Back in my younger days of role playing, I was both probably guilty of, and also the receiver of many people who liked to use OP (over powered) characters. Now, there’s something to be said about having an OP character vs god-moding (or even what I like to call deus ex machina-ing). You can have an OP character and do god-moding, of course, and sometimes that just makes sense, but no one likes role playing with a god-moder. And no one likes reading stories, or watching shows, with characters who are essentially also god-moding.
I’m not going to be talking about how you shouldn’t be writing OP characters at all, because that wouldn’t be fair. I write plenty of OP characters myself, even now, but I’ve figured out ways to make them good and relatable without them feeling like they are unstoppable and what’s even the point. I’d like to share those tips today, because I see many writers – and especially young writers who have such influences as anime, comic books, and video games – wanting to write OP characters, but not doing so hot at it. So my hope is that this could help people who are wanting to make such characters.
The reason I cited comic books, anime, and video games as huge influences for people who in particular want to write OP characters is because those mediums seem to be the most notorious for having such characters. Video games sort of make sense because most games like that you’re doing a lot of fighting, and it can be argued that character doesn’t mean so much in video games (depending on the type of game it is). Comic books are filled with super heroes and villains and all sorts of crazy things and pretty much everyone and everything is as OP as you can get. Anime is pretty much the same.
Real quick before I get into my list of ways to write characters like this well, I want to make an example from one of my favorite anime series of all time, Hellsing. Now, there are two versions of Hellsing. There’s the original 13-episode anime, and then there’s a 10 episode OVA series called Hellsing Ultimate that more closely follows the original manga. Now, I recently rewatched the original series after not liking it a whole lot, but I came out absolutely adoring it and even liking it better than the OVA which most people like to say is the superior version. There are many reasons I like the original better, but I’m just going to go over one here, so this doesn’t turn into a post all about Hellsing.
The main reason I like the anime better than the OVA is this: Alucard, the main character, while he is an OP character in both versions, he doesn’t feel as blatantly OP in the anime. In the OVA, however, you know for a freaking fact that he is OP and literally nothing can stop him except for contrived, poorly written endings. You see how powerful he is, and it’s absolutely ridiculous. In the original anime, though? Oh, sure, he’s still extremely powerful, but we see him getting hurt actually quite a bit. We see he does have weaknesses, meaning there is a chance that he could be defeated. And that’s what sets these two versions apart, and why I like the original better.
So, how do you write an OP character and do it well? I have a checklist of things to go through that can help. Please note that these are guidelines and not a list of rules that must be followed, because those do not exist in art.
- Personality and character outside of how powerful they are
- Character flaws that weaken them in some way
- Weaknesses in their power
- Rules and/or restrictions to their power that they have to follow
- Reasons for why they are so powerful to begin with
So, the first one is pretty obvious. Give them character development and a solid personality before you make them OP. I mean, yes, if you have amazing power it is going to make significant changes to your character, but try to think of what they would be like as a normal person without these powers, and then once you can get them like that, then add on the powers and see how that changes them. That’s just normal character development. If you have a developed character, it makes it more compelling, it makes us more likely to like them and root for them, and not just sigh at the fact that we’re getting another OP character who is either emotionless or a total edge-lord.
Character flaws would be something like a strange personality quirk, or some secret fear they have, or something like that. A good example is Death the Kid from the anime/manga Soul Eater. His quirk is that he’s obsessed with symmetry, so much so that he left his partners to go back home to check if his paintings were perfectly aligned, and another time he refused to fight an enemy who was perfectly symmetrical and he almost died. Now, that’s being on the extreme side, but that’s the kind of thing I mean. While they have the power to do whatever they want essentially, there might be something in their character that is stopping them or keeping them from doing what they need to do.
Weaknesses is a pretty easy one to figure out. Ever seen big bad bosses in video games that look like a totally hopeless case when it comes to fighting them, but there’s that one flashing red spot you have to hit to take them down? Yeah, it’s pretty much that. This can work in tandem with the character flaw, as well as the power restriction thing which I’ll get to in a second. The point in this is that you shouldn’t make them be god-moding. Give them some sort of weakness. Maybe it’s a weakness that would be difficult to figure out, or hard to come by (like werewolves being weak to silver, where do you get silver?) The point is they need a weakness, regardless of how powerful they are.
Rules/restrictions to their powers. This means they can’t just go around and do literally whatever they want because they basically have the power of a god (some exceptions apply but shut up I’m trying to make a point). Going back to the Hellsing example, Alucard can’t just do whatever he wants whenever he wants. He has power restrictions put on him, and they can only be unlocked by the word of the one he serves. This is to keep his power in check and make sure he doesn’t make a total mess of everything. For just a simple job, why do you need all of the powers of darkness on your side? Too much, bro. Similarly, your character should go by rules and restrictions. Figure out exactly what their powers are, what the extent of their power is, and where that would cut off.
Reasons and origins of their powers. This might sound like you need to come up with some grandiose backstory, but it doesn’t have to be over-complicated. Simple reasons are sometimes all you need. Why is Alucard so powerful? Because he’s Dracula, that’s why. What about this guy who is seemingly one of the most powerful beings there are, what’s his deal? He’s the Prince of Nightmares, that’s why. You don’t need complicated reasons all the time, but at least have some reason. In other cases, if they started out as a normal human being or whatever, then you should give deeper reasons for why they’re so powerful now.
Another thing I want to touch on is that it would be good for OP characters to have rivals of some sort. A threat to them and their power. The number one thing about OP characters that drives me, and most people, crazy is that they never feel threatened. Everything they face seems trivial compared to them, so why should we even care? But if there’s someone equally or even more powerful than they are, then we’re going to care. This can actually be a really helpful tool, because if we know this person is OP and suddenly there’s someone else who is an actual threat to them, we should be worried.
I’ve talked about this with the idea that your OP character is going to be your protagonist, despite the fact that most of the time it’s usually the antagonist who is the OP one. The reason for this is that, yes, people do write OP protagonists, and also it usually seems like they do a worse job at making them OP as opposed to their villains. We kind of assume that villains are going to be OP to begin with, so it’s easier to accept, but when it’s the protagonist, it makes things harder. Especially when your OP protagonist is extremely arrogant. That for me is a personal pet peeve of what I hate about OP characters. Their arrogance.
There are two types of arrogance I want to talk about here. Blunt arrogance and what I’m going to call “humble arrogance”. That sounds like a contradictory term right there, but hear me out with this. If your character is OP, they probably have a good reason to be arrogant. A little bit of earned arrogance is fine, but when you’re rubbing it in everyone’s face about how great and awesome you are and literally no one cares, that’s what I would call blunt arrogance. “Humble arrogance” is what I would call it when someone earns the right to be arrogant, but they don’t flaunt it around in everyone’s face. They only state facts like “well yeah, I’m super powerful and you can’t really hurt me so whatever”. That I am perfectly fine with and I think it’s deserved. The blunt arrogance I absolutely cannot stand, especially coming from a protagonist. So please, don’t do it unless there’s a reason for it and they are going to be called out for it eventually.
The main point I want to leave this on is this: make your character a character, and not just powerful. It can be fun to build your character around the idea of being super powerful, but if that’s all they are, what’s the point? Make them a person first.