Monday, April 25, 2011

U is for Upper Hand

Who, in the story, has the upper hand most of the time?

 It isn't often the hero, though they aren't at a great disadvantage either (well not all of the time). If the protagonist has the upper hand for most of the story then there is less tension because truth is, people like to vote for the underdog. Readers like to know that there is a challenge. The upper hand isn't always apparent either.

On the other hand, if anyone has too much of an upper hand then it becomes almost unbelievable. It is kind of like the hero or villain, protagonist or antagonist, when they have so much power and abilities then they have too much of an upper hand. It can make for cool scenes in movies with all the tech stuff that is available these days but it also makes the story a little less interesting in the book.

I have this problem with RP online. A friend had me join one of his favorite sites because he does RP all the time on there and in that world, the more powers and strengths, the better. His most used character had a gazillion abilities and could do almost anything, and to me that made him (the vampire) boring.

Another analogy is the convenient item the character happens to have on them and it's the exact item that saves them. It's often referred to as "Batman's belt" or something like that. If it seems too convenient then maybe there is another way to achieve the same goal without the item/action/etc feeling too easy. Some people in fantasy follow the rule that the item used at the end has to be mentioned at least 3 times in the story in different types of scenes. (Course, I'm trying to remember the rule so don't quote me on that for sure.) But the basics are simple. Surprise things at the end that save the day can feel too easy to the reader.

I try to make things difficult for everyone without being too difficult. Sure, Noah in the adult mutant series is one of the strongest ones in the world, but he's against using his powers. He also is emotional and while the villain is intimidated by his abilities, he knows how to use his emotions against him. I hope that I never give anyone too much of an upper hand in my novels.

Who has the upper hand in your story?
How do you make things challenging for the character?


Angeline said...

I believe strongly in giving a flaw to every ability a character has. For example, in one of my WIPs a character is a fantastic mechanic, but she's really poor and can't afford the bits she needs so she has to improvise a lot.
I've read a lot of books that have that convenient item pop up at the end; mentioning it at least 3 times before is a good rule to go by. Great post.

salarsenッ said...

There has to be a balance within the story, giving protag and antag both playing time. For me, the story (even if it's paranormal/fantasy, etc...) has to have those human elements of failure and flaws, and an underlining drive of growth.

Dawn Embers said...

Angeline - Being able to improvise can come in handy. It is good for characters to have some conflicts and "weaknesses" in a story. They don't all have to be a fatal flaw, like in tragedy ones, but having something makes for a better story often times.

salarsen - True, balance is important on so many levels in story writing. To not always succeed is also important.

S. F. Roney said...

You're completely correct about the upper hand. There's such a thing as winning too much, and it just dilutes the story. Another angle is in romance--where a bad boy can offer adventure and thrills, but too many to be safe, yet they still win in a love triangle over the kind, heartfelt and less dangerous foe.

Dawn Embers said...

S.F. Roney - OMG. That is the love triangle I've seen in paranormal/fantasy YA that really annoys me. The whole "he might be a killer" and in the next chapter after she says she loves the nice boy she sleeps with the dangerous one. Like really? Why is the bad boy winning so often in love triangles against the nice boy who risks his life for the girl? I just don't get how he has such an upper hand by things like fate and pasts that the reader doesn't get to know about until almost the end.