Archive for November 28th, 2011

Nov 28 2011

Writing a Realistic Superhero Story

Published by under Realism,Writing Articles

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.

1. As always, realism is a stylistic preference.  Feel free to disregard any/all aspects of realism.  Generally, the fans of superhero stories are more likely to cut you slack on realism than, say, the readers of military fiction, so incorporate realism if you want to and not because you feel you need to.


2.  Superpower selection.  If realism is a major concern, I would recommend shying away from powers that insulate the character from vaguely realistic consequences to actions.  For example, an invulnerable superhero can just wade into gunfire, whereas a character like Batman needs to put more thought into it.  Batman’s restrictions are more human-like in that regard, so his actions will probably feel more realistic.  Alternately, if you have a character like Superman, you can try using a variety of situations where the character has to act very carefully rather than just bumrush an enemy.  (For example, rescuing hostages, dealing with an enemy like The Riddler that isn’t actually present, a “scavenger hunt” situation like finding and defusing several bombs, an enemy like Professor Moriarty that works a lot through proxies that don’t know enough to easily incriminate their boss, etc).

  • I’d recommend incorporating as many of the superpowers into the premise rather than having characters develop some superpowers later.  I think it was fairly effective and acceptable that Heroes had a time-traveling character, but just wildly crazy that Superman went back in time in Superman I by flying around the world counterclockwise.  Heroes introduced the time-travel angle fairly quickly, but in the Superman movie, it was a deus ex machina that came out of nowhere.  (Likewise, erasing Lois’ memories with a kiss was not only a deus ex machina, but also an act of raw jackassery).
  • If uncertainty, doubt and/or paranoia are major elements of the story, I’d recommend cutting or severely limiting mind-reading and lie-detection.  For example, if mind-reading is a very intrusive act tantamount to frisking somebody, then it’ll be easier to write a situation where the character is vulnerable to uncertainty than if the character is free to read everybody’s minds without anybody else knowing.  Drama comes from vulnerability, so don’t use superpowers that will make it too hard to find vulnerabilities for the character.
  • Especially if the story is gritty, I’d recommend reconsidering incredible regeneration powers.  The stakes will probably be higher if the character’s actions have consequences, and one very noticeable consequence is the risk of injury.  For dramatic reasons,  you might want to make the character regenerate faster and/or take less damage than normal*, but I just wouldn’t  recommend overdoing it so much that you couldn’t raise the stakes with an injury at a terribly inconvenient time if you wanted to.

*Pretty much every superhero, even ones whose powers are mainly mental, are physically resilient enough to shrug off some hits that would put the average person in a hospital for weeks.  Having heroes get hospitalized for weeks after every fight probably wouldn’t be very interesting.


Continue Reading »

35 responses so far