Archive for the 'Secret Identities' Category

Oct 09 2011

Reasons Your Characters Might Not Use Secret Identities

I provide advice about how to write novels, comic books and graphic novels. Most of my content applies to fiction-writing in general, but I also provide articles specifically about superhero stories.

A few days ago, I covered some of the pros and cons of writing secret identities.  But that covers why YOU the author would want to use them or not.  Why might a character decide not to use them?  Here are some possibilities.

 

1. The character’s loved ones are mostly superpowered and/or not in harm’s way. For example, if the character is a superpowered alien, chances are his family members are, too, so protecting them from danger is a bit less essential. Alternately, in Booster Gold’s case, his family is hundreds of years in the future, so he doesn’t have to worry about them getting hurt.

 

2. The character has family/friends to worry about, but a secret identity is not an option. For example, Alicia Masters might be safer if Ben Grimm had a secret identity, but there’s no way for someone that looks as unusual as The Thing to pull off a secret identity. In The Taxman Must Die, one of the main characters is a mutant alligator that wants a secret identity (because anyone badass has enough enemies to need a secret identity, he reasons), but he surlily discovers that Clark Kent-style glasses don’t give a mutant alligator much of a disguise. (He attributes it to his poor acting skills).

2.1. The character’s origin story was caught on tape or otherwise too public to try a secret identity.  Perhaps the New York Times or Daily Bugle had someone covering that new exhibit of genetically modified spiders and happened to notice that one went missing–it’s not TOTALLY implausible that journalists might do something competent, right?*

*Despite CNN’s best efforts to suggest otherwise.  More on Casey Anthony at 9.

 

3. The character has loved ones, but is so scary that nobody’s brave enough to mess with them.  For example, if a criminal happened to find out the connection between Alfred and Batman, he’d have to be pretty damn nuts to take a shot at Alfred unless he was really looking forward to pain. Bad career move.  If you have a problem with Batman, it’d probably be less suicidal to gun directly for him (so that at least you’re not distracted when he comes for you).

 

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Oct 03 2011

Pros and Cons of Using Secret Identities in Your Story

+: Secret identities provide another avenue of conflict/danger that helps develop the characters outside of combat.

 

-: Your readers have probably seen secret identities used quite a bit before.  It’s arguably the most cliche, conventional aspect of superhero stories.  If you go down this path, I’d recommend having it play out in unusual ways.  For example, in Kick-Ass, the protagonist’s attempt to protect his superhero identity from his father leads to a touching and darkly comical scene where the father mistakenly infers that the son was a victim of a sexual crime.

 

+: It’s a fairly easy way to build coherence between the superpowered side of the story (e.g. what Spider-Man is doing) and the non-powered side of the story (what Peter Parker is doing).  Another possibility that’s pretty well-worn is showing how his superpowered side affects his non-powered life.  For example, Spider-Man 2 covered how hard it was to come up with time for both.  Another possibility would be showing how the strains (injuries, stress, other damages) of one affect the other.

 

-: Especially in stories where only a villain or two uncover the secret identity, secret identities tend to cause side-characters to act atypically dumb.  Many investigative journalists interact with Clark Kent or Peter Parker every day but don’t ask any awkward questions about how Peter Parker comes up with so many more phenomenal Spidey shots than anyone else or wonder how Superman’s face looks awfully familiar.  If you do go with a secret identity, I’d recommend having the secret identity depend on whether the main character can successfully thwart the side-characters’ suspicions, rather than just making the side-characters too dumb/incompetent to get suspicious in the first place.

 

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