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Give a Man a Hammer (or Other Cool Ability): Fifty-Seven Ways it Can Be Used

Cheryl's Musings: Give a Man a Hammer (or Other Cool Ability): Fifty-Seven Ways it Can Be Used

Cheryl's Musings

How to Thrive on the Writer's Road


Give a Man a Hammer (or Other Cool Ability): Fifty-Seven Ways it Can Be Used

I wrote Tuesday about how to make magic, the supernatural, or paranormal abilities believable in your story. Well, I skipped one—because it doesn’t have to do with the magic system, per se, but with how your characters will respond to a world where magic—or their cool technology,  works.

You know that old saying, to a man with a hammer, everything looks like a nail? I’d argue that the same holds true for your characters. If they have a magical or paranormal ability, chances are that they will turn to it to solve a variety of nonmagical problems.


Take the following list of actions and ask yourself: how can my character accomplish these using his or her unique abilities?

  1. Play
  2. Show off
  3. Cheat
  4. Win
  5. Excel
  6. Screw up
  7. Hurt someone accidentally
  8. Hurt some intentionally
  9. Embarrass themselves
  10. Hide
  11. Run
  12. Solve a puzzle
  13. Create a puzzle
  14. Dominate
  15. Intimidate
  16. Trap someone
  17. Spy
  18. Eavesdrop
  19. Work
  20. Earn money
  21. Break into somewhere
  22. Break out of somewhere
  23. Mislead someone
  24. Catch someone
  25. Be overconfident
  26. Make a mistake
  27. Lose a contest
  28. Fight
  29. Control a situation
  30. Waste time
  31. Goof off
  32. Impress a girl/guy
  33. Protect something
  34. Keep a secret
  35. Travel
  36. Overcome a character flaw
  37. Heal someone
  38. Befriend an animal
  39. Accomplish basic household tasks
  40. Run for office
  41. Win popularity
  42. Fool someone
  43. Boast
  44. Cheer someone up
  45. Irritate someone
  46. Repair something broken
  47. Break something
  48. Sabotage something
  49. Indulge
  50. Entertain
  51. Fool someone
  52. Compensate for a handicap
  53. Find something
  54. Neglect to learn some basic skill
  55. Notice things that others do not
  56. Know things that others do not
  57. Survive

A caveat: no single story should include all of the above—the list is supposed to serve as a brainstorming aid. Really, what it does it help you to think of ways to make your story both unique and more true to itself.

Do you think your character’s unique skill or ability (magical or otherwise) changes some way in which he or she interacts with the world? How?

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At October 6, 2011 at 3:41 PM , Blogger A Beer for the Shower said...

This is a really great way to get in the mind of individual characters, and how they would use their "abilities" differently. Great idea, Cheryl. Thanks!


At October 6, 2011 at 4:27 PM , Blogger Martina Boone said...

Excellent post, Cheryl! Thank you so much for this one. It hits at just the right time for me, too.



At October 6, 2011 at 4:56 PM , Blogger Cheryl Reif said...

Hi Brandon, glad it's helpful. Now I wonder how these ideas would apply to zombines ?

H Martina! I'm so glad the post was timely. We must be thinking about the same sorts of story problems this week :)

At October 6, 2011 at 6:11 PM , Blogger Andrea Mack said...

Oh, this post got my brain working! Thanks, Cheryl!

At October 6, 2011 at 7:55 PM , Blogger Sarah Tokeley said...

I had to laugh at your caveat - that would be quite some story :-)

At October 7, 2011 at 12:37 PM , Blogger Taffy said...

Wow! That's a great list! Thanks for posting it. I need something fresh while I'm writing today.

At October 9, 2011 at 10:13 PM , Blogger Cheryl Reif said...

Hi Andrea and Sarah and Taffy--so nice of you all to stop by :) and I'm SO glad that this crazy list was helpful. Sarah, I think you should write that story incorporating everything on the list!

At October 10, 2011 at 8:48 AM , Blogger Kerri Cuev said...

What a fun list and it raises good questions. If a character in a book has a power, I'm reading it! Lol!


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