Hullo, friends! As promised, here is the superhero post I talked about when I shared my superhero poem with you last week! Maybe you like superheroes, maybe you like writing, and maybe you want to start writing about superheroes. Just like anything related to writing, this is harder than you might think. While I don’t claim to be an expert on writing about superheroes, I do have quite a bit of experience, and one thing I’ve learned is that writing about superheroes is about way more than just writing about people with crazy abilities.
So here are a few tips from my own experience and what I’ve noticed in other superhero books and movies to help you when you’re creating and writing your heroes (complete with a lot of Marvel gifs).
[This post contains major spoilers (through gifs) for Captain America: Civil War and some minor spoilers for early MCU films. Also, FEELS warning!)
1. Make them real people.
Superheroes should be like any other character, with emotions, inner conflict, and a personality. They can’t just be there for their power! Each superhero should have their own personality (which, yes, is influenced by/influences their power, but more on that in a second). They’ll have different reactions to situations, and that’s a great way to create conflict. Your superhero doesn’t have to be emotionless to be powerful or a good fighter. In fact, giving your character a deep personality and making them relatable and real will help the reader root for them even more.
Give your characters time to become real people, and you’ll find your heroes becoming even more realistic.
2. Flesh out their powers.
Saying, “Don has superspeed” is definitely not enough when it comes to developing a characters superpowers. The reader needs to know so much more than that! If you’re writing a shorter book or a standalone, it’s best to focus on just a few superpowered characters and develop those really well. With a series, you have more time, and vaguely describing the limits of someone’s power can actually keep readers intrigued and eager for more. What exactly is their power, and how does it work? If they manipulate a substance (rock, fire, water, metal) can they turn into that substance? If they have more than one power, are they rooted in the same thing (for example, both Blaze’s illusions and his teleportation work through light manipulation)? How do their two powers interact?
Another important aspect that you must take into account is their weaknesses. Superman is virtually undefeatable… unless you have some kryptonite. It’s best, however, to establish limits on your heroes’ powers, to make it more realistic. Plus, it’s hard to relate to a hero who is extremely powerful, like Superman. Maybe a teleporter can only teleport to places he’s seen. Or a character gets a migraine or passes out if they use their power too long. A time manipulator’s aging process could speed up whenever he travels through time. Whatever your hero’s power is, there must be a cost for using the power. This is the best rule to keep from making overly powerful characters.
Side note: You may think that you want your character to be really powerful, but overpowering a character has a lot of consequences. It can make conflict feel cheesy, because your hero could defeat the villain easily. Plus, it makes the character less relatable.
3. Figure out how they interact with their power.
This is more based off of your character as a person. Does your character like their power, or do they wish they didn’t have it? Do they have a secret identity, a “normal” life and a superhero life? If so, how do they keep them separate? Do they use their power for everyday things, like using telekinesis to grab the remote when it’s sooo far away, or using super strength to rearrange the house? Does their power affect their personality? Do they become more shy because they don’t want people to know about their powers? Think about how your powers affect your character’s life.
4. Try to use a villain with a different power set.
This isn’t a set rule, but it’s more of a cliche breaker. Superheroes always seem to have a villain who has the same power set as them. Red Skull had a similar version of Captain America’s super soldier serum in him. Abomination’s powers are basically the same as the Hulk’s. Obadiah Stane built a suit similar to Iron Man’s, and Whiplash’s technology was built around an arc reactor design. Black Panther and Kilmonger literally had the same powers and very similar suits. Some of those fights get very tedious, since they’re using similar tactics to try and defeat each other. This is one reason Loki is such a good villain (although his powers aren’t defined very well).
Not only are Thor’s powers very different from his, but none of the Avengers have comparable powers, either. Having a villain with a different power can make battles much more interesting, and shifts the focus away from who’s stronger to who’s more creative or clever during the fight.
5. Write some epic moments for your hero.
You know what I mean. Those moments that make you go:
Give your hero a scene where they use their power in an unexpected or just plain awesome way. You can think of these as “trailer moments”: something worthy of being put in a movie trailer to make the people watching go, “whoooa!!!” Think outside the box!
6. Develop them with little quirks or contradictions.
Now, little quirks are something that are great to include with any book character, but they can be even more fun with superhero characters. One of my favorite character quirks that I’ve written was in my short story, The Villain Who Saved Christmas, when the supervillain with ice powers made his own homemade ice cream. It’s a little everyday quirk that makes him seem more human and real (because let’s be honest, if I was to get ice powers, I would definitely try to make my own ice cream!). For contradictions, maybe a character who has the ability to fly is scared of heights, or someone who has the power of invisibility longs to feel seen or heard. These all boil down to basically the same thing–make your superheroes feel like real people.
What do you think of these tips? This is by no means a full list, so what are your thoughts/ideas about writing superheroes? Who’s your favorite superhero, or if you could have a superpower, what would it be? Comment with your thoughts down below!