Superhuman weakness

A-fest12 004cAt one time there was a “story” circulating about a famous producer of modern supernatural fiction movies, and an unknown screen writer.

The famous producer says “I have a new idea for a movie.”

“What’s the plot?” asks the writer.

“There’s this boy, and he’s really a robot.” the producer answers.

“That’s a plot device, not a plot.” the writer responds.

The American public has an on going love affair with superheros and a lot of writers want to cash in on this. Yet, we keep on recycling the classic superheros. Why? When you give a character a supernatural powers, you can easily become preoccupied with the special ability. Every crisis that arrives is another chance to showcase the special power. Although the crowd of spectators may be astonished, the hero finds solving the problem as natural as breathing. So having a superpower does not guarantee an interesting plot, anymore than having a boy actually be a robot will keep audiences coming to theaters. If a story contains a character with powers so that problems can be quickly overcome, essentially there is no conflict, no plot–just a plot device.

Carefully crafting an interesting hero with unique powers requires attention to other things. For example, what are the character’s weaknesses? They need to have both an Achilles’ heel and a personality flaw.  The physical weaknesses is like Superman’s Kryptonite or the dragon’s soft spot. There may be a plant, an element, a delicious food that doesn’t bother us ordinary humans but it can drain the supernatural character’s power or even cause death.

The personality flaw actually helps us relate to the hero with super powers.  We automatically assume that characters that walk and talk like people (at least some of the time) also share the  traits of human nature. However, a superhero could have a drastically different way of thinking or feeling (or lack of feeling). This kind of character is more difficult to create but is ultimately more fascinating when well developed.

In a discussion with high school aged writers about the changes in literary rules for vampires, many of them lamented the fact that the new breed of vampire doesn’t have to watch out for sunrise. They seem just like humans only stronger, immortal and with a taste for blood, not necessarily human blood. However, one astute student noted that even the modern “humanized” vampires were more interesting when stories revolve around their interactions with humans and the conflicts that resulted. So the superhero with the fantastic new power that you have created needs to care about humans and be involved their society. The plot may not differ much from man of the age-old man versus man plots. But the addition of the superhuman power, and superhuman weakness, can make the plot more intriguing.


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