Tag Archives: characters

A Lesson In Character From Superman by D.H. Aire

 

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I can’t think of a better character to explore than my favorite, Superman, particularly with Batman v Superman currently in theaters.

Everyone knows that Superman (who first appeared in Action Comics #1 in 1938) was created by Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster. That year they were paid a “kill fee” of $130, signing over all their rights to the character and story they had been developing for five years. This was a significant sum back then for two young men from immigrant families.

Knowing the genesis of Superman, helps us understand why people embraced this character then and why Superman endures. The following historical information about the creation of Superman comes from Arie Kaplan’s From Krakow to Krypton: Jews and Comic Books.

Superman’s creators, Siegel and Shuster, came from Jewish immigrant families. Jews in that day were seen as weak, a minority that faced persecution. In the United States the comic book industry, like the movie industry, offered opportunity. So, Siegel and Shuster tried to break into the industry, envisioning an immigrant (an illegal one, as it turns out) who epitomized their aspirations – a superman, who falls in love with an American girl, just like they hoped to.

They gave Superman a Kryptonian name, Kal-El, which in Hebrew means Voice of the Lord. (That’s both a statement and an inside Jewish joke that’s been a point of pride to many a Jewish kid reading or watching Superman.) Creating Superman, who fights for truth and justice was more than a story for them. Superman was written at the beginning of World War II, at a time when the Third Reich’s genocide policies against Jews, gypsies, trade unionists and anyone who they labeled as a threat, were being enforced.

They wrote during the cusp of the beginning of World War II, where anyone (such as Jews, gypsies, homosexuals, even trade unionists) the Third Reich chose to claim as a threat to making their nation great was targeted. Thus, a superhero who fights for truth and justice, was more than a mere story for Siegel and Shuster.

Siegel and Shuster, like other comic writers and artists of the day made Nazis the villains at a time when the American public was often enamored of the rhetoric. They and many other Jews in the Gold Age of the comics helped change that perception through their stories of Superman and other heroes, preparing Americans for seeing Nazi Germany’s evil.

Even though Superman was written during a turbulent and horrible time in history, he still endures. So, why do I love Superman? Why do I think so many others do, too?

Perhaps we secretly wish we were Superman. Not necessarily that we want to be a hero, but that we know we have a secret identity – one that we know is the real us. Maybe we know deep down we have a gift, a power, which when we talk about characters is called “agency.” This may not be a superpower like the ability to fly faster than a speeding bullet, but still the power to make the world a better place in our own way (through what each of us does to help others).

Perhaps, it is something else. From the perspective of an author who writes speculative fiction, thinking about the character of Superman’s appeal, he’s not invulnerable. At key times he depends on Lois Lane or an average person like Jimmy Olsen to save him from exposure to Kryponite. He also has human frailties. He’s suffered personal loss. He’s lost his adoptive father, Jonathan Kent, and his biological parents – even his home world, making him the ultimate orphan, a classic aspect of those on the “hero’s journey.”

Better yet, Superman has great duds. I really like the red cape. Okay, I’m not a fan of Clark Kent’s glasses, which I guess are intended to make him look smart. Superman’s costume is red, yellow, and blue, which might have been better as red, white, and blue, except for the fact it likely would not have looked quite as good in the comics…

But I digress, the costume itself makes Superman bigger than life, suggesting the Man of Steel is a knight in armor in the modern day. What I mean by that is more apparent in Man of Steel. In that film, the costume literally is Kryptonian body armor. There’s also resonance in him being a knight, as an aspect of his character. He’s a defender of the weak, not unlike the ideal knight or samurai.

That’s always inspired me – just as seeing Superman fly on the movie screen does.

That’s a take away for me as someone who creates characters. I believe that in order to create a memorable character there should be something inspiring about them. Like the rags to riches tales of Cinderella, who appears in a variety of cultures in their folktales, Superman is a small town boy, who becomes the ultimate prince – someone who could almost be any of us with such hopes and dreams.

Another way to look at such resonance is to think of Superman as mythological. He’s godlike powers and emotional human frailties. Think of Hercules, a demi-god, who has amazing strength and fights the good fight on behalf of humanity against evils, human or monstrous. Tapping on the resonance of such old tales makes Superman’s stories feel truer somehow, more epic. That makes for strong story-telling, which comes from creating a wonderful protagonist.

So, Superman is my ideal memorable character and an excellent example of what goes into creating a, well, superb character. And if such insights helps you or I make a memorable character or two along the way, thank you Siegel and Shuster.

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D. H. Aire has walked the ramparts of the Old City of Jerusalem and through an escape tunnel of a Crusader fortress that Richard the Lionheart once called home. He’s toured archeological sites that were hundreds, if not thousands of years old… experiences that have found expression in his epic fantasy series with a science fiction twist, Highmage’s Plight and new Hands of the Highmage Series. The seventh and concluding book of his Highmage’s Plight Series, Paradox Lost is being released in 2017.

An Author of eleven fantasy and science fiction novels, including those in the urban fantasy Dare 2 Believe Series and the space opera Terran Catalyst Series, Aire’s short stories appear in a number of anthologies, including in Street Magick: Tales of Urban Fantasy. A native of St. Louis, Missouri, Aire resides in the Washington D.C. metropolitan area.

This article originally appeared at dare2believe.

Characters by Guy Pace

characters

You meet characters every day. They bump into you at the local Starbucks, say “Hi” to you on the street, join you on a park bench and start a conversation, help you find the turkey stuffing and olives in the grocery store. These are the characters that help flavor life.

They can also be the characters that help flavor story.

Your main characters—both protagonist and antagonist—go through a lot more to get into the story. Mine get sketched out for the basic personality and character traits, then go through a long, involved interview to fill in the areas the common sketch misses. No, I don’t directly use everything in the sketches and interviews, but they do help to define how the character will respond to events and other characters in the story. That all comes out in the writing.

But, secondary (or tertiary) characters have an impact, too. They are the ones that help trigger behavior from a main character, set a tone for a conversation, challenge a main character to action or decision. Because of this, they need to be more than just cardboard cutouts placed in the scene. They need a backstory of their own, a reason for being where they are in the story.

That person that bumped into you at Starbucks, what was the reason for that bump? Was it accidental or purposeful? Do you still have your wallet? Was this a chance meeting with a casual friend? Or, was that an alien in disguise who planted a tracker in your pocket? Answering these questions help give the secondary character a reason for being in that location and a motive for actions.

Answers those questions help the event becomes something more than just a bump and maybe some spilled coffee. It might be a harbinger of events to come. It might be the beginning of a critical conversation where the main character learns important information that changes his or her day or life.

Depending on your genre, secondary characters set tone and guide events in a story. It is easy—especially in first draft—to blast through an event and just give a character object a name and move on. But on rewrite, think about who that character might be, why they were in that particular place and had a specific impact on the story. Answer a few questions about that person, then color in their event better. Make it impact the main character more and give the story a stronger direction.

Take the scenario where the main character is sitting on a park bench struggling with life issues. Crushing mortgage, pending divorce. Or, maybe he or she just found a small, metallic, round gadget in a hidden place in a room in their old brownstone apartment, and is trying to decide what it is and what to do about it.

The person who comes to sit next to them on the park bench can have any number of reasons for doing so. Is this person a kindly pastor or rabbi who may know your main character and will offer words of comfort or advice? Will that pastor or rabbi challenge their past decisions and help them find the truth in their life?

Is it a street person at the end of their medication and may act unpredictably at certain triggers? The conversation can start innocently enough, but some response by the main character could trigger aggressive or dangerous behavior. Is the street person armed?

Or, it is the park bench visitor a man or woman in black who knows what that gadget is, that your main character has it, and wants to recover it because the fate of the world, solar system, or galaxy hangs in the balance? Will the person in black launch your main character on a star-hopping voyage across the galaxy, or into intergalactic intrigue?

The reader doesn’t need to know all the details about the secondary character, but you do. What you know about that person helps you use the proper words, generate the appropriate dialog, add the correct drama and suspense to move the story along its path. It colors the event. The result is that the reader gets a sense of the secondary characters and sees the reason and motivations that drive the specific events in which they are involved.

All it really takes is answering a few questions.

Author Guy PaceGuy L. Pace, born in Great Falls, MT, spent the bulk of his growing-up years as a nomad. He attended 21 schools throughout the Northwest before graduating from high school. Under pressure from the Vietnam-era draft–ended up joining the US Navy. He served on the USS Newport News (CA-148) from 1970 to 1973, including combat operations in Vietnam in 1972.

He was a Navy journalist, and after the service worked primarily in community newspapers as a reporter, photographer, editor and finally a managing editor. Through all that, he managed to complete his Communications/PR degree. He changed careers, getting into computer support, training, networking and systems, and eventually information security. He retired in 2011 after more than 20 years working in higher education. In 2013 he retired his Certified Information Systems Security Professional certification (CISSP).

He lives with his wife, Connie, in Spokane, where he gets to spend time with children and grandchildren, and ride his Harley-Davidson.

Follow Guy L. Pace on his website at http://www.guypace.com
Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/guy.pace.7
Twitter: @rapier57
Available on Amazon: http://www.amazon.com/Sudden-Mission-Guy-L-Pace-ebook/dp/B013TJ1GPG/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1442944755&sr=1-1&keywords=Sudden+Mission
Available on Barnes & Noble: http://www.barnesandnoble.com/w/sudden-mission-guy-l-pace/1122511241?ean=9781513700915
Available on iTunes: https://itunes.apple.com/us/book/sudden-mission/id1029988117?mt=11