7 Tips to Using Intangibility in Fiction


This is a power that fascinated me when I was younger, but I stopped paying attention to it as I got older.  Intangibility is what it sounds like.  A person can pass through objects like a ghost.  It seems simple and designed entirely for thieves because they can get into any building.  So, I lost interest until this (things really start around 1 minute):

Let’s get to the tips, but I’m probably going to use Mirio as an example for most of them because he’s amazingly well done.

  1. This is a terrifying power to have because of its greatest flaw.  If used improperly or control is lost, the character can (and really should) start falling through whatever they’re standing on.  This means falling out of any vehicles while they’re moving, through buildings from the upper floors, and even into the earth.  Authors tend to avoid this issue because it brings up a question of how they didn’t die when it first showed up, but that can be chalked up to a mental defense mechanism that cuts the power off when in danger.  This does NOT always work if a stronger character loses full control.
  2. Two things I never considered with intangibility are breathing and senses.  It makes sense that air wouldn’t enter intangible lungs and light can’t enter intangible eyes to create vision.  You can come up with reasons for these to not be a probably such as allowing oxygen directly in from the surrounding area.  Same goes for light since the two are not solid like what the character normally goes through.  Still, downsides like this can help limit the power of a character who is technically unstoppable.
  3. Psychic powers should still work.  Intangibility is only of the body, so the mind shouldn’t be protected by this specific power.  There can be some loopholes such as the character moving out of time or dimensions by a hair, but that should also mean that they can’t communicate with others.  If you’re going to have them become immune to psychics then you need a really big tradeoff.
  4. As you can see, intangibility at a higher level doesn’t always mean the entire body.  A character can practice to make part of themselves solid while the rest is ghostly.  This allows them to accomplish actions that require intangibility AND interacting with the environment.  For example, slipping a leg through a wall to trip a guard without exposing your whole body.  Reaching through something to type on a computer without entering the room is another.  Get creative since the human body can be split up in many ways.
  5. Yes, it’s funny for a character to phase and lose their clothes.  Don’t overdo that joke and try to keep it tasteful.
  6. Since intangibility is only the ability to pass through things, a character using it in combat needs to know how to fight.  Mirio is powerful because he knows how to fight even without using his quirk.  He’s developed a style that uses it to his advantage, but the moves are still part of a martial arts school.  For example, a character with intangibility can throw a punch, which passes through the skin to hit the liver directly.  This requires precision, knowledge of anatomy, and training to deliver the blow quickly.  An untrained hero might clumsily pull it off by surprise, but an experienced enemy will be ready once they see the power.  Combat training is where the characters can gain skills to handle hand-to-hand.
  7. In a world where intangibility is a known power, there should be defenses against it in terms of weaponry and security.  More than likely, someone with this ability set out to be a thief or broke into a building.  That means, advanced security systems can come with barriers designed to stop intangibility.  Same goes for guns, which may fire energy instead of bullets for these characters.  Keep in mind that these heroes and villains don’t cease to exist, but simply pass through objects.  They are some kind of wavelength or whatever you want to say to show they are still around since they can be seen.  So, it’s not surprising a scientist or organization found a way to counter it and make a fortune in the process.

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 7 Tips to Using Intangibility in Fiction

  1. L. Marie says:

    Another great post on abilities I’ve read about (love Martian Manhunter and the Spectre) but never used. And now you’ve made it easier for me to think about using them.


  2. I liked your point about falling through the floor. Also, it would be hard to lay on a bed or sit in a chair. Taken to the extreme, could someone with a malfunction drop through the Earth?


  3. V.M.Sang says:

    This is power I’ve not used, but you’ve made me think about it. Interesting post, Charles.


  4. I hadn’t thought of this one. I have one that turns into fog to do similar things, but this is interesting.


  5. M. Warner says:

    You’ve raised some fascinating thoughts. Regarding your first concern about falling through floors or toward the center of the Earth: If the intangible character does not interact with normal matter (like a neutrino passes through most matter) then he or she should not be significantly affected by gravity because gravity is a function of mass (matter). You would have almost no interaction between the character and matter unless the matter is something extremely massive like a giant black hole. But this is a two-edged sword. Remember that the Earth is moving through space. So if our character is not interacting with the mass of the Earth (and therefore not interacting with its gravity) then the Earth will move away from the character and he or she will be stranded in space.


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