I recently watched Man Of Steel (2013), and I would like to go against the grain. For some crazy reason, it’s getting terrible reviews, especially for Superman’s characterization. Actually, I thought the character development was a great example of what we look for in a superhero nowadays.
We don’t want to read about perfect, god-like characters. That’s something unattainable. How can us mere humans ever connect with someone like that? We want to see ourselves in the heroes of our stories, to put ourselves in their shoes. So how do we do that?
What Writers Can Learn From Superman
Your hero shouldn’t be indestructible. Well, not in every way. Superman may be bulletproof, but he still has feelings that can be hurt, anger that can be evoked, and he can love, so his heart can break. But now the trick is using those weaknesses against our characters, hurting them, driving them to their limits, making them love and then tearing that love away.
No one is perfect, whether they have crooked tooth, messy bed hair, scars, a dark past, a dangerous secret, or a short temper. Flaws don’t make for an unattractive character, but an intriguing one. Flaws make them real. Like you and I.
The world needs saving? So what? The hero shouldn’t just run off and save the day because it’s the right thing to do like a one-dimensional cartoon character. Okay, yes, it is the right thing to do. But do we want our characters to be stereotypical action-heros? Would they put their lives on the line for complete strangers or inannimate ideas of good vs evil? Give your hero a deeper reason. They would do it for those they care about, for family, friends, maybe it’s to save a marriage, or a local community center, or a whale. Whether it’s a person, a place, or a belief, an animal, mineral, or vegetable, their passion makes them human, admirable. This love of something will make their hardened heroic exterior seem softer, more relatable, regardless if they’re from Earth or Krypton.
Sometimes the hero’s character is not revealed by their own actions, but rather through the eyes of those around them. Their enemies, their friends, strangers. It’s their interactions with other people that will draw out their true character and will allow the reader to see an entirely new side of them. The relatable hero doesn’t stand on a pedestal to be idolized, but rather mingles with others, interacts with them, grows with them.
Your character should struggle. Just like your villain shouldn’t be all evil, your character can’t be all good. They get tempted, they make mistakes, and sometimes they make the wrong choices and do more harm than good. It is this struggle with desires, doubts, good and bad that creates a realistic character. We all make mistakes. A great character is determined by how one fixes them.
The new Superhero is one that is down to earth, gritty, human, real. They struggle with the same things we do, but more so. The very things that make them human, the faults, desires, desperation, hatred, anger, fear should be pushed to their limits. Because your hero might be human-like, but they are are still SUPER.
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