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This story includes a select group of individuals who contain superpowers and the main character is obviously one of those few. I don't want to throw it out there straight away and am trying to hint towards it throughout pages and paragraphs, but can't figure out when to finally say that they contained this hidden power all along?

Any opinions and suggestions are helpful!

  • All up to you. You can have a story where your character is flying wearing a cape in the opening scene, and a story when his superpowers awake only in the grand finale to save the day. – Alexander Jan 14 at 18:08
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You'll need to establish that superpowers are part of your world early on.

Whether it's magical realism, urban fantasy, or comic book standards, your novel needs to set the framework within the first few chapters.

If you're showing other superpowered folks up front and just not revealing that your MC has this in common with them, then you can take longer to reveal the truth.

If the existence of the other superpowers isn't part of the early story, then have your MC uncover the truth with the reader. Did s/he lift something exceptionally heavy, or not get a scratch after a fall from a bicycle. Or maybe s/he thinks she's going crazy hearing other people's thoughts. Something related to her/his eventual power.

When you reveal it depends a lot on your story and genre. If other superpowered people are active in the story, then it may seem odd to withhold your MC's powers. Or it could work, it just depends. If your story is more straight forward literature and the fantasy elements are there but subtle, then the revelation could come late in the story.

The standard method would be to have the MC suspect something is up and go looking for more information. Then the reader experiences the journey with her/him.

If you want to emphasize the journey, reveal everything late. If you want your MC spend time using powers, then reveal things fairly early. If you want a balance, place the reveal in the middle.

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    +1 beat me to it. I'd highlight what to do if superpowers are uncommon/unknown in this world. – NofP Jan 12 at 9:12
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You say your MC "obviously" has powers. Is this obvious because he/she is part of a superpowered team where everyone else has powers so the MC obviously does as well, or is it simply obvious because of course your main character is going to have superpowers to put him/her on par with others that do?

The more obvious it is to the reader that superpowers exist in your world and that your MC could conceivably have one, the longer you can have your MC go without revealing the MC's superpower or even that he/she has a superpower. Your readers will probably expect and certainly go along with the idea of you MC having a hidden power.

On the other hand, if in your world the only people with superpowers are green-skinned, four-armed aliens and your MC is not a green-skinned, four-armed alien, then you'd better make it clear early on that your MC has some secret powers up his sleeve. Otherwise the reveal that he does risks feeling like you're breaking your own rules.

You don't necessarily need to explain precisely what the power is until the proper moment, but you'd definitely better lay the groundwork for your character having a power, and hints at what sort of power it might conceivably be, especially if the powers risk conflicting with reader expectations.

Let's look at a couple examples. First, the X-men universe.

Superpowers are a clear part of the setting here. If you were telling an X-men story, you could conceivably go right up to the end of the book before having your MC suddenly discover a superpower and use it to save the day. You'd still most likely want to include foreshadowing and other clues that your MC isn't entirely normal, as well as hints at what his/her power might ultimately be, but your readers would accept this without blinking. There's no real limit on when you can reveal the existence of the power and no real limit on the type of power your MC can have, because in the X-men universe anyone can have basically any power whatsoever.

Finding an example where the MC goes a long way through without discovering his/her powers is rather more difficult (I suspect that most people who want to write books about superpowers want to actually showcase the superpowers early and often), so I'm going to use The Way of Kings by Brandon Sanderson, because the MC goes probably about three-quarters of the way through the book before discovering that he -- or anyone -- has magical superpowers.

The important thing in The Way of Kings, though, is that the readers are informed in the prologue that magic exists and how it works. So when the MC notices a few...odd things happening around him, it's very clear to the reader that the MC is unconsciously using magic. To the characters, it seems like just coincidence: the lethal arrows that just barely missed, the somewhat faster than expected recovery from injury. Nothing explicitly magical, but it works because the reader has seen how the magic can be used to make arrows miss or to recover from serious wounds.

The important thing, overall, is to not leave the reader without hints or expectations for too long, regardless of what you do to the MC or the other characters. In some settings (like the X-men), this requires no particular work on the author's part. If it's established that anyone can have superpowers, then your MC having some will be no big surprise even if the superpowers themselves are exceedingly rare. Readers expect main characters to be rare or unique.

If, on the other hand, having superpowers requires certain conditions to be met or superpowers only come in variety X, then you the author might have to do a bit more legwork if your MC doesn't clearly meet those conditions or if his powers are to be of type Y. Readers also expect authors to follow the rules they've established and not pull random abilities out of their hats at the last moment.

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