No matter what types of stories you write characters cannot have skills they didn’t have in the beginning. Such as, a FBI agent who suddenly realize she knows kung fu even though it was never mentioned in the book prior to them having to fight off an army of ninja’s and the agent has lost her gun.
This is especially true in speculative writing. The worlds of sci-fi and fantasy still need to have rules.
Stories need to have believability in the magic created for characters. Most of us don’t like books where characters suddenly realize she or he has a power, such as a character suddenly realizing she always had the power to turn her enemies into toads at the end of a book to solve the final conflict. The story is now unbelievable, like the author suddenly realized the character is in a situation that’s impossible to get out of without this new-found power. I find myself asking, “Where did that come from?” and scanning back in the book to find what I missed.
Trust me I know when you get to the last scene in a book and realize that your character has no way out. Honestly, that means you have written an ending worth reading, don’t ruin it with being unbelievable. You can always go back and edit in ways to make your character stronger.
This is surprisingly a very common mistake in writing and one of the easiest ones to fix. I know many of us writers love the idea of surprise but that doesn’t mean that we can’t be subtle in giving our characters skills.
Here is a list of ideas to help bring skills into your books without surprising your readers into the impossible.
- Mention throughout the book the skill that will save your character in the end. For example, let’s look at the FBI agent from earlier, if she needs to know kung fu to get out of the final conflict mention earlier that her father had taught her how to fight with her fists. Have another scene where she spars with another FBI agent or has to arrest someone using those same skills. This doesn’t kill the surprise, this makes the fight in the end more intense. The reader knows she has the skill but will it be enough to save her in the last fight? Especially if she is better with a gun.
- Characters can grow into their powers. If the magical hero starts with only being able to start a soft breeze and by the end of the book he can create a hurricane, that works too. Just as long as the readers get to see the character grow and change into his or her new-found abilities.
- Bring up past events in the character’s life that may help readers understand how the main character knows something. Let’s say the newest shipmate comes up with the idea to save the ship by baiting the bad guys. If the rookie has a criminal history and knows how the antagonist thinks this makes it believable that the newest shipmate could come up with the idea. Plus it now creates conflict with trust from the other shipmates.
Make rules for your world. Don’t break these rules.
A great way to create rules is the source for power and magic. The source needs to be believable such as a genie who can only grant three wishes or blood as the sacrifice for more power. With rules the characters have to think before he or she leaps. This gives romantic writers a way to spice up our stories too, what better way to say I love you then having the main character sacrifice everything for the love interest?
Also think about instruments needed for magic such as wands or ingredients like salt or herbs. If a mage needs to have a wand or a dove’s feather to do magic there is a limit to the power giving him or her a weakness and believability.
Don’t forget, especially in speculative fiction, that characters need limits. The heroines and heroes of my favorite stories have to have limits, if they don’t why is the antagonist even a threat? I have read a few stories where the heroes or heroines are near impossible to harm or even kill and I found myself wondering, “Why don’t they rule the world?” I mean obviously no one can even touch them.
As a reader I like limits, I can relate to characters with limits and people who have to make sacrifices for the things they want. This also creates conflict which is essential to any good story.
So create those rules, make your characters vulnerable, and keep writing!