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Seemingly useless power to deliver a twist ending

Discussion in 'World Building' started by Trick, Feb 26, 2016.

  1. Trick

    Trick Auror

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    Hello all,

    So, I've had this idea for a while and I've done research without finding much more than humor. I'm trying to think of a magical power that is seemingly useless but ends up saving the world...

    It's a tall order but I've got one idea so far that might work but I want the ending to be "unexpected but inevitable" so the power can't be too useful or completely useless. It literally needs to seem, in a loose, 1st world sense of the word, useless.

    Here's a quick synopsis: The MC has two powers, as do many people. Most powered people have a greater and a lesser. That is not to say that many people have great powers, just that there is a strength difference between their own powers. Some powers are looked down upon, some exalted, but most are run of the mill and used in particular jobs. The MC's greater power is Illusion and he is fantastic at it. But, entertaining is a lowly profession. So, he makes his money using his illusions to scam and con mostly but also performs as a street magician, to keep suspicions off of him. His lesser power needs to be the one that is seemingly useless but saves the world. I know that illusion can be very powerful but in this particular case, he will be unable to use that power in the moment the world needs saving and only his lesser power will be available to him. He hates his second power and almost never uses it except to demonstrate how useless it is.

    But, in the vital moment, when he's desperate, having grown clever from his use of illusions, he will realize a new use for the power and that will save the world.

    I would love suggestions for this power. I have one in mind that has survived the trials of both predictability and factual-uselessness but I will put it and how it will be used in a spoiler to see if anyone gets the same idea. Please respond about the power I have in mind in a spoiler also, at least for the first 10 posts or so. I often find that less influence generates better ideas.

    Making small things room temperature. 'Small' being defined in the story as "about the size of my fist and smaller."

    In the final moment, the MC realizes that room temperature is relative and the room he is in is very cold because it has cooling systems to balance a hot piece of machinery. He turns the Antagonist's heart 'room temperature.'

    Thanks all!
     
  2. Svrtnsse

    Svrtnsse Staff Article Team

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    The power to make people smile.

    Having a power that makes people smile on command cheapens the effort of using his main power to entertain people and make them smile through his wit. That's why he doesn't like it and doesn't use it.
     
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  3. Trick

    Trick Auror

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    I like it, but how could it be applied in a save the word situation? I'm not asking you to write the story for me though ;) That question is more for me to ponder.
     
  4. Ban

    Ban Sir Laserface Article Team

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    The Power to summon docile hamsters at will.

    MC uses hamster against little kid. Kid is extremely distracted!



    The Power to make a full mixtape of atrocious music.

    MC uses mixtape. All guards leave their station!



    The Power to excrete glue.

    MC is hanging from a cliff and uses Glue Power. He hangs on for 10 hours straight!
     
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  5. Devor

    Devor Fiery Keeper of the Hat Moderator

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    In that vein, there's a really old computer game called Quest for Glory 4 (it's awesome, it's fantasy, it's funny, check the series out). The MC at one point learns the "Ultimate Joke" that will make any person laugh just once. Telling it to the final boss is the only way to gain enough time to do the thing and win.

    Just about anything could be used for a purpose that's kind of like that.
     
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  6. Trick

    Trick Auror

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    Thanks for the replies!

    While those are funny, that's the exact problem I've run into in research. It seems like no one has seriously considered this before. I think, if executed correctly, this could be an amazing ending.

    I've considered several scenarios like this. A power that allows him to delay something or grants an opportunity but how is that any different than his illusion power? I think a concrete power that directly saves the world is the better option.
     
  7. Svrtnsse

    Svrtnsse Staff Article Team

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    Smiles are infectious. What if the world isn't threatened by someone who'd doing something out of malice, but for some other reason. They may be self destructive, and the may be powerful enough that they risk taking the world with them as they die. Getting them to smile may just be that little thing that tips the balance over.
    It may be a bit cheesy and a bit moralizing, but with the right approach I think it might work. That of course, depends entirely on what kind of story it is.
     
  8. Trick

    Trick Auror

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    I'm pretty sure that you're like the nicest guy ever... :)

    I tend to write more on the dark side of human nature so the lead up to the smile being needed might be something I can pull off but I don't know about the rest... Maybe I should think on that though.
     
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  9. Velka

    Velka Sage

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    What about the power to make someone sneeze? I had a sneezing fit on my way home from work today and nearly drove into a ditch. Giving the bad guy a sneezing fit can make him unable to cast his world-destroying spell or not see the death ray shot at him.

    It can work, but you'd have to define it as "current air temperature" rather than "room temperature". When I think of room temperature, I think of 21C.
     
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  10. Svrtnsse

    Svrtnsse Staff Article Team

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    One thing to keep in mind with suggestions, in many cases, is that it's not the ideas you're getting that are important, it's how they can get your mind on to a different track where you can run into ideas of your own you wouldn't have found otherwise.
     
  11. Trick

    Trick Auror

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    I like that actually. It is a little indirect but better than most other ideas I've heard or come up with. It's in my quiver now, thanks.

    Interesting. I'd need it to be a sign post as opposed to a billboard but I'll keep it in mind. I do not want the reader to feel cheated.


    Agreed. Your other comment got me thinking about the necessity of darker themes in general. I'm not really sure why that's my tendency... My thought process went wide on that one.
     
    Last edited: Feb 26, 2016
  12. Devor

    Devor Fiery Keeper of the Hat Moderator

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    To be honest, I believe I've had this conversation before in these forums (but for all I know it could've been you then, too).

    One of the things you could consider would be if the power needs to be completely useless. Something like the ability to sense the presence of copper might be "useless," but be marginally helpful to a pickpocket, and completely useful to a character trying to disable the world's first computer by looking for the copper wires in the wall.

    I mention it because you might have an easier time finding a power and developing the character by thinking, "What would be just slightly useful for . . . . "

    Just a thought.
     
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  13. Svrtnsse

    Svrtnsse Staff Article Team

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    The power to always keep your socks dry no matter what - because at the brink of the apocalypse rain tears the skies apart and the rocks are slippery with water. You need to be steady on your feet and not slip or you won't be able to get to the spot and do that thing.
     
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  14. Trick

    Trick Auror

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    I don't think it was me (I actually checked my posted threads, because I've done that before ;) )

    I like that approach. It is similar to how I arrived at my current idea. The story arc is by no means set in stone so I have freedom to play with different powers being useful to certain kinds of people but not to others.

    I don't think I'll use socks but the basic idea of being able to alter or maintain the physical state of something innocuous has infinite possibilities. I love it.
     
  15. Nimue

    Nimue Auror

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    I feel like if an author gave their main character a random power that saw no use at all until the big confrontation, I would be looking straight for a loophole like that. The alternative would be that the author was not very good at plotting or economical in their character design. Unless it's a story full of red herrings and wackiness, a loose end like that would stand out.

    Better, like Devor suggested, to give him a minor power that is used in some practical, dismissible way. I like the idea of a mundane gift being used unexpectedly to save the day, so long as it doesn't feel contrived. It would help, in that regard, if the minor power was more related to the major power in some way. The setup that you have now seems a little haphazard, and built backwards from the cool idea rather than leading organically to it.
     
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  16. Trick

    Trick Auror

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    So far, it is part of the world that people with powers often have unrelated powers because of genetics. They get one from each parent in many cases, sometimes getting powers from family members further back in their ancestry. The most hailed people are often those with powers that work in concert and they are somewhat rare. One subplot I've come up with is where wealthy families are basically breeding their children to have complementary powers. Pulling even vagabonds off the street and raising their station just for the powers available and having many children in the hope of getting one or more offspring with world-changing powers. So, the disconnect between his abilities is totally normal and I had envisioned this world before I came up with the seemingly useless power idea.

    I do agree that it can't be just thrown in at the end with only a little exposition of the power. If you read the spoiler part of my first post, I didn't explain this part well but here goes: He uses his secondary power to prank people quite often (he is a trickster character, like several of my MCs are) and while his illusions are his go-to power, his other power can make things quite unpleasant for people.

    My biggest concern is that giving him a power that is too useful (even only for certain applications) will absolutely give away the ending. I don't know how other people tick but I once had a discussion that involved figuring out how to kill someone with any object suggested. It takes me about 2 seconds to figure out how to kill someone with the most mundane objects (powers in fantasy have the same effect on my imagination). I think that a blade of grass was the first to stump me (the goal being to use that object only and the only thing that could be combined was the motion of your own body). Certain kinds of grass, yes, but a single blade of mundane lawn grass... that's tough.

    Anyway, a seemingly useless power that has an obvious use, even if it's only obvious to me, will sort of kill the point.
     
  17. trentonian7

    trentonian7 Troubadour

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    Save the world how? That's a very ambiguous statement
     
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  18. Trick

    Trick Auror

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    In a general fantasy way. Stop the bad guy mostly. But it could go grander if the power allows for it. The finale is not set in stone.

    If you read the spoilers, you can see the current setup but, my main idea is the direct death or imprisonment of a person.
     
  19. Devor

    Devor Fiery Keeper of the Hat Moderator

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    Sorry to be blunt, but you're doing it wrong.

    You don't have to hide the fact that the power will be useful. Readers are smarter than that. The key is misdirection. You need to drop enough hints that the power will be used in one way, and then do something else entirely.

    So, I mentioned sensing the presence of copper as an example. Coins are copper. Computer wires are copper. What else is copper? The brass in a magic lamp. A doorknob. Maybe the buttons on a character's shirt. Maybe a bullet.

    For instance, the character can recognize the copper buttons on the bad guy's shirt, and therefore find him in the crowd at a party. But this time someone else is wearing the shirt. All is lost. But two minutes later, he can sense that someone has opened and closed a door in the next room because of the copper in the brass doorknob. That's how he knows where the bad guy is.

    Just a for instance.
     
  20. Trick

    Trick Auror

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    I appreciate bluntness but I don't see how I'm doing it wrong. You want me to misdirect the readers by having a mundane use for the power become extra useful in a particular situation, as in your example, and then change it to a different instance of the use of that mundane power and that will be the surprise. That's not surprising to me in the least. I would be like, "oh okay."

    I think it's the example that's throwing me off though, so, perhaps I get your gist. I'll use the current idea for my own example (eliminating the extra cold aspect I mentioned in the spoilers)

    MC plans to stop the Villain by using his Illusion powers. He sets up an elaborate trick. At the last moment, the Villain turns out to have the ability to dispel illusions, or to enforce reality in other words, and the MC's plan falls apart, all is lost.

    Then, the crappy little power to make small things room temperature enters his mind. It's all he has left.

    (At this point it has been demonstrated several times throughout the story that the MC doesn't need to touch the thing to affect it, just be within a certain distance and concentrate to locate the object in his mind but it's always easier if he can see it. Nearly impossible when he can't)

    He sees the very hot core in the machine that will be the ultimate end of society and tries to turn it to room temperature, hoping that will stop it. He fails because it is just too large. (Or perhaps cooling makes it work even better). He physically tries to get to the villain and stop him but the villain's other power is too tough to beat (doesn't really matter what it is at this point so let's say super strength). As the MC lies there nearly dead watching the Villain enter the code that will end it all (cue cheesy music) the MC decides to try something he's never done with the power. (sign post pops up, where someone earlier told him that the human heart is about the size of a fist) and he concentrates, locating the Villain's heart with his sense of objects that comes with the power, he turns it to room temperature (which, after further research, is pretty deadly). Villain dies, happily ever after...


    Kind of like that?
     
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