In Skyfall, M remarks offhandedly that “orphans always make the best recruits” as secret agents. She doesn’t explain, but I would infer that she means that commitment matters more than anything else in her line of work, and that a person with a family won’t be as fully committed because they somewhere to leave to and may have been raised with more inhibitions than someone with a harder upbringing.
In your story, are there any traits or demographic characteristics which are unusually important for your heroes (or villains)? In particular, if you have a team of heroes, what are they looking for when they choose members? (For example, what should a superhero team be looking for besides superpowers? If a team takes random people off the street on life-or-death missions because they happen to have superpowers, does that strike anybody involved as desperate and/or crazy? If not, why not?) If you have a main hero, does he/she have the trait in question? If not, how does he/she get around that?
1. I think the most important aspect is to develop your characters beyond one-dimensional cliches. Generally speaking, a few interesting characters will excite readers much more than many not-so-interesting characters would. Unless you’re doing children’s television, I’d recommend against a Power-Rangers-style setup where the members on a team have a single trait. For example, if your team consists of characters who have nothing going on besides a single trait/archetype (e.g. a hothead, a curious scientist, and an immature joker in Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles), it’s probably less promising than it could be. In contrast, Tony Stark had all of those traits and I think it both made him a deeper and more interesting character while enhancing his dramatic possibilities with other characters (especially in Avengers). For example, Tony Stark’s curiosity combines with his lack of restraint when he decides to cattle-prod Bruce Banner to see if Banner has the Hulk situation under control. Batman’s preparation and paranoia come together in Justice League when he pulls out Kryptonite against a enemy and cryptically says he had it on hand as an “insurance policy.” In contrast, I think there are only two types of scenes between Raphael the hothead and Leonardo the hardass leader (scenes where they hate each other and scenes where they don’t). There’s only so many ways you can have characters act out a single trait with each other.
2. Another problem I’ve seen occasionally is where large superhero teams cut the roles too fine. I’ve seen 3-page synopses for stories which have (say) 8+ characters and half of the characters only get a line of description along the lines of “Avatar has fire powers and defends the base” or “Gridley is incredibly intelligent and is the team’s hacker” or whatever. I would recommend making your characters more versatile than that. For example, pretty much any superhero can defend the base–if base-defense is plot-relevant, just rotate that task among the notable characters or delegate it to a faceless extra that won’t take much space, but please don’t just randomly insert a character that will take space without actually getting to be interesting (or at least develop more interesting characters).
For example, let’s say a team has a scientist, a hacker, a soldier, an explosives expert, an outdoorsman/hunter, a negotiator, and a criminal. I think the most intuitive (though not necessarily best) approach would be to merge some of the characters (e.g. a scientist/hacker, a soldier with a background in wilderness recon and explosives, and a silver-tongued criminal). However, you can mix and match pretty much any of these archetypes into more promising combinations. For example, you could have a criminal scientist, a USAF hacker, a survivalist that knows far more about bombs than he can admit to, and a negotiator that enjoys coercion and/or blackmail far too much. Or a scientist that’s fascinated by explosions, a military hostage-negotiator (or a special forces operative with really good people skills), and a frightfully competent hunter/poacher who’s been coerced by the authorities into helping them catch the antagonist, etc. Hell, if you wanted to, you could probably combine most of all of those characters into 1-2 characters (e.g. a spy with both electronic and physical skills whose main job is tracking down a target and either convincing him to defect or eliminating him).
A lot of the comedy was impeccable and the writers did a lot more with side-characters (especially a hardened/paranoid space Marine and affable Fix-It Felix) than I’m used to seeing from Disney. It had many of the best traits of Pixar movies–unusually innovative scene selection, strong characterization all around, emotionally effective protagonist-vs-protagonist conflict, an unusually interesting villain, an engaging romance, memorable bits of flair (e.g. two awesome space marine weddings), etc. There were a few more kiddy elements (e.g. too much toilet humor and slapstick), but on the whole this movie was extremely adult-friendly (definitely more so than Pixar’s last movie, Brave). Although Wreck-It Ralph involves video games, I think the movie would be highly enjoyable even if you’re not a video game fan. (In contrast, I think Scott Pilgrim would be sort of weird for people that were looking for a more traditional superpowered story).
FIVE YEAR OLD: “Now that I’m President of Candyland, everybody that was ever mean to me will be… executed.”
SPACE MARINE: “This place suddenly got a lot more interesting.”
Did Hollywood or a well-known author just ruin your day by releasing a story that looks strikingly similar to something you’ve been independently developing for years? Here are some ways you can develop your story in a different direction.
1. Focus on unusual character traits. There have been a LOT of superheroes that are brilliant scientists, but Iron Man’s protagonist has a very unusual combination of traits. Whereas most scientist characters struggle with something like shyness, Tony Stark is hyper-charismatic and his main flaw is impulsiveness/recklessness.
2. Give the main characters unusual goals and/or motivations, preferably which tie into unusual decisions. For example, in most national security thrillers, if a character gets framed for a major crime, the character’s quest will center on proving his innocence and/or getting revenge on the people that have framed him. In contrast, Point of Impact’s protagonist is a backwoods hermit who responds to a framing in a very unusual way. His first move is to break into an FBI-guarded morgue to recover the corpse of his dog (who was killed at his house when the criminals were planting evidence against him). The protagonist’s sense of honor causes him tojeopardize his chances of succeeding at the main plot over a point of honor that wouldn’t matter much to most protagonists.
I feel like a marketing executive put a gun to the screenwriter’s head and said “I don’t CARE what the movie is about, put New York City, London, and Hong Kong in it. Just do that thing where the villain is trying to collect plot coupons around the world in places that happen to be […]
Den Warren, (K-Tron, Metahuman Wars) is issuing a call for 3k-5k word submissions for a superhero prose fiction anthology titled, The Supreme Archvillain Election. Each submission will be a supervillain sitting at a huge table explaining why they should be voted as the Supreme Archvillain, then they go into a story, etc. Reprint excerpts and […]
1. This movie is about as bad as Catwoman but, in Catwoman’s defense, it had okay action scenes. 2. Man of Steel particularly struggled with family dialogue. E.g. Clark’s Kryptonian parents take 3 minutes to describe their plan to send him to Earth and say their goodbyes. It’s pretty bland stuff, e.g. melodramatic intonations like […]
I spent 5 hours this week watching Man of Steel and taking 5,000 words of notes. It was like being trapped on an alien planet where the atmosphere consists 80% of characters telling Clark what incredible, grandiose things he symbolizes, 20% of daringly bad action scenes, 15% of grimly constipated expressions, and 15% of acting […]
Out of the Past is a 1947 noir thriller so brilliant I cannot do it justice. I would definitely recommend it, particularly if you’re working with… Characters Plots Accidental deaths falsely claimed as murder-suicides Double-crosses, triple-crosses, and maybe a quadruple-cross depending on how you interpret a self-defense kill with a fishing reel. A complex plot […]
1. The character introductions were lacking. Having Waller narrate the characters’ backstories to a minor character in a no-stakes infodump was probably not ideal. If Waller’s MO is that she’s ruthless and/or exploitative, would have preferred a scene with her coercing Flag to work on the project and/or why they selected these guys rather than […]
1) If you’re mainly looking for something believable, most major U.S. cities use one of the following: Surnames of VIPs, usually explorers and major political leaders (e.g. Houston, Columbus, Washington, Pittsburgh, and Jacksonville). Anglicized spellings of Native American terms, usually related to geography. E.g. Shikako (“skunk place”) -> Chicago and Myaamia (“downstream people”) -> Miami. […]