Archive for August 15th, 2008

Aug 15 2008

Manuscript Killers: Homo Superiors

I provide advice about how to write novels, comic books and graphic novels. Most of my content applies to fiction-writing in general, but I also provide articles specifically about superhero stories.

Diagnosing the Problem

Homo superiors are characters that are like humans but better in every conceivable way. How would you describe how Superman differs from a human? “Well, he can do anything a human can, but a hundred times better.” He even looks like a human. Homo superiors are usually aliens or elves, but sometimes a human with enough superpowers or enhancements.

A homo superior is usually not merely better at fighting than everyone else, but also more sophisticated and savvy. If he has a character flaw, he’s probably arrogant because he knows he’s so much better than everyone else in the story.

Why Homo Superiors Wreck Stories

Homo superiors are usually undramatic. Superman never really struggles to do anything, because he’s the best at everything. But a struggling character is what makes stories interesting. If a police officer is in a standoff with a hostage-taker, that’s dramatic because we don’t know if the police officer will succeed. The police officer will only win if he’s wittier and craftier than the criminal. Perhaps he convinces the criminal to surrender. Maybe he convinces the criminal to lower his gun and then shoots him in the face. In contrast, Superman just uses his superspeed or eye-rays and stops the criminal. That’s quite boring, especially after you’ve already seen it a few times.

Homo superiors also usually lead to overpowered characters, which can make the plot feel unbelievable. Let’s say you want to write a fantasy story with a dragon rider. But why would the dragon take a rider? What does he think he gets out of having a puny human on his back? Why is Superman willing to risk his own life for humans? I couldn’t imagine myself being so charitable to ants and, from his perspective, we must seem something like smarter ants. Why would an incredible elven-mage be willing to join a ragtag band of adventurers? Etc.

Fixing the Problem

The best way is to try to explore ways in which the character is either mediocre or inferior. Maybe that elf, normally so elegant and well-spoken, completely goes to pieces in high-stress situations like combat. Maybe the dragon thinks that having a human might be useful in certain situations.

Here are some other ways in which a character might be different and/or inferior.

  • Physical– strength, dexterity, stamina, reflexes, senses, coordination, precision, aim.
  • Mental– logic, memory, cleverness, wit, associational reasoning, rhetorical skill, investigative prowess, gullibility, curiosity, adventurousness, bravery, education, magic.
  • Social– teamwork, selflessness, diplomacy/tact, persuasion, subterfuge

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