14 comments on “Writing: Hyperbolic Heroes, and Why I Hate Them

  1. See: Amuro Ray. And this is a pretty good explanation of why he drives me nuts. I want to write him out of Gundam, and I think it’d be a better story without him. *gets killed*
    This almost makes me feel bad for being such a Gohan fangirl, but I think this trope is kinda subverted with him. Being The Strongest Thing Ever was the worst thing that ever happened to him. And they do make a convincing argument that it’s not just whining. (Much more convincing than Bean, I think, and I still like Bean.) I tend to love Hyperbolest Hyperbole characters when it’s subverted and really hate them when it isn’t.
    I guess it’s a little … lazy, maybe? If your character is The Strongest Thing Ever, it’s obvious how they’re going to win. It’s a little more complicated when they aren’t. Which explains why it’s annoying but also why a lot of people tend to do it?

  2. Hehe I agree, personally I actually really enjoy broken characters. People who don’t have everything going for them, aren’t powerful and are dealing with a lot of crap.
    Although I do think that characters like the misunderstood All Powerful Teenage Magician have their place. They belong firmly in escapism… and the books need to be sure that’s where they are. I don’t like them in YA fiction because you’re right, they give kids the wrong idea.
    Brilliant post, as always <3

  3. I see only one error in your blog, Lora. I know you, and you are NOT mediocre. I also became concerned, after reading your take on things, that you might not be pleased to realize that my new grandson was named after Superman, the fastest and strongest of them all. But then I remembered that our little Clark was named for a character who was just a really, really nice guy. Aaannd…..back to your literary discussion…..

  4. Lol, imagine a book where the blurb does the opposite of that: “Could Prince Adonis Shardene, heir to the strongest kingdom in Kroth, be the most mediocre leader in its history?” I would buy the crap out of that book.

  5. Gohan I make an exception for just because it took him so darned long to get there, and he’s pretty much the only one whose “yeah being The Strongest Ever totally sucks” angst actually rings true for me. It’s not Harry’s “I FOUGHT VOLDEMORT AND NO ONE APPRECIATES MEEEEEEEE” nonsense. I dunno. I can’t put my finger on it, but I do think it’s a subversion.

  6. The misunderstood APTM is a good trope, and it does provide kids a place to vent their frustrations at knowing everything adults don’t (a time I remember well). But I think it shows weak character if they never get called on it — never get brought up short by something that shows them they aren’t actually omnipotent. It doesn’t have to be a huge, life-altering moment, and it definitely shouldn’t be a “the adults were right about everything!” moral, because that’s just as irritating. But if the character believes he’s misunderstood and all-powerful, and the only thing that changes by the end is that he’s now praised instead of misunderstood, then that feels like weak character for me.

  7. Maybe “mediocre” was a bad word — I didn’t mean that I have low self-esteem or anything. *grin* Just that, in an entirely impartial, standardized-test sort of way, I was always in the top third, but almost never actually on top. Not going to college at 11 and things like that. But thank you. :)
    And aww, I like Clark, though. He’s the reverse of Batman, where I like the Bat but dislike Bruce Wayne — Superman made me roll my eyes, but I liked Clark. He had enough genuine flaws that it didn’t matter.

  8. I confess to writing some incredibly powerful characters—never the Most Powerful Thing EVER—but I like twisting it by making it more a curse than a blessing.
    I have one character in particular who’s so powerful she would’ve killed herself with her magic on accident a long time ago if not for her friends scrambling to stop her. She spends a year trying to keep something from happening, then makes one little panicky mistake that causes her to fail utterly.
    Hey, having your über-powerful, über-smart characters be wrong is fun!

  9. P.S. Yes, my preference for writing powerful—but not that powerful—does mean that those THE! BEST! WARRIOR! EVER!
    —who can also reinvent the wheel and make all those scholars eat their decades (or centuries) of study after half a second of looking at the topic and make cheeses so delicious the ruler two realms over will give his youngest (and prettiest) child for them—
    books annoy me. I even have “normal” characters who actually influence events. *gasp*
    Have you read Tattoo by Jennifer Lynn Barnes? There’s a pretty powerful gal in there, but read it and see who saves the day. I dare you. :D

  10. It’s not a definite turn off for me, but it’s a slippery slope. Something like yours where the actual threat/downside to the power is serious, not just “oh ~woe, having all this responsibility is so ~hard” wangsting, is fine. Whereas Harry’s “I FOUGHT VOLDEMORT ALOOOOOOONE AND YOU DON’T GIVE ME ENOUGH CREEEEEDIT” made me want to punch him.
    The important thing is that those powerful characters need to be wrong occasionally, like you said. If not, then argh.

  11. Yes! That! Exactly.
    The newcomer who, despite not having trained their entire life, manages to outstrip everyone — including the rival who trains a bazillion hours a day yet never manages to win, ever — and defy all expectations and become THE! BEST! EVER! without actually working for it, just because they’re THE MOST POWERFUL. That is what I hate. Blehhhh.
    I wish it didn’t show up in YA. What is that teaching kids? If you’re not the hero, then don’t bother studying/practicing/whatever, because the hero will always beat you. And if you ARE the hero, you don’t need to work because just being the hero will do it. That may work for a few years, but it’ll catch up. :/
    And I haven’t read Tattoo, but I’m looking for an ebook right now. :) Thanks for the rec!

  12. Wow. I’m glad I’ve not read HP 7 now.
    I sometimes wonder what would happen if I walked into a room of authors who write those Mary Sue/Gary Stu characters and started wangsting. I could go for quite awhile about how overwhelming it is when all my (mother’s) friends and their siblings expect me to drop everything and somehow help them get their homework done in 20 minutes. All those überpowerful folks can whine about the responsibilities that come from their abilities, so why can’t I?
    There might be a satire in that.
    You can have all the natural talent in the world, but if you’re a quitter, you won’t get anywhere with it.
    Oh, I know! I know! Write a book where the person with all the innate talent is the one blown out of the water by the one who works and practices!

  13. Oh, I know! I know! Write a book where the person with all the innate talent is the one blown out of the water by the one who works and practices!
    That’s pretty much EXACTLY what I want to see. Because in real life, even those kids who slack and don’t have to practice/study/whatever because they’re naturally smart/talented/etc will have it catch up with them eventually. And if you teach kids that practice is a GOOD thing, not that it means you’re less talented than someone who “doesn’t have to”, then it won’t mean a meltdown when suddenly they hit university and they’re “not smart enough anymore”.

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