Archive for the 'Creating a Superhero' Category

Apr 10 2009

An interesting twist on a stale character concept?

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.

Many (if not most) magical superheroes have day jobs as stage magicians.  (Zatara, Mandrake the Magician, Mr. Mystic, etc).  It’s a stale and completely obvious choice for a day job.  So I decided to do a fresh concept for a magical superhero.  By night, he’s a genuine sorcerer.  By day, he works to disprove supernatural claims, like James Randi.  I think it would be fairly amusing for a sorcerer to resort to nonmagical parlor tricks to convince the masses that what they saw was not, in fact, a magical fireball.  (Umm… perhaps it was a steam pipe malfunction?)

2 responses so far

Apr 05 2009

Superhero Soldiers

In my list of common day jobs for superheroes, I forgot soldiers.  Ack!  How did I miss that?  Anyway, I just added them.  What sort of tips would you recommend for an author writing a story about a superhero soldier?

9 responses so far

Apr 04 2009

Common Superhero Day Jobs, Part 2

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97 responses so far

Feb 14 2009

Common Superhero Day Jobs, Part 1

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82 responses so far

Feb 14 2009

How to Give Your Superhero A Day Job

If your superhero has a secret identity, he probably has a day job.  Here are some tips for picking an effective day job.

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131 responses so far

Oct 29 2008

Aha! I think I’ve invented a superpower.

It’s ridiculously hard to come up with unique superpowers, but let’s try this.  The ability to inflict blindness.  I suspect it would work pretty well in novels and comic books.

42 responses so far

Oct 03 2008

A Random Name Generator

Not sure what to name your superhero’s alternate identity?  This name generator can give you hundreds of suggestions based on US census data.  Also, its names are surprisingly ethnically-diverse.

25 responses so far

Oct 03 2008

How to do super-acronyms like SHIELD or FLAG

B. Mac offers these suggestions for when your supergroup uses an acronym as its name.

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87 responses so far

Sep 19 2008

Creating Weaknesses for Your Superheroes

Writers sometimes add unique weaknesses to challenge their heroes or rein in heroes that have gotten overpowered. For example, Superman has kryptonite and for a while Green Lantern’s powers couldn’t affect anything yellow.  Those two feel gimmicky.  The powers don’t work on yellow? How does that work?   Why would anyone be vulnerable to his own planet?  Etc.

A better example of a unique weakness is the Martian Manhunter’s vulnerability to fire.  It doesn’t feel arbitrary that fire might damage something.  Unlike yellow or kryptonite, fire is dangerous to most living things.  Compared to kryptonite, something generic like fire has the added advantages that it’s easier to acquire and use.

Other authors sometimes use completely innocuous weaknesses, but that’s tricky and usually contrived.  Let’s say your hero is vulnerable to marshmallows.  You’d probably have to come up with a (goofy) explanation for his weakness, then show that he somehow discovers that he’s weak against them, and then show that the supervillain somehow discovers it as well.  Generally, it’s easier to work with weaknesses that are plausible and logical.  That helps you avoid relying on ridiculous contrivances to explain how the villain discovers the weakness.  (You could work something like fire into a fight scene even if the villain doesn’t know it’s his weakness.  I don’t think you could do the same for marshmallows).

I think the best weaknesses are side-effects of the hero’s strengths.  For example, a hero with supersight might be vulnerable to intense light.  Someone with superhearing might be vulnerable to loud sound.  One advantage of these weaknesses are that you can work them into secret-identity stories.  Clark Kent isn’t likely to run into kryptonite when he’s having dinner with Lois, but he might get a migraine when a jet flies overhead.  Here are some other possibilities.

  • Superstrong heroes are probably too dense to have much buoyancy.  That would make it very difficult for them to fight in water– even treading would be a tremendous struggle for someone like the Hulk, let alone Ben Grimm or Slate.  If your villain needed to escape, he could take advantage of this by flooding the room with water, knowing that he will float upwards but that the hero will sink.
  • Super-fast characters would create a lot of friction when they run.  A supervillain might try to take advantage of that by dousing the room with a flammable oil (so that the friction will set him on fire) or anything slippery.  However, the slippery angle has already been used fairly extensively.
  • A psychic’s powers would probably require more concentration than physical powers.  A supervillain might try to take advantage of that by flooding the room with a weak tranquilizer gas to make it harder to concentrate.  Loud noises might also work.  Finally, if the villain sets distractions before his final plot is set to go off, the hero might be completely exhausted and badly in need of sleep when the final battle commences.
  • Someone that wears a powersuit is probably not very dexterous or precise when he has his armor on.  A villain may be able to trick him into taking off his suit (or at least parts of it) by planting a bomb.  I doubt anyone could manually defuse a bomb with metal gloves on.  Alternately, your villain might also try using a powerful magnet to reduce his mobility or an electromagnetic pulse to fry his circuits.
  • Unlike humans, most terrestrial animals cannot metabolize alcohol.  If your character is not human (like Superman), he might not be able to either.  That could easily lead to interesting social situations.  Additionally, you could probably work it in as an ingestible poison.  It would be much less incriminating to have an assassin armed with Bud-Lite than cyanide…
  • Capture the hero’s girlfriend.  Add an explosive booby trap.  Voila!  Instant trap.  Ideally that will kill the hero, but the worst-case scenario is that it kills the girlfriend, leaving the hero in an emo funk for years to come.

Alternately, you can try a quirky vulnerability to Kryptonite or something else that isn’t usually dangerous.  If you’re leaning that way, please see this cautionary article.

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348 responses so far

Sep 07 2008

Superhero Visual References: Gloves

B. Mac provides another set of gear to help you design superheroes that don’t look goofy.  (See his collection of boots here).

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47 responses so far

Aug 31 2008

Superhero Visual References: Boots

B. Mac provides these references for boots.  These will help you design a character for a comic book or novel-cover.

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12 responses so far

Jul 07 2008

Cliche Superhero Characters: National Paragons (“Captain Ethnic”)

One common superhero archetype is the national paragon, a hero designed to represent a country, ethnic group or other group of people.  The most obvious example is Captain America, but the list is long.  For example, Hadji from Johnny Quest exists only to charm snakes and hack computers.  (Also, have I mentioned that “haji” is an ethnic slur?)

Here is a list of potential problems with using national paragons…

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4 responses so far

May 29 2008

How to Write Origin Stories

Here are a few tips to help you write better origin stories for characters in superhero novels and comic books.

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999 responses so far

May 07 2008

I have a question about loveable superheroes for you

Three questions, actually. Which is your favorite superhero and why? Finally, what are three things you associate with that hero?

Thanks a lot for your feedback; I’m writing an article on how to make superheroes loveable.

48 responses so far

Feb 24 2008

Index: How to Write Superhero Stories

Creating Superhero Characters

  1. Superpowers Will Not Make a Boring Character Interesting
  2. Superhero Creation Questionnaire
  3. How to Write a Good Sidekick
  4. How to Name Superheroes
  5. More Ideas About How to Name a Superhero
  6. How to Give Your Superhero A Day Job
  7. How Can Superheroes Maintain a Day Job?
  8. Common Superhero Day Jobs, Part 1
  9. Common Superhero Day Jobs, Part 2
  10. Modern Superhero Naming Conventions
  11. Questionnaire for Nonhuman Characters
  12. Random Name Generator for Alternate Identities
  13. Three Qualities of Solid Villains
  14. Pros and Cons of Using Secret Identities
  15. Reasons Your Protagonists Might Not Use Secret Identities


Superpowers and Capabilities

  1. List of Superpowers
  2. How to Distinguish the Superpowers in Your Superhero Stories
  3. Selecting Effective Superpowers For Your Story
  4. Superpowers Checklist
  5. How Creative Do Your Superpowers Need to Be?
  6. How to Keep Your Superpowers Extraordinary
  7. Limiting Superpowers for Dramatic Effect
  8. Can You Explain Your Protagonist’s Superpowers in 1-2 Sentences?
  9. Keeping Your Superpowers From Getting Stale
  10. How to Create Weaknesses for Your Superhero
  11. Creative Ways to Use Supersenses
  12. How Do Your Characters’ Superpowers Affect Their Perspectives?
  13. Kryptonite-Style Weaknesses Are Usually a Poor Option
  14. Common Superpower Problems
  15. 10 Uses for Forcefields
  16. Writing Psychic Characters and Psionics


Superhero Origin Stories

  1. List of Superhero Origins
  2. How to Write Origin Stories
  3. Plausible Origin Stories
  4. Why Secret Origins are Usually Awful
  5. “Just Another Comics Blog” Argues Against Origin Stories


Plotting Superhero Stories

  1. A List of Superhero Cliches and Tropes
  2. Problems and Obstacles for Superheroes to Face Besides Supervillains and Criminals
  3. Writing More Realistic Violence
  4. Elements of Superhero Stories That Might Be Surprisingly Plausible
  5. How to Do Superhero Gadgets Well
  6. How to Keep Your Story’s Superpowers Extraordinary
  7. Difficulties Superheroes Would Face in the Real World
  8. Felonies That Most Superheroes Commit (this could be helpful if your protagonists have testy relations with the police)
  9. Writing Realistic Superhero Stories


Five Common Mistakes of Comic Book Writers

  1. Part One
  2. Part Two
  3. Five Superhero Plots that Need to Die
  4. Five Things About Your Superhero Story That Might Be Wasting Your Time


Other Advice for Comic Book Writers

  1. Experiment With Your Panel Layouts
  2. Should You Write a Comic Book or a Superhero Novel?
  3. Free Comic Book Scripting Software
  4. Use the Ending of Each Issue to Sell the Next Issue
  5. Make Your Recaps Stylish
  6. Sketch Your Pages Before Sending Them to the Artist


The Mechanics of Writing a Superhero Story

  1. How to Write Superhero Fight Scenes
  2. How to Pick Superpowers that Make Your Story Work
  3. Common Problems with Superstrong Heroes
  4. Common Problems with Psychic Superheroes
  5. Common Problems with Powersuited Superheroes (like Iron Man)


Marketing and Visual Issues

  1. Easy-to-Fix Visual Design Problems for Superhero Characters
  2. How to Make Your Story Less “Weird” and More Novel
  3. Superhero Visual References: Boots
  4. Superhero Visual References: Gloves
  5. Superhero Novel Proposals:  How to Write the Comparable Works Section


Getting Published

  1. Publishers That Accept Unsolicited Submissions
  2. What Goes Into a Comic Book Submission?
  3. A Few Tips on Submitting a Comic Book Script
  4. How to Communicate With Editors

393 responses so far

Jan 20 2008

Common Superpower Problems

If you’re writing a superhero story, don’t let your superpowers fall into these traps.

1. The hero’s powers can’t be used creatively. Readers really want to be surprised, so it’s very important that the powers be versatile. If your character is only superstrong, you can only surprise them by using different things as weapons.  That gets tedious fast. (Watch a Superman or Dragon Ball Z fight scene). Test your superhero against some of these situations. Can he get through them in an unexpected way?

  • Distracting a guard.  (Cliche:  mental control, illusions and possibly telekinesis).
  • Nonviolently subduing a guard or cop (cliche:  mental control and/or hypnosis).
  • Preventing a building from falling (cliche:  superstrength, telekinesis).
  • Getting past a locked door (cliche:  teleportation, phasing, lockpicks, blowing open the wall).
  • Finding a password (cliche: anything electronic or electrical, beating it out of a bad guy).

2. The character’s limits are hard to grasp. In Heroes, a head wound will permanently kill the regenerating heroes, but a nuclear explosion won’t.  Huh?

3. The character’s strength fluctuates arbitrarily. Most Superman cartoons feature two battles. Superman will lose the first bout (to raise the stakes) but he’ll win the second.  He hasn’t gotten any stronger, so why does he wins the second time? That usually feels unsatisfying.

4. The superpowers are hard to understand. Ideally, you can explain each hero’s powers in a brief sentence.  “He has spider-powers, like slinging webs and climbing and sensing danger” is OK.  “She can control the weather” is even better.  Please stay away from heroes that have many unrelated superpowers.  What’s the connection between eye-beams, cold breath, flight, superstrength and x-ray vision?  It sort of works for Superman because readers are exposed to him, but it is likely to ruin a superhero story that is completely new to its readers.

5. He’s overpowered. Superman is the best example of this. He can only have interesting fights with supervillains. (Theoretically, he could fight thugs armed with kryptonite, but Superman limping around isn’t much of a fight). If your character is completely immune to bullets and other common weapons, it will be hard for you to challenge him.  Also, humans are vulnerable and we relate more to (somewhat) vulnerable heroes.

6. The hero’s superpowers ruin the drama. In particular, time travel, reading minds, erasing memories, and resurrection are particularly bad here.

  • Time travel:  if your hero can undo anything bad that happens, nothing will ever be dramatic.  “Why doesn’t he just go back in time?”
  • Reading minds: surprise, suspicion and uncertainty are all dramatic.  A story about a psychic is all-but-unable to use any of them.  (To some extent, lie-detection suffers from a similar problem).
  • Erasing memories:  this is probably the lamest way to protect a secret identity.  It will also confuse readers because we can’t keep track of who actually remembers what.
  • Resurrection:  if someone can bring people back from the dead, death will become banal and the action will suffer.  “He died, big deal.  Why don’t they just bring him back?”  This is almost as serious as time-travel.

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146 responses so far

Jan 08 2008

Superhero and Supervillain Naming Conventions

This article presents six tips about what works and what usually doesn’t when you’re naming your superheroes and villains. Find out why Mischief-Man is much worse than Mayhem.

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252 responses so far

Jan 05 2008

Common Problems with Powersuited Superheroes

Are you writing a novel or comic book about a powersuited hero, like Iron Man or Steel? Powersuit stories often suffer from the following problems, many of which are easy-to-fix.

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39 responses so far

Jan 05 2008

Seven Common Problems with Psychic Characters

Writing a novel or comic book/graphic novel about a psychic character? Here are some recurring challenges.

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259 responses so far

Dec 29 2007

Superhero Questionnaire

This questionnaire will help you design a superhero or supervillain for a novel or comic book.

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290 responses so far

Oct 15 2007

How to Name Your Character–Superheroes and Otherwise

This article will cover how to name characters effectively and how to avoid the most common naming problems.

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799 responses so far