Nov 10 2012

Tips for Writing Superhero Ensembles and Superhero Teams

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).


3. In most team stories (but not all), plot coherence comes either from a single main character (e.g. Mr. Incredible on The Incredibles) or from the team members spending most of their time together (e.g. Fantastic Four). If you have an ensemble story that isn’t about a coherent team (like Watchmen or Wild Cards), I’d recommend being especially sure to make the story feel coherent. For example, giving the characters common problems will help ensure coherence even if they aren’t constantly interacting. Come up with ways that their individual journeys affect other characters and/or create obstacles for each other. The first season of Heroes stands out there—in particular, Sylar (and secondarily the Company) created plot threads which made the story feel coherent than just 10+ superpowered people doing their own things.



4. With a larger cast of protagonists, I think satisfying protagonist-vs-protagonist conflict is necessary. Along with character development, I think that PVP conflict is the main aspect which separated great team and/or ensemble movies (e.g. Avengers and X-Men: First Class) from okay ones (X-Men 3 and probably Watchmen) and godawful ones (Batman & Robin and League of Extraordinary Gentlemen). In addition to three-dimensional personalities, I’d recommend coming up with ways in which each character’s goals and actions affect and/or set back other character’s goals and actions.



5. In a story centered on a lone superhero, you may be able to find space for a forgettable action scene or two (e.g. bank robberies featuring faceless mooks doing nothing more memorable than letting the hero show off his/her powers*). Ensemble pieces generally have less margin for error here—with so many characters pushing for development, it will be more obvious if time is wasted. Incorporating unusual actions/decisions is one way to use action scenes to develop characters — for example, Captain America asks a team of assailants preparing an ambush if anyone would like to back out before they get started, whereas someone like Wolverine would have attacked first while he had some element of surprise. Spider-Man breaks off a chase to save a civilian in danger, but the Punisher probably wouldn’t.

*In contrast, the bank robbery which opens The Dark Knight did an excellent job developing the villain and unfolded in a much more interesting way than a superhero coming in and showing off his superpowers on undeveloped bank robbers.


5.1. I would highly recommend checking out how X-Men: First Class incorporated both nonaction and action scenes into a central plot which at face value is mainly about action. I’d also recommend checking out how it incorporated dialogue into action. (Many less-effective stories focus on one-liners in action dialogue, but I thought that First Class’ action dialogue was both more substantial and more entertaining).



6. As more characters are added, there’s less time and space for each character. Among other things, this tends to limit how much space there is for aspects like the origin story and complicated superpowers. In a novel centered on a lone superhero, it probably wouldn’t be an issue if you took 10 or maybe 20 pages on the origin story. In contrast, if you have 5+ characters, there just isn’t that much space for each character’s origin. One workaround is a mass origin (e.g. in X-Men, Heroes, Static Shock and TMNT, the characters all develop their superpowers from the same source, although not necessarily in the same incident). In contrast, if you spend 5-10 pages describing one character’s demonic/magical training and 5-10 pages describing another character’s powersuit and 5-10 pages describing Captain Badass’ training and so on, that’s a substantial chunk of the book that probably isn’t contributing to the main plot as much as it could. (One possible workaround: perhaps the origins relate to the main plot in some way–maybe all of the protagonists were motivated or affected in some way by the central protagonist or antagonist or perhaps the origin stories affect each other in major ways).


6.1. Instead of introducing side-characters that mainly interact with only a particular character, I’d recommend focusing on side-characters that are more versatile. For example, TMNT’s Splinter can interact with all of the turtles, whereas Fantastic Four’s Alicia Masters is 99% limited to interacting with The Thing. If you have an ensemble of 5+ main cast members, it’s probably not very practical to give each of them multiple side-characters that don’t interact with other major characters.

49 responses so far

49 Responses to “Tips for Writing Superhero Ensembles and Superhero Teams”

  1. Nayanon 10 Nov 2012 at 10:45 pm

    I think there were a few protagonist vs protagonist conflict in Watchmen. Comedian vs other members, Dr. Manhattan vs Silk Spectre 2, Rorschach vs Dr. Manhattan in the climax etc. I think the film was more than okay.

  2. Karmaon 11 Nov 2012 at 2:19 am

    Hey B.Mac,
    Why did you mention The League of Extra-ordinary Gentlemen as a God-awful movie?

    Many of my School mates like that movie.
    I would like your views on the movie. ^_^

  3. Nayanon 11 Nov 2012 at 3:48 am

    ‘LXG’ was a very ordinary film with lot of plot holes and 1D characters. I watched it only because there was an Indian actor in a major role (Naseeruddin Shah as Captain Nemo).

  4. B. McKenzieon 11 Nov 2012 at 8:19 am

    League of Extraordinary Gentlemen got 17% on Rotten Tomatoes.

    –Adding Tom Sawyer and Dorian Gray was probably not helpful. The cast was already large enough to present challenges.

    –The movie did actually attempt character growth and noncombat interactions (e.g. Quatermain mentoring Tom Sawyer), but I’d recommend checking out First Class, Incredibles and Avengers for a much sharper execution.

    –There’s very little depth to most of the characters. For example, Quatermain doesn’t really have flaws or make interesting decisions or otherwise do things which compare favorably to the protagonists of others movies. I’d recommend checking out Bob/Helen in The Incredibles, James Bond in Skyfall and Casino Royale, Tony Stark in Iron Man, Wikus van de Merwe (the main character) in District 9, and Xavier/Magneto/Mystique/Beast in First Class.

    –My suspension of disbelief fell apart when they fit a submarine through Venice’s super-narrow canals… and then had a car chase in a city without streets.

  5. acharaon 11 Nov 2012 at 10:37 am

    “6.1. Instead of introducing side-
    characters that mainly interact
    with only a particular character,
    I’d recommend focusing on side-
    characters that are more
    I briefly had this problem with my MS and superhero team. :-P One of the characters, Leah, mainly served as a foil and morality pet for my semi-reformed supervillain, but I thought that this limited her usefulness too much. So I made her into a conman supersoldier. ;-)
    B.Mac, are there certain cliches that are very predominant in superhero teams?
    For example, nearly every team I can think of has a ‘scientist’ character on them – (Tony Stark, Bruce Banner, Reed Richards, Hank McCoy, Hank Pym, sometimes Peter Parker, Dr.Manhattan etc).
    So are there certain ‘roles’ that are typically filled on a team?

  6. B. McKenzieon 11 Nov 2012 at 12:05 pm

    “B.Mac, are there certain cliches that are very predominant in superhero teams?
    For example, nearly every team I can think of has a ‘scientist’ character on them…” I would regard this as a convention rather than a cliche–it would be relatively easy to do a scientist character that was interesting. A nerdy scientist whose main flaw is a lack of social boldness is a cliche–harder to do interestingly.

    Some other conventions that come to mind:
    –Somebody skilled in stealthy situations (e.g. perhaps someone with a criminal background, a spy, a master of deception, a shapeshifter, or a quiet-and-mobile character like Batman, etc). However, as with any archetype, I think personality and distinctiveness are critical.

    –If the team uses vehicles, it would make sense if somebody on the team were really good at driving and/or flying. In most cases, I’d recommend giving this person some other role(s), though. For example, in First Class, the team pilot was also the brilliant scientist.

    –Perhaps somebody who’s unusually skilled in social situations (perhaps a Batman-style interrogator, a Holmes-style investigator, an Iago-style liar/manipulator, an agent provocateur, a police handler of criminal informants, or someone really good at cutting red tape and/or wringing assistance out of reluctant authority figures, etc).

    –If the premise involves supernatural or highly unordinary activity of some sort (e.g. aliens or magic or realistic-but-unmundane material like conflict between the team and the military), I can definitely see why the writer might choose a character personally familiar with the subject at hand (e.g. an alien, a spell-caster, an occult investigator, a demon or some other supernatural being, someone affected by magic in a very personal way, someone who’s worked with aliens very closely, someone with military experience, etc). As with every other archetype, this can stack with archetypes. For example, a character’s role should not be limited to being The Alien–e.g. the Martian Manhunter is a technological expert, a detective, a shapeshifter, occasionally hilarious, and contributes interesting relationships with characters like The Flash. He also happens to be an alien.

    –AT LEAST one person who gets witty and/or clever lines. This person doesn’t need to be a stereotypical joker–for example, I think Batman is consistently the funniest character in the DC Universe even though he’s consistently serious. He also does a great job as a dramatic foil to pretty much every other character–it’s hard to find great lines from DC that don’t involve Batman in some way. (PS: I regard it as a red flag when a synopsis describes a character as a “joker” or “funny.” It’s so rare for these characters to actually BE funny–more often they weakly attempt to force humor which doesn’t work nearly as naturally as it does for characters like Batman and Iron Man. See also: Beast Boy, Michelangelo, the cinematic Green Lantern, and probably the Flash).

    –It’s not uncommon to have an authority figure and/or someone more sympathetic to authority. However, I’d recommend coming up with a more original angle here than giving this character a conflict with more free-spirited and/or young and/or hippie characters (e.g. the USMC’s Jon Stewart vs. Supergirl, Hal Jordan vs. Green Arrow, drill instructor types vs. recruits/trainees, Leonardo vs. Raphael, Captain Atom vs. Superman, etc). Captain America vs. Iron Man took this in a slightly less conventional direction in Avengers than Rhodes vs. Iron Man in the Iron Man series. Skyfall had an interesting take with M and Bond. Another possibility is forcing a character into a leadership role even though he/she is grossly out of place as an authority figure (e.g. Wolverine or perhaps Hellboy).

    –Somebody unusually familiar with the enemy’s operations? (Could be someone that’s had run ins or a long-standing vendetta against the antagonists, a former associate of the enemy, a former victim of the enemy, somebody that has some sort of professional or research interest in the enemy, a present or former undercover agent, someone who’s unusually connected to people that are familiar with the enemy, etc).

    –Somebody the enemy is unusually interested in, perhaps as a target or some other sort of goal for the villain? See also: The Taxman Must Die :) .

  7. S.nirvanaon 11 Nov 2012 at 1:16 pm

    Hi Mr B. McKenzie, why don’t you make reviews for some mangas like death note for exemple ! that manga is a work of a genius !!

  8. Dr. Vo Spaderon 11 Nov 2012 at 2:52 pm

    “…I think Batman is consistently the funniest character in the DC Universe…”

    Superman had a great line in the Justice League game.

    Batman: “Braniac must be behind that door.”
    Superman: “You really are the world’s greatest detective.”

  9. B. McKenzieon 11 Nov 2012 at 3:26 pm

    Sorry, but I don’t know anything about manga.

  10. Marion Harmonon 11 Nov 2012 at 8:33 pm

    Probably the best “way in” to a team story is to have the protagonist be the new guy on the team; this allows the writer to introduce everyone and explain what needs to be explained without too obviously info-dumping. Doing an origin story, then introducing the new hero to the team works very well.

    It is actually very easy to do large teams–as in Legion of Super Heroes size–if you divide them into several categories: i.e., main characters, strong secondary characters, support characters, background-color characters, etc. A classic example of this is X-Men and X-Men 2: In X-Men, Rogue (and Wolverine) were the new guys, and X-Men 2 had a mutant student-body that formed a larger “team” around the X-Men themselves.

  11. B. McKenzieon 11 Nov 2012 at 10:16 pm

    “Probably the best “way in” to a team story is to have the protagonist be the new guy on the team; this allows the writer to introduce everyone and explain what needs to be explained without too obviously info-dumping.” I agree, MH. An additional advantage here is that the new guy usually starts out with the same information as the reader does, which contributes to relatability and perhaps a more extraordinary/novel feeling than for characters that would regard the events as more routine.

    “Doing an origin story, then introducing the new hero to the team works very well.” That could work, although I think the individual origin for the main hero could be skipped (particularly in a team story) unless it does a really good job contributing something to the characterization and/or plot we wouldn’t see otherwise. (If the only thing the origin story does is explain where the superpowers came from, I think it could probably be skipped, especially in a team story–like in The Incredibles, for example).

  12. S.nirvanaon 12 Nov 2012 at 2:33 am

    Mr B. McKenzie you will understand my insistence if you just have a look a this piece of work ” Death note ” !
    I asure to you that you will be a huge fan of mangas too :D

  13. M. Happenstanceon 12 Nov 2012 at 10:55 am

    Death Note is admittedly an interesting piece for writers, especially in terms of legitimately gripping hero vs. villain conflict that actually feels like it’s taking place between supergeniuses*. I’d review it myself if I had the time.

    * I don’t care what you’re trying to do, if I can figure out a genius supervillain’s master plan before he does, HE IS NOT A GENIUS SUPERVILLAIN.

  14. DICKY JOEon 12 Nov 2012 at 4:46 pm

    i want examples of writing it will help me with the writing man like help me

  15. B. Macon 12 Nov 2012 at 8:36 pm

    DJ, to learn from writing samples firsthand, I’d recommend a novel. That’d probably be more coherent than super-brief blog snippets. If you’re into superhero stories, I’d recommend starting with Wild Cards #1.

  16. B. Macon 12 Nov 2012 at 8:37 pm

    “Death Note is admittedly an interesting piece for writers, especially in terms of legitimately gripping hero vs. villain conflict that actually feels like it’s taking place between supergeniuses*. I’d review it myself if I had the time.” Please let me know if you’d be interested in reviewing it later.

  17. ekimmakon 14 Nov 2012 at 4:45 pm

    Yeah, my problem with my first attempt at writing was a severe lack of any character development, flaws, or really that much of any good writing. Plot wasn’t really interesting, either.

    I rewrote the whole thing, throwing in a lot more main characters, and gave everyone a much harder time than ‘here, money, go save the world.’ While I can say that it was certainly better than my first attempt, I think Extreme Team still had a few problems with it.

    From reading this, I think my problem was that I put too much thought into the characters, but not enough to connect them. Twelve characters is a handful even for a seasoned author, which I most certainly am not, and the only thing tying them together was the consequences if they failed in their “quest for justice”. Example:

    *Michael, Zach, Tacha, and Sarah could all tie their power origins back to BioTech industries.
    *Rayne, Ace, Raven, and Farley could tie their origins back through ancestry
    *Rayne, Mark, Janet, and Calvin were all mutants
    *Rayne, Raven and Farley more specifically had arcane origins (Yes, Rayne had two origins)
    *Ace, Rayne, Zach and Tacha all have (unknown) connections to the Electrical Eight
    *Mark, Janet, Zach, Sarah, and Farley all have (unknown) connections to Vainflower
    *Sarah and Rayne were friends for practically forever
    *Sarah and Farley knew each other before Farley was turned
    *Janet and Mark used to be romantically involved
    *Furthermore, those two used to be friends with Zach

    … and the list just went on. I was probably too ambitious with it, to be honest.

  18. B. McKenzieon 14 Nov 2012 at 6:20 pm

    “From reading this, I think my problem was that I put too much thought into the characters, but not enough to connect them. Twelve characters is a handful even for a seasoned author, which I most certainly am not…” While you’re right about 12+ characters being helluva challenging, I’d recommend checking out Wild Cards #1 for an example where an anthology made it work. I think the key there was getting rid of characters and/or demoting them to side-characters as soon as they were no longer needed on center-stage. Also, most of the characters weren’t on superhero teams together (it may be harder to sideline characters on the main team*).

    *Some workarounds: the character was only a temporary member (e.g. working with the team on a particular mission, but not a full-fledged member), the characters are on separate squads and don’t necessarily interact often with members of other squads, a character is killed or seriously injured and spends a lot of time recovering out of sight, etc.

  19. Aj of Earthon 15 Nov 2012 at 8:01 pm

    This article is really useful. Pow.

  20. B. McKenzieon 15 Nov 2012 at 10:23 pm

    Thanks. Please feel free to suggest any other articles you would find useful.

  21. Derp Writeron 16 Nov 2012 at 5:38 pm

    “Probably the best “way in” to a team story is to have the protagonist be the new guy on the team; this allows the writer to introduce everyone and explain what needs to be explained without too obviously info-dumping. Doing an origin story, then introducing the new hero to the team works very well.”

    I was very relieved to read this, and even more so when B. McKenzie agreed with you.

    In my WWI story, the main character is a new machine-gunner who is adopted into the specific squad that he serves in because the story’s “badass” (Barrett, for those few who’ve read my small review area (though it should be noted that in the original and final story there are no zombies and none of the other characters involved are present except for Barrett himself) is close friends with his father and promises to take care of him during the “Last War”. He’s only even entering military service because his father believed that it would be good for his character to participate in the last war in history.

    However, this idea does seem to me to be a twist on Saving Private Ryan for some reason. though I can’t explain why. Does anyone else see it that way or is it just me?

  22. Aj of Earthon 19 Nov 2012 at 9:12 pm

    Hey B. Mac, so an article suggestion if it strikes you: It would be righteous if you covered an entire film, beginning to end. Your choice of flick obviously, though definitely from the point of view of your What makes a hero? question.

    That’s probably more than just an article, but it *would* be righteous.

  23. B. McKenzieon 20 Nov 2012 at 6:29 am

    Do you mean like a purely chronological review (i.e. covering events only as they happen in the movie)? That’d be helpful for scene-focused ideas (e.g. what the villain did effectively/ineffectively in a particular scene and/or how to improve an exchange between the villain and hero), but I think it’d be harder to look at substantial changes to the movie (e.g. how to make the conflict between the villain and the hero more interesting throughout the entire movie).

    If I could alter your idea, I think it might be interesting to do a dialogue-centric review. Among the superhero movies that I haven’t already reviewed, I think Kick-Ass and Spider-Man 1 or 2 would be really useful as examples of dialogue that is very sharp, whereas most of the dialogue in Superman Returns could have been more effective at developing the characters, advancing the plot, and interesting viewers.

  24. Aj of Earthon 20 Nov 2012 at 8:23 am

    Purely chronological, yes, but totally fleshed-out. I like the idea of cracking open an entre film, dissecting motovations beginning to end, etc. rather than choice scenes only. Like I mentioned in my review of your recent book, your perspective is relevant and you provide awesome insight. An at-length piece (instead of bite-sized) would be extremely useful, and really interesting besides.
    And I like your alteration, focusing on a more dialogue-centric approach. That’s definitely just as important as character/plot analysis. And if that’s the route you want to take, I vote Spider-Man 2.
    Dig it.

  25. Jade D.on 14 Sep 2013 at 10:47 pm

    Dear B.Mac:
    I need a little help with some characters in my team, I just have this feel that there are too many. Hear is a basic list and explanations:

    - Criminal mastermind+ team joker. Has burning rebelliousness to authority, also major show-off. Mainly in field, but also interrogation expert .

    - Goody-goody that feels like he has to prove his worth to the team, other than being good cop, social intelligence is his specialty.

    - Team leader who believes she really isn’t qualified, so she is overly emotional, which counteracts her fake, tough persona. Also awesome field solider.

    -Scientist, ironically girly-girl as well, nerd who’s major goal is popularity. Major tecky.

    -Tank, but philosophical. She keeps the conflict to a low minimum in group, but dose all the butt-kicking.

    could any of these characters be combined or made better? open to suggestions

  26. B. McKenzieon 15 Sep 2013 at 9:40 am

    I’m excited about the criminal mastermind / team joker / interrogation specialist. I can easily see how such a character could have interesting action scenes and interesting conversations both with members on his team and with outsiders.

    It sounds like the “goody-goody that feels like he has to prove his worth to the team” and the “leader who feels she isn’t really qualified” could probably be merged — it sounds like they’re both insecure, so there may be some redundancy there.

    The scientist whose major goal is popularity also sounds like she might be insecure about how many friends she has. It might help to take this in a more mature direction (e.g. a desire for recognition) to help differentiate her from the other insecure characters. It might also help if her goal could create high-stakes conflicts and/or problems. Helping stop criminals is great, but if she really cares about what other scientists think, it might bother her if most other scientists looked down on what she was doing, whereas she might have won a Nobel already if she were working for a university/laboratory/etc.

    “Tank, but philosophical… keeps the conflict to a minimum within group…” I’d definitely have to see how this is executed, but my guess is that if the character’s most notable trait is being philosophical and her main function outside of combat is calming other people down, she may not be so interesting outside of combat. My main suggestion for the character would be giving her the ability to contribute to conversation independent of other characters having their own conflicts. If you’re looking for an unusual mental combination for this character, going scientific with a tank might be easier to work with than going philosophical. (If you were interested in that route, it could either be a merging of the scientist and the tank, or perhaps the tank is scientifically competent enough to handle some scientific tasks whereas the scientist is brilliant enough to handle almost all of them — this would make it easier for the tank and scientist to have interesting scenes if they sometimes have a reason to work together).

    Interesting relationships… I can easily envision the relationship between the criminal mastermind and the team leader being interesting. The relationship between the leader and the insecure goody-goody sounds sort of workable (particularly if there’s some conflict between them — perhaps the team leader is more ethically flexible than the “goody-goody”). The scientist and tank sound like they don’t have as much to work with in terms of personality right now. A calming character might actually REDUCE dramatic/interesting events on the team, and I’m having trouble envisioning seeing how a desire for popularity might result in interesting scenes and/or interesting conflicts in a team of adults. (In contrast, it’s easier to see how the desire for popularity could result in a conflict in high school).

  27. Jade D.on 15 Sep 2013 at 10:35 am

    Originally the team was designed for a high school-drama setting, but when I actually started writing, naturally I thought the idea was tired and juvenile. Thus, I came to you to re-evaluate the team. I think for story purposes the “goody-goody” just can’t really be combined with the team leader, because she kind of a kick-ass and he is my vision of a competent C3P0. I thought of cutting him, but it didn’t turn out well, being he seems to be the only character with common sense. But I love the idea about the tank being intelligent enough to help out the scientist. Thanks :)!

    p.s. Do you have any more articles on character-combining? I just think I have too many extras with big parts.

  28. Thalamuson 20 Sep 2013 at 7:53 am

    I don’t exactly have a team in my story, but I do have a duo, and so I would like some advice on my idea about why a heroic type character and an anti-hero character (massive over-simplification of the characters, but it works for this) would work together: because they help each other to survive. The anti-hero (Ambrose Mierdan) has kept them as efficient as possible over the years, and is probably the reason the two are still alive, because he will do things that the hero (John Winters) will not allow himself to consider. John is the only reason Ambrose hasn’t become little better than their enemies, as he acts as Ambrose’s moral compass, and John is also the reason the two haven’t been taken out of the game by some of their superiors – a lot of people know and like John, and would object to his death or incapacitation in a way that they definitely would not if Ambrose were killed (and, since John’s moral principles would not allow him to abandon Ambrose, John would inevitably have to be taken down in order to get to Ambrose).
    What do people think? Is it any good? Does it have potential as an idea? Should it even come up in the story, or just be something I keep in mind while writing the characters?

  29. Blackscaron 21 Sep 2013 at 2:07 pm


    I’m no B. McKenzie, but I hope I can offer sufficient advice. Personally, I think that’s an interesting idea you’ve come up with. I think it definitely has potential, and could possibly create an interesting conflict between the two, depending on what scenario they were inserted into.
    Perhaps you could try to incorporate it into the story at some point, yes – though the timing of said incorporation depends on the sort of story you’re writing, honestly.

    I’d like to hear a bit more about your ideas; your characters seem to have an interesting dynamic. :)

    I hope this helped, if only slightly.


  30. Thalamuson 22 Sep 2013 at 2:33 am

    @Blackscar: Ideas, advice, and opinions are always helpful, especially when coming from an unbiased source, so thank you for reviewing the idea.
    The story I am writing is an urban fantasy set in England (primarily, or at least initially, in Gloucester), and focuses on the aftermath of the fall of what might reasonably be called the “governing body” of magic in England (it has more in similarity with a business enterprise that just happens to have the most influence over magical beings and people, though they like to play up the magical ruler aspect of it to maintain a degree of decorum, calling themselves the “Elder Court” – as in the tree, not the indicator of age) and so a lot of groups and factions are rushing in to fill the power vacuum left in its absence.
    The two main characters are forced together mostly by circumstance, as they are two of the few of the Court’s enforcers that stayed loyal, though for different reasons – John Winters did it out of his belief that without a central pillar of authority things would fall into chaos (I have explained John’s character in more detail elsewhere on the site), while Ambrose Mierdan wants to regain order in the hopes of setting up a new Court to control magic in England, with himself as a prominent figure. The two have different ideas, but compatible aims in the short term – try to regain order, and build a Court to keep that order, even though they disagree on whether that Court should be a new one, or the old one restored.

  31. Blackscaron 22 Sep 2013 at 8:32 am


    You’re welcome! I’m glad I could offer even the smallest bit of assistance!

    Ah, urban fantasy? Personally, I’ve always had a certain affinity for urban fantasy, haha. :)
    What event brought on the downfall of the “governing body”, then? Will you mention that in-story, or no?
    Also, I like how John and Ambrose are forced together by circumstance – it will offer plenty of opportunities for character development. Also, the fact Ambrose and John have radically different goals will contribute to some interesting protagonist-vs-protagonist conflict, though not necessarily always physical!

    I think you have an interesting premise going so far. By any chance, have you written any chapters yet?


  32. Thalamuson 22 Sep 2013 at 12:49 pm

    I have written a few chapters, yes, but I am not quite at the stage where I would be comfortable with peer review. It is a flaw that I recognise in myself that I am prone to procrastination, so I try to do a certain number of pages per week at least. I will mention what brought out the downfall of the Elder Court in-story: on a superficial level it was tension between various factions and powerful individuals, but it was definitely engineered by another group, who are still working in the background to achieve their goals. Of course, the two protagonists are also being subtly manipulated as well, though they (and the reader, hopefully) may not realise it straight away.

  33. Blackscaron 22 Sep 2013 at 7:09 pm


    That’s perfectly reasonable; I’m the same way, at times. (Though, I am just now beginning to ask others to review, haha. It takes different people different amounts of time to become comfortable with that sort of thing!)

    Subtle manipulation is always an interesting twist; I, personally, am partial to incorporating it into my own stories. If you are subtle enough, I think it might be a pleasant surprise for readers later on once the manipulation is revealed. It all depends on how you execute it, honestly!
    I don’t think you’ll have much trouble with that, though; you definitely seem capable of pulling such a thing off!


  34. Elecon 25 Sep 2013 at 4:53 am

    Thalamus, your plot summary sounds fresh and original, at least to my ears :). I wish you every success in writing it, and I hope to read some of it one day, when you get over your aversion to peer reviewing :P. It’s okay though, I’ve had to finished the entire first draft of my novel before I even thought of peer reviewing, so you’ve got plenty of time.

  35. Keziaon 16 Nov 2013 at 11:33 pm

    I was wondering if supervillain teams would be ok too. If so, here are a couple of the members of my group of antagonists.

    Asher- Goody-guy/ Corrupter- Though a generally kind, pleasant, and soft-spoken guy, he is always the first to rationalize, defend, and justify the bad guys more heinous and generally unforgivable actions and choices. Also constantly tries to take advantage of the superheroes prejudices and preconceptions about people to turn them against each other or even to bring them to his side. Minor telepathic and telekinetic powers. Excellent manipulator and strategist. Capable with firearms and close combat weapons.

    Kirsten- Techy/ pseudo-therapist- Creates and equips the team with her own inventions ranging from ray guns to pancake flippers she is also the main moneymaker of the team as many of her inventions are available in many stores nationwide, always under a front company of course. She is always there to listen to her teammates problems and will help in whatever way she can. Armed with a powered exoskeleton and some of her more “interesting” (read: horrific) weapons.

    Ingrid- Medic/ Boisterous- The first to the fight and the first to the party, she makes sure that her team is giving 110%, all the time. Her power is perhaps the strongest as it deals with regeneration and degeneration, she can either speed up her entire teams healing processes by a small amount or heal a teammate’s mortal injuries in minutes. Likewise, she can speed up the aging processes of multiple enemies or multiply an enemy’s body’s accumulated wear and tear to crippling amounts in a blink of an eye.

  36. Keziaon 17 Nov 2013 at 12:20 am

    Last member of supervillain team

    Dave- All-Out Assault/ Only Sane Person- A balanced person with a cool and calm approach to any situation, he is only a part of a supervillain team because of the corruption and infighting within superhero teams and their supervisors. Dave is the leader of this small group and ensures that his team doesn’t do anything to jeopardize or stray from the mission, which means he constantly has to contend with Asher’s constant psychological and social machinations; Kirsten’s experiments and inventions, and their massive collateral damage; and Ingrid’s substance abuse problems and deathseeker attitude. Body Horror powers forces Ingrid to maintain a degeneration effect on him whenever out of combat to counter the monstrous mutations he undergoes when Ingrid’s power is not in effect. Third lowest bodycount of the whole team after Asher and Kirsten.

  37. NatureWitchon 18 Nov 2013 at 3:30 am

    It does seem intresting, but I have to say that Ingrids power doesn’t seem to have any limitations. A teammate is dieing, BAM, now you are healed. They have an opponet that is to powerful, BAM, now it is just pile of bones. It kind of takes away the suspense. Or forces the heroes to just randomly beat ´the villains, without much explainations.

    Otherwise it do seem intresting.

  38. Keziaon 18 Nov 2013 at 7:44 pm

    Thanks for the advice NatureWitch, you’re right I should probably nerf Ingrid or put limitations on her powers. Or give her new powers altogether, will post any changes. Thanks again. Have a good day.

  39. Grinny faceon 10 Mar 2016 at 6:18 pm

    Is it okay to have 2 characters in a team to have similar powers/roles in a fight as long as they have different personalities? Like, if 2 characters had super strength and durability and are both basically tanks but one is a party animal and the other is a quiet scientist.

  40. B. McKenzieon 10 Mar 2016 at 7:01 pm

    “Is it okay to have 2 characters in a team to have similar powers/roles in a fight as long as they have different personalities?” I think it’s probably not ideal, but not a huge problem. However, I think that merging the 2 characters into one (a scientist, a party animal and also the team tank) would probably be more memorable from both a noncombat and combat perspective. (If the best one-word summary for the scientist’s personality is “quiet,” I’d guess that he/she is probably not getting all that many great moments outside of combat).

  41. Grinny faceon 11 Mar 2016 at 7:59 pm

    Hmm… the more I think about it, maybe I should just cut out the the quite scientist tank guy because they don’t really mingle in scientific stuff and if they need any gadgets they can always just steal some from the bad guys so maybe a scientists character is kinda pointless.

    Only problem that leaves is that there’s an empty slot in the team now I think I need to fill. Cutting the scientists out, the team only has 5 members now and while I don’t have to have 6 that would be ideal. Just can’t think of a role to give to the last guy. Here’s who I have so far:

    1. The schemer – laid back mostly cool headed con woman of the group.

    2. The janitor – mostly just cleans stuff, gets drunk and is the hot head who’s assholeness always backfires.

    3. The tank – fight loving party girl.

    4. The doctor – most calm level headed guy of the bunch.

    5. The engineer – smart stressed out college kid. Not sure whether to cut her out or not.

    6. I don’t know who to put here.

    any suggestions for a role and personality for the 6th guy?

  42. B. McKenzieon 11 Mar 2016 at 11:29 pm

    “Only problem that leaves is that there’s an empty slot in the team now I think I need to fill. Cutting the scientists out, the team only has 5 members now and while I don’t have to have 6 that would be ideal.” What are you looking for from the 6th character that you’re not getting from the first five?

    I’m not very familiar with your plot (or even the genre of the work), but some possibilities for a 6th archetype that come to mind would be something to stealth, another type of criminal, a soldier/warrior, an outsider (maybe a former enemy, maybe someone with a really exotic background, or just someone who’s very different in some way), an investigator of some sort (e.g. a conspiracy nut, a detective, someone whose major goal involves figuring something out, etc), someone with a background highly specific to something in your story (e.g. unusual familiarity with the enemy, maybe a genre-specific specialty like magic/occult/supernatural/alien expertise, etc). Maybe someone who’s unusually dark or hard-bitten in some way (most obviously a badass or a noir protagonist, but less obviously someone who’s been really shaken up by what he’s done or seen or is cosmically cynical, e.g. Det. Cohle from True Detective). Also, team leaders, but that’s pretty half-assed, I think — if you do have a character like that, I’d recommend giving him/her another role and/or archetypes as well.

    “2. The janitor – mostly just cleans stuff, gets drunk and is the hot head who’s assholeness always backfires.” I hope this character is hilarious, but what else can he contribute?

  43. Grinny faceon 12 Mar 2016 at 5:45 pm

    “What are are you looking for from the 6th character that you’re not getting from the first five?” Honestly I just feel that there’s one more role that could fit this group to make it more complete, just not sure what it is yet. Already have the smart ones (engineer, doc ), the smooth talker ( scheming con woman), the tank, and the comic relief asshole (janitor). I feel like I could add one more but have no ideas who. An investigator doesn’t sound too bad though.

    As for plot and genre, just a simple action/dark comedy about a bunch of mercenaries in a dystopian city setting. They all need money for one reason or another and will try taking out mayors and babysitting crime bosses kids to get paid.

    And yeah, the janitor is there mostly to be the (hopefully) funny asshole. He’s also kinda the main character or at least most used POV character. I know that sounds like a bad idea but this story’s also a comedy so might as well make the main guy the most foul mouthed and cynical of the bunch. For example, when he’s seeing a therapist:

    Therapist : alright sir, I’ll say a word and you say the first thing that comes to mind. Teacher.

    Janitor : Stole his car.

    Therapist : Cat.

    Janitor : Dog treat.

    Therapist : Fast food.

    Janitor : Soylent green.

  44. BMon 12 Mar 2016 at 11:25 pm

    “And yeah, the janitor is there mostly to be the (hopefully) funny asshole. He’s also kinda the main character or at least most used POV character. I know that sounds like a bad idea but this story’s also a comedy so might as well make the main guy the most foul mouthed and cynical of the bunch.” I don’t see any problems with a foul-mouthed POV, but why’s he a janitor? (Presumably that’s just his job title rather than what he actually spends most of the story doing, right? If so, I’d suggest defining his role in terms of what he actually spends most of his space on).

  45. Anonymouson 14 Apr 2016 at 11:09 am

    Hey B.mac I’ve got a group of five but I’ve got a large revolving cast of characters that come with them because I have already established them alone, any Ideas?

  46. B. McKenzieon 14 Apr 2016 at 7:46 pm

    “I’ve got a group of five but I’ve got a large revolving cast of characters that come with them because I have already established them alone, any Ideas?” Could you provide more details? E.g. what are the plotting circumstances that cause you to bring along the revolving characters? What purpose do they serve, and would it be possible to have that purpose served by either one of the main characters or a character that can be used and then moved out?

  47. Anonymouson 15 Apr 2016 at 9:11 am

    Hey B.mac
    I kind of got it figured out, I decided to leave two of the team off the rooster and leave in the other three. As for why I am using the side characters is because the way I set the heroes up in the first place they have a team arrow/flash style feel. Meaning you’ve got Tech’s and lawyer’s a small group of people the heroes find usefully and the villain is not some Loki or Doomsday style character he’s like a cross between Kingpin and Waller so the side characters come in handy. But with slight revisions I can make some of the sides able to take on the hero bill and besides the three I kept I’d already established as knowing each other.
    But if you can any more advice??? Help is always wanted.

  48. B. McKenzieon 15 Apr 2016 at 11:58 pm

    “Meaning you’ve got Techs and lawyers, a small group of people the heroes find usefully and the villain is… like a cross between Kingpin and Waller so the side characters come in handy.” Okay, that sounds workable. I’d generally suggest making the side characters less than 100% cooperative with the heroes. E.g. some thoughts on super-scientists here.

  49. Anonymouson 19 Apr 2016 at 9:09 am

    Yeah B.mac I’m trying to do just that, I realize even if a Lawyer is disillusioned he/she wont insistently sign up to help a batman style character or most any other hero. Do you by chance have any articles about the side characters.

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