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Making main characters 'special':

Rabid Fujoshi
Okay, well basically I bought the third Sandman Slim book recently (don't judge me) and it reminded me of this, since I remember thinking about this subject when I read the second one, (main character inevitably and irritatingly turned out to be half-angel. I thought it was incredibly cliche.)

Basically authors seem to make their main protagonist, especially in Fantasy and Sci Fi, 'special'. Either they are significantly cooler or more powerful than most other characters except rivals and villains, maybe, or they are half something exotic or have a significant ancestor, or...whatever. I don't think this is an inherently bad thing, but I think its a bit overused. I don't actually use this convention all that much for my viewpoint characters, I feel. What are you guys' thoughts on it?

edited 20th Dec '11 8:44:51 PM by NoirGrimoir

SPATULA, Supporters of Page Altering To Urgently Lead to Amelioration (supports not going through TRS for tweaks and minor improvements.)
 2 chihuahua 0, Tue, 20th Dec '11 8:48:11 PM from Standoff, USA Relationship Status: I'm in love with my car
Writer's Welcome Wagon
Well, with the exception that the narrator of my story, Bryan, is particularly adept as a mind-controller, which is considered a draining and intrusive power, I don't really pull this reveal.

But don't throw it in for it's own sake. I only gave Bryan that power to level the battlefield and heighten conflict.

edited 20th Dec '11 8:52:01 PM by chihuahua0

I Get Along
It is a half-arsed justification as to why the main character can do exceptional things. It is about escape, so they tend to try to make the protagonists as wonderful as possible. I feel that it is far better to make the protagonist use their quick wits and hard work to achieve things, because it makes their conflicts and successes seem less contrived.
Talks about art, misses all the points.
The 'specialness' of characters you hang around with in stories, it comes within their personas first and foremost. We're lingering close to them and their thoughts. If we change the main character designation to someone else, they're going to be 'special' too. It's a depth that neither special ability nor augmentation can substitute.

edited 20th Dec '11 8:56:56 PM by QQQQQ

 5 Morven, Tue, 20th Dec '11 8:57:06 PM from Seattle, WA, USA
Nemesis
To be honest, even if the main character is "special", it's still better if they solve their problems in the ways that normal humans do their abilities should, preferably, just alter the nature of those problems, not the solution to them. Quick wits and hard work can apply to a superhero story just as easily — if the main character's abilities mean they can just zap their way easily to the conclusion, it's a crap story.
A brighter future for a darker age.
Rabid Fujoshi
I just don't understand why people always seem to want to give the main character the best everything. I think we can get sensawunda/ wish-fulfillment just as well through other characters having that cool thing, if indeed that's the point of it.
SPATULA, Supporters of Page Altering To Urgently Lead to Amelioration (supports not going through TRS for tweaks and minor improvements.)
I Get Along
The wish-fulfillment part has to come with the protagonist, because it is who the reader identifies with. There is nothing wrong with wish fulfillment per s, but it can stretch disbelief and cause the reader to call bullshit. (I am half-angel, etc.)
Talks about art, misses all the points.
In a way, it can be argued that any main character is "special", special people are involved in special events, which stories are based upon.

Then again, there is always a point where it becomes ridiculous in either direction. I've yet to read a good story featuring omnipotence or complete normalness in the main character.

But it seems that you're complaining about the mary-sue character, and noone can figure out what that actually is.

I forgot my point... take from this what you want.

There's a note I'd like to point out - I have this rush of excitement and anticipation when the main character has abilities beyond normality, but he still acts human (not some "I am Demigod Reincarnate" dullness, like Neo in the second and third Matrix movies). It's like when I imagine Clare from Claymore being in the modern world - or watching Peter Parker in Raimi's Spider-man amongst the New York crowd, knowing he's got the power. I can identify with them. They're people.

But when the good characterisation is thrown out the window, and the MC just becomes his powers embodied, that makes me feel bleh.

edited 20th Dec '11 9:06:40 PM by QQQQQ

 10 feotakahari, Tue, 20th Dec '11 9:11:24 PM from Looking out at the city
Fuzzy Orange Doomsayer
I've yet to read a good story featuring omnipotence or complete normalness in the main character.

I'd like to pull this phrase out and examine it, since I have read a few good stories in which the main character was basically normal. (For instance, Neal Shusterman's Full Tilt makes a point of how most of the characters are ultimately defeated by some manner of "imbalance"—a tendency towards a specific action or behavior, which can be exploited to lure them into a trap. The main character is willing and able to try a wide variety of strategies, although his only great skill is figuring out when a specific strategy is likely to be a bad idea.)

edited 20th Dec '11 9:11:39 PM by feotakahari

That's Feo . . . He's a disgusting, mysoginistic, paedophilic asshat who moonlights as a shitty writer—Something Awful
 11 Noir Grimoir, Tue, 20th Dec '11 9:11:27 PM from San Diego, CA
Rabid Fujoshi
[up][up]I'm not talking about Mary-Sue characters per se, though M Ss usually have this.

I'm not even necessarily talking about making your main character, say, a cool elf, as long as a few of your other characters are also elves. When the main character is 'the only one' of something is when it stretches my tolerance. Just significantly more special than other characters.

edited 20th Dec '11 9:11:54 PM by NoirGrimoir

SPATULA, Supporters of Page Altering To Urgently Lead to Amelioration (supports not going through TRS for tweaks and minor improvements.)
 12 burnpsy, Tue, 20th Dec '11 9:28:10 PM from Ontario, Canada Relationship Status: Abstaining
The Eternal Fool
I've never written a story like this, except my current work, where making the main character special is the villain's goal.

I also think it's a bit overused. That said, as long as it doesn't detract from anything else, I can tolerate it. Though that may be because I was always the odd one out in everything.

edited 20th Dec '11 9:28:54 PM by burnpsy

 13 nrjxll, Tue, 20th Dec '11 9:32:49 PM Relationship Status: Not war
As far as I know, humans seem to be wired to some subconscious extent to believe in Uniqueness Value, though I don't know many details about this. And in some cases, they're the protagonist because they're special, not the other way around.

At a conscious level, though, this annoys me. I can't recall writing many protagonists that are genuinely unique.

[up]Interesting. I've done something like a little like that myself, although the details are probably very different.

edited 20th Dec '11 9:33:32 PM by nrjxll

Um...
(Edit: Ninja'd)

Not sure if everyone else would find this helpful, but I usually try to think, when dealing with 'special' characters, that the protagonist isn't special because he/she is central to the plot; he/she is central to the plot because he/she is special.

That having been said, I've always hated The Chosen One as a trope, as not only is it cliche, but the plot consistently pushes the character to accept his/her destiny, and acts as if this is an inherently good thing, when I think characters who actively try to fight destiny are far more admirable.

As someone else already mentioned, it also helps even things out if there are other characters under similar circumstances (that is, being 'special'), as that can, under ideal circumstances, fix the problem of one character taking up too much of the plot's focus or appearing too powerful or too out-of-place in the setting.

edited 20th Dec '11 9:45:52 PM by Lennik

 15 nrjxll, Tue, 20th Dec '11 9:47:11 PM Relationship Status: Not war
Like I said in the prophecies thread, The Chosen One is a trope that it can be interesting to play with, but its straight use is pretty much played out. There aren't nearly enough works that raise the question of whether it's a good thing (except in the It Sucks to Be the Chosen One way, which doesn't really count).

 16 burnpsy, Tue, 20th Dec '11 10:56:25 PM from Ontario, Canada Relationship Status: Abstaining
The Eternal Fool
One thing I do to avoid making one character too special is having the skills, background and connections needed to progress the story split in a believable fashion amongst a group. This lets me avoid having the main character be able to overcome ridiculous odds on his own.
Ecce Homo Superior
I pretty much hate this trope. I've never used it.

Protagonists should probably stand out (unless the purpose of the story is to write about a completely average John Doe, of course), but that can be done through their characterisation, not by giving them lots of powers.
(it's David Bowie)
I don't like it when a main character has too many unique abilities, and can do lots of things better than everyone else. But I do think there's justification in giving them one or two things special about them, as long as it's important to the plot; ie, the only reason this character is the main one is because they have these abilities.

If it's a story where only a person with a certain ability can go do something, while everyone else has to just sit and around and wait for them to come back, then I want to be with the person doing whatever is being done, not with one of the ones sitting round.

Even if it's not central to the plot, a character can be particularly skilled at something without annoying me; people in real life tend to have things they're good at, and sometimes the best at, so I don't see why fictional characters shouldn't be allowed that. As long as they're not the best at everything.

 19 feotakahari, Wed, 21st Dec '11 4:26:53 AM from Looking out at the city
Fuzzy Orange Doomsayer
I do think there's justification in giving them one or two things special about them, as long as it's important to the plot; ie, the only reason this character is the main one is because they have these abilities.

While this is a decent statement, there's a caveat: just because the character has the abilities doesn't make them a proper hero. That's largely a matter of intelligence, courage, and/or selflessness. Furthermore, if a setting requires that only one character have an ability, it may actually be to your advantage to have the main character not be that character, but instead be a character more suited to heroism who provides guidance to that character (or even is forced to fill in for that character.)
That's Feo . . . He's a disgusting, mysoginistic, paedophilic asshat who moonlights as a shitty writer—Something Awful
 20 Morven, Wed, 21st Dec '11 11:53:49 AM from Seattle, WA, USA
Nemesis
@Noir Grimoir: If one's protagonist is easily the most powerful person in the setting, that's a dull-ass story. Superheroes are OK — so long as they're not the only one in the story, or so long as the challenges they have to overcome are not soluble with superpowers.

"The only" special characters tend to work better NOT as the protagonist or the viewpoint. (Oops, Feo just said that.)

edited 21st Dec '11 11:54:44 AM by Morven

A brighter future for a darker age.
 21 Heavy DDR, Wed, 21st Dec '11 2:03:06 PM from Central Texas
What's Gravity Falls.
I guess I've always kinda been a victim of it, but then again, it's hard to not call your protagonist "special." If they were just some Joe on the street, then there's no reason for me to sympathize with them than any other mook or background character. There needs to be a reason to make them worthwhile enough to follow, which means making them "special." Take, for example, Kyon from Haruhi Suzumiya. He's the only ordinary guy, very average, his most notable feature is being boring, but he's still special in the story, in that he's the one Haruhi drags around.

Looking at my stories, I could say I'm a "victim" of special protagonists, but I won't, because I don't see enough of a reason to inherently think being special is bad. Ricky is an alien in human form, but he grows up as an ordinary kid who just barely begins to realize he's weird when he's 15, mistaking himself to be psychic. And this is after an ordinary human reveals weird powers.

Scoty, from a different book, has the power to make shields sprout from his body, but before then, he was just a slave. He also has "Passion, " which isn't really "special" since it's technically an ability you could say we have in real life, but he's able to really accentuate it, much like a few other abilities.

I guess my standard would be, is the special protagonist exceptionally more special than anything else in the series? Ricky is an alien with powers, but there are other characters and people with powers that technically outrank him. Scoty has his various skills, but both of them are traits other people in the world have, so he's not alone. If your character is more special than a vast majority of others, you probably have a problem, but if he/she is also less special than your average character, you're not in the clear.
I'm pretty sure the concept of Law having limits was a translation error. -Wanderlustwarrior
Shadowed Philosopher
Well, it goes without saying that if your protag is 'special' in a powers sort of way, you should be mostly hitting him/her with problems that can't be solved merely by throwing powers at them. The occasional curbstomp in which they just cut loose can be cathartic or awesome, but if that's all that happens then it's more or less boring.

My one (set of) protagonists are basically normal people who are thrown into the middle of an epic problem without really being prepared for it; their only real trump card is that they're younger than the Really 700 Years Old villain, and hence not so set in their thinking as to dismiss Magitek out of hand. Another is one of a class of people who all have one-of-a-kind superpowers, but others have different powers that are often quite a bit more powerful. And as always, execution is everything.
Shinigan (Naruto fanfic)
 23 Mr AHR, Wed, 21st Dec '11 2:39:04 PM from ಠ_ಠ Relationship Status: A cockroach, nothing can kill it.
Ahr river
I'm guessin' it's cause your protagonist needs to carry the weight of the story. They need to kick things off.

I mean, keep in mind, you still have stuff like The Arthur Dent, but the main character is the face of the story. It sets the tone.

And for a lot of fantasy stories, that tone is a certain degree of wish fulfillment.
 24 Noir Grimoir, Wed, 21st Dec '11 4:08:33 PM from San Diego, CA
Rabid Fujoshi
This may be wrong of me, but when the author heaps all kinds of special powers on the main character it feels incredibly juvenile to me. When the character is the same gender as the author I take that character as partially being an Author Avatar anyway, which seems to me the primary reason you would do that, the authors personal wish fulfillment. I don't know, I mean I don't have anything against it in general, but especially when it turns out the character is a cool hybrid, even if it's not as powerful as other characters, I roll my eyes.

I kind of wish there were more The Ishmael and Supporting Protagonist characters in stories (that's pretty much 50% of what I write). The protagonist can be more normal that way and leave the crazy stuff for The Hero.

edited 21st Dec '11 4:28:35 PM by NoirGrimoir

SPATULA, Supporters of Page Altering To Urgently Lead to Amelioration (supports not going through TRS for tweaks and minor improvements.)
read
I personally enjoy ensemble casts for this reason. Then even if one gets the spotlight, you have to spread the specialness all around.
oddly
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