by Keith Morrison
©2010 Keith Morrison
I was recently going through the TSA-Talk archives on a mission to find something Id written 12 years ago when I stumbled on a series of stories Id written 13 years ago. Having forgotten the series, I reread it and realized hey, that was pretty good. A bit of editing needed (and theres one aspect of a character that Ill change) but it has it all: Drama, humour, not a bad bit of worldbuilding, overarching plot, twists and turns
and boring, invincible heroes.
Thing is, I didnt intend on creating boring, invincible heroes. The things they do clearly indicate they dont think theyre invincible (except in very specific circumstances). Other characters they interact with dont think theyre invincible. And yet, there they are. And, in a bit of fridge logic, the reader will likely wonder why they did X and Y when all they had to do was pop in, walk casually through the massed horde of the evil minion mooks, punch out Cthulhu, and then go home. Why the cloak and dagger routinewhy act like Batman when theyre obviously the equivalent of Superman?
How did that happen?
What happened, I realized in the wonderful clarity that hindsight provides, is that I didnt think it through. I needed them to be threatened, yet at the same time I need the characters to be capable of terminating what are, essentially, gods. Instead of thinking of a method to set up that situationwhich, to quote Mr. Scott, is easy by the wayI simply ignored the problem. Call it a bit of informed disability: Sure, the reader is basically told the heroes arent all-powerful, that they have weaknesses but said weaknesses never actually show up in the story. Once Id made that realization, the solution really was easy. Ive used it in other settings, and it was trivial to import. The heroes can be invincible but only against one thing, one particular type of threat. Against everything else, they can be hurt, and they can be killed, and they have to rely on their skills, wits, and what powers they did have.
In essence, they have to act like Batman unless someone tries to use kryptonite, which instead of harming them makes them as powerful as Superman. Use anything else except kryptonite, and the field is more even.
Ive mentioned several times in the past the problem of boring, invincible heroes. Incidentally, this is why kryptonite was invented in the Superman mythos to begin with: As the character was written to be more and more powerful, there had to be some way someone could at least attempt to be a threat to him. If there wasnt, the story would have to either be very quick (and boring), or else force the hero to carry the Idiot Ball for the whole thing, and a stupid hero isnt much better than a boring one.
If there isnt some form of threat, then whats the point? A hero, if youre writing one, is defined by the quality of their villain(s). Make the villains good enough, and the hero looks even better. And being good enough means being able to actually be a threat. If Palpatine didnt have the cool Force powers and a bad-ass minion like Vader and Death Stars and enormous starships and hordes of stormtroopers and a huge monstrous war industry, would the plucky band of rebels have looked so heroic? Would Lukes final showdown with Vader and Palpatine even have meant anything if he could have casually knocked aside a physically-impaired man with extensive prostheses keeping him alive, then strolled up to a doddering old coot; bitch-slapped him; and informed him the Empire was over? Of course not. It would have sucked.
If Tony Stark hadnt been forced to use a more primitive and weaker power supply, which in the end made his victory depend more on smarts, bravery, and pure courage than it did on better technology and smarter/bigger guns, would the end of Iron Man have been so satisfying? If Superman hadnt been dying as he lifted a kryptonite-infused island off the planet and flung it into space in order to save millions of lives, would the ending of that movie had been any better? If Batman easily outwitted the Joker (instead of it being, in some ways, the other way around), would The Dark Knight have been a better film? Of course not. It would have sucked.
And so my stories, or at least the ends of them, sorta sucked. Oh, Im fixing them, but as I mentioned, I was fortunate. Too many authors likely write themselves into a corner and cant make a fix that easily. So heres the advice: Dont let yourself get caught in this situation. Limit the protagonists advantages. Give them a flaw, something that someone smart, knowledgeable or even lucky could stumble on. And then make sure that smart, knowledgeable and/or lucky people are among the enemies. Make your heroes actually have to work to be heroic.