The greatest human being who ever lived ( pretty much) tells us how to create superheroes.
It’s impossible to underestimate Stan Lee’s impact on the superhero genre. At Marvel in the early ’ 60s Lee revolutionised the idea of what a comic book hero could be – no longer gods who walked among us but flawed, believably human characters whose problems weren’t always of the worldending variety. His remarkable creative legacy is still paying dividends to this day, the entire Marvel Cinematic Universe built on a bedrock of characters he co- created, and Lee is showing little sign of slowing down with superpowered crime show Lucky
Man currently on the air. When it comes to superheroes, frankly, there’s no one better qualified, which is why we turned to Stan the Man for a 10- step guide to writing the ultimate superhero story. Excelsior!
“The superpower comes first, because everything really has to be built around: what is the hero’s superpower? For example, with Spider- Man, I had the idea of a character who’d have the power of a spider, who could stick to walls and build a web. And then, you build your story around the character who has that particular power. There are many stories that don’t involve people with superpowers. But if there is a superpowered character, I believe you have to first be very familiar with the superpower, know how you’re going to handle that, how it’ll fit in with the story, plot and so forth. Because that’s always the most important part of a character’s identity – what they can do that nobody else can.”
Push Them To The Limit
“I think it’s of paramount importance to give your characters a weakness. If the character, like Superman, cannot be hurt or injured, if they can do just about anything, I don’t feel that’s as interesting as worrying about a character who might have a superpower, but could also be wounded, killed or frustrated physically in any sort of way. The most important thing in my case, when I work on a superpowered character, is to find out: what weakness does that character have? And then, to me, it becomes more interesting. Sure, they can do something
nobody else can do, but they’d better watch out because if so and so happens, that would hurt them too. Then you worry about the character. If you’re not concerned about the character, if you’re not concerned about them getting hurt or being killed, then it’s not as much fun in an action story.”
“A character being interesting has nothing to do with superpowers. I think it’s the same rule that Charles Dickens would have used, or Mark Twain or Shakespeare or anybody. You’ve got to have a character who, regardless of the superpower, is somebody that is interesting, somebody you care about, somebody who you feel if you knew this person, you’d want to be friends with him or her. You have to like the character. Once you like the character, then you can worry about what is going to happen to that character. If you don’t like the character, if you don’t find the character very interesting, then the whole story becomes... I won’t say meaningless, but you’re not as involved in it if it’s just about somebody you don’t care much about one way or another. And the superpower has nothing to do with that.”
“The more complexity you can give a villain the better it is. The more complex they are, the more interesting they are. There’s always got to be the moments of indecision on the part of the reader. ‘ I wonder what will happen. I wonder what decision he’ll make.’ And so forth.
If the character is cut and dry, and very obvious, and you always know what the character will do and say, and there’s no unpredictability and there’s no suspense, then you have a story that isn’t as interesting. But even though these characters are fictional, you try to make them with as many different personality quirks as possible, as any human being has.”
Give Them A Home
“The location is very important to me as a writer – and I imagine to any writer – because if I have characters whose adventures take place in New York, I can handle that very well because I know New York so well. If you’re
making up an area you can do that well, but there’s no identification on the part of the viewer. It’s just a fictional city. It’s sort of like Batman, he’s in Gotham City. Superman, he’s in Metropolis. Well, Metropolis is sort of an amalgam of a million big cities. To me, it’s more interesting if he’s in London, Paris, New York. You know that city and you can identify with the background scenes.”
“A good story is a good story. You of course have to adapt it to the medium you’re working in. If it’s for a comic book you have to tell it very quickly, and you’ve got to think of very interesting visuals, because people are looking at these illustrations all the time. If it’s for a movie you can be more leisurely, if it’s for a TV series you have to think of it in terms of episodes, and how you can keep the interest going from episode to episode, and how you can make the viewer want to watch each succeeding episode. So you always have a little bit of a different problem but the story, the basic story, has to be pretty much the same.”
Keep It Real
“Even though these are very fictional stories about characters that are fairytale- ish in a sense, the more reality you can bring to them, the better. The same with an automobile. If I have a character driving a car, I’d want them to drive a Chevrolet or a Rolls- Royce or some car you know about, rather than call it a Whizzbang V8 or something. The more realistic you can make the story seem, when you’re writing about characters who obviously are far beyond being realistic characters who can fly and have good luck and all of that, then the more reality you can bring to it and the better it makes the story.”
Amazing Aliteration !
“I have fun with the alliteration. It’s just a little stylish thing I do. I don’t know that it makes it any better or worse, but I’m amused by it. The dialogue in general is very important, because you’ve got to have your characters speaking the way they would speak if they were flesh and blood. You’ve got to always keep them in character. And the way you keep a character in character is usually by the way he or she speaks.”
Never Stand Still
“The characters have to always be doing things that are interesting. Certainly in superhero stories, you need a lot of action, a lot of physical action. Even in real life, we all move around a lot. We don’t get into fights to save our lives, but there’s always a lot of movement and action. And in an adventure story, you just play that up even more than in real life.”
Strive to surprise
“The more surprises you can have in a story, the better it is. Each time the reader sees something he or she hadn’t expected, that makes it more interesting. Now, those surprises can’t be ridiculous. They have to be within the character of the people you’re writing about. If you can anticipate everything that’s going to happen in a story, you’re not nearly as interested in that story as you would be if suddenly you see a scene and you say, ‘ Wow, I never expected that. Oh, that’s terrific.’”
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Lucky Man is currently airing on Sky 1.