Super Storycraft: Manning Up

As some of you might know, I have this pet project of trying to figure out what puts the “super” in the superhero story by creating my own hero. I actually have the plot outline and a few scenes of his adventures lined up in a notebook somewhere (progress!), and I’m trying to decide whether I should post it on this blog or on Wattpad – because I really should post it somewhere.

If only because the world needs Liberty (art care of my sister)
If only because the world needs Liberty (art care of my sister)

Of course, the original point of this is to learn more about writing a story about a super-powered person trying to help other people. Over the course of trying to hammer out certain details, something became clear to me.

In many plots, fathers really are important.

I believe that I’ve complained about excessive use of “daddy issues” in various hero tales, and I do believe that, in most cases, it’s cheating (I’m glaring at you right now, 2011 Green Lantern movie). But I think writing Liberty – Lady Liberty in previous incarnations – has given me another perspective. I now feel that the use of father figures in many stories such as this reflect one important aspect of turning into a hero. I think the dads are there to teach the superheroes how to use their powers responsibly.

They’re there to show the heroes how to man up when needed.

Let’s face it: many superheroes – the popular ones – are male. As such, superhero stories can be seen as metaphors for being an adult in the context of manhood, for becoming and being a man. Peter Parker became a man when he became Spiderman – and he is the hero he is because of the man Uncle Ben was. Superman was also the hero he is because of who Jonathan Kent is.

In my own story, Liberty is a hero – but he won’t be the hero he is meant to be, the man he is meant to be, until he reconnects with his father.

The entire point here is to know how to step up – as men are expected to.

I think this is why many find it difficult to write stories about female superheroes – it’s because most of the sensibilities of superhero stories tend to deal with what we are told are essentially male aspirations. Being rescuers, protectors, defenders, and (to a certain extent, at least), avengers are things that boys are supposed to aspire to be.

A man’s gotta do what a man’s gotta do. Nobody really talks about what a woman’s gotta do (I’ll rant about this in a future post).

Nevertheless, a good superhero story seems to require the main character to man up. Call it morals or ethics or whatnot. But in the end, it’s recognizing a sense of right and wrong within one’s self and knowing how to apply one’s powers to it.

I could be wrong – but this is as good a start as any.

Considering the Requirements of a Superhero Story

I wish I could say that I’m completely over the “Man of Steel” thing, but it looks like I won’t be for a long while yet. Yesterday, I ended up talking to my sister for HOURS about how much the movie disappoints me. I didn’t bring up how painful its success is, because I didn’t quite know how to say it without feeling like a complete ass. People enjoyed it. I really shouldn’t begrudge the fact that they did. But part of me feels like the folks who made this movie, the moviegoers who enjoyed it, missed the point.

The point being that Superman is about putting your faith in hope, and that he NEEDS a narrative that will make us believe that he could and has done that. I stand by my conviction that the film did nothing to evoke this.

Hope
Maybe it’s always about hope. (Photo credit: bitzcelt)

This might be a problem of super storycraft

This low-grade ire, which has been bothering me for weeks (stoked occasionally by my father, who likes sharing all the “Man of Steel” reviews he can get his hands on), brings to mind the question of what makes a superhero story work. This is, admittedly, slightly connected to a blog post and discussion I ran into, which asked the question of what makes Superman essentially Superman given his many different incarnations over the years since his inception and also (through the comments) posed the question of what makes the superhero a superhero.

Much thanks to Jonathan and Carljoe for that exchange. I’d also like to say that I am not stalking you guys. Nope. Totally not.

*cough* Back to what I was saying.

Without a doubt, the superhero story partly draws from Joseph Campbell’s monomyth – as many good heroic stories do. But that’s only half the battle. The other half is putting the “super” in the heroism, at which point things get a little bit murky. Why? It’s because it’s been given so many different approaches over the many decades that superheroes have existed. So much so that I’ll probably find it difficult to create a truly consolidated concept of it.

Oh, sure. There are similar elements. Someone is born with or gets superpowers – either through fate or the development of a skill. Eventually, they use it to help other people. They save us and we end up wanting to BE them. They represent the very best versions of ourselves; gods that aren’t gods, humans that are more than human.  These are narratives we love to love.

But we’ve told these stories so many times and from varying angles: following someone who is super but human, or human but super etc. It’s easy to see how they’re heroic, but it’s hard to pinpoint what it is that makes them SUPERheroic in the narrative.

Maybe I’m looking at this the wrong way. Maybe it’s not exactly the narrative, but the elements USED in the narrative?

Maybe I should try writing a superhero story instead?

Perhaps this is something that I’ll only really understand by actually DOING. I mean, here I am criticizing how other people are writing certain superhero stories wrong without actually writing one myself. At least, not seriously.

That’s why I’m thinking of digging up an old superhero concept I came up with several years ago. I made it up for a not-quite-roleplay roleplaying activity that my friends and I wanted to try on our Livejournal community (now defunct). Of course, the original idea was that we’ll be playing/writing from the point of view of NORMAL people who happened to be associated with superheroes; but eventually, we started putting more and more writing time into the supers we created for the purpose of interacting with our “ordinary” characters.

My hero was called Lady Liberty (yeah, I know a Lady Liberty already exists in comics; but it just seems right), and she’s not what she seems to be. “She” is actually a “he”, and his reasons for crossdressing whenever he engages in superheroics are more complicated than you think.

Of course, if I try to write this, I’ll probably have to ask all the other people involved if I can borrow their characters because a huge chunk of Lady Liberty’s character arc depends on the existence of THEIR characters. And that would be complicated, considering I’ve lost touch with some of them. Also, I’m not sure if I have the chops to write this epic on my own, and I’m not sure if this is a good idea at all. Maybe I should ask my sister to help? After all, most of the coolest bits that happened in that RP happened because of HER ideas.

I don’t know if I should pursue this. But it’s likely that I’ll have a better understanding of what one requires out of a superhero story if I try to be more hands-on with it.

On People Disrespecting Logic in Plots

Over the last couple of weeks, I kept finding myself repeatedly exposed to stories that had plot points that made no sense. I’m not going to list all of them here, but please trust me when I say that there are enough of them to piss me off. Why do they piss me off?

Because they got produced, and people are paying for them.

Nerd rage activate. (Image from Wikipedia)

It’s like people decided that if you have enough pretty elements in the production, everyone else will completely ignore the fact that a whole lot of the story makes no goddamn sense. Who cares about logic in narrative? Narrative is all about FEELINGS, right? And visuals bring in more feelings, right? So fuck the story and let’s just throw in as many cool things as we can into this thing so we can give the paying public enough feels to make us rich and shit. Fuck the plot. Let’s just pander. Pander pander pander. Nobody wants to think when they’re watching a movie or a play, or reading fiction.

I guess this wouldn’t hurt me so much if I didn’t care about the craft of telling a story and didn’t work so hard at making sure that any novel I publish would make sense.

It’s just that I know, from years of experience, that the cool bits only become REALLY cool when it’s rooted in a solid, logical narrative. I don’t care what you say; you have to make sure that whatever happens in the story makes sense. Don’t deus ex machina all over the place just because. That’s just fricking lazy. You have to remember to take everything that’s happened so far into account before you get your character to do anything. Yes, this includes narratives in which you shuffle scenes around so they wouldn’t be happening in chronological order. Stuff needs to be explained. Hell, you can even use long blocks of exposition to do that if you want (though it’s inadvisable and it’s another pet peeve of mine) as long as you don’t have that one supposedly dead dude showing up at the end to kill the big bad FOR NO GOOD REASON. That just jars me out of the experience and makes me want to walk away.

Except, you know, I can’t walk away. Because I have this burning need to tell you and your descendants where you went wrong with this story.

Look, I’m a fan of fantasy and a bunch of other stuff that requires suspension of disbelief. But that doesn’t mean that I’m okay with you totally disrespecting logic in plots and throwing them out the window because it would be cooler that way or because you want it to end the way you always thought it should end, sense be damned. If you’re going to insist that Christine and the Phantom have a little boy together, then you damn well better make it feasible in the context of the ORIGINAL Phantom of the Opera story in which the Phantom seemed to have no real human connection until the very end, when Christine kissed him to save Raoul.

*cough*

I guess I should just fess up and admit that most of this post has something to do with the fact that I watched “Love Never Dies” (Andrew Lloyd Weber’s sequel to “Phantom of the Opera”) on HBO over the weekend and found myself screaming “why the name of hell did you have to do this?” repeatedly for two hours. The production looked amazing and some of the melodies really stay with you. But I just can’t get over the improbability of the child if you take the original into consideration. Which you should. BECAUSE THIS IS SUPPOSED TO BE A SEQUEL.

Other stuff inspired this post too, but I don’t think I want to bring them up anymore. They’ll just make me mad. The way Jonathan Kent in “Man of Steel” made me mad because that version only would have worked if they did “Birthright” all the way instead of just drawing bits of inspiration from it. Except they didn’t – they took the Jonathan and didn’t do enough of the Martha to make up for it. So they ended up with a Superman who had no real solid moral grounding upon which you can base his “super-ness”. If you try to bring up Jor-El, I will CUT you because he didn’t cut it as a father figure either. Don’t you dare tell me that he did. And I’m not even getting into all the OTHER stuff that made no real sense in the film. Like that kiss between Lois and Clark. Because WHEN exactly did they have time to develop the hots for each other?

Dammit. I said I wouldn’t bring it up.

My point is that logic is important in plots. If it’s not there, then there’s nothing for us to take in from all this. And that’s what’s making me angry. Stories, apart from making us feel something, help us LEARN something. Without the logic there, it’s difficult for us to learn anything. And it’s a waste. It’s a shame.

I think I’ll have that drink now.