The balance of power in heroes


For me, taking power away from someone is compelling. 

Oftentimes when I mention this, people around me talk about how they wish they could take power away from those abusing it. I hear a lot about stripping presidents of power, knocking the despised mighty off their pedestals and spitting in their faces. 

That’s not what I’m talking about. 

The desire remove Evil from power is an example of the human desire for JusticeI’m all for Justice. But when I say I find taking power from someone compelling, I’m not actually talking about Justice. 

I’m talking about Injustice. 

Injustice is compelling. In the opening of P+FD, Asuka is one of the most powerful shamans in the world. She can talk to gods and move oceans. She has an encyclopedic knowledge of two shamanistic cultures, Umiguni and the capital. But by the end of the first saga, she has lost all her powers. Asuka is forced to call on Chirikai to help her. During the journey, she is repeatedly threatened and taken prisoner. 

Injustice results in frustration in the character, and hopefully in the reader as well, which makes it more useful as a storytelling mode. Justice results in reader satisfaction. Injustice results in angry page-turning. 

Stripping a good character of their powers and forcing them to go on a quest is probably the second most popular way to do a ‘fighting’ character’s arc; let’s call this the Injustice Power Model. (Think Thor). The most popular is Zero to Hero Model, where a character is introduced to a world at the opening of the story and steadily grows in power to defeat the villain at the end. (Think Harry Potter). 

I made this thing. I'm making up all this stuff actually. 

I’m using the Injustice Power Model for P+FD because I find it the most compelling. It reminds me of injured athletes and dancers, something very real, and understandable. When I hear about someone training for something their entire life, then injured, and their dream ended in a freak accident... That upsets me even when I do not know the person. It could be a musician breaking their fingers or getting a punctured lung, a football player with injured legs... 

For me, the Injustice of Asuka is no different, even though she does not suffer from a physical injury at the end of the first saga. It sucks for her — and the reader — when everything goes horribly wrong after her father’s death.  

The Injustice Power Model also has the advantage of a dramatic turn early on. Just as the reader is beginning to enjoy the might of a character, the character’s power is snatched away and the terms of the story change. Usually the Zero to Hero Model involves growth with set-backs, but ultimately the character has to rise to defeat the villain. 

I’d also propose a third model, if you aren’t sick of this theorizing already. You encounter this model in older stories, epics. Let’s call it the Ultimate Hero Model. (Think Iliad).  In this model, a hero character’s power remains constant at a high level. The power level matches that of the villain, and it’s a coin toss. 

Chirikai actually fits the Ultimate Hero Model in that his strength remains constant throughout the book. He cannot defeat everyone they encounter, but he can handle most of them. 

One of the interesting things for me about Asuka’s journey is that she is forced to adapt and change. She will have to cooperate with Chirikai and look for new ways to gain the upper-hand with their enemies besides using her shamanistic powers. I believe that heroes can work in lots of different ways besides ‘punching demons in the face.’ I consider Belle from Beauty and the Beast to be a hero because she defeats Evil through intelligence and compassion. Ultimately a hero is a character that stands against Evil without succumbing to the level of the villain and becoming Evil themselves. 

This is all subject stuff. 

What models have you used? What do you like to read?