by Quentin Long
©2007 Quentin Long
Ive always seen things differently than most other people; the way I usually describe it is, My train of thought runs at right angles to everybody elses. This is a bit of a mixed blessing, because it sometimes means that I find myself taken by surprise when an otherwise-intelligent person says something that, to my way of thinking, is Just Plain Stoopid.
Case in point: A recent discussion on one of the mailing lists I subscribe to. For whatever reason, the conversation had gotten around to The Care And Feeding Of Powerful Charactersthat is, how an author can/should deal with a character who has one or more exceptionally strong abilitiesand I found myself a bit gobsmacked by some of the things people were saying.
Me, I like high-powered characters. I think theyre fun to play with. Other people disagree, and thats finediversity of opinions is a Good Thing, you know? But I wasnt prepared for the sheer vehemence of some of the people who dislike high-powered characters! One of these guys went so far as to assert that putting a high-powered character into a shared world setting, such as Tales of the Blind Pig or Metamor Keep, is the moral equivalent of urinating into a swimming pool; for this person, it would appear, any use of a high-powered character in a multiple-author setting is intrinsically wrong, end of discussion, and the best you can possibly hope for is that any such character appears in so few stories that the wrongness is kept down to an innocuously imperceptible level. Because, you see, some of the people who write in a shared-world setting are going to be too inexperienced, and/or incompetent, and/or self-absorbed to make constructive use of high-powered characters and therefore, no shared-world writer whatsoever should use them.
When I read that, my reflexive gut reaction was, Say what!? Because the person who wrote it is ordinarily intelligent and sensible, and I found it difficult to believe they could actually hold a position which is logically equivalent to the Harrison Bergeron-esque proposition since babies cannot chew solid food, nobody at all should eat steak. Sorry, folks, but I happen to be a grownup I can eat steakand Im going to continue to eat steak as and when I see fit. And I say that in any situation where there are differing degrees of competence, the right thing to do is not to drag the top-end people down to the level of the bottom-enders, but, rather, to help the bottom-end people improve their skills to the point where they can be top-enders, too!
Another Say what!? momentor set thereof, seeing as how it came up more than onceoccured when someone said you cant write good stories about high-powered characters, because when a characters response to getting shot is to let the bullet bounce off his invulnerable skin, whats the point?
The point is, you dont shoot an invulnerable character. Instead, you confront them with a different situation that will be a challenge to them. Yes, brute physical threats dont qualify as a challenge to an invulnerable characterbut does anybody out there think brute physical threats are the one and only form of challenge its possible to write about? Apparently, there are some people out there who do think so. How can I say that? Because the if you cant shoot em, who cares? argument just doesnt make sense to anyone who recognizes that brute physical threats are merely one of the potentially-infinite number of ways in which an author can challenge his characters.
What made this a certified say what!? moment: Weve got these writers, okay? Creative souls, demonstrably capable of coming up with original concepts, all that good stuff. And these people these creative, idea-generating people these guys are dismissing high-powered characters on the grounds that they cant figure out what to do with such characters. Never mind the fact that these guys are writers who all have solved a variety of literary problems in the past; apparently, this particular literary problem is one that theyre all just too incompetent, or too lazy, or too hidebound, or too something to solve.
I just dont get it, myself. Chalk it up to my right-angled train of thought in action.
As I said before, I happen to like high-powered characters but at the same time, I also realize that other people disagree. So if you happen to have tried writing about high-powered characters, and (for whatever reason) you didn't enjoy the experience, thats fine by me. But if you havent written about any high-powered characters, and the reason you havent tried it is one that boils down to Im not competent or some such why not give it a shot? Try it, and maybe youll like it!