Thursday, April 3, 2014

The Fuzzy Edges

A little while ago, a fan asked me what Luther Strode was actually capable of, which I answered.

Which lead to this:

Now, I'm glad that people are invested in the character, but it does make me aware that I should have given a caveat, one that is implicit to a writer but should probably be made explicit when you answer questions like that.

Which is this: Character abilities are fuzzy around the edges.

For instance, you know what, say, Jack Bauer, Rambo, and Jason Bourne all have in common?

They're superhuman.

No, they are. No one alive can do what they do the way that they do it.

But you probably don't think of them as superhuman. They're just....heroic. Action movie stuff. And if they started going beyond the fuzzy limits of that, it's going to seem wrong to you. You'd accept, probably, them getting shot in the shoulder and then heroically winning a fistfight against the bad guy. You would not accept them having a greande explode in their pants and then tear the bad guy's head off with their barehands.

Now, Luther is explicitly superhuman. So tearing a bad guy's head off is fair game. But you probably would look askance at him surviving the grenade thing.

When I answered those questions about Strode, the answers I gave are indeed the rules of thumb I use when I write the books. Luther is about twice as strong and twice as fast as the peak human ability*, his senses are about twice as sharp, and then there's the healing, the ability to see weak points, and the ability to read body language.

The key phrase you should be focusing on there is 'rule of thumb' because, as I said, these abilities are fuzzy. I have a sense of what is an action Luther is capable of  and what he isn't.  And the point of knowing those things is to tell a story with the kind of mood and world we want.

What I don't do is say, Marvel Handbook style, that Luther is capable of lifting x weight, and then calculate the physics involved. Getting back to my Jack Bauer et al thing, the writers there did the same thing - they have a set of things that those characters are capable of that feel right and real for the world that they exist in.

Which gives us limits that, hopefully, don't strain suspension of disbelief so far. But at the end of the day, that's there to service a story and not create a mathematically precise fight simulator. Sorry.

If you're wondering, Luther is not the strongest, fastest or quickest person in the Luther Strode world, but you're still not going to see people throwing cars at each other.

*Which, incidentally, is pretty fucking strong and pretty fucking fast - that's being able to run at 70 mph and lift a thousand plus pounds over his head or squat a ton is way more powerful than most people think it is. we just don't have a real context for how fast say Usain Bolt really is.