A couple of days ago, I decided to write a short story featuring a superhero. That got me thinking about why no one seems to be writing any super hero stories. We seem to be getting a lot of them in the movies, so why not books.
A quick search on Google and Amazon, revealed this gem hidden amongst a small selection of other superhero works available. Reading the extremely short preview, I was instantly hooked by the introductory paragraph of the first story. Just to be clear here, this is fiction, or more accurately put, science-fiction where instead of aliens and guns shooting lasers, you get mutants and eyes shooting lasers. That’s about as different as the genre gets.
To give you an example of what type of action-packed writing grabs me. The first story “Cleansed & Set In Gold” started with this:
I’m on the ground trying to breathe through a chest full of broken ribs. The only reason I’m still alive is because I happen to be invisible at the moment. Verlaine is dead. His body is twitching, trying to patch himself up, but the thing that killed him is chewing on his heart, its long tongue flicking. I can hear Verlaine’s fingernails scratching against the rocks.
We all thought Veraline was immortal. He wasn’t.
This super-amazing first story focuses primarily on the super hero, his powers and his fight against a seemingly unbeatable foe, and is worth the price of the book alone in my opinion. But for the most part, the rest of the stories chose to write about how their super-strength protagonists meandered their way through society. It’s a varied lot to be honest, you get your super-villians using their talents to to rob a bank, the gay superhero who tries to fight injustice in more ways than one, and other societal themes that seem to be a general trend throughout the book.
Here, my stand is simple. That’s NOT a good approach. To sum up how I feel, let me quote one of the buyer reviewers – Patrick O’Duffy
Too much kryptonite, not enough super-writing
There’s an interesting mix of comics writers and prose writers here, but there’s also a strong deconstructive tendency from the non-comics authors. It’s not enough for them to simply write a superhero story; it has to be one that critiques the genre and its conventions, and usually in a way that finds those conventions wanting. The comics authors, on the other hand, were more interested in following those conventions to find a story that respected them while still working within a different medium/form. Those stories tended to be better, if only because I could read the story without the chip on the author’s shoulder getting in the way.
Anyway, before I go into my rant, I highly recommend the first story in the novel. The fight scenes were EPIC. I wish I could write half as well as the author.
Thoughts on presenting the superhero genre
While everybody appreciates a good storyline that tries to go deeper beyond “Hulk smash!”, there has to be a balance between trying to humanise the hero, while still trying to present him as a world-saving hero. Most of these stories focus too much on the emotions and thoughts of victimised heroes standing alone in a depressed world, instead of shooting lasers and generally, just kicking ass.
Here are some quick thoughts on how to write a superhero book.
Superheroes and what they do are meant to be very physical. Wolverine gets angry, he slices stuff up. He gets sad, he slices stuff up. He gets hungry…. you get the drill. A brief glimpse into the inner demons he’s battling inside might make for good story fodder, but it should not ever detract from the “slice stuff up” aspect. To me, if the author made this mistake, then he shouldn’t be writing science fiction.
Focus On Action
Honestly, your genre allows you to use face-melting beams and heroes who can fly without explanation. USE IT. If I want to read a story about how the good guys tried to sneak their way in or talk their way out of a confrontation, a different setting like WW2 would be better. I want to see cars flung in the air, impossible somersaults that befuddle the cops giving chase, and as much furniture breakage as possible. Like the example of the first story above, the author went into quite gory details about the fight scenes and deaths. The end result of which was actually quite stupendous.
If you need your character to be less like the invincible Superman and more vulnerable, try going the Batman route with gadgetry instead. This puts him in a position where he can be very weak, but once he gets his stuff on, he can beat up the guys who were chasing him just a moment ago. Trick is to make him still play out like a superhero instead of a decked out James Bond. Often, this requires the author to give him a deeper persona or agenda that separates him from a typical spy.
To end it off, I really hope more writers will start picking up on using superheroes in their stories. It’s honestly quite good fun. I’ve about had it with vampires and the undead.