Jul 24 2012

Common Pitfalls and Cliches for Superhero Teams

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.

*Everybody on the island is a spy, a shady butler, or both. The food is just what you’d expect.

 

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.

43 responses so far

43 Responses to “Common Pitfalls and Cliches for Superhero Teams”

  1. B. McKenzieon 24 Jul 2012 at 11:18 pm

    Thanks to ChickenNoodles for suggesting this article. If anybody has any suggestions for another article, please let me know.

  2. JJon 25 Jul 2012 at 12:55 am

    Hey B.Mac got to say this the most helpful and straight to the point advice I’ve ever gotten from I site. I’m an aspiring writer/director and I prefer when people are straight to the point. They don’t call it constructive critisism for being painless.

    Anyway I was wondering if you had any tips or what not to dos when it comes to setting your story in magical setting compared to scientific/ semi realistic one? I mean before the the only explenation for asomething to happen was magic or the chosen one cop out. Sorry if this doesn’t really make any sense.

    -JJ

  3. B. McKenzieon 25 Jul 2012 at 1:04 am

    Thanks!

    “I was wondering if you had any tips when it comes to setting your story in magical setting compared to scientific/semi-realistic ones? I mean before the the only explanation for something to happen was magic or the chosen one cop out. Sorry if this doesn’t really make any sense.” I’d like to know more about the story. What event/decision/etc are you trying to explain?

  4. ChickenNoodleson 25 Jul 2012 at 10:47 am

    You are very welcome bmac.

  5. JJon 25 Jul 2012 at 1:07 pm

    Well I like to have multiple stories going and at the time I’m working on two. One is about teams that represent each nation fighting using customized robotic avatars. If the robots are damaged beyond repair than the driver themselves die..its set in the future where the economy is crap and the nations are fighting over control. Instead of a world war they rely on this competition to see who will rule the earth for the next ten years.

    On the flip side I have a story about people who die in the womb or before birth they become the personifications of death. Sent out to make sure that people die when their supposed to and make sure that no one interfers. Cops basically. If they don’t die than the person in question becomes a ghost and basically has the power to tear reality apart.

    As you can see 2 very different storys. That beings said due to the genre of story 1 would it be necesary to go into a lot of backstory of the technology to help the reader suspend beleif as apposed to story number 2 where these beings are supernatural. I’m asking cuz I feel that if I try to explain every single thing in story 1 than the reader will get bored and ill be confined to only what I can explain instead of the actual story. Is it necesary to go into so much detail? Sorry its so long. Thanks for the time. -JJ

  6. Aj of Earthon 25 Jul 2012 at 1:40 pm

    This is a good’n. I especially like #8 and #9.1;

    I think it’s easy sometimes for authors to use characters simply as ideological vehicles. Either political, religious, whatever. I think it’s realistic and believable that characters have opinions about certain aspects of society or culture, sure, but folded in among all the other things that constitute the nature of that character overall. The Captain Ethics/Captain Demographic Stereotype warning is a good one to that point (conversely, I think there might also be a Captain I-Don’t-Care-About-*Anything* warning. Captain Apathy. Seen some of those too..)

    And I love really dynamic in-fighting. I always look for evidence of team tension in the stories/comics/movies I check out.

    Awesome B.Mac, thanks for another tremendous resource! 🙂

  7. Aj of Earthon 25 Jul 2012 at 1:43 pm

    Ps: Ha! Just realized that’s Enthnics, not Ethics. Still, though…

    Dig it.

  8. Janon 25 Jul 2012 at 3:04 pm

    Another little test for your story: can it be an AU? It sounds silly but true. You characters should be developed enough to fit into the setting, if not every aspect of the plot. If the only way your story or its characters could work out is if they had superpowers to fight crime, that should be a red flag.

  9. B. McKenzieon 25 Jul 2012 at 3:44 pm

    “That being said, due to the genre of [the sci-fi] story, would it be necessary to go into a lot of backstory of the technology to help the reader suspend belief as opposed to [the fantasy] story where these beings are supernatural.” I’d recommend checking out how The Matrix (the first movie) and Bitter Seeds (a fantasy novel) laid out the sci-fi/magic details of the premise and incorporated the explanation for readers into the plot. It’s hard to say without knowing the details of your story, but I’m guessing that we probably wouldn’t need a lot of the technological/supernatural backstory to understand the plot.

    For example, in The Matrix, the backstory is pretty much limited to a few key points:
    –Machines became self-aware and have nearly defeated the humans.
    –The machines are using a virtual reality simulator to generate electricity from humans.
    –While in the Matrix, humans can recode reality and perform insane stunts, but damage sustained in the Matrix can be fatal.

    In time, the film fills in more of the backstory (e.g. the details about how humans have EMP generators to fight off machines), but the above points suffice for most of the movie.

  10. B. McKenzieon 25 Jul 2012 at 4:14 pm

    “Another little test for your story: can it be an AU? It sounds silly but true. You characters should be developed enough to fit into the setting, if not every aspect of the plot. If the only way your story or its characters could work out is if they had superpowers to fight crime, that should be a red flag.” I’m not sure I understand–could you please clarify? (Why would it be a problem if the story could or could not be an alternate universe, and what does that have to do with whether the characters need superpowers?)

    A story might use superpowers to thrust an inapt character into a fish-out-of-water situation. For example, the TV show Chuck is about a ~Best Buy salesman who gets thrown into a world of spies and danger because he accidentally acquired supernatural capabilities. I think that the character is mainly interesting because his inexperience and personality raise interesting obstacles for a spy doing dangerous work. However, without superpowers, I don’t think this story could work–why would an agency employ him as a spy if he weren’t extraordinary in some way?


    “If the only way your story or its characters could work out is if they had superpowers to fight crime, that should be a red flag.”

    First, I’d like to mostly agree–I think superpowers (or superpowered action) should never be the only thing going on in a superhero story. For example, First Class and Avengers had some great protagonist-vs-protagonist conflict and I like what Incredibles did with the theme of being extraordinary vs. normal. But I think these plots would collapse (or at least require substantial revision) if the superpowers were taken out. The Mystique-Hank and Xavier-Magneto relationships hinge on how the characters deal with being superpowered mutants. In The Incredibles, the family conflict is driven by the wife and husband disagreeing about the husband’s lingering desire to be a superhero. Almost everything we see about the kids is developed by either their actions as superheroes or their initial desire to be ordinary.

  11. comicbookguy117on 25 Jul 2012 at 7:53 pm

    Hey guys, not sure where to post this question so here it goes.

    Recently I’ve had an epiphany and am in the process of re-working my entire comic book universe into a more uniform, less chaotic malestrom of randomly powered characters. This has already aided me in various ways. My problem is that I had four pages full of possible characters, only there codenames but still. I knew about 90% of them based on only their codenames anyway so that wasn’t an issue. But with this new direcxtion I’m wanting to take my universe in, I decided to trim the fat. So I looked through these pages and pulled out only the names of the characters I could remember just by there codenames. I than went through THAT list and pulled out only the names that I felt were worthwhile characters that I could genuinely see in a story.

    So long story short, I STILL have 69 characters, that I can’t do without. So, is 69 too high or low a number of characters to start an entire universe with? I’ve got the seeds to develope three stories out of these 69 characters. Basically I’m just asking your opinions on how I should appraoch this issue.

  12. B. McKenzieon 25 Jul 2012 at 8:07 pm

    “So long story short, I STILL have 69 characters, that I can’t do without. So, is 69 too high or low a number of characters to start an entire universe with? I’ve got the seeds to develop three stories out of these 69 characters. Basically I’m just asking your opinions on how I should approach this issue.”

    If you find a rule of thumb necessary, I would recommend limiting yourself to introducing 5-10 named (speaking) characters per 100 pages unless there’s a great reason to. (Leaving aside extras that are there-and-gone after a page). If I could be a bit blunt, I think that if you need more than 10 new characters to get through 5 issues, they probably aren’t the right 10 characters. I’d need to see the scripts (or at least the synopsis) to figure out what was happening, but my guess is that characters get introduced for a particular role, fulfill it, and then get abandoned by the story. I’d recommend focusing instead on developing major characters that will make substantial contributions to the story for issues to come.



    69 characters would be quite a lot, unless perhaps we’re talking about over the course of 150+ issues. I’d recommend checking out any comic book series here (major or otherwise). How many named characters do you think are introduced in the first hundred issues (~2000-2500 pages) of Spider-Man or Iron Man or Superman? My guess would be probably south of 50, maybe south of 30. And that’s over the course of almost a decade.



    I would also recommend looking at Invincible here–it gradually developed a superhero universe. I would recommend starting with a handful and incorporating characters gradually as they are necessary. After almost 100 issues, I would estimate that it’s also somewhere in the 30-50 range.

  13. comicbookguy117on 25 Jul 2012 at 8:34 pm

    Another possibility for me, and one that I’ve been seriously considering for years, is becoming something of a character auctioneer. I’m great at generating characters and if I can create them for paying customers, that’ll just be gravy. I’m just not sure how to put myself out there, you know? Though I suppose I just did. If anyone is interested, let me know.

  14. B. McKenzieon 25 Jul 2012 at 8:51 pm

    “Another possibility for me, and one that I’ve been seriously considering for years, is becoming something of a character auctioneer. I’m great at generating characters…” I’m not sure there’s a market for that particular skill*, but if you were interested in editing (freelance or otherwise), it might help there.

    *For example, Edna Mode is a phenomenal side-character in Incredibles, but I don’t think she’d fit in all that well into most superhero stories. I’m reasonably confident that my own Gary and Agent Orange are interesting in The Taxman Must Die, but they’d be helluva difficult to incorporate into most superhero stories (especially individually–how many superhero stories would benefit from an unpowered accountant?).

  15. comicbookguy117on 26 Jul 2012 at 3:45 am

    Yeah I get. I’m just saying is all. Gotta do something with ease I have in creating characters.

  16. WritingNinjaon 26 Jul 2012 at 11:35 am

    The thing that gets me is when the two love interests kiss while running into battle with guns blazing. Or kiss while a bomb is ticking of (*cough* Batman*cough*). Or kiss while in a life or death situation.
    I never been in those situations, but I imagine my reaction would be more like concentrating on the mission at hand or preparing to die. In fact I would probably slap someone if they did that while on a dangerous job.
    Maybe that could be an article idea. “Writing Realistic Reactions”

  17. aharrison 26 Jul 2012 at 12:35 pm

    Are you saying that dramatic moments aren’t realististic? 🙂

    (I picked up Redshirts this weekend and it very much skewers that idea – dramatic effect v. things that make sense in a narrative.)

    I’m not a big proponent of the whole “time stands still while the hero and heroine dramamtically kiss and make calf eyes at each other” either, but I can see them showing briefly in their actions that they are aware of the risks of what they are about to undertake and how it might impact their relationship. A brief, significant glance or short exchange of words, for example as they lock and load. I think there are plenty of ways you can show the relationship without resorting to desperate, dramatic kiss.

  18. B. McKenzieon 26 Jul 2012 at 12:52 pm

    I’m a fan of dramatic moments! But I think they (as much as possible) should gel with the plot.

    In The Incredibles, Mr. Incredible and Frozone have an effective bit of conversation/banter in the middle of a life-or-death situation–I think it works mainly because their dialogue centers around the limits of their powers and how to safely get out of the burning building. In Dark Knight, I thought that it was okay that Harvey and Rachel talked to each other as the bomb ticked down, because they were both tied up and they didn’t have anything else to do. (I like that Harvey tried testing his bonds–that’s how he ends up on the floor).

    In contrast, in Dark Knight Rises, I vaguely remember that Batman has a conversation with someone as the nuclear bomb’s timer was at around 2:00. If my memory is correct, it probably would have made more sense to have Batman quickly cut off that conversation (or move it to a time when the situation is less urgent) to focus on the bomb.

  19. aharrison 26 Jul 2012 at 1:49 pm

    Oh, you need some drama, and I’m not against it, but it has to fit.

    I seem to recall a post about the novel Redshirts on here some time ago. If you’ve picked it up, you’ll know what I mean about there being drama and _the Narrative_.

    I like it when my dramatic moments don’t interrupt the pacing of the action too much. Han and Leia’s last moments before he gets carbon froze in _Empire Strikes Back_ work so well because even though it seems to be just those two, they really aren’t given extra time for tender good-byes. All of it takes place as they’re torn apart and he’s shackled up and lowered into the pit, but it’s still very dramatic and touching.

  20. WritingNinjaon 26 Jul 2012 at 5:55 pm

    Dramatic moments make stories more real. I was hinting at the time bomb that was going to go off when Catwoman kisses Batman. It’s not that I’m against people saying goodbye, good luck, or whatever. It’s just…. when a nuclear bomb is going to go off in a couple of minutes, are you REALLY going to take the time to talk and kiss?
    But say if the guy was about to go to war, then I can see the couple kissing before he runs off.

  21. JJon 28 Jul 2012 at 8:56 pm

    Hey B Mac in your opinion has the story of a hero being overcome by their darker half (hulk, werewolf, Beast) become over used?

  22. B. McKenzieon 28 Jul 2012 at 11:22 pm

    JJ, that sort of story is not uncommon (I’d add Spider-Man’s Venom, Heroes’ Nikki and Hellboy’s demonic/apocalyptic heritage), but I think it depends on your execution. For example, I think there are similarities between Dexter Morgan’s “dark passenger” (murderous urges) and Nikki’s violent split personality, but Dexter just comes off so much more human and interesting to me.

  23. JPon 12 Aug 2012 at 2:31 am

    Could you elaborate a little bit more on #9? What would be an example of a conflict driven by idiocy?

  24. B. McKenzieon 12 Aug 2012 at 9:38 am

    Batman & Robin or Fantastic Four. I think Green Lantern’s internal conflict (fear vs. courage) also came across as idiotic because it didn’t feel consistent (he rejoins the GL Corps after merely being reminded that it’s the highest honor to be chosen by the ring and that the ring is never wrong–but if that was sufficient, why didn’t it convince him the first time?)

  25. Laichraon 30 Aug 2012 at 2:54 pm

    Great article again, B.Mac! I think that a lot of your points are very valid and they help me to view superhero movies and. omics with a fresh eye. I am especially sick of underdeveloped team members who don’t seem.to serve a purpose. If they arent going to do anything, why are they there?
    I have a question, however; how many team members are too many? For example, in my latest (probably shortlived) writing project, I have six team members. I am fairly confident that I will manage to give them all personalities and roles within the group, but how many until they crowd each other out and readers get confused between them and their various complicates relationships with each other?

  26. ekimmakon 30 Aug 2012 at 3:03 pm

    Well, I know that twelve is almost definitely too many. I think over six is when you start to push it.

  27. M. Happenstanceon 30 Aug 2012 at 11:07 pm

    Six is the upper limit for a well-developed main team. Anything above that is naught but a road to failure and madness.

  28. B. McKenzieon 31 Aug 2012 at 5:11 am

    Hello, Laichra! I think it depends on the ability of the author to handle a large cast. In most cases, I’d recommend that a first-time author limit the main superhero team to at most 4 (maybe 5) characters or at least employ some other strategies to save space/time for development. (For example, if the backdrop to the story is something like the Justice League or a police department or a federal agency or a superhero academy, the organization probably has 20+ members, but I’d only recommend focusing on up to 5).

    I don’t think that going with a larger cast is a surefire road to failure–a few authors can handle unusually large casts quite well*–but I think it does reduce the odds of success, especially for a first-time author.

    *Tolstoy, George R. R. Martin, and Brian O’Malley come to mind here.

  29. Laichraon 31 Aug 2012 at 3:56 pm

    Thanks for the advice, B.Mac! I can push it down to 4, maybe 5, probably, if I get rid of or combine some characters. That gives me two girls and two or three guys. Do you think that the relationships between the characters would become too complicated to follow after a time? (For example, if each member had a certain relationship with each of the other members, that’s 25 relationships to remember. Add it familial relationships, mentor relationships, etc., and that’s a lot of details.) What are your thoughts on this?

  30. B. McKenzieon 31 Aug 2012 at 4:22 pm

    “Do you think that the relationships between the characters would become too complicated to follow after a time? (For example, if each member had a certain relationship with each of the other members, that’s 25 relationships to remember. Add it familial relationships, mentor relationships, etc., and that’s a lot of details.) What are your thoughts on this?” I don’t think each character needs to develop a relationship with every other character. Like you said, that would be a lot of relationships to develop, especially if you’re also working in side-characters. I’d recommend instead giving each character 1-2 notable relationships that you focus on. That’ll take you from ~25 relationships to ~5. More manageable.

    Also, the bigger the team of superheroes is, the harder it will be to find time/space for outside characters. I’d recommend focusing on 1-2 characters that can have a relationship with everybody–for example, Splinter has a relationship with each of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, but Alicia Masters only does interesting things with one member of the Fantastic Four. The recent Avengers movie handled this pretty well: side-protagonists Nick Fury and Agent Coulson interacted with almost all of the Avengers, but the movie almost entirely skipped over side-characters that had a relationship with only one Avenger. There just wasn’t enough space for, say, Thor’s girlfriend or Bruce Banner’s girlfriend or Sharon Carter. (They did, however, give Pepper Potts a cameo).

    In general, if a story has 4+ major members in a superhero team, probably 90%+ of the story is what happens between them (and/or between them and the antagonists). If an author has 4+ major members in a team and still needs a lot of side-characters, I’d guess at least some of the major characters are not pulling their weight (e.g. not generating enough drama to justify their space).

  31. Laichraon 31 Aug 2012 at 4:36 pm

    Very good points that I hadn’t considered. Thank you very much. Now that I think of it, two or three of the characters don’t establish a noteworthy relationship anyway. Thank you!
    Last question for now: Do you think it has become at all cliche to have a superhero team made up entirely of teenagers aged 15-19? Would it be hard for readers to believe that the teenagers are really useful in fights or missions?

  32. B. McKenzieon 31 Aug 2012 at 6:29 pm

    “Do you think it has become at all cliche to have a superhero team made up entirely of teenagers aged 15-19? Would it be hard for readers to believe that the teenagers are really useful in fights or missions?” If your target audience is mainly teenagers, I think it’s unlikely to present a problem for your readers. Likewise, there really aren’t too many kids (or adults, for that matter) that wondered what the adults were doing when a bunch of 13 year olds were off saving the world every year at Hogwarts. It might help to have a reason that the protagonists have been selected despite being unexpectedly young, but even that is optional. (For example, Teen Titans is explicitly a team of teenagers, but the story doesn’t mention why all of the members are teenagers, nor does their age ever arise as a problem for the characters*).

    *However, if we were looking at something like a team of commandos or spies, then I think a team of teens (especially in leadership roles) might warrant more explanation.

    “Would it be hard for readers to believe that the teenagers are really useful in fights or missions?” Assuming the kids aren’t clueless, I would assume that this wouldn’t be a problem–it hasn’t been a problem for, say, Peter Parker or Hit Girl.
    1) They are pretty competent.
    2) They get involved in much less teen drama than the average CW character.
    3) They have superpowers or other incredible capabilities.
    4) They rarely act in such a way that suggests they are entirely unfit for a life-or-death profession. For example, let’s say a character complains about how “mean” an instructor is for pointing out a mistake which would have gotten people killed in real life. I will instantly lose all respect for the complaining character unless the author is obviously trying to show that the character is in over his/her head. This does not mean that the characters have to like hardass instructors, but going to pieces when exposed to stress suggests that the ostensible hero makes a much less likable hero than, say, the instructor would.
    –> Mind you… it’s okay if a character is a terrible fit for his/her line of work, but make sure there are consequences. See Chuck or Bad Company, for example. (Or, for a more mild example, Tony Stark’s conflicts in Avengers).

    “Do you think it has become at all cliche to have a superhero team made up entirely of teenagers aged 15-19?” I think the issue is less the character’s age/number and more the maturity of the character and the nature of the plot (e.g. teen drama). Although Hit Girl is ~13 and Katniss Everdeen is ~17, I think both work effectively with older viewers (including guys) because they’re strikingly competent, mature and totally ungirly. One of the reasons the cinematic Hal Jordan failed so hard (especially with viewers older than 13) was that he was at least 25 but acted like he was 13 (and, umm, more girly than either of the aforementioned ladies)–Katniss gives her sister a badass hold-yourself-together speech at a time when she’s been picked for a brutal deathmatch where she’s 95% likely to die. Hal Jordan goes to pieces when he sees a photo of his father who died decades ago. Umm, Hal, 1) that may warrant counseling and 2) if you’re liable to freeze up when you see your father’s photograph, DON’T HAVE A PHOTOGRAPH OF HIM IN THE COCKPIT. He later claims that he’s a failure at everything besides flying, but I’d disagree about the flying.

    “Would it be hard for readers to believe that the teenagers are really useful in fights or missions?”
    PS: As a point of comparison, servicemen can enlist at the age of 17 with parental consent. Again, I think it goes to maturity and personality much more than a number.

  33. Laichraon 01 Sep 2012 at 11:46 am

    Thank you very much for all of those in-depth and wonderful answers!

  34. acharaon 04 Nov 2012 at 7:52 am

    So, for my superhero team novel, I have a group of villains and criminals who subvert various cliches (I hope) and who are forced to work together for the government. Could that work? Their crimes are all of varying severities; for example I have a conman/supersoldier thief, a tax evading arms dealer, a supervillain who previously attempted a takeover of the world, an alchoholic cyborg arrested for drunken driving, an assassin, the head of an international crime ring and a soldier who went AWOL after an unpleasant encounter with a superscientist. Could this work? o_O And would it be too hard for readers to get behind criminals and villains? Also, that adds up to 7 members – too many? Thanks!

  35. B. McKenzieon 04 Nov 2012 at 12:03 pm

    “I have a group of villains and criminals who subvert various cliches (I hope) and who are forced to work together for the government… could this work? Would it be too hard for readers to get behind criminals and villains?” Most encouragingly, there’s a modest audience for Suicide Squad. Kick-Ass was also modestly successful even though it features two superheroes (including a ~12 year old) who are essentially serial killers. Rorschach from Watchmen has some very strong fans even though he’s sort of a psychotic killer. Some criminal-centric works have had significant success in other genres recently (e.g. on a weekly basis, something like 5 million people watch Dexter, a show about a serial killer, even though it’s trapped on a premium channel*).

    *It’s the most popular show on Showtime.



    “Also, that adds up to 7 members — too many?” I’d probably recommend cutting it to down to 4 (maybe 5) members to give yourself more time/space to develop each character. Some possibilities here:
    –Maybe the conman/thief could be merged with the arms dealer (e.g. theft and smuggling strike me as pretty intuitive).
    –The supervillain who tried to take over the world might be redundant with the head of the international crime ring. It might be possible to merge the two and/or delete one.
    –Perhaps the two soldiers could be merged? (E.g. maybe the superscientist picked a thieving soldier for some possibly shady operation because he knew he could use the evidence to blackmail the soldier into cooperating–this might cause the soldier to go AWOL because his crimes were about to come to light).
    –Of the seven, the alcoholic cyborg arrested for drunken driving feels least interesting so far.

  36. acharaon 04 Nov 2012 at 12:33 pm

    Thanks for the very prompt and interesting reply! It gave me a lot to think about, and thank you very much for that! I think I can probably cut it down to five, or four if I got rid of another. I’m still fleshing out the storyline, so I don’t know if I absolutely 100% need all five. Anyway, I’ve cut it down to:
    1. The supersoldier
    2. The cyborg
    3. The arms dealer
    4. The supervillain
    5. The assassin

    Would you say that there any cliches I should look out for while writing this cast? I know they have been used a lot and I want to avoid any pitfalls. For references sake, the supersoldier is a girl and she is the youngest; the rest are all older men.

  37. ViceVersaon 10 Nov 2012 at 12:23 pm

    What would you say to beginning to write a superhero team according to TvTropes Five Man Band? Would that work or not, in your opinion?

    1. The Leader
    2. The Lancer
    3. The Smart Guy
    4. The Big Guy
    5. The Chick

  38. B. McKenzieon 10 Nov 2012 at 5:57 pm

    Hello, ViceVersa. Personally, I would be inclined to reject a story which had a cast of characters so archetypically limited. I’d definitely want to see more three-dimensional character development… “The Leader?” What separates him/her from 95% of other leader characters? What makes him/her interesting? “The Smart Guy?” What makes him more interesting than 95% of other smart guys? (For example, see Tony Stark here–he’s more interesting because he brings in traits not normally associated with brilliant scientists. For example, his main flaw is a lack of restraint rather than excessive shyness).

    Is there ANYTHING interesting about The Big Guy, or is he just there for combat? If I could use my own The Taxman Must Die as an example, I think Agent Orange’s personality makes him more interesting than just that he’s exceptionally large–his relationship with the main character is probably more important than his role in combat. There are at least 100 characters out there that can do everything he can do in combat, but not nearly as many that would eat a partner’s resume or cause his partner to make so many social gaffes. If the most interesting thing about one of my main characters were his size, I wouldn’t even bother submitting.

    “The Chick?” I’d lean hard towards an insta-rejection here. To be fair, I’d also insta-reject “The Guy”: a gender is not an interesting goal or personality and makes the character sound helluva boring. My #1 suggestion for female characters would be that something which would be boring for male characters would probably be boring for female characters as well. Does “The Chick” sound any more interesting to you than “The Guy” would?

    Especially when you’re pitching stories to publishers, I’d recommend giving your characters more personality than the 0-1 traits implied by these roles. For example, what sort of unusual actions/decisions do your characters get that 95% of characters in similar roles WOULDN’T do? E.g. Tony Stark is pretty much the only scientist that would cattle-prod Bruce Banner to see if he will turn into the Hulk. Elastigirl, Black Widow, and Hit Girl have interesting personality traits separating them from most other female characters. At one point, Maddie Warner (the leader on Dynamo Five) steals a super-serum from a villain the team defeats and uses it in a very interesting way. I think it’s refreshing when a team leader can do things behind the team’s back (even if the leader doesn’t have superpowers).

  39. Jade D.on 10 Jul 2013 at 10:39 am

    About Love Interests-
    I had a character that was just a love interest, but as I started writing more, he got more deeply involved in the plot, as well as being a suitable companion for one of the characters in the original plot (because he works at a relatively low position at a weapons testing/development lab for a major spy company, he met this other character (the child genius protégée ‘Pip’) on the job) Being a microbiologists and her being a genetics expert and having a dash of knowledge about disease mutation, sometimes they are the only people who understand each other (which is only all to normal at the lab) Should I still cut him? If I did, it would do some significant plot damage.

  40. minhazon 27 Jun 2014 at 12:58 pm

    I think this has helped me a lot with thinking about my story

  41. minhazon 27 Jun 2014 at 12:59 pm

    my story will be well improved

  42. minhazon 27 Jun 2014 at 12:59 pm

    I will be the best writer in Blackburn

  43. B. McKenzieon 27 Jun 2014 at 3:01 pm

    Good luck! You just have to beat Josephine Cox. 🙂

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