Thursday, July 3, 2014

The OP Hero -- Balancing Plot and Character

Action heroes in fiction are supposed to be stronger, faster, smarter ,and far more interesting that you and me, right? Doc Savage, Indiana Jones, Batman, the list goes on. So how do you build a story with a problem that they can't just solve in two seconds flat? 

When is a heroic character completely OP (overpowered) for a story?

Kevin Chandler: Generally a character is too much for a story when problems seem too easy to figure out or when the character already demonstrated an ability or item that could solve a problem too easily or quickly.

Perry Constantine: A character becomes completely overpowered when the story can no longer challenge the character.

Michael Norwitz: If you have to have a character act like an idiot in order for the story to proceed, he is OP. The challenge is to come up with challenges which can't simply be solved by the application of brute force. Admittedly, the closer you get to the Weisinger-era Superman (the one who could juggle planets and was also a scientific genius), the more difficult that is.

Paul Newman: If your hero is too powerful for the story you are doing, then you need to think of a more interesting story.

Sil Coloridium: The most obvious answer would be equally strong antagonists and allies. But that alone isn't enough in my opinion, so let's see what else there is. Everyone has a weakness; even the strongest of us have faults, superhuman or not. Superman's is kryptonite for example. Find the Achilles' Heel in your character. Remember it doesn't have to be physical, it can be an emotional attachment to someone or something or any kind of moral decision (saving/sacrificing one vs. many) and anything else that you can think of.

Brian Woodman: When there is no longer a reasonable concern for a character's safety, he is overpowered.

Lee Houston Jr.: When the "challenge" before them is actually no challenge at all. While a character may not start out that way, there comes a point in time where stories risk having developed to the point that the hero can do practically anything, so the writer(s) and/or editor(s) need a weakness to make the star more believable; like creating kryptonite for Superman.

What do you do when plotting to ensure that a story remains balanced so that a hero actually faces a challenge?

Sil Coloridium: Inner conflict and beliefs. The bottom-line of your character. Batman chooses not to kill, but this can obviously turn against him. This can be considered a weakness, but it also shows strength of character.

High stakes. Personal or worldwide. Stakes so high that they even pose a challenge to the hero. Multiple ones at the same time if necessary. You can find a bunch of cliches in this section, but they are cliches because they work.

What does your character want to achieve? Make it hard for him to get. Again they don't all have to be physical, they can be social, financial even (who says he has to be filthy rich?), emotional, mental. Maybe the girl he wants isn't into men, or maybe she's a really strict nun.

Brian Woodman: Use a mystery to keep an OP character guessing.

Lee Houston Jr.: The challenge must be solvable using the hero's established skills set, yet involve more than just using brute strength to save the day. The hero could go up against a villain they have never faced before, or be somewhere other than their home turf. Maybe having previous villains combine forces, then the hero must decide which of two situations is the higher priority to be dealt with first.

Kevin Chandler: There are a few easy fixes here, the first being go back to the part where they use the ability or item and preface why they may not be able to do or use it. In the case of items you can say it only has enough power for one use, or have it break after being used without preface, Similarly you can have it short out or break when they try to use it again, even if they fix it or recharge it later it relieves the problem of being OP.

This is similarly true with powers because for most characters powers take a toll I've seen some comics show Superman struggle with great weights or get tried after breaking through too many layers of material. This again is a bit of preface work, showing the character get tired or be some how physically and or mentally effected by the use of a power under great strain, Again later they can try to use their power and fail due to exhaustion or something of that nature and or it can serve as a plot device where they have to overcome their limits to save everyone maybe even end up trapped or possibly hurt afterwards, of course as the hero they will be fine, unless you're going for something darker which can be really great if done correctly.

Also as I suggested before setting up a sort of rule book for your universe can help. I set up my characters and worlds with sort of D&D logic, where everything requires a certain STR or INT or something of that nature to do it and there is always a chance of failing.

Perry Constantine:  I hear this a lot in regards to Superman. "He's too powerful, nothing can pose a threat to him." Threats and challenges aren't only physical, though. They're also emotional. A physical challenge is one thing, but it becomes a serious threat when it also challenges the character on other levels beyond the physical. The reason why the Joker is Batman's greatest enemy isn't because he's the most powerful of Batman's rogues, it's because he's the one who challenges Batman the most on levels beyond the physical.

Paul Newman: This isn't really character vs plot. Usually in writing, character is about the emotional side of a person. This is simply a question of when you have someone with super-powers how do you find a compelling antagonist for them. So really it is balancing plot with plot.

In regards to using characters (such as public domain heroes or characters assigned by a publisher) that are already established as being the unstoppable hero whom the readers already expect to come out on top at the end of the story, how do you keep up the tension and suspense so readers have an exciting journey?

Kevin Chandler: Exploiting weakness is another good idea. This is a somewhat darker path, but tragedy is the great equalizer, it can be a source of rage and or self-doubt making the hero question himself and his path while the villain gets away or even turns the hero evil for a time, until thhe or she realizes that so and so wouldn't want it to be like this and the hero takes revenge at the last minute.

Lee Houston Jr.: It is not always a question of physical peril or danger. Moral dilemmas and dramatic situations are just as important as physical action within a story.

Perry Constantine: You have to make the threat bigger than the hero, something that seems impossible for them to go up against. But again, that doesn't always mean physical, you can also have emotional threats in there. And they don't always have to come from the villain, either. A B-plot could deal with a personal crisis the hero is facing that throws him or her off his game.

Brian Woodman: Put innocent bystanders or friends of the hero in a tight spot.

Sil Coloridium: Just because the hero is OP, doesn't mean he's perfect. There is always something to learn, and the hero needs to learn something in your story. Indiana Jones learned to have faith (in Raiders of the lost ark). Superman had to learn how to control his powers.

Avoid perfection. This is more of sum up of the rest than an actual method, but it still needs to be said. Perfection is as far as you can go from an interesting character. It makes him/her hard to understand and difficult, if not impossible to relate to and this will only lead to readers who won't give a damn about him. And you want your readers to care.