Monday, January 25, 2021

Why You Shouldn't Overpower Your Characters

Superpowered characters are great, aren't they? They can do all these amazing things and save the world and they're just plain cool! You can't go wrong.

Or can you?

There are people who will disagree, I've seen them on Pinterest, but I think most people would agree that you shouldn't overpower your characters. It makes them unrelatable, undefeatable, lack character growth, and, okay, it does often make for some cool visuals. I'll give you that.

Let's look at a couple of these things that make overpowered characters...not the best with a few examples from popular culture.

They're the same character, right? Well, not really. Both of them may be Chinese girls who don't really fit in, who go to war in their father's place and end up saving China, but that's about where the comparison stops. Animated Mulan is an outspoken tomboy who loves her family and, through hard work, perseverance, and ingenuity becomes the person she needs to be in order to save China. Live-action Mulan basically just has superpowers. All she has to do in order to be what she needs to be to save China is decide to use her powers. And that doesn't really take much convincing either.

We see a lot of character growth in the animated Mulan. She's really kind of a mess when she arrives at the army encampment. She has no idea how to blend in, she's no good at any of the training exercises, and she's about ready to get sent home. Now, a lot of her growth in her abilities does happen in a training montage during a song, which isn't necessarily the best way to do it, but it's much better than not doing it at all. And it's a triumphant moment when she comes up with her way to use the weights to get to the top of the pole.

Live-action Mulan has superpowers as a kid that she's told to hide. And she does, until she gets tired of not doing well in training, and then she just decides to use her powers after all. That's pretty much it. And then because she has these superpowers that she decided she wanted to use after all, she was able to take down the Huns...oh wait, they weren't Huns in this movie...and have a showdown that's not really earned. Animated Mulan earned her victory. Live-action Mulan just did it with her Jedi powers.

Rey vs. Ahsoka

Disclaimer: I'm a huge fan of Ahsoka Tano. But you know, I actually did used to like Rey, before I realized she was one of those characters who can do literally anything the plot requires with no need to learn how to do it. And that's just not relatable.

People do have innate talents. I'm not going to argue with that. But you still have to learn how to use them. Even someone with innate musical talent still has to learn and practice in order to become a great musician. It may come easier to some people than others, and some will attain higher levels than are possible for others, but that doesn't mean it just happens with no effort.

And that's what I mean by being relatable. Rey has a lot of power and a lot of potential in the Force. I don't have any issue with that. But when I see her using a Jedi mind trick when she's only just heard of the Force and basically lifting an avalanche of rocks when her only "training" consisted of Luke telling her why the Jedi needed to be gone, well, it just doesn't work for me. Also, she doesn't actually fail. Even in TLJ, which was pretty much all about learning from failure, she doesn't fail. And that's an impossibly high standard. No one can actually relate to that. (If they'd played up her abandonment trauma, it would have been different, but they were too busy trying to move the characters through the plot points.)

Ahsoka, on the other hand, actually fails a lot. And learns from those failures and succeeds next time. She is powerful, but she has to learn how to use those powers. She's not perfect. For instance, she completely loses her Force grip on Steela Gerrera when she gets shot in the shoulder and drops Steela over the cliff. (Not that I was that sad...Steela was trying to make a move on Lux Bonteri and I ship Luxsoka. But anyway.) 

Ahsoka's a much more relatable character. While none of us can (obviously) relate to her Force powers and I certainly hope none of us can relate to being a child soldier or having a "friend" frame us for murder, I'm sure there are a lot of us who can relate to being a cocky kid who thinks she knows everything, talking back to authority figures, and making stupid (and sometimes very costly) mistakes because we think we know what we're doing and we really, really don't. And when we see Ahsoka overcoming her flaws, learning from her mistakes, and growing into a truly remarkable young woman, we know that we have the ability to grow into greatness as well. But Rey, well, she can already do everything she needs to do.

This is probably an unfair comparison because technically Black Widow has no superpowers, but TBH, I was having a really hard time finding a good contrast for Captain Marvel. But seeing as how I want to talk about invulnerability/undefeatability and its effect on the stakes of a movie and Nat literally did die, I'm going to make it work. (And I'm still waiting on that Black Widow movie, Marvel...)

We all want the hero to survive. We want them to win. But...we also want there to be stakes. We want to feel like that victory was earned. Like there is a possibility that they might die instead (even if we know they won't because they're in the next movie). Because without some stakes, why should we really care?

When Captain Marvel taps into her full power, she becomes basically indestructible and all powerful. To quote "Pitch Meeting," the powers she has is "all of them." She defeats a whole bunch of aliens singlehandedly with basically no effort and comes out of it pretty much without a scratch. The whole fight scene looks pretty cool, I'll give you that. But there's no wondering if she'll fail, or if she'll win but have to spend a month in a bacta tank afterwards. Sorry, mixing together my fandoms. But you get my point. Yes, we know her adversaries could destroy everything, but we also know they won't because literally no one stands a chance against fully powered Captain Marvel.

Nat doesn't have any powers and they still haven't actually come out with her solo movie which we were supposed to get nearly a year ago, so I'll do my best. But the fact is, she's super awesome, being a highly trained assassin, but she's not invulnerable. Evidenced by the fact that she did die to get the soul stone. The chances of Nat losing a fight are small. But you know, she can't blast someone with unlimited power if a villain gets the upper hand. And she can fall off a cliff and die.

When the protagonist is completely unmatched by anyone else in the story, there aren't really any stakes, and that just makes it less interesting. But when your character could die, when they could fail, that raises the stakes and makes it a whole lot more interesting.

Overpowered characters might happen a lot in fiction (and according to Google is apparently super common in anime), but there are better ways to do it. Ways that create characters that are more relatable and more inspiring with stories that have more interesting stakes.

Have a Studio C about the creation of Superman, yet another overpowered character. 😆

Thursday, January 21, 2021

Hunger Cover Reveal

The cover for Hunger is here! Hunger is the sequel to Jill Williamson's Thirst, and both together are prequels to The Safe Lands trilogy. Jill Williamson's books are always really awesome, and I can't WAIT for Hunger to come out! And today, I get to share the cover with you. But first, a little bit about the book.


In the wake of a pandemic, Eli and his friends find a thriving community that offers free housing, food, and thankfully, safe drinking water. But something is amiss. The residents spend most their time partying and attending concerts. No one seems concerned that the virus is still out there. When Eli tries to leave, he discovers a fence has been built to keep him, and everyone else, inside. 

Hannah is tired of running. When she is conscripted to work in the hospital, she hopes she’s finally found a place to belong, but Admin’s disregard for a doctor’s pledge to “First do no harm” is unsettling. 

As Hannah starts to wonder if she will ever be safe again, Eli clings to his hope for freedom. In a world filled with lies, can they learn to trust each other? Or will their hunger for safety trap them in a world that’s not so safe after all? 


The ebook for HUNGER is available for pre-order on Amazon. The book releases on April 8, 2021 in Hardcover, paperback, and ebook. For more information, to pre-order, or to add the book to your Goodreads page, visit

Doesn't it look cool? April 8th will be here before we know it!

Monday, January 11, 2021

Thoughts on Disney/Pixar's Soul + Writing Update

I know, yet another year where I’m not going to do a recap of my year. No one wants to relive 2020…except maybe for the Mandalorian season 2 part. 😉 So instead I want to talk about Disney/Pixar’s new movie Soul. And announce a few changes that will be coming in this new year. But Soul first. 

My sisters and I watched Soul for New Year’s Eve. It didn’t become an instant favorite the way Inside Out did, and it doesn’t surpass the ones I grew up on like Finding Nemo and Ratatouille, but even so, I really enjoyed it, and it’s one that’s really sticking with me. 

To start off, no, it is not an accurate, realistic, theological picture of how souls work, any more than our brains are controlled by personified emotions working a console. It’s an artistic representation, meant to tell a story with a particular message, and it works. And I’m still thinking about it. 

A little bit about the story: Joe Gardner has always loved jazz and wants desperately to be a jazz musician. But...he's a middle school band teacher. (By the way, I loved how they made the logo music sound like it was played by a middle school band. 😂) When finally Joe's about to get his big break, he falls down a manhole. But he's not willing to die just yet. Fighting death, he ends up in "the Great Before" where he must help soul 22 find her "spark" so she can be born on earth. Or rather, so she can give him her "Earth Pass" because she has no desire to go live life. (I know it all sounds weird. Somehow it works.)

I don't want to say too much more about the plot because of spoilers, but I do want to talk about what the movie says about life. Because that's what's really stuck with me.

We have to live. Just living life matters. It's a purpose, a spark.

Joe is so focused on trying to succeed as a musician he ignores everything else in life. He "doesn't have time" for a relationship, never bothered to actually talk to his barber, doesn't have a great relationship with his mom, and just doesn't even notice all the little things.

22 has no interest in life, but that's mostly because she doesn't really understand what life is. As she experiences life through Joe, she finds that life really is pretty amazing. She eats pizza, connects with people, enjoys "sky watching," and just shows Joe a wonder and appreciation for life.

It makes me remember The Phantom Tollbooth, actually. I haven't read that book since elementary school, but I still remember how it starts out. With basically a commentary on how people don't look up. How people don't notice things. They're just walking along, looking down, and not noticing life around them.

Which is basically what Joe is doing. And he's missing everything.

I know I'm often guilty. I get tunnel vision about whatever thing I'm working on and don't really look around. I don't take time to enjoy the outdoors. I often don't take the time to cultivate friendships, or to maintain them. And I don't want some day to look up and see that life has passed me by. That I've been so focused on that material goal that I forgot about the things that really matter.

I feel like it's an especially important message after 2020, where we were all so focused on the pandemic and all so isolated from each other. Because how many of us were actually living? I know I tended to have an attitude of just existing, just trying to get through the year. And that's not enough, because life is beautiful, even when bad things are happening, and we have to take notice of that. The sun still shines, the flowers still bloom, and hey, we got The Clone Wars season 7, The Mandalorian season 2, and some exciting Star Wars announcements, so 2020 wasn't all bad. We can't give up on living just because something bad and scary happened.

I absolutely don't think it's bad to have goals and things you're working towards. In fact, I think it's very important to have things you're working towards. But if you're so focused on that one obsession that nothing else even occurs to you, well, that's a problem. And you just might end up falling down a manhole.

But you know, I may work really hard all my life on writing books and never end up on the New York Times bestseller list. More than likely, that's how it'll happen. And if I'm always focused on attaining that goal, I'll be disappointed and think my life was meaningless. But if I enjoy the journey, cultivate relationships with the people in my life, and don't discount the little things in life, it'll be worth it. It's not the material goals that matter, it's the eternal. For the things which are seen are temporary, but the things which are unseen are eternal.

And that's what I got out of Soul.

So. Things are going to look a little different around here. Namely, I'm not going to be blogging every week. It's just reality that when you've been blogging for nearly eight years, it's hard to come up with a fresh, new topic for a blog post every single week. Instead, I'm going to scale it down to twice a month. At the same time, I'm planning on upping my newsletter from quarterly to monthly.

Also, I have some plans starting this fall that will more than likely slow down writing for awhile. I'll share more once things are more concrete. Rest assured, I do not intend to give up on writing at all. I'm just not going to have enough time to write at the pace I did last year.

That said, I am working on the first draft of a pirate book that's a Time Captives spinoff about Captain Herb's son and a girl named Anthea Germainia, and I'm hoping *fingers crossed* to get another draft of Acktorek 2 at least mostly done before this fall. I've wanted to write this pirate book for about eight years, since before there were pirates in Time Captives, so I'm excited to be working on it. And of course I'm eager to get back to Emma and Mitchell, but I do need a bit of a break so that I can come at it with a fresh perspective and actually fix the problems with the draft. It'll happen. And one of these days the Crannig Castle audiobook will actually be finished too! 😉