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Death of Superman

Posted on Apr 27, 2015 by in The Scrawl |

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Everybody who’s anybody has heard this quote before,

“If you here require a practical rule of me, I will present you with this: ‘Whenever you feel an impulse to perpetrate a piece of exceptionally fine writing, obey it—whole-heartedly—and delete it before sending your manuscript to press. Murder your darlings.'” -Arthur Quiller-Couch

Or at least a derivative thereof. But the premise is pretty solid. If you fall in love with your characters, you will have a significantly worse time trying to sell their plight to the readers you hope to win. Or, as I like to think of it, writing a Superman.

So what do I mean? Here’s a polemic statement that will likely infuriate some of you and excite others: Superman is a boring superhero.

I would argue there are few superheroes as patently boring as Superman. Watching him on screen, reading his comics, I have never been that much of a fan. But why is he so boring? Well, because he’s Superman. He’s the man of steel. Even though, really, steel has never been a great comparison because he’s more durable than steel. He’s more durable than anything save from an exceedingly rare mineral that villains seem to be able to get at Costco, given how regularly they employ it against him.

And he’s completely, totally boring. Because he has one weakness. And if you go geeking out on me and mention his weakness to magic I will roll my eyes hard enough to see my own brain. Superman is boring because he’s a god who can never die, even that one time when he did die. Which, by the by, was also boring. (note: I bought into that whole thing when I was twelve and was sorely disappointed by the entirety of it, even back then.)

But I have written Supermen. I have had protagonists, often, who were inexhaustible, invincible, and untouchable gods. Why did I write them that way? Because it was my desire for myself. It was my fantasy. It was my Mary Sue. If you write a hero as a Superman, you will bore your readers. And no, I don’t mean giving them marginal, petty weaknesses. If you want people to even like your protagonist, they have to be able to relate to them. They have to be able to put  themselves into that character’s shoes. If they can’t, then guess what you just did?

You wrote a book just for you.

Instead, write a Batman, with a character dark and flawed and totally broken. (note: Clearly I’m talking Nolan’s Batman, not Schumacher’s. (And if you subgeek me and say something like “You mean Golden Age Batman?” I will roll my eyes hard enough create a gravitational pull on my whole head, slamming it into my desk.))

Write a character that, when and if they win in the end, your readers win too. Your readers went down into failure, regret, and weakness with them and then soared the skies of triumph after.