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I'm writing a science fantasy, and I'm afraid that the protagonist has too many superpowers.

Here's the concept: The protagonist is Berta Newton, an isekai counterpart of Issac Newton. She is the first angel to be born on the earth, and teaching Classical Mechanics to humans is her mission. She has a convenient way of teaching, namely some magics for demonstrating concepts of the branch of science.

The problem is, I've endowed her with too many magics. To list them:

  • Measuring physical quantities exactly (to demonstrate what physical quantities are)
  • Applying force on an object remotely (to demonstrate what force is)
  • Letting objects explode and to choose how far the debris will fly (to demonstrate the conservation of momentum)
  • Letting objects collide and stick together (to demonstrate inelastic collision)
  • Letting objects be slippery (to demonstrate friction-less situation)
  • Summoning a sword that can slice through everything
  • Letting her body to be amorphous (to demonstrate fluid mechanics)
  • And worst of all, her body is indestructible by blunt weapons/blades/bullets/whatever physical.

So basically, I built a Mary Sue character. Yet I cannot just "confiscate" her magics, because they are crucial to demonstrate physics. If she were to act as the hero, there would be no villain that could even scratch her. So how can I pose this character safely? Should I at least confiscate the last magic listed above?

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    Can you clarify what you mean by "how can I pose her"? What is "posing" in this context?
    – F1Krazy
    Sep 18 at 13:28
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    You say you cannot confiscate her powers because "they are crucial to demonstrate physics." Can you explain why she cannot simply use non-magical means, or existing materials that exhibit these properties, to demonstrate physics? I also don't understand why a magical sword or being indestructible are related to her ability to demonstrate physics.
    – Onyz
    Sep 18 at 16:50
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    Doesn't the presence of a magical creature like her invalidate most of classical mechanics anyway? Or well, physics as we know it, really. Also I'm not entirely sure how the sword and indestructibility are necessary to teach classical mechanics.
    – Mookuh
    Sep 20 at 4:56
  • Is this a book for kids? Or is it comedy? If neither of the two is true, what will make readers will find her mission compelling? Unless the goal of the book is to teach the reader, why is it so important that she teach people classical mechanics? I’m not trying to be rude and I assume you already have an answer, but if not this is an important question to answer if you want your story to be compelling.
    – bob
    Sep 20 at 14:12
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    Also it’s not clear to me why you need super powers to teach mechanics. People (teachers) do it all the time without them. So I think you need a compelling answer as to why her powers are critical for her to complete her mission for your story to work.
    – bob
    Sep 20 at 14:14

11 Answers 11

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Those powers sound more interesting than the mechanics she wants to teach

Your Mary Sue has all sorts of powers - but what about social skills? What about expectations she comes in with? What about valuing the lives of the people - to your average person they don't care about conservation of momentum any further than they've already observed.

Even if she gets to a university of some sort why would they trust her magics? They sound like parlour tricks and may even distract from what she is trying to teach. "Sure, sure, inelastic collision or whatever...but how did you do that? How do you make those objects stick together, what mechanism is going on there?" The curiosity is going to shift massively towards her, rather than the things she is actually trying to teach. Those powers could be huge! Would she teach someone that just to get them to move onto the mechanics she wants to teach? If so they could be equally dangerous, if not they might label her a charlatan and have her black listed from universities.

No one will go to battle with her, which is where those powers sound more useful, instead she'll find herself tied up in social nets, debates and moral quandaries.

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teaching Classical Mechanics to humans is her mission

If she were to act as the hero, there would be no villain that could even scratch her.

A villain does not need to physically scratch her to foil her mission, because you cannot teach people abstract concepts by beating someone in combat.

She's going to have to gain people's trust and respect for them to listen to her when she contradicts religious teachings and superstitions that everyone believes as obviously true. And superpowers will not really help her with that - quite the opposite: they will make people call her a witch or a demon.

Also, the people working against her won't all be frothing-at-the-mouth priests who can be satisfyingly confronted and shown to be wrong. People in the past weren't less intelligent than today, and while they may not have understood science, they did understand psychological manipulation and social dynamics.

Berta's most dangerous enemy will be someone who seems trustworthy and helpful. A seemingly great ally, who actually sees her either as a threat to his power or a tool to get more power - but who's smart about it and doesn't move against her openly. Instead, he would covertly sow distrust in her among the people, while getting her to depend on him for advice on how to deal with these maddeningly superstitious commoners and hostile other nobles, advice that somehow never seems to quite work out. Meanwhile, he can observe her closely and look for weaknesses...

Even Superman has Kryptonite, I'm sure you can come up with a dangerous gap in Berta's powers, if someone knows what exactly to do.

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Just give her one power, the power of illusion. Or alternatively, instant hypnosis.

All of those things you've got? She can create illusions that do the same thing.

And as magical illusions, they have as much detail as she likes.

If you choose the power of hypnosis, she can make somebody believe she has removed their weight, and they are floating. She can make them think she summoned a sword, and cut off their hand, and then healed it back up.

But this is just one magical power, and if you want to throw a twist in there, it is even plausible she meets some other human or celestial being that cannot be hypnotized, and isn't fooled.

Maybe that is a villain, or maybe a love interest, she falls in love with the person that cannot be hypnotized.

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    The power of illusion to show a particular example is the best answer. Creating a vision that demonstrates the specific example of the physics she is attempting to teach in that moment is much more useful and convenient than needing a suite of superpowers. For example, there are many Youtube (or other platforms) videos that excellently teach physics (and anything and everything else). Sep 20 at 16:46
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Actually her magic does not make her a Mary Sue. It might even hinder her in her mission:

Just imagine her telling someone: "Look, this stone over there does not move without any force being applied". Then she uses her magic and the stone just started to move: "See, it only starts to move now." However the listener did not really see or understand what her magic was doing. He just saw that something extremly strange did happen (a stone laying flat on the ground just started to slide on its own). It might be even worse if she removed the friction (makes a surface slippery) to demonstrate that the stone would not stop on its own. Because if another person tries to reproduce this effect it will fail even for the same stone.

Her magic might include something telling or showing what she is doing. But even then the people will still only learn that she can do really strange things, which are not normal. They might easily conclude that the things she claims might only hold for her special magic system and that the explaination is just a ruse.

Thus what she really needs to realize is that she needs to demonstrate the physic without using magic if she wants to convince anyone that it also applies to them. And this makes her magic actually a hinderance to her mission more than anything. People, who always use calculators for math, find it usually harder to calculate by head. Thus if she is used to demonstrate Newton physics by her magic and if she might even have learned only about it through the magic, than she will find it really hard to demonstrate it without it.

Additionally there might be some people who saw her perform her magic guided first attempt and who now either want to learn the special magic from her or try to prove that she is something like a witch. They can even cause more mayhem if they try to make her use magic, e.g. by bringing her in a situation where only magic can save her. Then she would always have to fight off using it as it might discredit her in the eyes of her new pupils.

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There are two primary solutions: make her weaker or make the villain stronger.

There are many methods of teaching. I'm unsure what precise setting she will be teaching in, but imagine: in a classroom environment, you can teach on a subject without a visual demonstration. Unless they are absolutely essential to the story in a way you haven't described, yet, I would remove most of her powers, leaving one or two primary ones.

If you don't want to do this, then you can always make a stronger villain. You said that her mission on earth was to teach Classical Mechanics. I'm not a scientist, but what if you made a villain whose mission on earth was to spread another branch of physics? What about quantum mechanics? You could set it up where this villain began undermining the credibility of classical mechanics with powerful displays of his powers. Or maybe the antagonist was once good and came to earth, similar to your protagonist, to spread the knowledge of science. Then for whatever reason he became corrupted and evil, using his magic to gain power and combat your hero.

The thing to remember when considering a powerful character is you can always make a stronger character. Of course, it becomes somewhat frivolous after a character exceeds a certain threshold of strength. So to conclude, my personal choice would be to give the villain powers that are somewhat similar to your protagonist, if not stronger (perhaps magic that flows through a different vein of physics). If not, I'd lessen your hero's powers.

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The problem is, I've endowed her with too many magics.

I don't think this is necessarily a problem. There are several stories with effectively-omnipotent main characters, and they work. However, if you do want to confiscate some of your protagonist's magic, you could have her do things the same way as the rest of us: using tools.

  • Letting objects collide and stick together (to demonstrate inelastic collision)
  • Letting objects be slippery (to demonstrate friction-less situation)

Clean ice is a very slippery surface. In warmer weather, polished or lubricated wood is a reasonable alternative. Two objects will stick upon collision if they are clothed in woollen fabric and joined by stickyweed or burrs, provided that there's not too much kinetic energy to dissipate.

  • Letting objects explode and to choose how far the debris will fly (to demonstrate the conservation of momentum)

Construct an object of two parts, separated by a compressed spring, held together by a latch. A moderately-weak telekinesis (or a tugged thread, or a timed explosive charge) can disengage the latch, allowing the objects to fly apart.

  • Measuring physical quantities exactly (to demonstrate what physical quantities are)

You can construct a newton meter out of basically anything. You can construct a clock using any periodic process, and even from non-periodic processes if they're repeatable. Persistence, and a steady hand, let you construct respectable-tolerance measuring equipment. One only needs accurate relative measurements to teach classical mechanics.

  • And worst of all, her body is indestructible by blunt weapons/blades/bullets/whatever physical.

If she can make her body behave like a fluid at will, and reform it afterwards, then she can survive most things; however, this wouldn't necessarily let her tank blows in the middle of a fight.

By paring her magical abilities down to the bare minimum, and letting her use clever tricks to work around the limitations of her powers, she's only as strong as her preparation. This would work for some stories, but not others: whether you can do this depends on what story you're trying to tell.

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The right thing to do is probably to go with Faith, Authority, and Stupidity as the main antagonists, since they will work quite well.

Alternatively, why not relativistic physics? Your main character obviously can do nothing about those, so a supervillain that controls time and space via gravity manipulation sounds like someone worth fighting.

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Maybe your hero can only use a limited amount of magic because it is tiring.

Analogy: Give me a 1 kilogram stone in a backpack, and I can carry it around all day with little trouble. Give me a 10 kilogram stone in a backpack, and I will be tired by the end of the day. Give me a 100 kilogram stone, and I'm probably not going far at all before I collapse.

So maybe the more magical the action, the more energy (mental/physical/...) it takes from your hero. A demonstration would use small objects and not be very tiring, but using magic against human-sized creatures would require enough energy that she can't keep it up long before she is exhausted and has to stop or limit magic use so she can rest.

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  • Yes, magic has a cost. It doesn't even have to be energy. OP could play with the types of magic used, e.g. Use too much of the magic that makes things slippery and later you'll find yourself getting stuck to things. Sep 21 at 4:57
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Place a restriction upon her powers. She cannot hurt or help any people directly with her powers, only teach. The prohibition could be absolute, in which case she has to have a poker face that makes people think she can intervene. Or the prohibition could be statutory, and she keeps getting in trouble with the angelic establishment (which we have seen plenty of in fiction and movies lately).

Or you could apply Murphy's law. Every time she manipulates matter nearby, somewhere else the equal and opposite reaction occurs (how Newtonian!). So she makes something cold here and it boils the wine in the visiting (and belligerent) King's wine goblet. She makes something slippery here and now the increased friction on the cart wheel of a carriage carrying a princess makes the wheel seize up and the cart lurches, throwing her into a ditch. The opportunities for comedy are endless. So every time she does her magic she is trying to solve coupled differential equations to decide if anyone will get hurt. All the maths distract her when she is in battle, evening the score.

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Once upon a time, I stumbled upon a character named Broadway.

Broadway was a super hero. She could summon anything she could imagine into being, control gravity, make herself giant... you name it. She was an absolute beast, with every power she could even conceive under her control...

...as long as the show was going on, at least.

See, as her name implies, Broadway was all about the show. When the problem arose, she would start to tap her feet, dance and sing - and her reality manipulation powers would gradually kick in. As the people around her paid attention, her powers would grow - slowly allowing her to amp it up and do more and more impressive things, until everyone around her was caught into a reality-bending musical in which she was Queen.

Once the show was over, everything would go back to normal - except the things she selectively chose to stay altered. The large cruise ship she dropped on top of the bad guy would vanish, but he would still be a splatter on the ground, pretty much completely dead... or not. He could be back into one piece if she wished so, with no real damage besides the shock of having a cruise ship dropped on your head.

Broadway was a Tier-S hero... as long as she had an audience to captivate. When she was alone, with no-one around to impress, she was pretty much powerless. Just another woman in the crowd.

But if there was someone listening to her feet taping the ground, or paying attention to her quite cheesy but captivating lyrics, she could move mountains.

She was powered by imagination, yes - but not her own. Instead, her power came from the awe that she inspired in everyone around her. The more bombastic, impressive, and captivating the performance, the stronger her powers would became.

That was Broadway, and she was quite something.

Your teacher could be limited by a similar mechanic, too - her powers could be awesome and do almost anything she needs them to do... as long as she had students paying attention to her class. Once their interest waned, so would her powers, turning her into a regular person once more.

I call this sort of character a Mary Poppins.

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Considering her mandate and the magical abilities she has to carry that out I do think the last magical power seems a bit of an oddity. Also it removes a LOT of reasons to even use her other magical powers (outside the classroom that is). Why turn amorphous to avoid harm if she is impervious to it in the first place?

As already mentioned there are other ways to foil the hero, but if you were planning on an action type story and not a political intrigue/back stabbing saga that last power is going to make things difficult.

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