Flipping a switch to turn on a light is so ridiculously commonplace that it escapes notice and mention. For example, my ten year old usually isn't aware that he has flipped every light switch in the house and not turned them back off. To a toddler, or someone from the past, or a visitor from an undeveloped area, it is nothing short of magic. Magic that is within their power to control. That's why they'll flip that switch enough to give you a seizure if you let them.
To one unfamiliar with it, it's magic and extraordinary. To those who use it daily, it is commonplace. This should be true with actual (fictional) magic as well. To one who uses magic on a daily basis, it should be part of the ordinary, not the ordinary. Some things should be as simple as... well, as flipping a light switch. Other things should be used in such a way that it makes them seem inordinately comfortable with it, which they should be. We flip open our cellphone in a dark room to get a little light. We use screwdrivers to open paint cans. When you are completely comfortable and confident with the intended use of something, you start applying it to other purposes.
Some who have done this well? J. K. Rowling, for one, with Mad-Eye Moody. Mad-Eye's magical eye (to replace the real one he lost at some point) can look through anything. There's a part where they are trying to clean out an old house of all kinds of stuff, some of which are dangerous. Mad-Eye Moody shows up and is asked to look into a cabinet upstairs to see what's there before taking care of it. Does he walk up the stairs and open the door to peek in? Of course not, why would he? He has a magical eye! It doesn't just look through the cabinet, it can look through the very floor. So right there, on the spot, he looks up, checks around, spots the cabinet, looks in it, and tells her what she needs to know. Too simple. And to Moody, it would be that simple indeed. He wears that eye all the time; he's so used to it, he uses it without even blinking (pun intended).
Another that did it well, in a different medium, was Dreamworks's The Incredibles. They didn't have to wait for that special moment to use their powers. Violet vanished when she got shy at school. ElastiMom reaches around and under the table to grab at the fighting kids. (She also reaches around and under Mr. Incredible, at times, to grab a kiss!) Mr. Incredible has more trouble controlling his power than using it. If you don't believe me, ask the car repair shop about that deformed door!
They use their abilities almost without thinking about them. That's how it should be. We don't think about moving our arm to reach for a glass of soda/water/wine. We don't make a conscious decision to move each leg as we walk. It's an everyday thing. So are their abilities. To them, it's just natural. A good sf writer will be able to make the unnatural natural, for it is in the nature of his characters to be so.
9 Story Openings To Avoid, Part 8
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