Archive for July 26th, 2011

Jul 26 2011

17 Stock Plots

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.

By themselves, these ideas are not terribly inspired.  They’re “stock” plots because they’re generic enough to work in a variety of series.  If you use a stock plot, please spin it so that it feels distinct to your series rather than just a forgettable filler issue.


1. The most basic superhero story structure is that a supervillain needs to steal a few related MacGuffins to enact his evil plot.  This gives the superheroes several chances to try to stop the villain, building up the stakes for a climactic struggle with everything on the line.

1.1 Alternately, perhaps the supervillain is trying to kill several people with a common connection, like the heroes, cops/prosecutors, judges, jurors, witnesses and/or scorned caddies that put him away last time or somebody else he has a grudge against.


2.  The villain has some sort of fitting thematic connection to the hero.  For example, if your hero’s main flaw is his trust issues, maybe the villain is an Iago that plays on his mistrust/paranoia.


3.  A character receives a mysterious and potentially dangerous gift, like an artifact or an encoded message or a key or a free ticket to Detroit.


4.  Something or someone from the heroes’ past comes back to haunt them.  For example, Batman: The Animated Series had an episode based around Alfred’s commando experience long, long ago.  Alternately, perhaps it’s something from the villain’s past.


5.  Someone the heroes really look up to and/or respect is in trouble.  For some reason, superhero TV shows often cast this person as Adam West, the lead actor in the horrible 1960s Batman show.  (Who the hell looks up to Adam West?)  More soberly, Dark Knight endangered Harvey Dent.


6.  A major villain is introduced.  A villain’s origin usually lays out his motivation for becoming a villain and establishes an initial conflict with the heroes.  It may also explain where his superpowers and/or supernatural abilities came from, if applicable.


7.  Someone that’s not quite a villain just developed superpowers, and it’s up to the heroes to keep these new and difficult-to-control powers from ravaging the town.  There may also be a personality shift involved: “Have you tried not being a rampaging monster, Dr. Jekyll?”


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