I know I’ve said in my article about common writing pitfalls that one big mistake is obsessing over your worldbuilding and neglecting your plot as a result. And it’s true! But that doesn’t mean “do less worldbuilding.” Rather, it means “incorporate your worldbuilding into your plot as a way to enhance or further your plot.” And who says small moments of showing off what your magic/superpowered characters are capable of can’t count as an enhancement of the plot? Sometimes those small moments of powers being used in mundane ways can boost the immersion and make this world you’ve concocted seem even just a little more relatable. Enter mundane utility.
Mundane utility is exactly what it sounds like: mundane uses for extraordinary abilities. When we think of superpowers or magic, we tend to think of how they can be used in combat, or in pivotal moments in the character’s journey. But if your character has amazing powers, there is doubtless plenty of ways they can use their powers in less…dramatic circumstances.
The most classic example that I’m sure most spec fic appreciators are familiar with is the “person with the power to control fire casually lights a cigarette with their finger.” Or maybe “person with frost powers freezes a drink.” These tend to be super small moments or played for laughs, a way to organically introduce the world and your characters’ powers to the reader/viewer and demonstrating how natural these abilities come to them in a lighthearted way.
I. Flippin’. Love this. Magic or superpowers being used for the most mundane reasons imaginable is one of my favorite tropes of all time. But other than the TV Tropes mundane utility page, I feel like I don’t see it written about very often. So I thought I’d include some superpowers/magical abilities and some fun ways you might have a “mundane utility” moment in your own story if these powers are featured. This will be a series, so if you don’t see a power that you use in your own writing, fear not! More powers will be covered soon (and suggestions are always welcome!).
Note: a special thanks to M.C. Burnell, who provided the idea of including “mundane inconveniences” in addition to utilities. She’s written for The Angry Noodle before, in defense of the overpowered protagonist, and you can find some fantastic writing and worldbuilding tips over on her website!
If you’ve seen Deadpool 2, then you know how cool a power this is. Imagine that literally everything you do or plan always goes exactly as intended because reality naturally bends to your whims and tips the scales in your favor. I mean, how do you beat fate itself?
This is a crazy powerful ability, especially if it’s a power that never turns off. However, just because it’s powerful doesn’t mean it doesn’t also have some really mundane, silly uses that your quirky characters might take advantage of every now and then.
There’s no way someone with the power of good fortune all the time wouldn’t use it for some absolutely silly shenanigans like doing trick shots to impress a girl or making ridiculous bets just for the hell of it. If you’re looking to have a “mundane utility” moment that might let us get to know your very fortunate character, consider the petty things you could do if you know every coin flip, every dice roll, every draw of a card will go exactly how you want it to.
- gambling at a casino
- getting the best stuff from video game loot boxes immediately
- winning literally any bet ever, no matter how stupid or extreme/implausible
- forgetting someone’s name after they just told you, so you guess totally randomly…and get it right
- getting headshots in video games, or always getting the best loot drops possible
- your friends knowing never to play you in rock, paper, scissors
- forgetting to complete assignments is no problem because something always happens that results in you getting an extension
- getting into a fight and your opponent just happens to get a really bad muscle cramp as you deliver a punch right to the face
- having no sense of anticipation playing games or taking bets
- getting arrested that one time because casino employees suspected you of cheating (I mean, you kinda are)
- getting banned from your favorite video games or constantly having to make new accounts because other players won’t stop reporting you for cheating (you’ve never missed a shot)
The passing of time is inevitable. Unless, of course, you have superpowers.
Stopping time is another insanely powerful ability. Think about being the player character in a video game, able to pause time whenever you’re overwhelmed to have a moment to plan out your next move, seek out aid, or just wreck your opponent while they’re frozen in time and helpless.
Now take that incredibly powerful ability and give it to the average person who will not be able to resist using god-like supernatural powers purely for shenanigans. Give a normal person all the time in the world; what will they do with it? Sure, there might be some fighting evil or fleeing from shadowy government/corporate agents, but there’s also:
- stopping time to sleep however long you want
- procrastinating until literally a minute before a deadline and stopping time just to get the assignment done
- stopping time for peace and quiet when surrounded by overbearing relatives, shitty coworkers, friends of friends you can’t stand, loud children, etc, etc
- freezing time when giving a presentation to give yourself some time to collect yourself
- stopping time mid conversation because you know you’re about to say some dumb shit and you need a second to think of something a little less stupid to say
- freezing time mid argument so that you can think of a great rebuttal now instead of hours later when you’re in the shower
- losing track of time because you froze it to take a nap and now you’re confused
- using time freezing as a crutch and realizing you’re not very good at thinking on the spot because you usually don’t have to
We’ve got some overpowered abilities on this list, but omnilingualism is one I consider extremely underrated.
Imagine communication never being an issue for you. You can understand animals, aliens, eldritch beings, powerful spellbooks written in a long-lost language, encrypted codes or messages, and so on. And because pretty much everything communicates somehow, you’ll always be in the know.
It doesn’t directly have any use in combat, which I suppose is why it doesn’t get the credit that other abilities on this list often get. But there’s so much potential for this power, including potential for more…mundane uses.
- listening in on gossip
- having those Reddit/Twitter moments where a group of people are talking shit about you in another language and you turn around and say something incredibly witty in the same language
- adding any language you want to the Skills section of your resume (including the alien, ancient, cursed, animal, and eldritch ones for added appeal to the magic and/or extraterrestrial community)
- being a very, very immersive TTRPG DM
- knowing the local language anywhere you go
- making the best travel blogger ever
- having a good day until you randomly hear someone say something really mean about your appearance because they didn’t think you could understand them, and now you’re sad
- having friends or acquaintances who know about your powers constantly asking you to teach them how to say dumb shit in other languages
- having to listen to the very inappropriate conversations pigeons have on a daily basis
- accidentally switching languages mid conversation because languages come so naturally to you that you sometimes forget not everyone can speak them as seamlessly as you can
The power to create and control fire is a classic. It’s one of my favorite combat abilities, creating opportunities for many a badass explosion or a big bad getting fried to a crisp.
But we’re not here for combat today, friendos. We’re here to see the ways a pyromancer might use their fiery gift to do silly things like fix their undercooked burger or never paying a heating bill because they’re a literal furnace walking around.
- quickly reheating your crappy leftovers that you boxed up and brought to work because you didn’t have time for anything else
- warming yourself/your companions up while walking in the cold (might make for a very cute romantic moment, hint, hint)
- reaching into the oven or touching the stove to take out food without burning yourself (assuming your power also comes with fire immunity, which I would hope it would)
- lighting birthday candles
- easily starting a campfire or bonfire if you have any kind of camping scene
- lighting cigarettes or joints
- quickly burning something you want to hide, like a dumb love note you wrote that almost got exposed to the whole class
- lighting a stove or a campfire
- getting a bit peeved off and accidentally setting something on fire
- friends and coworkers always asking you to light their joint or cigarette
- friends or loved ones getting all up in your personal space when they’re cold
Never underestimate the power of plants. They’re everywhere, and are capable of a myriad of things: from giving you a nasty rash to instant pain relief to inflicting so much pain via venomous microscopic needles that you might beg for death over having to deal with the pain for one more second.
Maybe someday I’ll write an article on all the plants someone with the power to control them could make use of. But for now, we’re looking at the silly and the mundane, the things you can take advantage of if you could have any plant in the world at your beck and call.
- growing quick snacks like apples or carrots any time you feel like it
- giving a bully poison ivy just by brushing past them; the most mundane poisoning
- cottagecore home vibes
- growing whatever flowers will make your house smell really good
- summoning shade when it starts raining
- having a pest problem and instantly growing some Venus flytraps to hook you up with some bug murder
- being a great cook because you always have the freshest ingredients
- always having the best garden and a perfectly maintained backyard
- winning your local annual pumpkin growing contest every. Single. Year.
- bees following you constantly (this may or may not be an inconvenience to you depending on how you feel about bees)
- vines constantly wrapping around you because vines, as it turns out, are very affectionate and always want hugs
- being expected to host dinner for your friends all the time because everyone knows you have the freshest ingredients