Examples of 'bad' overpowered characters vs 'good' overpowered characters?
There are the general signs, of course - when the world around the character acts as though the character is the only one who matters - but I'm curious to see specific examples of when it's done well vs poorly.
What's something unbelievably overpowered that just makes the story silly? What's something overpowered but somehow manages to stay within the limits of reason? What stories do it well, and what stories make a right hash of it?
If anyone with more knowledge in this area could provide some good and bad examples for me to read and study, I would appreciate it. The more the better!
It's a bit boring if an OP character mainly goes around fighting, because fighting is a solved problem for them unless they keep running into stronger characters. Rather, it's good to challenge OP characters which can't be solved with violence. Keeping a group of refugees alive? Curing a plague? Learning how to use their top-tier body or spells to earn a living or make up for technology that's not available out in the country? Making friends with the child or niece/nephew of the person you have a crush on? Solving an archeological mystery? Creative problem solving, diplomacy/charm, stuff that requires an education, these are good challenges for someone who already has lots of combat power or magic.
He's a living suit of armor that is significantly stronger and tougher than those around him and can do things like break himself into his separate parts and hide items in an internal void.
I balance this by making it so he doesn't want to reveal he's not a normal man in front of his companions and by keeping the threats equally powerful and challenging. So his abilities are limited when he's with them because he's trying to maintain the masquerade and even when he does get to drop it he still faces equally outrageous opponents.
I also try to have him come up with clever or nonlethal methods of handling problems and showing that while he excels in combat there's a lot of social and other areas in which he struggles.
Generally I think a character can be as strong as you'd like as long as you have ways to create tension. Just don't have their companions kidnapped three times in a row like I did without realizing it. Readers don't respond well to that.
That particular example obviously isn't all-encompassing. I remember some RR fiction where the protagonist got powerful because he tried bearing through the pain of performing some magical spell and no one ever thought of doing that before. It was better than most, but in that example I thought the logic wasn't there. People in the real world are ridiculously thorough when you look at the world as a whole. They aren't going to miss some method to advance their field because of a little pain. And that lack of logic significantly weakened their OP protagonist.
I don't think you can have a discussion about what's good and bad without first considering what audience you are writing for, or what type of response you aim to evoke. The term power fantasy is an insulting critique for some, a positive feature for others. Whether an OP character works well or not depends on what you meant to do with it.
Here's an example. There are a lot of bland Superman stories that don't make much sense. He is nearly indestructible, insanely strong, and as fast as the Flash. He can turn time backwards in some stories. The fact that he doesn't solve almost all of of his problems in a millisecond is illogical. His immunity to danger lends itself to boredom or frustration with the plot.
On the flip side, take Homelander from The Boys. I know he's the villain, but consider the purpose of his power. It's to induce terror and tension, but only partly. For the modern jaded audience, it's also to induce a kind of almost perverse glee that a superhero show finally goes beyond the same, sanitized Disney productions.
You could have a story about a good Superman deciding to go Punisher-mode and beating the living tar out of all the bad guys. There'd be a similar sense of glee and justice. Would everyone like this story? No, but a more jaded or "edgy" audience might think it is the only worthwhile Superman story. Or you could package it into a humorous story that relies on comically absurd shock value.
There's a lot of parroted writing advice, such as attack the OP character from different fronts (attack his inner struggles, his companions, and so on). Make sure that his OP nature is earned. Etc. I would say that the examples I gave above defy such advice. Superman's power is unearned, and he's directly confronting external threats. In certain contexts, though, his OP nature could still successfully serve a story purpose for an intended audience.
So...all that is to say again that it all depends on who your audience is and why your story will have an OP character. I don't think you can make sweeping statements about what is good or bad without addressing these considerations first. Really closely related to your question is whether a Gary Stu is good or bad. I mean, I loved reading Red Rising, but some think it's nothing more than a puerile boy fantasy. Other obvious examples are Name of the Wind or pretty much any isekai. Is SAO good or bad? Are the 26 million SAO light novels sold relevant to the answer or not? Again, it depends who you ask. To the author and publisher, I'm assuming, yes!
Asviloka Wrote: As someone who habitually writes underpowered characters, I've always had a hard time understanding what it is that sets a strong character that is good apart from a strong character that is silly or world-breaking.You can't really look at a character in isolation and decide if he is overpowered or not. You need the whole situation, the world, the other characters and the story. Especially the story, since character and story are two sides of the same coin.
Who the main character is decides in which direction the story will go.
The story decides in which direction the character will develop, how he will change, what he will learn.
So an overpowered character is only really overpowered in regards to the story he is in. One of my favorite examples for that is Saitama, the MC of One Punch Man
By any definition of the word he is overpowered. He is the strongest man in the setting and will win every single fight no matter what. But that is only regards to other characters and the world, not when it comes to his story. That one is about depression, finding no joy in his hobby, struggling to make friends and get recognition for what he does. That is his story arc and all his strength is a detriment when it comes to that. He cannot enjoy fighting because he'll always win. Being weaker would be an advantage for him.
Or take a look at Gandalf. He's an immortal, angel like being that wields magic and a sword alike. He's able to fight a Balrog and come out on top. In comparison to the fellowship he is by far the wisest, strongest and simply best member. He's also a mentor and cannot intervene in the story directly. His challenge is to guide and in that he fails. Those who depend on him the most must make do without him. They struggle and nearly fail because he is not there when they need him most (refering to the Hobbits). He is not overpowered because in regards to the challenge he has to face and the limitations he has to endure, namely that the battle for Middle Earth is not his battle to win.
Take a look at Luke Skywalker. After the new trilogy released I heard voices claiming that he was a Gary Stu and that Rey wasn't that bad in comparison. I disagree. If Luke's story was simply about fighting the empire, he'd be a contender, sure. He's a good pilot who blows up the first Death Star, surviving an encounter with Darth Vader. The first film however is called a New Hope because his story is about becoming a Jedi Knight. Ben Kenobi guides him not to blow up the Death Star but to listen to the Force. Han tempts him to drop it and rely on things he can see. When it comes to his training of becoming a Jedi he is rather weak, all in all. He comes close to failing time and again.
Compare that with Rey and her fight with the New Order. She doesn't do that much more than Luke to be honest. She wins more fights, but Luke blows up the Death Star singlehandedly, while Rey does not destroy Starkiller Base on her own. Again though, the story is about becoming a Jedi and suddenly Rey is able to use the force like it's nothing, fight another force user and impresses the entire cast with her capabilities. She's almost a fully fledged Jedi by the end of the movie. Her main obstacles and journey do not challenge her at all.
A good story always features character growth of some sort. You don't develop a character by making his strengths stronger, but by making his weaknesses weaker. You address their hubris, their pride, their fatal flaw. A good overpowered character is one who might be strong, but is still suitable challenged by the story he faces. A bad overpowered character is too strong for his own story. He has all the tools he needs to evade ever getting character development because the story cannot possibly force him to confront his weaknesses.
So yeah, if the fact that your character is overpowered drains the tension and excitement out of the story you're doing something wrong. If a character is overpowered but the story is still fun to read he can stay as strong as he is.