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How do you write an extremely powerful main character? I have this character who's a literal God, and none of his enemies are as nearly as powerful as him. It's like in the anime Overlord, and I was wondering how you would have to write that character, because the issue is that his personality doesn't change and doesn't have to change, because he can easily achieve everything he set out to do.

How do you develop his character without changing his power level?

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  • Maybe you can take an example from Superman, or other examples of characters with a flat character arc.
    – user54131
    Aug 13, 2022 at 18:09
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    @towr Superman actually is a very interesting character in the hands of the right writer. There are some tricks to make him compelling, but you have to understand him as Clark Kent, not Superman... most writers don't.
    – hszmv
    Aug 15, 2022 at 13:06

3 Answers 3

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Being incredibly overpowered can come with its own consequences.

Are there any downsides to this power? That could make for a compelling story.

Perhaps the character has God-like abilities but can only use them under a specific set of circumstances. For instance, they only get access to it on a certain day. Or if they have certain ingredients. Or the blessing of an even more powerful God-like entity. Perhaps your hero is an angel or a demigod. They have God-like powers but must convince their higher-ups it is a life-or-death scenario.

In order for there to be conflict, there needs to be a tradeoff. Infinite power lets the MC stomp any enemies into the ground instantly, so there needs to be something stopping them from doing that.

They could be strong compared to humans but still weak compared to other beings in this universe. Sure, this guy can bend reality, time, and space, but everyone in the Divine Realm can do that. They could even be the weakest of their society, and thus constantly under threat.

Or the powers could be an equivalent exchange. (Personally, I think an amazing power should come with an equally horrible tradeoff.) For example, you get incredible strength but at the price of feeling unrelenting pain. The pain never stops and gets worse and worse until you stop using your strength. You can bend reality but if you mess up it sends evil space parasites that could kill you in one gulp. Or your weakness is incredibly mundane. Like how vampires don't like garlic. Your MC can survive bullets, tanks, and nuclear bombs, but fruit punch kills them. Instantly.

Any of these ideas can create conflict.

But keep in mind you don't even need to add a weakness.

Power itself can be a problem if you either can't control it or don't use it responsibly.

One Punch Man is a great example. This guy is a hero who can beat anyone with a single punch. World-ending threats are nothing to him.

And that's the problem. One punch and he could kill someone. So he's bored. He wants a good fight, but even the toughest heroes and villains in the world couldn't hold a candle to him if he honestly tried.

Your character has incredible power, but what are they supposed to do with it? Does it solve all their problems or does it only make issues for them?

Can they read minds? Great, they know secrets about their friends and family they wish they could scrub from their brains now.

Could they topple a building with one flick of the wrist? Congratulations, they hit a baseball too hard and leveled a city. Now they're hated by the whole world.

Could they rewrite time and space? Cool, they accidentally ended the world and had to set it back to normal and now they're suffering an existential crisis because they know they could kill everything they love in the blink of an eye.

Or they're fully omnipotent and quickly getting tired of it. How are they supposed to enjoy life when they know everything there is to know, and can see everything there is to see?

Would they spiral into insanity as they realize the whole universe and everybody in it are nothing more than their puppets?

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There are many different types of power.

For example I have ideas for a character who has no special powers except for their intelligence. They are sent to various places and times and various situations, and use their intelligence and whatever tools, weapeons, etc. they have on their person to affect the course of events. And whenever they are killed, they are given new body.

So suppose that their enemies defeat and kill them. Sooner or later they will return to that place in another body. If they appear there later in history they can study the history of their defeat, and also learn about the ancestors of their enemies. And if they later (int their timelien) appear in that world or place at a time earlier than they defeat, they can take steps to prevent it in as many alternate universes as possible, possibly by killing an ancestor of their enemy, and thus making that enemy never born.

Thus they are certain to win in the end, but how much they enjoy or suffer getting to that end can be highly variable. And when they find themselves in the same situation over and over again, their goal is to improve their technique each time to do as much good and as little harm with as little effort as possible.

So in one sense they have omnipotent, since they are certain to win in the end, but while they are actually in a conflict they are in real danger of a temporary defeat and suffering.

So it is possible to design a character with the attributes needed to always prevail in the end, but who have the potential to suffer and be defeated on the road to ultimate victory, if they don't think of and use the correct strategy right away.

And think about an omnnipotent character like Superman or an omnipotent god.

The thought has occurred to me that all such hyperpowered characters may be sissies.

"What, sissies!" you say. "They calmly let atomic bombs they ae sitting on explode, they calmly walk through dragon fire, they never show fear. They are the bravest of the brave."

Bravery is facing your fears. Fears of danger. If nothing is dangerous to someone, they have no reason to fear anything. If nothing they choose to do can be dangerous for them, they cannont choose to face a danger they are afraid of.

So an invincible and invulnerable character can't be brave.

And whether they are a sissy is a little bit harder to discover, since there isn't anything for them to display fear of and so show that they are a sissy. But certainly if someone was always invincible and invulnerable they never had any fears to face, and so never practiced facing their fears and being brave. And I suppose that even the sissiset sissies sometimes practices facing (some of) their (presumably lesser) fears, so someone could claim that omnipotent, invincible, invulnerable people must be more sissies than even he sissiest ordinary person could ever be.

So a superperson could be embarassed by being called a superhero, since they don't have any reason to believe they are being brave when they face things which would be dangerous to mere mortals.

So one aspects of really powerful, invincible, and invulnerable characters who have been that way all their life instead of gaining their powers years after birth, is that neither the writer, the reader, or the characters themselves can know whether they would be superbrave or super cowardly without their powers, and it might not make the slightest difference to the plot.

But if the super characters are actually sissies, it can be a part of the plot. Maybe they would not only be afraid of their version of kryptonite if they discover they have one, but maybe they find it really hard to face any violence, even if it happens to other people. That would go a long way toward keeping a superhero from turning into a supervillain. But it might make them hesitate to stop a crime in process.

And maybe they can't stand to hurt anyone, and so they constantly try new methods to defeat criminals and supervillains without hurting them. Maybe they can't stand it when other people are in pain or are scared, and so find it hard to rescue accident or crime victims. Berhaps their heroism lies in forcing themselves into situations they find highly disturbing in order to save people from trouble.

Maybe they constantly desire to retire from being a superhero and are constantly afraid they will stop being a superhero and let innocent people die.

Or maybe a supervillian stops his career of crime after making themself rich or powerful enough to satisfy even him, and tries to enjoy life without all the stress of being a supervillain. But they find their retirement troubled by fears of being punished by superheroes and keep creating super defenses against such a possibiity and still constantly worry.

And maybe a powerful god will get bored with everyhing going so easy for them, and think about putting themselves into situations where they can't use most of their powers, situations which would be dangerous and exciting and would end their boredom, but they are too much of a sissy to do anything that dangerous. And so they have a constant mental conflict.

in the Star trek: The Original Series epsiode "The Changeling" there is the following dialog about Lt. Uhura:

NOMAD: That unit is defective. Its thinking is chaotic. Absorbing it unsettled me.

SPOCK: That unit is a woman.

NOMAD: A mass of conflicting impulses.

That dialog is often considered sexist against human wome, but it can also be considered to be speciesist against all humans of any gender. Or it can be considered to be quite accurate about all humans.

Unless your superheroes, supervillains, demi gods, demons, gods, or other superpowerful beings are also super consistent and well organized mentallly and emotionally, they are as likely to be "a mass of conflicting impulses" as any humans.

Which means that there would always be the possibility of dramatic conflict between them an other characters which they wouldn't have the power or will to resolve using their superpowers. If you really love someone, will you use mind control on them to make them think and act the way you want them to? And always the possibility of dramatic conflict within them, as they struggle to decide what to do with thier lives and their powers.

I think it has been about sixty years or more since Marvel Comics first had superheroes with super inner conflicts, so that is not exactly a new idea.

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It sounds like you have the question of, "How can I have conflict in my story when my hero's problems and struggles are not physical?".

Anything can drive a character development so long as it pushes them outside of their comfort zone (or in other words makes them go from the known to the unknown). These don't have to be big things that drive it. As others have mentioned One Punch Man is a very famous example of this. What makes OPM interesting isn't the fact that he can one-shot everything. What makes him interesting is how he deals with his fame (or rather lack thereof) and that he cares more about the mundane problems like paying his bills more than the world ending threats he deals with on a daily basis.

Many of the most well regarded Superman stories and moments deal not with him resisting kryptonite or fighting space monsters. They delve into his morals and why he cares about the world he's saving. Here's an excerpt from Superman Grounded:

Woman asks why Superman didn't save her husband Superman flies off in shame

There's a lot of overpowered characters. However, there's a lot of ways to have conflict.

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