MC Development - What Path Do You Prefer?

#1
Ok so, I was having a pretty deep conversation with a group of my friends tonight during D&D and a topic came up that I personally found riveting.

Many of us have read books, seen movies, cartoons, anime, manga, or other media formats where a there is some kind of hero, anti-hero or MC villain right? Well, how about them accomplishing their goals? That's right, I am talking about the powering up trope.

Some heroes and villains start as an utterly overpowered existence, others go on a lengthy and sometimes absurd quest for power lasting books so they can fight the end bad guy. And yet others, others have power thrust upon them through strange means and circumstances such as curses, broken abilities they manipulate, or finding ways to cheat the system.

So here is the questions I pose to you all: What Path of Power do you prefer for your MC? Do you personally like a godlike superman who beats everything into a pulp right out of the gate? Or do you prefer the weakling to strongling method with a wicked arc of development in between? Or is there yet another path that I haven't touched upon here?

Re: MC Development - What Path Do You Prefer?

#2
Depends on my mood and other factors of the story.

For OP MCs the character can't also be bland. If it's blatant wish fulfillment I'll drop it. But if the characters are well done and make me care about them I'll enjoy an OP MC because I want them to win. If I can't like the MC seeing them get everything handed to them will irritate me. And if battle can't provide any real growth for the character there has to be other ways they grow. I like seeing a character grow, mature and change. They need something difficult in their life. 

Lengthy books where the MC has to struggle for every last win are more my regular prefrence. Typically because there is almost always a lot of character development. However if after 60 chapters you've got the exact same character with no changes in thought process, methods and temperament it's a no. Long struggle Stories are all about progression and I love to see it, so the character better be changing and growing physically, mentally and emotionally. Also if it just becomes struggle pron where the MC never wins it gets kinda sad to read, so you have to be careful to sprinkle in the success for the serotonin boost to keep me coming back.

Curses or broken abilities usually fall under the OP trope because somehow they always end up being OP. I do not really enjoy these because I rarely find versions of these I like. Because it's usually an OP MC who doesn't realize they're OP and is almost constantly complaining about their broken skill or curse. The broken skill trope seems to be an often used bandaid to pretend the MC has character development without actually ever giving them said character development. In most of the ones I've read by the time you're 50+ chapters in you've got the exact same character you started with, they just managed to beat everyone who should be stronger with them through their special cursed skill usually without having to do too much effort or with false tension. Typically after their first 1 or 2 fails they never lose another fight, which really lowers the stakes of the Stories or fights. However if a story has a broken skill, and the character does actually suffer and loses because of it, and grows as a character it can be an amazing story. I just don't often see it. (Off the top of my head Path of Ascension does this trope REALLY WELL. It's actually a blend of #2 and this and as a result it's probably one of my all time favorite stories of RR)

TL;DR I love anything that has character development, to me that's the key for a good, memorable and enticing story. Tropes are just the paths you decide to take to determine what flavor of development you choose. 

Re: MC Development - What Path Do You Prefer?

#3
There are pitfalls to both approaches, and either one can work if you can manage to tell a story while avoiding the pitfalls. 

The "Young God" trope, or the OP from the start MC, will run into the problem of stagnation. If they are powerful from the word go then they don't have much room to grow or expand and it can get boring fast to have "challenges" that are just stomped on by a Young God. On the other hand, it can feel very contrived quickly if you get so many things that are randomly immune or the "perfect counter" to the MC's overpowered awesomeness. Both of those lead to story stagnation where interest is lost and readers drop the story. In this trope the emphasis is usually not on the powers themselves but rather on the character and their relationships that grow and change. the story needs to have more story and less power to remain interesting. 

In the world's weakest becomes world's strongest trope you have a whole different issue; power creep. When you give all the room to grow you run into some issues with world building consistency and with painting yourself into a narrative corner. Increasing power means increasing challenge, and there needs to be plausible reasons why these challenges didn't just wipe out the MC and everyone else before they got their power. You have to constantly up the power curve to keep people interested who want that growth, but it becomes increasingly difficult to understand how far the MC has come with every new power. Going from level one to level 5 might be a huge leap, but trying to even understand where a level twenty stands in relation to a level twenty five is much more difficult since both of them are likely demigods compared to an unleveled farmer. You get to the point where differences become difficult to differentiate and where ever increasing power creep starts to feel less interesting or even artificial given that the world wasn't destroyed by the things the MC is now opposing. It can be a very difficult issue to resolve. Sometimes that means ending a story on a narrative arc and letting it stand as ended, or sometimes a "reset" in power can work to knock the MC back down to reasonable levels to struggle back up again. Either way, the treadmill has to be addressed or the story loses the readers attention. 

In the end both approaches can work as long as you plan for them and how to address reader fatigue with the probable pitfalls of your chosen path. Being aware of the issue is the first step in solving them and it sounds like you are at least aware of the potential problems. Now its just on you to figure out what clvery solution your writing skills can produce to keep us all interested in reading your story. 

Goodluck!

Re: MC Development - What Path Do You Prefer?

#4
I'm of the "chained god" method. Basically it's when I give a character an ability that is overpowered but it's only under certain specific circumstances and/or there are limits that "chain them down". This forces the character to either break said limits or find a way around the limit. What I like about this one is that the character is OP and they are strong than most other characters, but it is only when they are in their element. This style of character always has a clear limit on what they can and cannot do with their abilities whilst letting me (as a writer) show that they are still capable of growth through the character overcoming their limits. This is also a bit tricky to properly write, since it all depends on the magic/superpower system of your story an it can break the system. Still, it is immensely rewarding because you can say a character is strong, but still make them struggle due to how their abilities work and make them progress as a character due to how they understand and use their powers.

Re: MC Development - What Path Do You Prefer?

#5
I generally like when either a power has a kiss/curse relationship or if a power should be a curse, but the MC uses it in a clever way.

I have one book that I wrote where the power has a limiter built in and the book very earlier describes how to break the limiter and the consequences of doing so. The entire book is bad event after bad event that leads to the MC purposefully breaking that limit and accepting the consequences.

Re: MC Development - What Path Do You Prefer?

#6
It depends on the story either make them op basically from the gecko or have them slowly acquire strength. Them starting out weak and than getting unjustifiably strong “just because” like op ability from a god is my least favorite.

Generally I’d prefer if they start out on the same footing as you would expect for <insert race> and <insert social-economic factors>

Cheating the system is rarely done right in my opinion. However it can be great once it is done right. Dungeon of the abyss is a example of one story that does it in a way I enjoy.

Re: MC Development - What Path Do You Prefer?

#8
The MC from my story Requiem is rather competent but an amnesiac. Compared to others in the main cast his powers fluctuate depending on several factors (he’s a mimic basically.)

His power level isn’t weak or strong, his skill set is what makes him unique. Take that away and give him more conventional powers and he’d only be slightly hindered at first. 

The MC from Discidium is “strong” to those she was around at first, but “weak” to new arrivals because she lived in stagnation. I guess what I’m saying is I like themes that aren’t black and white like the examples in the OP. 

Re: MC Development - What Path Do You Prefer?

#9
I appreciate everyone's replies! Lots of people sharing what they appreciate most in how an MC gathers power.

I personally enjoy reading about MC's that start off as an average Joe and then get traumatized by world events they cant control. This leading them either to a path of solitary power, or the path of power through leadership. I enjoy the effects the world building has on the MC, not the other way around. 

I find it more enjoyable to see their reactions, and eventual proactive actions towards the world itself.

Re: MC Development - What Path Do You Prefer?

#10
I'm a sucker for the weak to strong trope. I love seeing a character start out at rock bottom and go upwards in a gradual progression. I think stories with these sort of MCs are just more satisfying, because as a reader I get to see the character grow as a character in some way, so when they finally have that break out, op, bad-ass moment, it's just nice.

I do like the occasional OP from the start character, but it has to be written right. There needs to be some sort of challenge or conflict that actually has some weight to it to make the story interesting. A mary/gary-sue murder-hobo with an op cheat ability and a cringe backstory can only be entertaining for a few chapters before I just quit reading and never think of the story again.

Re: MC Development - What Path Do You Prefer?

#11

ShadowRat Wrote: So here is the questions I pose to you all: What Path of Power do you prefer for your MC? Do you personally like a godlike superman who beats everything into a pulp right out of the gate? Or do you prefer the weakling to strongling method with a wicked arc of development in between? Or is there yet another path that I haven't touched upon here?
I prefer the latter, I want my MC to slowly become strong and colder to the people around him until he realizes what he was doing and regrets it, but then it'll be too late.

Re: MC Development - What Path Do You Prefer?

#12
I like characters who start out weak, but are clever and creative.  Perhaps they figure out a cheap, effective, but silly-looking way to increase one of their stats.  Perhaps their memories from another world allow them to make themselves useful and appreciated, even if it's just that they know how to cook tasty soup or have sat through years of math classes and suddenly the ability to multiply and divide is rare.

Re: MC Development - What Path Do You Prefer?

#13
Personally, I don't have a personal preference. I feel that starting overpowered is a bit easier to screw up however since you have to get the reader invested in other ways aside from stakes. Granted, you can screw up the weak to strong method if you just introduce new powers out of nowhere every time. 

That being said, I do really like stories where someone is either weaker or at the same power level and has to use their own ingenuity to win. 

Re: MC Development - What Path Do You Prefer?

#15
I think any of the paths to power are cool if well-executed. As some people have said already, stagnation is an issue with MCs that are already super-powered from the get-go and all the challenges are not really challenges. I've let a few stories go when I realized that no matter what foe the MC comes up against, they win relatively easily - even against foes that are set up as extremely powerful in their own right. It became a bit cyclical and predictable over time.

I wonder if this has something to do with how writers sometimes don't want to run their characters through the mud, so to speak? Not wanting to 'kill your darlings' kind of thing? I noticed that in my own writing recently and rewrote a murder mystery with one of my favourite characters as the killer, and it worked out amazingly well. So being able to let your characters have their downfall and climb back up is a cool dynamic and lets the reader know that there are things at stake for this character, and they're not just going to smooth-sail their way to the top as the unparalleled powerhouse.

"Weak-to-strong" is a classic favourite, I think, because it gives the character a starting point that is more relatable, and the reader can connect with them right away. A bit harder to do with characters that are already strong or OP since from the get-go, they're a bit more removed from the average reader's experience. Also, I'm interested in a story where the MC gets to a certain level of power (or is already there), but is defeated (maybe even to the point where they can no longer use their hard-earned power) and has to rebuild.

I'm also a fan of MCs that try to make the right decision in their path to power, even when the right decision isn't always the easy one or the one that will benefit them the most. The responsibility of power is an interesting discussion there, too, and having the powerful MC being met with ethical/moral dilemmas (or just difficult decisions) creates a depth to both the character and can have resounding impact on the plot at large. I think it might even be helpful for stories that are particularly on the long side.

As I read through the other responses to this thread, I find myself nodding along with a lot of them as well.

Re: MC Development - What Path Do You Prefer?

#17

Wyatt_Wriots Wrote: I generally like when either a power has a kiss/curse relationship or if a power should be a curse, but the MC uses it in a clever way.

I have one book that I wrote where the power has a limiter built in and the book very earlier describes how to break the limiter and the consequences of doing so. The entire book is bad event after bad event that leads to the MC purposefully breaking that limit and accepting the consequences.
remind me an old LMS fan fiction here, that has the MC party get cursed by a mummy with a curse that drain thier xp, and making them go to level 1

this is a good thing, since the the MC party are all crzy power grinders, and it is much easier to grind stats by working out at lower character level

Re: MC Development - What Path Do You Prefer?

#18
I usually prefer for MC to become smarter, rather than constantly increasing their power levels. I usually view it as more satisfying to watch an MC go from struggling to fight a boss-type character. Then when the character develops and becomes wiser with his abilities, does a brilliant tactic that forces the boss on its last legs, and kills it. 

Some anime I watched like this was Code Geass or Realist Hero. The MCs in these shows don't really get stronger, just wiser as the shows continue. (Not sure with Realist Hero, only watched S1, but he did some wise plays.) In the case of Lelouch, he learnt new tactics and obtained experience with the Black Knights as he commanded them. His main ability doesn't get stronger or change, it's only his application of it that changes. 

In the case where the MC is a lowly guy at the start, I prefer a mix of the above. Such as Jujutsu Kaisan, Yuji trains and learns more about how to effectively apply his cursed energy, and in later fights also gains more experience in fighting. So, he would often do moves that only expert fighters could do. Although he was depicted as having very keen fighting senses. Another example would be Gon, his training and knowledge are always constantly increasing in the arcs he goes through.

Another case is if the MC is OP. Usually, it's hard to develop them with stuff like power. From what I can think of, you can only really develop these types of characters by slowly improving their personality or their intelligence. I don't really have a strong example, but an MC that is OP but with a personality that is trash could develop to be kinder or gentler as the story goes on. What I would do is strongly develop the supporting cast around the MC, and use them as ways to show the MC's development.

Re: MC Development - What Path Do You Prefer?

#19
My own preference for reading and writing involves a sort of platonic form of MC development. Let's make an example. If you've done Archery before, you'll have experience and knowledge in how to handle similar weapons, say, a rifle. The principles are about the same, shoot a target, but the distance and dangers are higher for one. Putting it into perspective here, you could have an MC who does exceedingly well in one field, yet needs to be tutored or mentored in others. That's how I like my kind of MCs.
Alternatively, I like characters who have an extremely good sense of their powers, yet end up being injured or other reasons and can't bring their full power out, at least, for some time.