Apr 26 2009
When a hero runs into an obstacle, there is usually one of two reasons: 1) what he has done and 2) who he is. Persecuted heroes, like the X-Men, face major obstacles because of who they are. Here are a few problems with persecuted heroes.
1. Persecution usually makes stories more grim and less fun. This could be problematic. People usually read fiction because they want to have fun. Is there some other reason people will want to read your work?
2. Being persecuted may compromise the hero’s likability. Even though the persecution is probably beyond his control, being persecuted will probably cast a cloud of angst over him. In particular, the hero will become very unlikable if he comes off whiny or starts moping.
3. Persecution stories often lead to unsatisfying conflicts and cartoonish antagonists. Good villains are usually at least a bit likable and stylish. If your antagonists come off like racists that hate on mutants (or whichever persecuted group you’re using), it will be hard to like them.
4. Adding persecution may compromise the likability of the world. If pretty much everyone hates on (say) mutants, readers may feel the world is so messed up that there’s no point trying to save it. If readers assume there’s no prospect of a happy ending, they will probably move on.
5. Persecution stories may take on an ideological, politically charged tone, particularly if the persecution is something people face in real-life or is clearly meant as an analogue for some real persecution. For example, X-Men’s writers repeatedly compare mutant-phobia to homophobia. This is problematic because it may cause your readers to draw in their emotional and ideological baggage about gay rights (or whatever). The good news is that if you have a publisher for your proposal, they’re okay with the potential for lost sales. The bad news is that sales are key to getting published (and getting called back for next time).
6. A persecuted hero usually comes off as more reactive and passive. When a hero is persecuted, the story draws attention to how he was born, not what he does. That’s not a great setup for a proactive hero.