Part of the fun of writing SFF is creating characters that have abilities beyond the norm. In TOPAZ, my heroine has wings and my hero can create wormholes from the shadows. In SENTINEL, my heroine is a powerful sorceress in charge of protecting her city and my hero is the knight who has to protect her. Each one of my characters has some kind of extraordinary power. It's fun, it creates new storylines, and provides different opportunities for solutions to problems.

And it can also cause much hair-pulling.

If you're not careful, you can make your characters TOO powerful. That doesn't sound like such a bad thing, does it? Except where's the conflict if your hero or heroine has gotten so supremely omnipresent that all they need to do to get out of a jam is to snap their fingers?

There have been plenty of examples of over-powered heroes. Some include:

  • Willow in Buffy the Vampire Slayer. Buffy's best friend and witch extraordinaire became so powerful by season 6, bringing Buffy back from the dead, that an obstacle was written in to prevent her from using her magic: an addiction to magic that increased its hold on her with every spell. Personally, I thought this was the easy way out for the writers. Instead of Willow battling a drug-like addiction, I would have liked to see her dealing with an absolute power corrupts absolutely–type situation. It certainly would have foreshadowed the final few episodes of that season, making it a little more believable.
  • Peter in Heroes. Peter started out in Season 1 with the ability to absorb any Hero's power, just by being in the same general area. How cool is that? After a lame attempt at limiting his abilities that season (he ends up in a coma because his body can't handle the stress of all the abilities), it was like the writers said "screw it" and let him absorb powers left, right, and centre. But…when you can fly and turn invisible and have super strength and can shoot lightning and, and, and…you're pretty much invincible. So in season 3 they took away his abilities for most of the season, and when he got them back, he could only absorb one power at a time. Which sucks! Sigh. Funny how they haven't limited Sylar, though…
  • Dr. Manhattan in Watchmen. Dr. Manhattan is the ultimate over-powered hero. One line near the end of the movie pretty much sums up his god-like abilities: This world's smartest man means no more to me than does its smartest termite. His powers are limitless. He's an eerie, odd character and not terribly likeable because he is so detached from humanity. Rather than limit his abilities in the graphic novel/movie, he leaves Earth…which, I suppose, has the same effect.
In both TOPAZ and SENTINEL, part of my world-building was determining limits for my characters' abilities. For example, Faith can fly, but she needs a running start to get lift. Jason can create wormholes, but only to places he knows and not if he's injured. Every time Callie, in SENTINEL, uses magic, it breaks down her mental shields and she has to rebuild them…which gets harder as time passes. Derrick, her Knight, can only access his abilities if he's bound to a sorceress.

Limits are essential to creating a believable world. You have to have rules, and you have to stick with them, even if it would be easier to solve a problem if your heroine could just…summon a storm. Or extinguish all the lights in the city. Or something else equally as impressive. But if she's powerful enough to do that, then what's to prevent her from easily defeating the bad guy? If there's no challenge, there's no conflict, and if there's no conflict, there's no story.

Happy writing!