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Why There are No Superman Characters in My Book

Note from Cass: This is a guest blog #6 on how my husband created the world for my book. For more world-building posts, click here.

world-building post superman characters

OK, I going to have to tread carefully here, as I am way closer to spoilers than I am comfortable with. But, given this is something I have spoken passionately about with Cass, I thought I would lay it out here. Besides, if you are reading it, she has posted it, so it’ll be fine. 

Also… let’s call the early part of this post a mini rant.  

So, let’s talk about Superman. Or maybe talk about ‘why I have bored Cass to tears using him as a comparison’. Your choice.  

Yeah, he is not in Cass’ book. Obviously. But for me he represents a problem in story telling. Captain Marvel has a similar problem, but at least Superman is better handled. That problem is power scale.    

When Superman is on his own, you can scale the threats to be on the same level as him. He can fight General Zod, Doomsday or whomever. Now put him with Batman. Yeah, I know, I know. The comics have been doing this for decades and it can work ok. But mainly not. At least in my opinion. 

Just using the movies, is there anything that Superman would add to Christopher Nolan’s Bat trilogy.  

Didn’t Batman look out of place fighting Doomsday in BvS? 

Making this team-up work requires one of two things: either A) De-Power Superman (but not officially, just for this scene or as a plot point, and only in the way he seems to use his power, not via Kryptonite, otherwise you have a different story: How to save Superman) or, B) Upgrade Batman. Which yeah, you can do. But then when he is solo again and fighting a tough enemy, help me understand why he is not using that super-dooper power armour or whatever you used just last week. Is it broken? Then fix it, you built it.  

So you have to change at least one of the characters and hope no-one notices or cares. And make them conveniently forget next time they are solo. You can do it over years of comic runs, but in a novel/movie/trilogy it is Lack. Of. Consistency.  

I am going to touch on more thing, before I get to some kind of point, or at least where we ended up.  

If you are a Gen X-er, you might remember a film called Fright Night, from way back in 1985. The basic premise is that a thousand year old vampire moves in next door and orders take out, including the protagonist’s girlfriend. The normal vampire hunting tropes ensue leading to the fight in the vampire’s mansion. For a while the good guys seem to be getting a beating, but the sun rises, and by breaking a painted window in the basement (where the final battle is taking place) the sun+vampire=goodguywin formula happens.  

Think about that for a second. You are a thousand years old. The world is a hostile place, given your propensity to eat people. You can never lie low. People are always coming for you. You have survived over quarter of a million sunrises. So…. You USE PAINT to hold back the metaphorical equivalent of Hydrochloric Acid in the PLACE YOU SLEEP. Hmmm… yeah. You would Totally Survive. Like-for-reallzzz.    

It’s not that your villains can’t make mistakes that can be exploited. But if that is the line you want to take, at least don’t have them ignore the number one and most obvious threat to their life. (If your villain is in a fugue and just doesn’t care anymore, then fine, but they need to have that characterization in other ways too). 

So, all of this sounds like narrative stuff. And it is, but I think the trap starts with how you build your world. If you make your protagonist or antagonist so powerful that beating them is impossible outside of a narrow set of circumstances, then you have created a problem that will bite you.  

Give them the minimum power to achieve your plot requirements. Make them a weaker version, if you can, where they have to be smart to achieve their goals. And yes, I am talking about both the good guys and team evil. Or grey. Have them chase more power so they are more capable of defending themselves. That way they are active and alive and working towards life goals that are not ‘your story plot’ related. You know, what real people are doing right now. 

Talking about the impact of power, how much you NEED (not desire) drives what you are likely prepared to do to get more. Or not prepared to do. In the finale of the Stars Wars 9, did you really believe that Rey was going to take the Emperor’s offer of more power? No! (at least I didn’t), because for the entire movie (trilogy) she had never been in a situation where she did not have enough. Too. Much. Power.  

There is one more thing that I will touch on here and it is Age and Knowledge. It boils down to experience. You know that thing you used to do? It was pretty stupid, right? But, you have learnt from doing it wrong, and now don’t make that mistake anymore. Super easy really, once you know how. 

Yeah, you aren’t even close to a hundred years old. But look at the experiences you have, the knowledge you have. The skills you have. The understanding of how people react to certain things. Your skills in getting your point across. Knowing when to shut up. Recognising danger or threats.  Recognising when people are not being totally honest, sure you’re not perfect at it, but you are way better than you were just a few years ago. Now, take all that times ten. Or One Hundred. Or…. Well, you get the point.  

With perfect knowledge (as an advantage) you will always win every fight, argument or whatever. The age of supernatural beings is always underestimated in fiction.  

Ok, that was a lot.  

So, Cass wanted to write a protagonist that people were genuinely afraid of. Not just the bad guys. Everyone. How do you do that, without causing a boatload of problems if you are going to keep your characters internally consistent and not complete morons.  

Power limits and flaws. Powers or abilities that only work in a very specific way because the power is tied to a situation. Or Make costs too high. Have the consequences of use be something of a real dilemma for the characters (both good and bad). Have people use that gap to exploit it.  

Limit (or remove) any sensing ability, cos it is near impossible to explain why you won’t use it all the time. 

Make them the metaphorical glass cannon.  

This was a tough series of conversations between us. It is her book, I know. But this is an area that I may possibly have a couple of opinions about.  

Power, Experience, Senses. You can’t turn them off. 

Also, don’t attack vampires on their home turf at night. 

P/ 

Next Time:  Sports cars (it might even make more sense than this post).