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The Write Stuff: Character and Supercharacter

Charles EP M.

Well-known member
Published by SLP
If the story isn’t about the physical threat to the central character, then one alternative is that it is about how the super-powered central character relates to and reacts with the normal people in their life.
I know several people annoyed when superhero comics and superhero films focus on Mister Hero and all his hero friends to the exclusion of those dull powerless little people. As you say, it stops being grounded (and starts to feel creepy, turning our hero figures into detached demigods where we're just the scenery for them)
 

Makemakean

Mr Makemean
Pronouns
Logical, unlike those in German
Hah!

I actually created the character of Admiralissimo John Christmas for my current story, The Great Nordic Election Night, to kind of fit this mould in a jokey fashion:



He is the singularly greatest man ever to have served in the Danish Royal Navy, a war hero, so awesome that specks of dust refuse to fall on his uniform out of respect, that there have been confirmed reports that even enemy combattants are struck by an urge to salute him upon seeing his visage, that they sell toy soldiers of his likeness in the shops on the streets of Copenhagen, and at Yule time season, they have sold out for the past elevent years, etc., etc.

He's awesome.

But that's kind of literally also all he is. He is completely romantically unavailable, because he is "married to his country" and consequently would be unwilling to entertain romantic relationships of any kinds as those might come to distract him for his military career and his duty, and while he may be a great naval commander and everything, he basically doesn't have a life outside of the Navy, he has no hobbies or anything, the only books he reads are those related to naval warfare, etc. It is virtually impossible to have an even slightly semi-interesting conversation with him on any topic other than his job.

And, he is also the first to admit that outside of naval matters, he really is no better at doing anything than the next man.

In a sense, I suppose he's kind of a poignant figure, come to think of it...
 

David Flin

Voila, a viola.
In a sense, I suppose he's kind of a poignant figure, come to think of it...
He's got limitations, and you've clearly thought about how to balance such an Awesome Character. That's fine.

My grumble is for those characters where they are just wish fulfilment exercises, and where they are not even constrained by any morality, and can butcher innocent bystanders for fun, with no comeback in the story, and the reader is expected to regard the character in question as Awesome.
 

SenatorChickpea

The Most Kiwi Aussie of them all
Patreon supporter
Pronouns
he/him
I don't agree that there's no tension in Flashman, though it does have the old problem of 'You're narrating this, so I know you survive.' There's some cracker setpieces even in the later books- his escape from Isandlwana is an excellent example of how to open a book with a bang.

But the wider point is very true.

In Comic Books, for example, people often criticise Superman for being too powerful- but I actually think the real problem character is Batman, who is The World's Greatest Detective, and the best martial artist in Gotham, and a billionaire, and a technological whiz, and and and.

Tellingly, many of the 'problems' that the character has to deal with are along the lines of 'Oh no! Poor Batman has an incredibly powerful group of friends and allies and he won't ask them for help! Will he eventually have to accept their help to deal with this new villain? Yes. Will he still defeat the villain by himself so he can go brood on a skyscraper? Also yes.'
 

Charles EP M.

Well-known member
Published by SLP
The powerful group of mates may end up making this worse: he needs a reason to be hanging with the Justice League beyond "well he's Batman", so he has to be The Smartest And Also Richest Man Alive, so it's harder to give him a challenge in his own comic without making people go "wait". Thus he has to be a dumb-dumb in some way or there has to be some Reason, like "oh no! My city is No Man's Land! I'm going to tell Superman not to show up because something something oranges something".

(Another problem might be Knightfall codified "Batman is worn down by wave after wave of villains!" but few people want to do where Knightfall ended: "and Batman loses, badly, SO badly he's in hospital for weeks")
 

Thande

Directly Elected Mayor of the Western Hemisphere
Published by SLP
Hah!

I actually created the character of Admiralissimo John Christmas for my current story, The Great Nordic Election Night, to kind of fit this mould in a jokey fashion:



He is the singularly greatest man ever to have served in the Danish Royal Navy, a war hero, so awesome that specks of dust refuse to fall on his uniform out of respect, that there have been confirmed reports that even enemy combattants are struck by an urge to salute him upon seeing his visage, that they sell toy soldiers of his likeness in the shops on the streets of Copenhagen, and at Yule time season, they have sold out for the past elevent years, etc., etc.

He's awesome.

But that's kind of literally also all he is. He is completely romantically unavailable, because he is "married to his country" and consequently would be unwilling to entertain romantic relationships of any kinds as those might come to distract him for his military career and his duty, and while he may be a great naval commander and everything, he basically doesn't have a life outside of the Navy, he has no hobbies or anything, the only books he reads are those related to naval warfare, etc. It is virtually impossible to have an even slightly semi-interesting conversation with him on any topic other than his job.

And, he is also the first to admit that outside of naval matters, he really is no better at doing anything than the next man.

In a sense, I suppose he's kind of a poignant figure, come to think of it...
Meanwhile my character of Roy Bacon in "Well Met By Starlight" is meant to be a double subversion: he's renowned as the greatest hero of the US Space Force, but cynical know-it-alls know that's just propaganda, he's actually an amiable nonentity and his politician wife is the real brains of the couple...and then they get caught out because, while Bacon isn't a magnificent hero, nor is he a nothing - he is an average guy who can stab those cynics in the back just as well as anyone else once they've dismissed him from their calculations. Supposed to be a commentary on the fallacy of extremes.
 

SenatorChickpea

The Most Kiwi Aussie of them all
Patreon supporter
Pronouns
he/him
It's astonishing how many acclaimed genre pieces suffer from this problem even now.

Patrick Rothfuss's The Name of the Wind books have a protagonist who's an artistic prodigy and born sorcerer whose entire family is killed as per bogstandard cliche. He grows up on the mean streets of Minas Generic, where he, yes, becomes a master thief.

Then he joins the magic university as a child, and becomes the greatest student. And goes off during term time to have adventures.

And becomes the leader of a group of friends who despite being older all gravitate to him because he's so wonderful.

Then he goes off and learns to fight from Amazons, and becomes the only man to master their way of combat. Oh, and he becomes even better at it then them.

Then he loses his virginity to the goddess of sex and is so naturally good that she keeps him as a pet. Then he goes back and bangs the Amazons, who haven't worked out the connection between sex and pregnancy.

I read both books with this weird fascination- Rothfuss can write, certainly, but he's deployed his considerable skills in the service of a character who feels like a fourteen year old boy's idealised RPG character. The hero spends the entire books dropping hints about how he had a tragic fall from grace, and I desperately want it to be revealed that his comeuppance involved everyone else finally getting him to face the fact that he's an irredeemable wanker.


And these books won awards!
 

Hendryk

Nothing ever ends
Published by SLP
Location
France
I know several people annoyed when superhero comics and superhero films focus on Mister Hero and all his hero friends to the exclusion of those dull powerless little people. As you say, it stops being grounded (and starts to feel creepy, turning our hero figures into detached demigods where we're just the scenery for them)
That's also a recurring issue in fantasy. I don't know how it is in the books, because when I tried to read The Lord of the Rings it fell off my lap (there, I've said it, I'm indifferent to Tolkien), but in the movies everything is about Hobbits, Elves, rightful heirs to the throne, and noblemen in shining armor prancing on horseback, and you get the impression that the world is empty of ordinary human beings. Uncomfortably, the heroes go on and on about fighting for the existing order, and we're supposed to take in stride that the existing order is feudal dictatorship. I was never able to shake the feeling that if I lived on Middle Earth I might join Sauron's side so the world can finally move on from endless medieval stasis.
 

Alex Richards

A musical Hubble Space Telescope
Patreon supporter
Published by SLP
Location
Derbyshire
That's also a recurring issue in fantasy. I don't know how it is in the books, because when I tried to read The Lord of the Rings it fell off my lap (there, I've said it, I'm indifferent to Tolkien), but in the movies everything is about Hobbits, Elves, rightful heirs to the throne, and noblemen in shining armor prancing on horseback, and you get the impression that the world is empty of ordinary human beings. Uncomfortably, the heroes go on and on about fighting for the existing order, and we're supposed to take in stride that the existing order is feudal dictatorship. I was never able to shake the feeling that if I lived on Middle Earth I might join Sauron's side so the world can finally move on from endless medieval stasis.
The world practically is empty of ordinary people. That's kind of the point. The Shire is almost unique in having a large, settled population who don't get raided by bands of orcs on regular occasions, and Bree is explicitly the only sizable settlement in a vast area of desolation (as in 'like the size of France maybe?')
 

Thande

Directly Elected Mayor of the Western Hemisphere
Published by SLP
The world practically is empty of ordinary people. That's kind of the point. The Shire is almost unique in having a large, settled population who don't get raided by bands of orcs on regular occasions, and Bree is explicitly the only sizable settlement in a vast area of desolation (as in 'like the size of France maybe?')
I know what he means WRT the films though - the books are full of ordinary people on the rare occasions we get to settlements (Bree and Minas Tirith mostly) but that got cut from the films. In particular Pippin's friendship with Beregond and Bergil, how Faramir's life gets saved by an old woman in the Houses of Healing when Aragorn and Gandalf were stumped (as they say) and so on. We also get reminded of the cost of war when, after the Battle of the Pelennor Fields is won, Tolkien reels off a list of minor characters we met along the way who will never return to their homes.
 

Hendryk

Nothing ever ends
Published by SLP
Location
France
The world practically is empty of ordinary people. That's kind of the point. The Shire is almost unique in having a large, settled population who don't get raided by bands of orcs on regular occasions, and Bree is explicitly the only sizable settlement in a vast area of desolation (as in 'like the size of France maybe?')
This begs the question, who's doing all the work necessary to sustain the ruling caste of warrior knights?
 

Thande

Directly Elected Mayor of the Western Hemisphere
Published by SLP
This begs the question, who's doing all the work necessary to sustain the ruling caste of warrior knights?
Again, this gets covered quite a lot in the Minas Tirith chapters (with a chapter devoted to the evacuation of all those people to the countryside of Gondor, and Beregond talking sadly about how Pippin's seeing the city emptied of the bustle of trade and the laughter of children etc.)

It's just the sort of thing they tended to miss out of the films as not shooty arrows flamey trebuchet.
 

Hendryk

Nothing ever ends
Published by SLP
Location
France
It's just the sort of thing they tended to miss out of the films as not shooty arrows flamey trebuchet.
Which is a pity--it's not as though it would have added much to the budget to put a few peasants toiling in the fields in the background, and perhaps throw in a comment about how it's harder to raise levies at harvest time. For all their focus on powerful Übermenschen, at least superhero films show ordinary people going about their daily lives in the background, and in more recent instalments, even have them complain how they have to clean up the rubble in the wake of climactic battles; that was a clever plot hook in Spider-Man: Homecoming. But in Peter Jackson's LOTR adaptation, there just seems not to be anybody at all around except for the heroes and their armies. However scenic the New Zealand locations are, you hardly ever see land being cultivated (with the exception of the Shire). It's like food just magically appears in people's plates.
 

Alex Richards

A musical Hubble Space Telescope
Patreon supporter
Published by SLP
Location
Derbyshire
Which is a pity--it's not as though it would have added much to the budget to put a few peasants toiling in the fields in the background, and perhaps throw in a comment about how it's harder to raise levies at harvest time. For all their focus on powerful Übermenschen, at least superhero films show ordinary people going about their daily lives in the background, and in more recent instalments, even have them complain how they have to clean up the rubble in the wake of climactic battles; that was a clever plot hook in Spider-Man: Homecoming. But in Peter Jackson's LOTR adaptation, there just seems not to be anybody at all around except for the heroes and their armies. However scenic the New Zealand locations are, you hardly ever see land being cultivated (with the exception of the Shire). It's like food just magically appears in people's plates.
There was the whole sequence with the Rohan refugees.
 
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