Apr 19 2012
Bob Moore: No Hero is a superhero novella about a private investigator looking into a baffling series of (possibly) missing superheroes. Here’s what writers can learn from it and why you might want to check it out.
–The characterization is unusually strong, particularly for the main protagonist. His development arc was unexpected and fresh. The book has hardly any romance (besides two brief conversations between the main character and his ex-wife), but the relationship definitely added something to the main plot which would have been otherwise missing. As for the main antagonist, he’s not one-dimensionally evil, but he’s definitely a problem that the protagonist needs to deal with. If you’re struggling with how to write a not-conventionally-evil antagonist without making the stakes less urgent for the protagonists, No Hero is a good example.
–The ending sequence was eerily effective. The author (Tom Andry) made an unusual decision to end the book with a conversation between the protagonist and his ex-wife rather than, say, a conversation with his assistant or anybody else that’s actually present in his life. In retrospect, I think it really effectively showed how the character had evolved and made his previous decisions in the climax both more interesting and morally questionable.
--I would strongly recommend this book to anybody who wants to make a disagreeable protagonist more likable. Notably, the book doesn’t gloss over his disagreeable actions and other characters (mainly his ex-wife) call him out for it in reasonable ways and he responds in a mostly reasonable way. I think that helps readers stay on board even if they aren’t taken with the character’s occasionally hard-boiled approach.
–There was curiously little superhero action. On the one hand, I loved that the author didn’t spend 50+ pages on superhero brawls with pretty much nothing at stake*. However, it makes it hard to describe the plot. I would say the book’s genre is something like detective/drama.
*If you’re writing a climactic battle between a hero and villain, if there isn’t serious doubt about whether the villain can win, the battle will be boring.
–I found it very refreshing that it’s a superhero story about somebody besides a superhero or a superhero’s lover. That’s an unusual hook and the character fits very well into a world with many superheroes even though he doesn’t have superpowers or major-league technological support.
–I would highly recommend this book to any author that is struggling with a slow-burning plot. This book is structured very unusually: the inciting event (being called onto the main investigation) happens about 50% through the book and the main character first realizes that a crime has actually been committed around 75% through. The author effectively used intermediate goals to keep me interested early on.
–The main character feels like a private investigator. The author put more thought and research into what a private investigator would actually do in high-stakes situations rather than just going with what Hollywood has done with PIs. In contrast, I’ve seen a lot of characters (especially soldiers and police officers) who sound dumb enough that they’d get shot to pieces on their first day (e.g. trying to bumrush a rifle-armed goon without being bulletproof). This character is a hardboiled PI without superpowers or a gun and somehow that makes him even more badass.
What Could Have Worked More Effectively:
–The book’s introduction misrepresents the book as juvenile. For example, early on a superhero in far-too-tight spandex gets far-too-excited about pictures of lesbians forming a, uhh, superteam. However, it’s a misleading portrayal of the book, which is generally far more sober/serious than puerile. I’d recommend writing an introduction that’s thematically and tonally similar to the rest of the work–otherwise, some of the readers that would have enjoyed most of the work will put the book down because they got thrown off by a misleading introduction.
–The minor characters could probably have been used to more effect (or pared down). For example, I doubt the plot would have changed much if the main character’s assistant had been removed. The main character’s lawyer could also be removed–I think she added at least a thousand words to the story which contributed very little to the plot or character development.
–The setting could have been a lot more memorable. As far as I can remember from reading the book yesterday, the only aspects of the city that came up were that some parts are richer than others. I think the author could have done a lot more with description (e.g. sensory imagery, interesting observations, interesting historical snippets, etc).
–The book cover could be stronger. The concept was a bit bland–superheroes can be more visually interesting than visual silhouettes flying in the background. Additionally, an action shot might help (e.g. the protagonist slyly taking a photograph of a superhero while hiding behind a bar table stocked with hard alcohol). The execution was also lackluster–I think the artist hesitated too much when doing the face. The lips and eyes look strange.
–Personally, I prefer stories where the setting is somewhat realistic (rather than where there are so many superheroes that extraordinary events become routine and banal). However, I thought that this novella was better-executed than Alan Moore’s Top 10, which I think is the most notable story in that mold.
–The content after the book is ridiculously entertaining. If you ever need to write an About the Author section, I’d check out his because it adds something to the book. Additionally, I was definitely interested by the author’s discussion of a few of the writing decisions he made. I’ve never seen anything like that included with the book–I wonder if it might help a few dedicated readers become very dedicated?
–The book is free. Download it today!