Writing Telepaths Without Going Too Far: Is Anything a Secret?

Professor X using his power for the right reasons

Professor X using his power for the right reasons

With Dariana taking the spotlight in The Spirit Well, it means there will be a lot of telepathic tricks coming out.  She hasn’t really cut loose with her powers, sticking more to mind-reading, astral travel, blocking pain, enhancing her strength, and memory wipes that are usually on herself.  Dariana really is a strange telepath in that she is fairly restrained and quick to change her own mind.  This is a good block to make sure she isn’t too powerful and reduces the other heroes to spectators.  You really do need restraints on mental powers because, similar to magic, it can easily be abused.

Many times, the telepath is hampered by a physical issue like Professor X being in a wheelchair.  The idea is that the mind is strong to make up for a weakened body.  This includes the physical strain of using the powers, which gives them bad stamina outside of the astral plane.  Headaches, nosebleeds, and various other ailments can strike if limits are exceeded.  When a telepath has these issues then it makes it very important that they have allies who can defend them at their lowest points.

Dariana is different in that her issues are social in nature.  A side-effect of telepathy can be that it’s a power you can’t turn off or requires constant focus to keep in check. One slip and you get the secret thoughts of everyone in the room, which is one of the things that Dariana fears. Not to mention freaking out and turning off someone’s mind during a drunken stupor.  Very powerful telepaths are a threat to themselves and those around them, which should be factored in.  People can fear them as soon as they are revealed or the telepath can retreat before a decision is even made. It depends on temperament of the individual.

Astral projection is another trick that gets used a lot and can be overpowered. No secret or location is off-limits for these people, but it’s easy to make this incredibly dangerous. A common concept is a tether that connects the mind to the body. This can be sturdy or fragile, but it’s very important. The idea revolves around the idea that the mind can become lost in the ether, which leaves the body in a coma. Due to this threat, an astral voyage needs to be done both carefully and during desperate times. This doesn’t even include the monsters that can be found there, which are always fun to create.

Personally, I find it easier to limit telepaths than casters because there is a less variety in elements and effect. Magic has a lot of uses that can even include variations of mental powers like telepathy. When a character is only able to manipulate thoughts, you need fewer obstacles for them to get through. Dariana won’t counter something that stops her telepathy by hurling a lightning bolt.  She has to find ways around it, depend on others, or retreat. As strong as she is, there is a narrow focus to what she can do. Yes, there’s variety in what she can do, but it all stems from telepathy.

How would you write a telepath?  Are there any psychics in fiction that you love to read about?

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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19 Responses to Writing Telepaths Without Going Too Far: Is Anything a Secret?

  1. I’ve never tackled it before. Not that I wouldn’t, but all special abilities have to be tempered somehow or the solutions are too easy. That’s why I made Jason Fogg naked when he fogs out. He can’t do anything physically while fogged, but he’s naked if he reforms. Keeps his life difficult. It might be fun to have a telepath who always gets two answers, based upon possibilities. One possibility is the reveal of the killer, or it could be the next victim. Makes for a bit of sleuthing to figure it out.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Sue Vincent says:

    The best I’ve read so far has to be Anne MecCaffrey’s Talents series..

    Liked by 1 person

  3. twixie13 says:

    I have a telepath of my own. She drinks constantly. Not only because her body requires it in the way that anyone else requires water, but it also has the side effect of blocking people’s thoughts from flooding her mind. She needs to focus on someone to read their mind. She’ll also use her abilities to scan for any others in a particular area. She’s strong enough to sense people she knows within a certain radius. However, if she does something like a long-distance trace of someone or actively enter someone’s mind, she’ll enter a trance-like state and therefore leave herself open to attack in any sort of combat scenario. She also tries to avoid entering someone’s mind without permission…if she has respect for them, that is. Sometimes, she will not give a damn. That’s usually reserved for people that piss her off to a particular extent. She also possesses telekinesis, and is a bit more inclined to use that. Either way, some functions of her powers take a lot more energy than others.

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  4. How would I write a telepath? I wouldn’t write them like comic book characters; I’d neither make their abilities over-the-top nor feel obligated to give them some severe physical disadvantage to make it “fair” that they have telepathy.

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  5. I haven’t tried a character like this yet. I think I would be intimidated by allowing them too much information. Maybe she could hear the thoughts of everyone around her and not be able to pick apart the ones she needed to. Maybe the thoughts would overpower her and leave her in an asylum of some sort, misunderstood. Hey, this is a good thought-provoking lesson. It may be possible to use a character like this somewhere in the future!! Thanks for getting my Muse to consider the possibilities!!

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    • That’s one of the toughest parts about telepathy. You have to allow for them learning more from their powers than the other character. Yet, as you point out, it comes down to control and the chance of backfiring is really high.

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