Your characters' limits are really important. Whether your character is Mr Ordinary or Ms Superhero, they need emotional and physical limits, otherwise where will the suspense come from?

Take your ordinary character. Let's say he's a businessman and one day, on his way to the office, he witnesses a terrible accident and five people die, one of whom is his oldest and dearest friend. Mr Ordinary deals with it and carries on, life unchanged. Then his wife tells him she's leaving him. He shrugs, tells her he's sorry and they separate happily. Next day, his car is stolen. He calmly deals with the insurance company and arrrrrrrrrrgh BORING! Where are Mr Ordinary's emotional limits? The first part of the story alone should cause a massive emotional impact, and when his wife leaves him, chances are he's going to have a breakdown.

In this case, by setting Mr Ordinary emotional limits far lower, you are not only creating a more realistic character, but also giving the story lots of emotional impact.

Now, Ms Superhero may be able to fly and take down her enemy with a single thought, but making her unstoppable makes her dull. Take Superman. If not for the green, red and other shades of kryptonite, he'd be a pretty boring character because he's powerful, a very nice man and no one could ever beat him. No story to tell there. In fact, I admire the writers of Superman because it's got to be a challenge to keep coming up with new ways to keep his story engaging.

...huh, even Superman has his moments.  (Source)

So, how you limit Ms Superhero is up to you, but she must have limits to her powers otherwise where can you create tension? Maybe using them a lot weakens her. Perhaps she can only use them during certain times of the year. What if she's only just discovered her abilities and can't control them? Make sure there are times when she faces real danger and the enemies have a good chance of beating her.

But remember, the limits can't be superficial. Mr Ordinary can't just have an allergy to cats. Ms Superhero can't possess the ultimate power and just be a tad clumsy. Limited characters and their reactions to situations make a story come to life and feel believable. We all have limits, and our characters need them too.

What sorts of limits do your characters have?


  1. Superman's an interesting example of character limits, because Kryptonite isn't his only weakness. There's also Lois Lane. He may be the most powerful person on the planet, but all the bad guy needs to do is threaten Lois, and he's suddenly vulnerable. That kind of emotional "weakness" (love is never truly a weakness) that can be exploited by an antagonist is another way to make characters more realistic and more interesting. What would your otherwise nicer-than-nice protagonist do to gain the affections of his love-interest? Or to save her life? Would he do something contrary to his moral code? Hmmm!

  2. Colin: Very good point! And Lois is pretty danger-prone!

  3. He actually has a weakness against Magic too. In the series Kingdom Come, Captain Marvel was able to kick Supes ass. He's also very proud. And lastly, his mind can be taken over, by the right person. Max Lord was able to control Supermans brain, leading him to kick Wonder Woman's ass, which lead to her snapping Max's neck. ^^ Sorry, semi geek.

    Now to why I really stopped over.

    YES!!! My friends and I were talking about this. That person that just... Doesn't react or just as bad, ooooover reacts. I had a character attacked by a guy she was dating and I'll admit, she sort of... Forced it out of her mind, but her first reaction was to take a scalding shower to get rid of his touch. When the same guy popped back up and attacked her again 2 months later, she finally started to deal with both attacks and had to fight through the feelings of being what he had thought she was. A year with her wonderful boy friend has helped, but there's still a part of her that thinks of that guy and his words of who he thought she was.

    I can't imagine NOT having reactions. Just, seems... NonHuman.

  4. KCarey: I bow to your knowledge! I was always more of a Nightwing fan anyway.

    Your character's reaction could be quite normal for someone with PTSD.

    Life without reactions would be terrible! Even Spock reacts from time to time ;)

  5. Great post! I think character limits come in all kinds of layers: emotional limits, friend limits, family limits, trust limits. It's fun to play around with them because that's where the tension comes from.

  6. Nicole: Precisely! And limits are a great way to get your reader emotionally involved. There's nothing better than wanting to yell at a character!

  7. I'm actually more of a Batman fan... Well, Robin in truth. I adooore Tim. I just happen to have read a few of these ones. Or... I guess if your doing comics in general... Fables. ^^

    ~nods~ Yeah, I've had a few characters that I've gone after and attacked... None react as if nothing happened. After both attached, my MC did the shower thing. With the second one, she had her BF there to hold her and let her cry and stuff...

    I know in another RP I had a guy who had managed to push quite a few things into the back of his mind and then once the right person came along... Then he slowly started to work backward through his issues, as if each one was a wall he had to work at tearing down.

  8. you're right about limits, so important to keep in mind, when creating characters.

  9. KCarey: Dick Grayson will always be my favourite Robin ;) And both your characters' scenarios sound full of potential for powerful stories.

    Aguilar Elliot: Nobody's interested in Mr Perfect after all :)


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