Jul 24 2012
1. Superheroines who only serve as a love interest. Do this thought experiment: if you had to cut all of the romances in your book, are there any characters you’d want to remove? If so, I would recommend that you give those characters more to do and flesh out their conflicts, personalities, and goals/motivations. Giving the character some unique purpose independent of romance will make the character a more compelling love interest and, more importantly, a more compelling character. I’d recommend checking out Mystique, Black Widow and Elastigirl here.
- RED FLAG: The character doesn’t talk about things besides romance and/or have a notable effect on how the main characters approach the central plot. (For example, a three-dimensional character might have conflicts with other characters about a major goal, whereas a trophy love interest usually goes along with other characters on how to deal with the supervillain).
2. Characters with one-dimensional personalities. If 90%+ of a character’s personality can be summarized in a single idea (e.g. “super-soldier” or “nice guy” or “angry/vengeful”), I would really recommend going back to the drawing board and making the character unexpected in some way. For example, Tony Stark isn’t just another super-scientist. Yes, he’s brilliant, but he’s also charming and his main flaw is a lack of restraint. That makes him more memorable than another brilliant-awkward-meek scientist.
3. The tank. If a character’s main role in combat is rushing at the enemy, I would recommend mixing in at least some minor powers so that the character’s fights will be less monotonous.
4. The brat. This character, possibly a child, rarely has much impact on the plot besides complaining, getting kidnapped, and/or drawing the useful characters into trouble. If you have a character who exhibits these negative/annoying tendencies, please balance it with something useful he brings to the table. For example, the Incredibles’ Dash actually helped out in fights, required little hand-holding from adult characters, and made fewer grossly stupid/irresponsible decisions than, say, Hal Jordan in Green Lantern. In contrast, Scrappy Doo was inept comic relief largely unable to contribute to the team accomplishing its goals. In The Taxman Must Die, the intern* is a bit more morally and legally flexible than most of the main characters (federal agents), and a budding Moriarty can find a role in a story about superpowered shenanigans.
*He’s also the nephew of a main character, but the nephew vehemently denies that this is relevant to his landing a federal internship in grade school.
5. I would recommend against individual capabilities which overlap too much. For example, it’d probably be easier to find a distinct role for Robin if he had some capabilities that Batman didn’t.
6. Characters should have some effect on the central plot besides being just comic relief. Readers will pay more attention to the character if he actually matters in some way. Otherwise, the character may feel like a distraction and/or waste of time.
7. Killing a character quickly after introducing him is not likely to make much of an emotional impact. Please see Darwin in X-Men: First Class and Abin Sur in Green Lantern. Show us what we’re missing before killing off the character–e.g. Agent Coulson endears himself to the audience before getting himself getting killed. Alternately, if the character isn’t worth the time to develop first, it might be best to just delete him altogether.
8. Captain Ethnics–characters who exist mainly to embody national/regional/racial stereotypes. If your team includes (say) a suave British spy* and/or a pretentious-and-effeminate Frenchman or a scholarly-and-violent American, I would recommend reconsidering whether your characters are too boxed-in by their demographic traits.
9. I would recommend avoiding conflicts driven by idiocy. I’d recommend checking out First Class (Xavier vs. Magneto and Mystique vs. Hank) and Avengers (notably Thor vs. Nick Fury over weaponizing the Tesseract and Black Widow against the more mild-mannered/human Bruce Banner) here for examples of conflicts that are deeper and meatier than one side (or both) being idiotic. Fantastic Four was just a disaster here.
9.1. Ideally, the protagonists’ goals and motivations don’t overlap 100%. This will help you build protagonist-vs-protagonist conflict. In addition to Avengers and First Class, I’d recommend checking out the Batman-Dent-Gordon triangle in Dark Knight.
10. I would generally recommend staying away from really sudden hero-to-villain turns (e.g. Angel in First Class). In contrast, First Class handled Magneto much more effectively–first, although he is occasionally morally ambiguous (e.g. ripping out a Nazi banker’s tooth), we also see him do some purely protagonistic actions (like trying to stop Shaw’s submarine). If he had been entirely a non-factor (like Angel) or nigh-nefarious (e.g. endlessly ranting about mutant superiority), then viewers probably wouldn’t care much about whether he signed up with the villains. In contrast, I think his villainous transformation is sadder and more moving because he shows a protagonistic side (especially in his dealings with Xavier). In addition, although I don’t think most viewers would sympathize with his goals, I think his revenge motive is very believable and human.