Sep 22 2011
Here are two common problems I’ve seen with submissions:
- Characters are developed mainly in terms of their superpowers (e.g. listing out the characters and their superpowers).
- The novel starts with a superhero-to-be that is not interesting before getting superpowers. (If a character is not interesting before getting superpowers, he/she probably won’t be interesting afterwards, either).
If you’ve encountered either of the above issues, these questions should help.
1. What is the character’s personality like? What are his key traits?
2. What are the character’s goals/motivations like? How do those tie into the character’s personality and background? (I guess it’s possible that there’s a not-particularly-bright athlete out there whose burning life goal is to win a Nobel Prize in Chemistry, but trying to make the varsity squad would probably be more intuitive).
3. What sort of unusual decisions does the character make that other superheroes (or superheroes-to-be) wouldn’t? In particular, why does the character choose to become a superhero? Is there anything in the character’s personality or background that influences this decision? (I’d look at that especially hard if the character wasn’t notably brave or violent before getting superpowers).
4. How is the character different from other superheroes-to-be?
5. How is the character different from other characters in the story, particularly other superheroes (if applicable).
6. Are there any ways this character’s background, personality and/or skills make him a good (and/or bad) fit for the plot? Either could create drama.
- Sherlock Holmes is a good fit against a villain like Professor Moriarty because Moriarty is so dangerous that only someone as competent as Holmes could stop him. That raises the stakes and makes it easier to challenge Holmes. (Challenging protagonists is key to generating drama–if the protagonist easily outmatches his obstacles, it probably won’t be as interesting as it could be).
- If a character is a bad fit, he’d have to work harder to overcome obstacles. For example, Chuck, Bad Company and The Taxman Must Die are about relatively normal people thrust into super-dangerous spy jobs. The characters’ lack of preparation and personalities help create tension/conflict with teammates and helps writers wring drama out of obstacles that might have been mundane/forgettable for a spy with years of experience.
- It’s possible to do both. For example, Dexter is a serial killer that works as a police crime scene analyst. On one hand, he’s less likely to get caught because he knows what they’re looking for and can sabotage the investigation. On the other hand, they’re unusually close to him and have started to ask questions about why he misses so much work.