Superhero is a small, but thriving niche genre under the speculative fiction umbrella. It includes stories with characters and worlds you might already know and love as well as brand new inventions. In some of these stories, superheroes are a brand new thing that no one has ever seen before; in others, they are a known entity and work together in quasi-military groups. Anything is possible.
There have been some great superhero novels and short stories published in the past decade or so, and more great stories are popping up all the time. (Here’s a post I did for DIY MFA featuring five of my favorites). Thanks to the popularity of superhero movies and TV shows, it looks promising for continued growth for a while yet. The potential is endless. There’s room for lots of great storytelling here in the superhero tent, so I’m happy you’re thinking of joining our particular circus.
I love writing superhero fiction. There’s something about the combination of the impossible with the heartfelt that speaks to me. Arguably, a lot of stories in many genres are, at their heart, about the nature of heroism, about stepping up to do what’s got to be done and what kind of person is willing to do that. Great conflicts in all kinds of stories come from moments that force characters to challenge themselves and test their limits. Superhero fiction just does it more directly and on a bigger canvas. The stakes are higher when the characters are just this side of immortal. Plus, it’s just plain fun.
So, whether you’re trying to create a short story or a novel, here are a few tips to keep in mind:
- It’s actually the human and not the superhuman element that matters. If your character is only a collection of powers, we’ve got nothing to connect with and no one to root for. Readers want to connect with the characters emotionally, not just observe their physical amazingness. That means giving them a full range of emotions and an interior life, people they care about, obstacles and goals.
That said, the powers are important. Make them cool and interesting, but not so complex that we can’t quickly grasp what your character can do. Readers of this genre are expecting characters who can do amazing and unusual things, but they don’t want to have to take a crash-course in physics before they can understand what’s happening.
- Complete originality is not necessary. There’s a repertoire of superhero powers that fans are used to seeing, and it’s more than okay to pull from them–it’s expected. When I was creating the women in Going Through the Change, I didn’t invent new, never-before-heard-of powers. What I did do, though, was give each woman her own individual context and set of difficulties with those powers. So, Helen Braeburn is hardly the first character to be able to wield fire, but how exactly it works for her and what she chooses to do with her power? That’s the original part.
- In the best stories, internal and external conflicts intertwine. Peter Parker wouldn’t be the same Spiderman if he didn’t have a strong work ethic and overdeveloped sense of responsibility thanks to his Uncle Ben and Aunt May. For readers to connect to your characters, we have to feel we have something in common with them. So, while I can’t climb walls like Spiderman, I have had a hopeless crush on someone, been picked on for being smart, and felt guilty when I didn’t do everything I could have.
- It’s all about the heart. In superhero stories, there’s bound to be some fighting. You can read my post about writing violence well here. Writing good fight scenes isn’t just about the logistics of the amazing feats of strength and wonder, though. Your reader has to have a pony in this race. They have to care about who’s going to win and worry about what will happen if the hero fails. No matter how cool the fight itself is, you’ll lose your audience if you don’t give us a side to be on.
- Superhero stories are an escape, and, at the same time, a journey into the truths at the core of human existence. It’s a playground for using and twisting tropes, where naïve underdogs and world-weary curmudgeons partner up and save the world from aliens and mad scientists. It’s an exciting genre. Come, play with us!
Samantha Bryant believes in love, magic, and unexplainable connections between people. Her favorite things are lonely beaches, untamed cliff tops, sunlight through the leaves of trees, summer rains, and children’s laughter. She has lived in many places, including rural Alaska, Kansas, Kentucky, Vermont, England and Spain. She is fierce at heart though she doesn’t look it.
She’s a fan of Charlotte Brontë, William Shakespeare, Emily Dickinson, Neil Gaiman, Nicole Perlman, and Joss Whedon, among many others. She would like to be Amy Tan when she grows up, but so far it doesn’t look like she’ll be growing up any time soon.
Samantha writes blogs, poems, essays, and novels. Her debut novel, Going Through the Change: A Menopausal Superhero Novel, came out in April 2015. Mostly she writes about things that scare or worry her. It’s cheaper than therapy. Someday, she hopes to make her living solely as a writer. In the meantime, she also teaches middle school Spanish, which, admittedly, is an odd choice for money-earning, especially in North Carolina.
When she’s not writing or teaching, Samantha enjoys time with her family, watching old movies, baking, reading, and going places. Her favorite gift is tickets (to just about anything). You can find her online on her blog, Twitter, on Facebook, on Amazon, on Goodreads, on the Curiosity Quills page, or on Google+.
Going Through the Change: A Menopausal Superhero Novel is free on Kindle for two days: August 5th and August 6th. You can check it out at: http://bitly.com/face-the-change