Oct 31 2011
Some authors spend too much time thinking about and writing about story elements that are not particularly important to getting published. Please don’t get bogged down in any of these time sinks.
1. Names of characters and teams/organizations. Character names are pretty easy to change, so publishers probably won’t reject an otherwise publishable manuscript because the names aren’t good enough. Nor would I expect incredible names to convince a publisher to accept a manuscript that would otherwise have been unpublishable.
If you’re worried about the names in your story, I’d recommend using generic placeholders until something you like better comes to mind. (Your dissatisfaction will force you to come up with a better name if you have to write John Smith or Super-Lad hundreds of times).
1.1. Copyright considerations, particularly related to names. If the issue is just that your character has the same name as a fairly obscure Marvel or DC hero, that is probably not a huge problem (especially if you’re submitting a novel manuscript rather than a comic book). Your eventual publisher might ask you to change the name, but that’s such an easy change that it would not scare away publishers from an otherwise publishable manuscript. However, publishers might pass if the copyright issues are more integral to the plot and cannot be changed as easily, particularly if the concept is very similar to a well-known character. The easier it would be to change, the less likely it is to scare publishers.
2. Superpower selection. If you stay away from superpowers that make it too hard to challenge the characters, pretty much everything else can work. The story will be a bit easier to write if the superpowers are versatile and it’ll be a bit easier to read if the powers require little explanation. Besides that, I don’t think superpower selection matters very much. It probably won’t make the difference between a story that’s worth reading and one that isn’t.
I’d recommend focusing more on how to use the powers to create an interesting story. For example…
- What are some ways you could use your story’s powers to create interesting experiences? (For example, maybe John gets hit in the face by Kansas at a million miles per hour rather than “John teleported to Kansas”). Please see #3 and 3.1 here for more details.
- How can you use the powers to show us things we haven’t seen before?
- How do the character’s powers affect his perspective and/or personality?
3. Costumes (in a novel). Costumes will almost assuredly not affect the reading experience in a novel in any substantial way. You could assign colors by throwing darts at a color wheel and pretty much nobody would notice. Unless the costume is extremely bizarre (e.g. it’s made out of human flesh), the costume definitely won’t affect the publishability of a novel manuscript. It could matter in a comic book submission, though–a really hideous costume might raise questions about your team’s artistic style.
4. Minor demographic details, like hair/eye color, weight, race, etc. Unless these details are significant to the plot or develop the character or otherwise make an impression, they don’t matter much. I’m a bit alarmed when authors agonize over things like hair color. Unless the detail actually matters, don’t worry about it. Just pick something and go with it.
5. Arguing with reviewers. There’s nothing productive there–just worry about adding on new readers that are actually receptive to the work and/or make any changes necessary moving forward.
A parting thought: If you’ve put more thought into the main character’s costume and/or superpowers than personality and defining traits, I’d recommend going back to the drawing board. When editors and publisher’s assistants evaluate a novel manuscript, their reader’s reports will usually mention the characterization, the plot and the quality of the writing, etc. Superpowers and costumes, not so much.