change the character so much and you're basically starting over.
  7. Devor

    Devor Fiery Keeper of the Hat Moderator

    I just wanted to say that, really, "power" is often a visual concern. Think for a moment about novelizing superman - what are you working with? The fight scenes are all over the place, and the emotional struggles, while certainly there, are fairly lightweight. I'm not saying it can't be done, but it's a rough balance to work with for a novel.
    FifthView likes this.
  8. K.S. Crooks

    K.S. Crooks Inkling

    The author should always know how to defeat their own heroes and villains, no matter the amount of power they have. Any hero or villain with only physical power or physical weakness typically lacks a level of interest. As I read before, Superman's greatest weakness isn't Kryptonite, it's Lois Lane.
  9. Helen

    Helen Inkling

    Doesn't matter. There are always limitations.
  10. Annoyingkid

    Annoyingkid Banned

    I find it funny where in the Justice League trailer they talk about how Superman was a beacon of Hope and made people see the best in themselves...when...that straight up never happened. Was never shown. People complain about Superman when they focus on the "Super" over the "man".
  11. FifthView

    FifthView Istar

    I'm often thrown for a loop by related questions, things that seem focused on visual elements. There was a recent thread asking, "How do you make a weapon look scary," and the same thought occurred to me. A pencil could look scary in the right hands to the right observer.

    A lot of times, these things are considered in isolation and not in context with so many other things and with the act of telling the story. Long threads about various fantasy creatures, magics, etc.: "How cool are these ideas?" There's an element of visual spectacle involved, sometimes, as if they are being imagined on-screen.
  12. FifthView

    FifthView Istar

    I'd been seeing the image/link for One Punch Man on Netflix but didn't think too much about it until some commenter on YouTube derisively referred to Iron Fist by calling him Marvel's One Punch Man. Then I watched it and loved it.

    I've been annoyed by commenters who seem adamant re: the idea that One Punch Man is meant to be a parody. For me, the show seems much more like an extended fable or parable.

    I don't feel the story is about the things you mentioned, his boredom and loneliness. Actually, he doesn't seem to experience those strongly, for me, maybe tangentially. His personality type, the way he became stronger (his philosophy) seem naturally occurring for him. Imagine someone else in that world having the same power level; they'd be quite different.

    The one thing that stands out* is his desire to be recognized by the populace. He's a little miffed by his lack of fame and seems to want to be loved—but not at first. For me, this seems like a personality quirk more than a driving feature of the story. OTOH, the populace's disregard of him does seem important to the fable/parable aspect of the story.

    The show's very visual, and this is a large part of its appeal. The milieu is ridiculous—massive monsters showing up all the time, for no particular reason, would have destroyed any other society probably. If it had been written, a purely prose story, there'd probably need to be a bigger focus on things other than his power level.

    Also, I know this is a "cinematic POV," as all shows/movies are, but we don't often get a clear view of what's going on inside his head most of the time. Other characters actually seem to take up some of that focus. I wonder if, novelized, the story would be from another character's POV, maybe Genos, and maybe some of the characters in the Hero Association, and not One Punch Man. (A la the Watson-Sherlock Holmes type of delivery, with the interior thoughts of One Punch Man merely suggested by whatever he happens to say and do.)

    *Edit: Well, there's more that stands out. There is the parable aspect: One Punch Man's philosophy seems directly tied to his OP power, that's how he got it, as compared to how and why other heroes in that world became heroes.
    Last edited: Sep 11, 2017
    Mythopoet likes this.
  13. Annoyingkid

    Annoyingkid Banned

    If I was novelizing my story I would switch main characters outright. Like castling in chess. To one that does less fighting, is less of an prodigy, is more conflicted, is grittier in characterization, lives a more varied and well travelled existence. Moving away from action in a major way and toward theme, background, setting and pathos. The same story from much different perspective. Making it a different story essentially, that plays to the strengths of prose. Big powers just arent as important there. They exist no doubt, but to the periphery and the margins of the stage.
    Last edited: Sep 11, 2017
    FifthView likes this.
  14. Mythopoet

    Mythopoet Auror

    I think it's pretty clear that the driving questions at the center of One Punch Man are "why be a hero?" and "how does one become a real hero?" Since the questions are "why" and "how" OPM's power level is, in a way, irrelevant. There's literally no reason that he's so powerful. It's just the device that is being used to explore the questions. His fights have no impact on the story. Every time he kills something, he goes back to square one again. Mumen Rider's failure to defeat monsters has far more impact on the story than Saitama's wins.
    FifthView likes this.
  15. FifthView

    FifthView Istar

    At first I thought I'd disagree about the lack of a reason for OPM's power...but then I found myself agreeing that it's just a device. I think Mumen Rider's lack of power is also a device. The cool thing about these two is how they are the two sides of a continuum and yet they share something no one else in the show shares: Absolute clarity of thought and mental strength.

    Technically, there's a reason OPM is so powerful:
    he trained very hard. In fact, his only real super power seems to be the ability to dedicate himself absolutely to his training. The actual result was...just a result. When he finally explains how he became so powerful, the explanation seems ridiculous because no one else would gain that kind of power training in the way OPM did. So it's an explanation, but a logically unsatisfactory explanation. And yet, in the world of this show, it's a great explanation. No one else could be capable of that, training as he trained. So his focus and dedication seem "beyond."

    Mumen Rider has the same sort of absolute dedication, and viewers love him for it.

    It's weird that one seems focused on an outcome--being a hero--and the other was focused on the preliminary stage, the act of training...but not on becoming a hero.

    Everyone else in the show falls short in some way (although Genos seems most promising.)

    So far, as of S1, neither OPM nor Mumen Rider seems to have had much of an arc. They're both already "at" their purity level, heh. Mumen Rider's efforts may be more affecting, for the viewer. You are right that OPM basically goes back to start in this regard, but I think Mumen Rider does as well (in the sense that he picks himself up and just does it again for the next fight.)

    I wonder what S2 will do with these two characters.
    Last edited: Sep 11, 2017

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