Powerful Characters with Restrained Personas

I’m not going to get into spoilers and share one of the few Legends of Windemere things that I’ve kept off my blog.  The topic here is characters who are high-powered, but don’t use them to the fullest due to their personality.

This stems from a comment made a while back about Luke Callindor.  It was pointed out that he is a lot weaker than Nyx and Sari, which made him a poor hero.  Hard to argue since man with swords is technically weaker than woman with massive fireballs and woman with control over water.  By the time, the one using sharp objects gets to the bad guy, the damage has been done.  Makes me think Cyclops from the X-Men is playing a long game of ‘boost Wolverine’s self-esteem’ since he could probably end most of the fights before the little guy gets within slashing range.  Anyway, this is a point that one can make when comparing pure damage output and power levels of characters.  Luke wasn’t designed for decimating an army single-handedly.  He’s speed, courage, and reflexes that take more time to defeat an enemy.  Even with the powers he gains, he has no large area attacks or anything that he can do from range.  Unlike Nyx and Sari, Luke has to be in the thick of the fight and working his way through enemies one by one.

This does bring up the question of the powers he gains and what use they are.  I’ve had one or two people say that he gets lame abilities because they aren’t at the same scale as the other champions.  Or are they?  Without going into details, Luke’s champion abilities are amazingly versatile and flexible.  He could become a pillar of destruction if he wanted to and I had a few pieces of his powers that were geared toward that.  So the potential for the high damaged uber hero is there.  Unfortunately, they might never make it into the book because of a severe flaw.

That flaw is Luke himself.  As he’s grown through the story, I’ve noticed that he simply doesn’t care about the power side of being a champion.  He uses what he has, but always falls back to his swords and courage.  When it is revealed that he could gain full power by sacrificing a friend, I fully intended for him to do it.  Then he didn’t because that wouldn’t make sense for him.  A person or two complained about the decision, but I think this is revealing that some readers only look at a character’s skills.  They don’t always factor in if a hero will actually reach for that next level.  Maybe the cost is too high or the character has some fear about wielding such destructive abilities.  Luke has shifted himself into the category of ‘hero with power who restrains himself’.  Like how Spider-Man pulls his punches half the time or Goku fights with weighted clothing.  Not always the same reasoning, but it’s similar in that they hold back.

Will there be a time where Luke unleashes everything he has?  I hope so and think it’s better that way.  With every other champion accepting their powers and pushing themselves to the next level, it’s interesting to see what will happen to the one that keeps himself behind.  As an author, it’s kind of nice to have this potential explosion in my back pocket to be brought out at the most opportune moment.  Gives me something to work the character toward.

About Charles Yallowitz

Charles E. Yallowitz was born, raised, and educated in New York. Then he spent a few years in Florida, realized his fear of alligators, and moved back to the Empire State. When he isn't working hard on his epic fantasy stories, Charles can be found cooking or going on whatever adventure his son has planned for the day. 'Legends of Windemere' is his first series, but it certainly won't be his last.
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64 Responses to Powerful Characters with Restrained Personas

  1. Makes perfect sense. And I particularly enjoy the thought that you had something planned for your hero, but he chose otherwise 🙂

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  2. Bill says:

    It’s an interesting conversation, personally I’ve never equated the hero with absolute power. If I were asked, I say Samwise was the true hero of Lord Of The Rings, not the “powerful” people, but the courageous. The hero can be the most powerful, but I don’t think it’s a requirement for a great hero.

    “Strength does not come from physical capacity. It comes from an indomitable will.” ~Gandhi

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    • I’ve actually heard that Tolkien believed Samwise was the ‘real’ hero of the series. In a way, he was the strongest because of his loyalty to Frodo and how that was his main reason for being there. The others were representatives of their people, fighting for a throne, or just tagging along for trouble. Samwise had a smaller, much more personal motivation. At least that’s what I got the last time I read it.

      One thing with ‘most powerful’ heroes is that they need equal villains. That just ends up being hazardous to all the other characters and makes them pointless. I’m thinking of how later in the Dragonball Z series, it was always Goku and the other heroes seemed to be there for episode padding.

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      • Bill says:

        I didn’t know that about Tolkien, thanks for the education. I loved Samwise for his loyalty and indomitable will. As he carries Frodo up the last few feet of their journey, faces the spider, always refuses to give up or abandon Frodo, no matter the personal risk, I saw a hero.

        On the villain point, I think you have it right, it has the potential to become an arms race. The real issue is does the Hero have the skills or powers needed to fulfill their heroic moment when opportunity presents itself, and that they aren’t carried through the story waiting for that moment.

        It never occurred to me that Luke was less because of the nature of his power. I guess it’s like D&D in some way, yes the wizard can cast a huge AOE fireball once a day. The Warriors can fight continuously.

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      • Sam definitely became my favorite as I got older. That carrying part is way. I don’t really run into many Frodo fans though.

        Good point on the heroic moment. A personal interest of mine is seeing a character fulfill those while not being at a power level to make it easy. This might be another reason I altered Luke in the book. He’s never the strongest, fastest, or smartest in the room, but he makes up for that by doing unexpected things with what he has. I think the reason some people saw him as less is because Nyx and Sari certainly overpower him. Those two can lay waste to a small army pretty easily while he has to work hard. Many also connect Luke as the ‘central hero’, so he comes under more scrutiny.

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      • Bill says:

        I’m getting a bit far afield but the key difference between Frodo and Samwise for me is- agency.

        After accepting the burden of the ring, everything else felt fated- either he was going to destroy the ring, or the ring him. He was pretty much pulled along and carried by others the rest of the story. I’m not saying he wasn’t good or heroic in his own way but it was pretty much his a do or die fate for him, there was no choice to walk away.

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      • Interesting how you mention that Frodo was carried by others. That does seem to be the case, which makes him almost like a plot device instead of a character. Even more so when you factor in that he technically failed. Frodo was going to keep the ring until Gollum pounced and inadvertently finished the quest. I guess the best word for Frodo is weak since he could be considered a failed hero.

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  3. Lidy says:

    Great point you bring up about power. I’m reminded of the character of Superman. He too never used his full power. Only against villains like Darkside. It often annoyed me how characters in DBZ, and Naruto himself and Ichigo in Bleach are always powering up. But I now think of power as something elastic, stretching and growing. They’ve just barely tapped into their power, so they’re is no telling how much stronger they’ll get. But I won’t be okay with the storyline if the why, how, etc for pwering up is explained, if they’re not going to walk away from it like your character did.

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    • The Naruto and Bleach ones really annoyed me. Ichigo especially because that went much further with him being the only useful hero. Or probably because my favorite character was Chad who never caught a break. At least it wasn’t like Inuyasha with the ‘train to get a new move to defeat Naraku who will be immune to it by the next battle’.

      I’ve seen in anime and manga that the most common reason for powering up is to simply get stronger. It’s always to face a new enemy that beats them down and goes off to wait through a lengthy training montage. Can’t think of anyone who ever really refused their power upgrades in an anime or manga.

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  4. L. Marie says:

    Grrr. My hackles go up when people complain about something without totally thinking through why an author might have a character hold back. (Excellent point by the way on Cyclops.) Character growth is not instantaneous. We see Luke’s growth as a hero from book to book. Though she is powerful, we see Nyx’s growth in the aftermath of her failures.

    We’re so “instant” these days. We think everything needs to happen right away. It’s like the people who suggested that the eagles take Frodo and Sam with the ring to Mordor. So, instead of a rigorous, character-building journey that millions of us enjoyed, the story would be reduced to a 25-page book. 😦

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    • Bill says:

      Excellent point.

      I would rather watch a character grow, develop, even sometimes fail over time than reading about the instant all powerful character.

      With the instant all powerful character many writers choose to put them through the meat grinder, forcing them to suffer self induced failure, betrayal, moral comprise and general awfulness to balance the immediate power they were given. I really dislike that construction, especially when overdone.

      Liked by 1 person

    • Nyx is an interesting comparison to Luke too. A lot of her growth involves developing control and avoiding burning out when it comes to her magic. So there are moments when she’s not the all powerful being that swiftly becomes. The trick here is to make it natural and not out of nowhere.

      This does make me wonder how I’m going to do Clyde in the vampire series. He starts as a powerful killing machine, so his strength won’t really grow. I’m aiming to focus a lot more on him developing more humanity and carving a niche for the Dawn Fangs. It’ll be tough though because he’s going to be pretty powerful. Thankfully, I have plenty of time to fiddle with the storyline. All I know is that he doesn’t work well if I start him weak. I tried and the personality made him come off as cocky for no reason.

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      • L. Marie says:

        Growth comes in many ways. Clyde can be strong, but he can still grow in other ways. I can’t help thinking of Bourne. He was a killing machine made vulnerable. He didn’t know who he was. We couldn’t help rooting for him.

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      • I think the bigger risk for Clyde will be those around him and not only from enemies. Kind of like Wolverine at the beginning. He has a rage that means he’s a potential threat to his allies, so one may question how far he can be pushed before he goes full monster. This is the tough thing. Finding a non-physical way to make a monstrous vampire vulnerable is not an easy task.

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  5. Lidy says:

    You’re right, me either. In fact I stopped watching Bleach because I felt that it should’ve ended when Aizen was defeated. But nope, Ichigo started training to power up after becoming powerless, with Chad and another group of power users. Sigh.

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    • That was around the time I stopped too. Those types of shows really shouldn’t do the ‘lost all their power’ after spending so many story arcs training. At least with the current depowering of Superman, it’s a little more interesting and makes a bit more sense.

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  6. I don’t think a character needs super powers to bring things to the table. I’m with Luke – he’s got skills and they’re good enough. He is a hero, and he’s unique (pretty strong willed by the sound of it too!) 🙂

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  7. This is one of the best posts I’ve read in a long time. I don’t favor heroes who are never really at risk of failure. We always know they can go supernova if nothing else. There is a reason Batman is more popular than Superman. We can relate to an actual human with no superpowers like Bruce Wayne or Tony Stark. I think restraint can lead to good plot development. Good stories aren’t necessarily about defeating every evil. They’re about the struggle. One of Pixar’s rules is we respect the MC more for trying than succeeding.

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    • It’s funny that you mention Batman and Iron Man because I actually relate more to Superman than those two. Due to their limitless wealth, they’re actually as outlandish as the powered heroes. Especially Batman who has been written to defeat everybody, so he’s kind of gone beyond his non-powered base even without gaining powers. One thing I always liked about Superman is that he’s so strong that he has to hold back and it’s always been more about ‘can he save others’ instead of ‘can he save himself’. For example, Batman is in a trap and you worry if he’ll escape. That fades when he’s done it so many times. Lois Lane is kidnapped and you worry about Superman making it in time. Since she isn’t the titular character, there’s always a needle of worry that this is the last time. Again, this is just personal preference and going by current incarnations of the characters. (In other words, I’m truly sick and tired of Batman being written to defeat everyone.)

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      • Maybe you need to move over to Tony Stark. Sounds like an overdose of Batman. That’s one of the problems with series that nobody intends to end. How do you top last month? I think Batman may be suffering as a result of his own popularity. They go bigger and better because people spend money on it. I think it would be tough to be Batman’s writer.

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      • Tony Stark had similar treatment in Marvel a while back. He was in charge of SHIELD, had the super solider serum in his body, and turned Spider-Man into a version of himself. It wasn’t really fun because he was too involved.

        It’s funny how comics are in the situation where they have to top the previous month. This is probably why everything is a big event these days. I barely remember when every month was a small adventure or something that lasted maybe for 2-3 months. Like Spider-Man having to catch Black Cat one month and then having to stop a rampaging Rhino the next.

        I don’t envy anyone who gets the Batman writer job.

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      • There was a day when all their foes were just criminals, not world threatening super psychos. It’s hard to go back after you raise the bar.

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      • Sad, but true. The current upheaval in Marvel seems to be proving that. It seems hard for them to make new heroes too, so I wonder if that’s part of the problem.

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      • Could be. I think you’re smart to have a hero without total buy in at some point. Some version of holding back makes the guy more relatable. Ichabod has something to lose, and they will influence what jobs he takes.

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      • I do like Ichabod because his strength depends entirely on his wits and if he brought the right tools. If he isn’t given all of the job details then he’ll have to get out from behind the 8 Ball. I do find that I’m having trouble writing heroes that don’t have anything to lose. Sari became an issue for a bit, but I’m gradually reviving her.

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      • IB has his family to worry about too. No secret identity to protect them. Lot’s of opportunity with that character.

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      • True. Though I’m currently resistant toward going for the old ‘family in danger’ storyline. His role as a short story adventurer means it’s tough to pull off. I guess I’ve seen the plot done so often and it seems to always end with the hero losing a loved one or retiring. Kind of an end game for a guy like Ichabod.

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      • I agree, but it still creates tension even if it never happens. It can distract him in the field, that kind of thing. He’s well rounded, and a great character.

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      • True. Something I kind of want to maintain in his stories is that there are people waiting for him at home. So it isn’t that they are in danger, but that he might not be returning to them. Hence the reason I put a line in his contract about claiming a souvenir for his son. Every story will have a part that involves this clause.

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      • I love that part. This post is the kind that makes people think, and that’s the best kind of topic.

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      • I’m actually surprised how many comments this one got. It was off the top of my head. 🙂

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      • I’d better go back and look.

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      • It looks like I kind of took over the conversations, but it really intrigued me. I may have to put up something similar in the next few weeks. Stakes, agency, obstacles. It’s kind of relative to the difference between short stories and novels that have been going on in my mind.

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      • Never realized the difference beyond one being more compact than the other. So now I’m rather curious as to what you’re going to post.

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      • I’ll ponder it tonight.

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      • Bill says:

        So true!

        It makes them reactionary. It’s usually ok if the family in danger provides the first/original motivation, exploration that starts them on the path to being a hero but I don’t like it later.

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      • The only way I could see it work is if I give a repeated enemy to Ichabod, but that creates a dense continuity that I didn’t want to do with him. Sounds strange, but I liked the idea of having a series that a person can step into at any volume. Gives me a break from the complications of Legends of Windemere too.

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      • Bill says:

        That made me laugh… Remember, it’s a compliment that folks are so invested in those characters. Someone has added 20 grey hairs I know!

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      • I wish they were grey. Poor things seem to keep falling out. 🙂

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  8. estyree says:

    Great points! As characters grow and develop they choose other paths than what we had planned for them, like teenagers rebelling against the family business. I actually found myself thinking of Cole in the television show, Charmed. He falls in love with Phoebe, a Charmed one, and attempts to suppress his demon half, using subdued pieces of his power for good because to utilize his upper level powers is to embrace the darkness. A great story line emerged that carried through with both characters until the show’s finale.

    Perhaps Luke, and other characters that reap powers, fall back to their origins because the sword feels more natural to them than anything else. Remember, “Phenomenal Cosmic Powers, itty bitty living space.”

    (by the way, your copy of Dragon on My Neck came in today. if you’ll shoot me an e-mail to alaynabellesmom@gmail.com I will get that out to you ASAP!)

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    • Good example. I saw bits and pieces of that show. Luke is really the only one that rejects the top level of his power. The others have either been born with a weaker version or are simply more adaptable. Although, a big reason for Luke’s decision is that he’s unwilling to make a sacrifice to get that brass ring. This leaves him in a situation that the Destiny God didn’t see coming because he has some of his abilities, but that last tier is gone. So he’ll start evolving in a different direction, which isn’t always a good thing.

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  9. I’ve grown very comfortable with Luke and I would never expect him to trade a friend for anything. I think he has a bunch of great friends and so he doesn’t need to be the super power. He can be counted on to do his best and that is about all that can be asked.

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  10. Pingback: Does your story need more, or less? | Entertaining Stories

  11. As Galadriel said in Fellowship of the Ring, “I will diminish and go into the West, and remain Galadriel.”

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  12. Some time, somewhere, Luke will give it everything he’s got… because he has no choice. He will then experience the pain of dealing with feelings of guilt he’s never been forced to deal with before with the only balance being that of the greater good being served.

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