Special Abilities in Film and Literature

A guest post from ericuseshiswords. Find him on Facebook , Twitter and Instagram for more great content.

In the majority of fictional worlds we consume, we see people who are different than those around them. Harry Potter was a wizard living amongst muggles. Gandalf has lived for thousands of years, using his fantastical abilities to great effect.

As you can probably tell, many special powers come down to simply “magic”. Someone was born a witch or wizard or with the gift of flight or whatever it may be, and that’s that.

But if this is overdone, how can a potential author separate themself from the crowd. How can you make your characters special without simply giving them an overused magical quality and a weak explanation?

Simply put, you need to make the special abilities in your world unique. Create a backstory that goes deeper than “He is magical because I SAY he is magical!” Now more than ever, readers and viewers want to dive deep into fantasy worlds, and creating a unique reason for special abilities helps them do just that.

Let’s take a look at a few samples.

X-MEN: Genetic Mutations

Wolverine heals and has blade-like claws sprout from his hands-on command. Cyclops fires beams from his eyes. Jean Grey controls things with her mind. Each character has a unique special ability, but each ability is tied to a common cause: freak genetic mutations.

So-called mutants have mutations in their genetic code that give them radical powers; but, like most mutations, these also come with downsides. Wolverine feels the pain every time those claws come out. Cyclops needs special glasses to hold in his beams.

By giving them a scientific backing, the X-Men went from simply being superheroes to being a unique relative, the Mutants.

The Stormlight Archives

Written by Brandon Sanderson, the Stormlight Archives are set in a mystical world much like Middle Earth. Highstorms sweep through the land with mystical energies swirling around in them. The rich and powerful own shardplate and shardblades, powerful pieces of armor and weaponry that charge through the highstorms.

Likewise, Surgebinders are the closest there comes to magicians in this fantasy world. They can bind different ‘systems’ – such as gravity and adhesion – and manipulate them. Users do this through binding with a spren, a small mystical creature. Like shardplate, Surgebinders need to recharge in highstorms.

By creating a storm system that really fuels almost everything mystical in the Stormlight world, Sanderson thought up a unique way of giving his characters special abilities.

Star Wars – Jedi/Sith Abilities

Although it annoyed a lot of fans in the process, the Force got an explanation. Midi-chlorians  – microscopic organisms  – live in every race in the galaxy and give them the powers of the force. Some people have more, some people have less.

From there, through focus and meditation, users can increase the potency of the Midi-chlorians, therefore increasing their powers.

All three of these are great examples of different ways to introduce magical powers into your universe. People latch onto unique ideas, so if you can discover a different approach to what you want to achieve, you’re on your way to success.


What are your favourite uses of power or ability in film or literature? Comment below or message me with your ideas!


RELATED LINKS:

Worldbuilding – Meraxor

How Brandon Sanderson helped me with my writing

Brandon Sanderson on writing

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