7 Tips to Using Power Ups in Fiction

Super Mario

We do tend to think more about video games than books when it comes to temporary Power Ups.  Yet, they are around with much less fanfare.  You don’t have to hit a block with your head to get them out.  Just need enough gold or loot the right body after a battle.  Either way, they kind of pop up and get used down the road.  So, what are some ways to give them a real impact?

  1. Establish that such things exist early on in the story.  Don’t drop a potion or scroll into the mix then act like it’s normal.  Not every magical world has these things.  This doesn’t even have to be complicated.  Mentioning them in passing establishes that they are around and gives their use meaning.  Otherwise, they can turn into a Deus Ex Machina and throw readers off.
  2. Even if you don’t mention it in the stories, have an idea about how long an effect will last.  These are supposed to be temporary boosts or solutions.  This depends on what they do as well.  A healing potion would be immediate and no longer be active once the damage is undone.  A strength salve could work until it is sweated off or the person takes a bath.  You can fiddle with the times if you don’t declare specifics, but you need them to stop at some point.
  3. You can only get away with a character having the right Power Up out of nowhere so many times.  If they have just been introduced or were shown to have gotten supplies then it can work without much questioning.  An adventure that has been going on for a long time and given them no time to restock makes this less believable.  I’m not saying you can’t do it, but try to give even the slightest explanation.  After all, modern audiences seem to enjoy tearing stories down for inconsistencies and plot holes.  It’s like a drinking game for some.
  4. These items need to be used in the spur of the moment, but also can’t be something in constant use or on hand.  Exceptions are jewelry and other gear that is worn, but those are the gray area of ‘limited charge’ items.  Potions, scrolls, salves, and other temporary Power Ups typically need to be pull out and used.  Otherwise, they could be triggered by accident like other magic items.  Last thing you want is a hero to have an expensive healing cookie and it appears in his mouth due to a paper cut.
  5. Consider that the stronger the boost, the less time it lasts and/or the harsher the side-effects.  Small things like minor healing or small increase in speed doesn’t have to come with a downside.  If your hero suddenly has the power to lift a mountain and they have the power for days then there should be a downside.  That’s a massive upgrade that changes the dynamic of the story and character.
  6. Be careful of story damaging Power Ups.  If a hero takes a Power Up that gives them an ability that solves every problem then readers will wonder two things.  First, why they didn’t wait until they were at the final challenge to use it and secure victory?  Second, why don’t they have a bunch of the Power Ups?  In other words, be careful with what these things can do.
  7. Power Ups can’t be made easily even if their effect is simple.  You’re still dealing with magic, so a person who hasn’t been trained shouldn’t be able to craft their own Power Ups with ease.  Ingredients and brewing techniques are needed for items you ingest or put on your skin.  One that you activate by reading needs special language or phrases, which wouldn’t be known by your average citizen.  Consider which type of people would know or bother how to make these items.  Showing specialty stores or making them designed exclusively by one order can help here.

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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12 Responses to 7 Tips to Using Power Ups in Fiction

  1. L. Marie says:

    Great tips! And since I have enjoyed Pokémon games for many years, one day I’d like to write a story where power ups play a greater role. I love the difference these make in a battle, when your hero is depleted and a power up could save him or her (and certainly win you the battle or level). You definitely have to know the best time to use one since the power is temporary. And as you said, you can only get away with using them so many times. The tension diminishes if one is easily obtained. I love when the use of one is costly to the hero in some way. Like you get extra strength, but are drained almost to the point of death afterward.


  2. More amazing stuff, Charles.


  3. L. Marie says:

    Ha! How indeed. The pictures they show of Pokemon like Wooper, which doesn’t have any hands yet you can give it held items, are hilarious.


  4. I’ve been struggling with one of these for a year. I have a cool scene, but I don’t know what the thing does for my character. I have a year or so to figure it out, but I want it to be one time and short term.


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