Caina Amalas vs Overpowered Characters

Editing GHOST IN THE GLASS today, which got me thinking about Overpowered Characters.

A common discussion in SF/F books is what to do with Overpowered Characters. What do you do with characters who have become so powerful they can solve all problems with a wave of their magic wand (or a blast from their particle cannon) and thereby overcome all opposition?

The key to solving this problem is to understand that there are different kinds of power and they’re not applicable in all situations. After all, someone can be physically powerful, but there are many, many situations where violence is useless and even counterproductive. In fantasy, there might be magical power, but there could also be physical power (super strength or great skill). There are also subtler forms of power – money can lead to financial power, social influence to political power, fame to social power, knowledge to social influence, and so forth. Even physical attractiveness can be its own kind of power. So in a fantasy novel, you could have a physically weak king with no magical abilities who nonetheless rules with an iron fist because he has political skill and understands how to manage people.

And a writer can flip that on its head – power can become a liability.

I’m afraid I did that to poor Caina in the GHOST NIGHT series. 🙂

Caina’s become famous after the events of THE GHOSTS and GHOST EXILE, and it’s a huge problem and liability for her. After all, the events of the last three GHOST EXILE books would be described in modern terms as a Major Geopolitical Shift, and she was right in the middle of it. So a lot of people have heard of her by now, which is a problem for her because she was trained as a Ghost nightfighter (covert operative, basically), and it’s a lot harder for her to operate when so many people know who she is.

Needless to say, it’s been great fun to write!

-JM

 

6 thoughts on “Caina Amalas vs Overpowered Characters

  • November 14, 2017 at 12:40 pm
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    I call it the “Superman Complex” when I run across a character that falls under this trap. Superman is supposedly a pain to write bad guys for because he’s so powerful that all of his enemies are powerful enough to level cities if he wasn’t there. It is an inherit flaw in any Superman plot that all the bad guy usually needs to do to win is AVOID Superman.

    On that same thought train you can also place limiters on their power. You do that yourself with the Shadowland Lords in Cloak Games and with the Elves in Frostborn. Or The Custodian in the Silent Order series. All have God-like, god-like, godly, or god-ish powers depending on your particular definition of the word. but only within REALLY specific circumstances. Power and free will are usually opposites, until they’re not. That’s a real life axiom too.

    What makes Caina my favorite of every character you write though is the fact that in most ways she’s actually pretty powerless. She can’t do magic at all, yet she always finds herself facing powerful wizards. She can’t fight head to head against even a great human swordsman and she always seems to meet up with the superhumanly great ones with centuries of experience. She’s either an outcast or an unknown and yet she’s thrown into, as you put it, geopolitical turmoil. She wins by using her eyes and her brains. NOTHING is cooler than a character who acts as the proverbial David to an enemy Goliath.

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    • November 14, 2017 at 2:11 pm
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      I think the best way to deal with the Superman Complex is to take the phrase “more money more problems” and turn it into “more power more problems.” That definitely applies to Nadia, who got more power, but at a sharp price and followed immediately by enormous problems.

      Caina upgraded a little by the end of GHOST EXILE, but not hugely. Mind-controlling and detection spells don’t work on her any more, but none of that would block a good old fashioned psychokinetic blow to the head.

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  • November 15, 2017 at 3:38 am
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    You can also nerf a too powerful character for personal reasons. You do that with the Dragon Knight at the end of Frostborn. And one of my favorite read-for-nostalgia’s-sake series The Percy Jackson series makes Percy do the same thing before he can advance the plot.

    So you opened this up! Honestly in regards to Nadia I’m not sure I agree with where you’re coming from. Yes she has enormous problems, but would she not have had those problems if she hadn’t gained power? Seems to me she would have either A) Died without her new skills, in which case it’s true all her problems would be solved or B) Still been stuck with the exact same issues she just wouldn’t have had the benefit of her new abilities.

    I will say she does have to deal with her own turbulent emotions and lack of control as her personal demons, those are really well thought out “costs”. I especially like the inability to eat since I would never have thought of that. However her power doesn’t cause her external problems like Caina in Ghost Night or Ridmark all throughout Frostborn.

    I personally would have loved to see Nadia apply her power in more effective ways. When she was forced to meet with Nicolas why didn’t she plan ahead of time in some way? Scout out the building while cloaked or rig a bomb or two about his hidden base in case she needed to make a point? She left the Rebel contact alive in the beginning of Hammer Break and he gave her away when he woke up. He’s a rebel, why doesn’t she kill him? If he gets caught after she sets the Inquisition on the town it isn’t any different is it? After all the BS Corbisher put her through and the reservations she has about Loren if she acted ruthlessly she could save herself a bunch of headaches. They have killed, they are going to kill more, they are going to try and kill her (again). Cloak, walk up behind them and shoot them in the head then when asked simply say you have no idea. It is not like Nicholas is going to change his mind about trying to kill her.

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    • November 15, 2017 at 4:08 am
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      Ridmark definitely doesn’t regret giving up the sword of the Dragon Knight – he knew the pressure to abuse the sword’s power would become so great it would rip Andomhaim apart. Even after three SEVENFOLD SWORD books, he still thinks that.

      As for Nadia, there’s a couple of reasons she isn’t as ruthless as she could be:

      1.) She’s smart, but she’s not always 100% rational. Especially after TRUTH CHAIN. And she hasn’t thought out the limits of her new abilities, since she’s mostly used them to blow up anthrophages.

      2.) Her experience in FROST FEVER when she almost killed Alexandra Ross for convenience but stopped at the last second really shook her. After TRUTH CHAIN, she’s afraid she’s going to snap and go berserk (and she was really freaked out how she accidentally hurt Russell at the start of TOMB HOWL). So she doesn’t want to start killing as the default solution to her problems for the same reason an alcoholic doesn’t want to have “just one” drink.

      3.) She can’t blow up Morvilind’s deal with the Forerunner, because if she does, Russell will die. Nicholas needs her to achieve his goals and he thinks he can control her, but if she pushes him too far (like by killing Corbisher in way that undermines Nicholas’s authority with the Rebels or his standing with the Knight of Venomhold), Nicholas will try to kill her, and however that ends, Morvilind’s deal with the Forerunner will break and Russell will die. But it’s a hugely unstable situation. Sooner or later Nadia or Nicholas will push each other too far. And some of Nicholas’s lieutenants realize this might blow up in their faces and might decide to take matters into their own hands. Which is what CLOAK GAMES: BLOOD CAST is going to be about…

      …and if all goes well, I want to start writing that on Thursday.

      Reply
      • November 15, 2017 at 4:54 pm
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        That whole series, I swear I stand by what I said, Nadia is going through magical puberty. But that world is one of the richest I’ve come across in the last 3 or 4 hundred books I’ve read. You made it so demigods battling it out for their own egos is a common thing. The powers that be are a screwed-up version of Medieval Europe meets Leninist U.S.S.R and your main character’s greatest teachers remind me of the Agent from Serenity and freaking Mephisto respectively. Everybody could use an ass kicking of some type.

        You also have crafted Nadia in such a way that she will be hard pressed to “settle down”. She isn’t really geared for it at this point. I wonder what she’ll end up wanting by the end of Blood Cost? What will be her motivation going forward?

        *SPOILERS FROM SEVENSWORD:WARLORD*
        Side note since I just finished it….. You had a cavalry charge using triceratops……A dinosaur based cavalry charge. That’s. Effing. Awesome. How you thought of that I don’t know, but that is entirely too cool. Between that and Third showing back up again that book was hard to put down.

        Ridmark as the Dragon Knight would also make writing for him a colossal pain the the neck. Hi I can stop time, summon firestorms and oh yeah, teleport. Build me a bad guy worthy to challenge me, the last one was a literal fallen angel.

        To come full circle and back to the point of your post! If Caina can keep that idiot Corbould from killing her until her allies and new adopted brother show up the Ghost Night series could be on heck of a wild ride. Old allies mixing with new, Caina’s various shenanigans shared and even a blood family member Caina doesn’t want to kill. She’ll have to save the world….again, but then Horemb did tell her all the world would know her name.

        Reply
        • November 16, 2017 at 1:05 am
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          “But that world is one of the richest I’ve come across in the last 3 or 4 hundred books I’ve read. You made it so demigods battling it out for their own egos is a common thing. The powers that be are a screwed-up version of Medieval Europe meets Leninist U.S.S.R and your main character’s greatest teachers remind me of the Agent from Serenity and freaking Mephisto respectively.”

          Thanks! I’m glad you like the CLOAK GAMES seetting.

          “Side note since I just finished it….. You had a cavalry charge using triceratops……A dinosaur based cavalry charge. That’s. Effing. Awesome. How you thought of that I don’t know, but that is entirely too cool.”

          I’ve always wanted to do that, or at least have a fantasy novel with dinosaurs in it, and SEVENFOLD SWORD gave me the chance finally. The trisalians are, of course, triceratops, and the scutians are protoceratops.

          “Ridmark as the Dragon Knight would also make writing for him a colossal pain the the neck. Hi I can stop time, summon firestorms and oh yeah, teleport. Build me a bad guy worthy to challenge me, the last one was a literal fallen angel.”

          I was originally planning to be done with Ridmark once I finished FROSTBORN. Tamlin would have been the main character of SEVENFOLD SWORD, and it would have been set in Andomhaim a hundred years in the future. But as I was writing the “where are they now” chapter in THE SHADOW PRISON I realized I wasn’t done with Ridmark yet, so I added one more chapter where Ridmark returned the sword of the Dragon Knight to Ardrhythain and received Oathshield in return.

          “To come full circle and back to the point of your post! If Caina can keep that idiot Corbould from killing her until her allies and new adopted brother show up the Ghost Night series could be on heck of a wild ride. Old allies mixing with new, Caina’s various shenanigans shared and even a blood family member Caina doesn’t want to kill.”

          Caina does have lots of problems in GHOST IN THE GLASS…and some of them are just starting. 🙂

          “Horemb did tell her all the world would know her name.”

          To her vast annoyance. 🙂

          Reply

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