Sep 22 2011

Superpowers Will Not Make a Boring Character Interesting

Published by at 11:08 am under Character Development,Superhero Stories

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.

11 responses so far

11 Responses to “Superpowers Will Not Make a Boring Character Interesting”

  1. B. McKenzieon 22 Sep 2011 at 11:19 am

    Thanks to Neil for his help here.

    “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).” This doesn’t mean that the character HAS to do only things that are 100% intuitive for someone with his background and traits. Just try to explain the character’s decisions in a way that make sense to what would matter to him/her. For example, maybe the athlete already knows that he could make the varsity squad, because he’s that good, but cares more about chemistry because it helps more people? Nobody said it would be easy…

  2. Nicholas Caseon 29 Sep 2011 at 4:13 pm

    Great post bro! It’s good to be back! This post is making me re-evaluate Dunimas’s intentions…. hummmm……

  3. Agnion 26 Sep 2012 at 8:05 pm

    @B. mac.

    My hero and villains do not have any superpowers. Villains are mainly leaders of terrorist groups, top grade assasins, genious scientists etc. Do you think readers want some superpowered characters?

  4. B. McKenzieon 26 Sep 2012 at 8:40 pm

    “Do you think readers want some superpowered characters?” It depends on the audience you’re targeting. For example, if an author were interested in writing a story about soldiers or police officers with somewhat realistic capabilities, millions of prospective readers are available. The lack of superpowers and incredible capabilities would not be an issue for readers into those genres (military action and detective/crime). Let’s say you’re marketing yourself as a superhero action. In this case, as long as characters have incredible capabilities, I don’t think readers will give you a hard time over whether the characters technically have superpowers. It certainly doesn’t seem to have been an issue for Batman or Joker. However, if you’re marketing your story as a superhero action but the characters don’t have the capabilities to actually engage in interesting action sequences, I think that would probably raise red flags for editors.

  5. Agnion 26 Sep 2012 at 9:31 pm

    @B. Mac.
    I am giving (or trying to give) the characters interesting capabilities. For example there is an assasin named ‘Hunter’ who was a poacher before becoming an assasin. So he is very skillful in setting different traps to kill people and he uses this talent against the hero. So there will be engaging action sequences between the two.

    Then there is another villain who does not feel any pain due to some disorder. So he is almost unstoppable.

    Do you find these interesting?

  6. Agnion 27 Sep 2012 at 2:08 am

    @B. Mac.

    I need serious advices from you on this. A local monthly magazine has decided to publish my superhero novel, which I am writing, as a series. Now, I am planning to publish the novel in the magazine. It will require at least 20 to 24 editions of the magazine to finish the story. That means 20-24 months. During that period, I will fine tune the novel and try to get it published (obviously after completion of the story in the magazine).

    Now what are the advantages and disadvantages here?

    They are giving me some money for my work.

  7. B. McKenzieon 27 Sep 2012 at 12:39 pm

    “During that period, I will fine-tune the novel and try to get it published (obviously after completion of the story in the magazine).” After you’ve published it with one outlet, it will be extremely difficult to get it published anywhere else. That (and any potential legal issues from the magazine if you did republish the story) would probably be the biggest disadvantage.

    The benefits… 1) It might be more money than you get elsewhere. I don’t know anything at all about the details, though, so that’s especially idle speculation. 2) If the magazine has a significant circulation (e.g. north of 100,000 copies), the publicity might be useful in publicizing your writing and building your audience for whatever you write next.

  8. Anonymouson 18 Jan 2013 at 1:27 am

    thanks for your help it was really useful!!!!!!!!!

  9. stephenon 22 Jul 2013 at 7:55 pm

    how many heros should there be?

  10. Gregon 25 Feb 2016 at 11:33 am

    Thank you for this. I had just discovered the site and it is very helpful to motivate and fine tune my writing. Most of my superhero stories start with the characters. So what helps me is writing out the characters powers and all, then removing their powers and writing a small dialog or interaction to see if they are complete people or just a rack to hang abilites on.

    Thanks for your Support

  11. B. McKenzieon 19 Mar 2016 at 11:53 am

    “How many heros should there be?” On a superhero team, I’d recommend 3-5. For unpublished authors, I strongly recommend not starting with a work with 7+ (too many characters fighting for too little space/time). Personally, I would quickly reject there unless the characterization is exceptionally strong.

Trackback URI | Comments RSS

Leave a Reply