Archive for the 'Designing 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

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

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

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

6 Common Problems with Superstrong Superheroes

Beat’em-up superheroes like the Hulk and Superman often suffer from these six problems.

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20 responses so far

Jan 03 2008

9 Easy-to-Fix Problems with Superhero Design

This article will help you design your superhero’s appearance for a comic book or novel cover-art. No matter what your style is, you can avoid these 9 mistakes that cause a superhero’s appearance to sink the story.

Common Flaws of Superhero Appearances

  1. The character’s appearance lacks a distinct theme.
  2. The character looks lifeless.
  3. He looks unrelatable.
  4. His appearance is inconsistent with his personality.
  5. His appearance is inconsistent with the story’s mood.
  6. His costume is too campy or demeaning.
  7. His appearance makes his secret identity implausible.
  8. The details of his appearance are inconsistent.
  9. He has too many accessories.

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158 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