Tag Archives: books

Past Conflicts as Backstory

A common thing in book series is when there was some kind of serious conflict in the past which is affecting present-day events. Sometimes this conflict is only ever revealed as backstory: the reader is given some basic details of what happened, but never actually sees it on the page. Other times it might be revealed via a flashback: cutting to a scene in the past that shows the reader exactly what happened. But then there’s times that the backstory was revealed in the main narrative, but in a previous book.

How this works out depends a lot on the type of series you’re reading. I’ve read a lot of book series where there is an overarching plotline that spans the entire series. The Wheel of Time is a good example of this; while each book has its own beginning and end point, there’s no complete resolution until the very end. If you picked up a random book in the middle, you’d be lost about a lot of what is going on. Whereas a series like The Dresden Files has a different style, and every book is more self-contained. Events from one book can influence events in a later book, but the stories are able to stand alone. I haven’t yet read a book in the Dresden series that wouldn’t have made sense without the other books.

Sometimes, the difference between these styles can get a bit blurred. For example, I’m currently reading Guilty Pleasures, an Anita Blake: Vampire Hunter novel by Laurell K. Hamilton. I picked it up mostly at random without knowing where it fell in the series. While reading it, I’ve learned that there is a lot of backstory for Anita, from the cross-shaped burn scar on her arm, to her past missions slaying vampires with a flamethrower-wielding mercenary, to the hints of a romantic past between her and the vampire Jean-Claude. Not having read any other books in the series, I just assumed that some of these events were things from a previous book. Except that I found out this is Book #1 of the series. Meaning that the backstory in this case had enough depth and detail to it that I believed it was something that actually happened. It’s definitely a good compliment to the author, and I’m sure she had worked a lot of Anita’s background out in advance before writing the first book.

A good example of this is also when a new villain is introduced. In the case of Guilty Pleasures, a vampire named Valentine is introduced early in the book, and we find out he tried to kill Anita several years earlier. She threw holy water in his face, leaving him permanently scarred. The author went into a bit of detail about those events, not quite giving a full flashback, but painting enough of a picture that the animosity between the two characters is quite clear. It worked well, and the story of that past conflict is interesting enough that I almost hope it gets revealed in a prequel story one day.

It’s given me a lot to think about in terms of my own writing. How to manage a series is an issue I’ve been studying for some time, and I’ve blogged about it before. There’s always a question of how much backstory to reveal, and how much turns into long-winded exposition. The balance between the two seems to vary, based on how important the details are and how much you can “show” them instead of “telling” them.

I’m going to keep this in mind as I continue reading this novel, so I can see how the past conflict influences the events to come. I expect Anita is about to get into a lot of trouble with this vampire from her past, and it’ll be interesting to see if the current conflicts are stronger and more compelling based on what I’ve learned of their history together.

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Review of Breadcrumb Trail by Adam Dreece

Dreece-YellowHoods02CoverI just finished reading Breadcrumb Trail, the second book of The Yellow Hoods by Adam Dreece. It was a fun story, with entertaining characters, and some pretty interesting steampunk-style gadgets and inventions along the way.

The story centers around a group of young teens who call themselves “The Yellow Hoods.” They’re all bright, resourceful kids who can handle themselves in a fight, racing through the woods on sail-powered carts and using electric shock sticks to duel against sword-wielding soldiers. The Hoods get drawn into a conflict between two secret groups of inventors that are manipulating events from behind the scenes, plus there’s a war brewing in the south, a group of dangerous red-hooded outlaws kidnapping children, and a conspiracy to steal the secret plans to the world’s first steam engine.

The writing style is upbeat and fun, with a sense of swashbuckling adventure behind a lot of the action scenes. There’s also a lot of subtle (and not-so-subtle) references to fairy tales and fables, from Tee’s grandfather putting on a red coat and handing out toys during Winter Solstice, to the home of the Ginger Lady and her kids, Hans, Saul, and Gretel. Add in a few puns here and there, and the story gives you plenty of chuckles during the more lighthearted moments, though there’s definitely a dark side to some of the conflicts.

The pacing of the story could use a little work, with some of the chapters feeling too short, or some conflicts being resolved before there had been enough tension built up. There were some moments that felt like they were building up towards some good dramatic tension, but some of the impact of that tension can be lost when a chapter ends without hitting the right “cliffhanger moment.” This didn’t take away from the fun of the story, but it did lead to most of the story having a more casual pace, rather than the high-energy, action-packed pace it achieves at certain points.

All in all, the book was fun, entertaining, and intriguing. The inventions and gadgets show a lot of style, from electric shock gloves to compressed air cannons to a rocket-powered whirly-bird. And Tee and her friends are characters you really end up rooting for.

The Things That #NonWritersSay

So tonight on Twitter, I started the #NonWritersSay hashtag because I was talking to some of my writer friends about that common experience we all share: being misunderstood by non-writers.

It’s something I see every day, especially in my tutoring job at Rowan University. I constantly hear students complain that they “hate writing” and how they never think they’ll be good writers. Then they trudge through the effort of writing a 3-4 page essay. When I tell them I wrote a novel and it’s 100,000 words long, they inevitably say things like, “How can you write so much?” or “Was it hard to write?” or “Is it any good?”

I hear the same things from other sources as well. Friends will ask me “Do you sell a lot of copies?” or “How much money does it make?” without realizing those questions are kind of awkward and they make me uncomfortable.

Or non-writers who don’t understand the process of writing and revision will ask me things like “Why does it take you so long?” or “Why do you need to revise so many times?” These are questions that pretty much every writer has to deal with, and sometimes it feels like it’s impossible to answer. You want to shake the person and say, “Because writing is HARD!” Writing is a lot of work. It’s a full time job. And for most of us, it’s a full time job that you have to do while working another full time job to pay the bills. But you keep on doing it, because you have goals.

Most non-writers I know don’t understand the time and effort it takes to plot out a novel, go through several drafts, get it critiqued, get it edited, and get it out there into the world. I know people who write on roleplaying sites as a hobby, churning out a couple of pages a week and never revising them. They casually mention how maybe they’d like to turn their roleplaying characters into a book someday. That’s not to say you can’t do that; my novel, Manifestation, stemmed from characters that started off as part of one of those roleplaying games. But turning them into a book takes a lot of dedication, hard work, sleepless nights, and stress.

Sometimes I feel like people who are doctors, lawyers, engineers, accountants, bankers… anything that isn’t an “art” field, don’t really understand. Art is hard, and it leaves you poor. I imagine painters, musicians, and sculptors often feel the same way we writers do. As if they have to pour everything they have into something they’re passionate about, only to accept that it might turn out to be a failure. So many books get written, only to be rejected by publishers. Or they get published (whether traditional or indie) and never become bestsellers. And that’s hard to deal with when you put years of your life into a project.

Which is why I’m glad I know so many other writers on Twitter. I love being able to talk to them about my writing, to share my experiences with them, and to know they go through the same thing. It’s therapeutic. It makes me feel like I’m not alone.

Though of course, there is one very important thing that #WritersShouldSay: “You should be writing!”

So I’m going to try to get off Twitter for a little while and get some work done. These novels aren’t going to write themselves.

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You’re the First I’ve Ever Met

I had an interesting conversation with a coworker today.

I was at the Writing Center at Rowan University, where I tutor students and help them to (hopefully) become better writers. It’s an interesting job with some interesting people. As often happens at Rowan, the subject made its way around to the most common question you’ll ever hear as a college student: “What are you going to do when you graduate?”

I don’t have a good answer to that question. I don’t know what kind of day job I’m going to be getting. Though the real answer–the most honest one–is that I want to focus on being a professional writer.

Naturally, she asked, “So you want to publish books?”

And of course, I answered, “I’ve already published one.”

I’m a bit of a shy person, so I don’t go around shouting about my book to everyone I meet. So even though we’d worked together for some time, this was the first she’d heard about it. We had a short conversation about what the book is about (a girl with superpowers trying to survive in a world where magic is returning and going crazy), how long it took me to write (two years), and how the sales are going (an awkward question I avoid as much as I avoid telling people how much my day job pays). Once I got going, I got over my shyness and talked a bit about my book. Then my coworker said something that left me a bit speechless:

“You’re the first person I’ve ever known who published a book.”

I wasn’t sure how to react to that. I think I kind of blushed and stammered a bit. And I tried to think about who I knew that had written books.

The first that came to mind were my Rowan professors. Just listing the ones whose books I’ve actually read, there’s:

Red Dirt by Joe Samuel Starnes
Nothing But Blue by Lisa Jahn-Clough
Mimi Malloy, At Last! by Julia MacDonnell Chang
In the Shadows of a Fallen Wall by Sanford Tweedie

Then there’s a book written by one of my Rowan classmates, New Life and New Civilizations: Exploring Star Trek Comics, edited by Joseph Berenato.

And that’s not counting people I know online, whether self- or traditionally-published.

It kind of makes me feel like I’ve joined some kind of elite club. Like a country club membership, only with less golf and rich old white men, and more awesome books for me to read. Which sounds like a really good deal to me.

And it’s not one of those “you can’t golf here if you’re not a member” clubs. Because people who read are totally a part of the club, or else there wouldn’t BE a club, right? So the only people who aren’t allowed in the club are people who don’t like books.

And they can join the club if they find a book they DO like, and they read it.

So that’s what you should do today. Read a book. Maybe one of the ones I just mentioned above. Or mine. Either way, you’ll be having more fun than playing country club golf.

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Distance and Objectivity

As I’ve mentioned before, I’m currently working on two different revision projects. One is Contamination, the sequel to Manifestation. I’m currently about 80% of the way through Draft 2 (and I need to update that progress bar on the right to show that). I’m mostly working on line edits, making sure everything reads well and is clear, adding descriptive details where needed, and looking for plot holes that need filling or scenes that need cutting.

The second project is my Rowan University Master’s in Writing Thesis Project, a.k.a. Arcana Revived Volume Six (currently untitled). I’m pretty much doing the same thing there that I am on Contamination: basic edits and cleaning up the prose. I’m not to the point yet where I can make major changes since I need more time analyzing what is already there. I already have a few ideas on chapters that need to be cut, but I’m not to the point yet of making those decisions.

Normally, I wouldn’t be working on both of these projects at once. After all, Contamination is book two, so why be working on book six? Well, because I need to for school. Book six obviously won’t be published for quite some time, and I’m only doing the amount of work on it now that I need to for it to be “complete” in terms of what the thesis project requires. Mostly this means focusing on polishing up the first 30,000 words, and leaving the rest for later.

However, I’m running into a slight issue on Book Six that I’m not running into on Contamination, and I think I’ve figured out why. I don’t have enough distance from the first draft yet.

See, I wrote the first draft of Contamination for NaNoWriMo 2013. I’ve had close to a year and a half to get some objectivity about what I’ve written, so I can look at it and decide what needs to be changed, what needs to be cut, what’s working, and what isn’t. It’s a lot easier to say “Okay this is crap, it needs to go” on a scene or chapter that I wrote so long ago. It’s not so easy to do that with Book Six, which I just wrote a few months ago, for NaNoWriMo 2014.

The result is that I feel like I’m slogging through each chapter on Book Six, but I have no trouble with Contamination. The revisions on Book Six feel too “big.” I’m having trouble looking at individual issues instead of seeing the whole novel as, from the point of view of my critical side, one big steaming pile of crap. I’m still too connected to the rush and joy I felt writing the first draft and all the fragile emotions that go along with it.

In his book, On Writing, Stephen King says that when you finish a draft, you should put it in a drawer for six weeks or more. This is so that you can come at it with a fresh perspective. I feel like I need a little more than six weeks. Maybe six months? Which means that if I didn’t have a deadline, I’d be shelving everything to do with Book Six for a long time, until I’m more ready to deal with it. Which is besides the fact that I’ve got four other novels to revise before I touch that one.

I’m not really sure how to address this issue right now, since I need at least one revision of the first 30,000 words before March 1st. Which is totally doable for me in terms of the amount of work that I need to get done in that time frame, but less doable from an emotional point of view.

For the time being, my solution is to focus on Contamination. I’ve got a self-imposed deadline to finish that one by March 1st as well, and I’m more confident in my ability to do that. And maybe, by working on a different project for awhile, I’ll remove myself from Book Six a bit and be able to come back in during crunch time and get it done.

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Faking Like You Know What You’re Doing

People really seem to think I have any idea what I’m talking about.

Today I was at work in the Rowan University Writing Center, where I work as a writing tutor. One of the other tutors was with a student who needed help with a cover letter for his resume. The tutor was offering advice on how to clean up the grammar and keep the cover letter focused, to make sure that it says what it needs to in a quick, clear, concise manner. The idea is to remember that whoever is reading the cover letter has read dozens if not hundreds of others like it, so you want to get what you need to say out quick before you lose their interest and they move on to the next one.

At one point, the other tutor asked the other tutors (including me) for clarification on some point he was making. My honest response was, “I have no idea how to write a cover letter.”

His immediate response was, “Dude, you wrote a book. You can do anything.”

This is true. It is also completely false.

It’s true that I wrote a book. Though that certainly doesn’t make me qualified to write something like a one page cover letter. In fact, most authors I know tend to struggle with cover letters when they are pitching their books to agents. A cover letter is a completely different type of monster than a novel. It’s like writing in a different genre. You don’t use any of the flowery prose that might make a novel more beautiful, you don’t have hundreds of pages to work with, and you don’t get to fictionalize anything you want. Sure, you can be creative in your presentation, but a cover letter is ultimately about making a pitch, hooking someone’s interest, and getting them to give you a chance. This applies equally whether it’s a cover letter for an agent who you want to give your novel a chance, or a cover letter for your resume for an employer you want to give you a chance.

Sure, I’ve written cover letters before. I wrote one to get my current job, and I’m sure to have to write another one soon when I need to get a new job at the end of the school year. I’ve read an entire book on how to write effective cover letters. I’ve taken classes at Rowan that included how to write a cover letter as part of the program. Theoretically, I should know how to write an effective cover letter.

But really, I’m just making it all up as I go along.

I do this with a lot of things. Some of my Rowan classmates complain that I’m “so far ahead” in our graduate thesis work, because I wrote mine during NaNoWriMo last year. But I feel like I’m behind some of them since they already have more established careers than I do, or at least know what kind of jobs they plan to pursue after graduation. They act like my ability to write a lot of words in a short period of time is an enviable skill, when I am more worried about the focus and dedication it takes to turn those words into a completed product. They tell me I’ll have an “easy semester” because I’m done the first draft of my thesis, when in truth I have two novels I need to revise this spring. Usually, I just keep my mouth shut because I’m not sure how to say “I’ve got a lot more work to do than you realize” without it sounding rude.

Maybe there’ll come a point where things are easier and I’m not constantly feeling overwhelmed by work and to-do lists. But I doubt it. That’s how life tends to be, after all. For the time being, I’ll be content to get my next novel revised, find a full time job in the writing field, and work on paying off my student loans.

Hopefully no one figures out that I’m faking it all.

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Sexist, yet Sympathetic?

CheersLogoI’ve been marathoning Cheers on Netflix lately. It’s one of the greatest sitcoms of all times. The bar where everyone knows your name. Filled with loveable characters (who never drive home drunk; the show was praised for frequent portrayals of Designated Drivers). It’s also a show that was full of all kinds of sexism and negative gender stereotypes.

And yet, we still love it?

I’ve been paying close attention to the way Cheers depicts the main character, Sam Malone, played by Ted Danson. He portrayed as the stereotypical “hunk,” a trope you may know I really get annoyed with. Yet I don’t get annoyed with Sam, even with his incessant flirting, the way he treats women like sex object, and the way all the men in the bar treat him like he’s a role model because of the number of women he’s “conquered.” By every measurable trait, Sam Malone should come off as a sleazeball, a character I’d hate, and someone you would never tune in to watch week after week. So how can be be so sexist, yet still remain sympathetic?

CheersThe theory I’ve come up with has a few key points. I’ll list them one by one.

First, Sam Malone gets shot down constantly.

It’s true. Watch a few episodes of Cheers, and you’ll see Sam in usually one of three situations: pursuing girls who are better than him, pursuing girls who are equal to him, and pursuing another main character (such as Diane Chambers in the first five seasons). When he’s pursuing girls who are better than him, his advances almost always fail. These are usually educated women, those with careers, strong morals, and other positive personality traits. They reject Sam because his advances are always childish and crude, usually involving a lot of innuendos and excessive bravado. When confronted by such a woman, Sam gets shot down again and again, which shows us that a strong, confident woman won’t fall for Sam’s ploys. In a way, it almost makes Sam a sort of clown; he makes a fool of himself for our amusement. It’s just that instead of taking a pie to the face, he ends up scurrying away with his tail between his legs. He’s not seen as “threatening.” He’s more like a pathetic puppy who keeps begging, seeming all the more sad the more he is denied.

Other times, he’s dating some random girl who usually isn’t too bright and who is usually portrayed as being fairly dumb, unsophisticated, and “easy.” When he’s dating this sort of girl, the girl is always portrayed as wanting Sam as much as he wants her. It seems to me that we don’t lose sympathy for Sam as a “skirt chaser” in this context mostly because he’s pursuing only the girls who want to be pursued. Sam himself is always portrayed as dumb, unsophisticated, and willing to sleep with anyone, so a girl who is portrayed in the same fashion is seen as his equal. And because the girl desires it as much as Sam does, it seems to make it okay.

There’s a quote from The Wheel of Time that explains this quite well. One of the characters in that series, Mat Cauthon, is also a “skirt chaser.” But at one point one of the other characters notes that Mat only ever seems to pursue women who want to be pursued. That, in many ways, is the difference between a man who is seen as a sexist pig, versus a man who is seen as charming.

Here’s an example: say some random man in the street calls a woman “sexy” as she walks by. He’ll be seen as a pig for “cat-calling,” and most women won’t give him the time of day. On the other hand, if a man in a relationship calls his girlfriend sexy (and if she likes that sort of compliment), it could be seen as acceptable, even desirable. The fact that it’s desired makes all the difference. Similarly, other behavior like physical contact is only acceptable if it’s desired and consensual. A total stranger who slaps a woman on the ass is a pig who deserves to be smacked himself, but some girls may enjoy a flirty spank as part of foreplay from someone they’re in a relationship with.

Diane ChambersWhich brings me to the third type of relationship Sam Malone is seen in: long-term, complicated relationships like the one he had with Diane Chambers. With Diane, Sam’s childish behavior and advances never succeed. On more than one occasion, she rejects his advances until he stops acting like a horny teenager and finally confesses his true feelings for her. Only when we see some deeper sign of maturity and affection from him does Diane allow things to proceed to the next level.

These variables are interesting to consider when looking at them from the point of view of a romance novel. It should be possible, in theory, to create a “Sam Malone” type character as the male lead of such a novel. Someone who constantly pursues all the wrong women, never finding satisfaction in any relationship and constantly being rejected by the women with deep personalities, intelligence, and strength. Until one day he cleans up his act and stops acting like sex is all that matters. Then, perhaps, he would find a deeper connection with someone (the female lead, naturally). He could grow past his juvenile ways and become more mature, while still retaining the charm and flirtation that (once he finds someone he respects and only flirts in the way she desires) will still help him be portrayed as a sexy and desirable man.

There’s sure to be a lot of flaws to such a character, but then again, flaws are what make a novel’s character’s fun. There would definitely be a lot of growth potential. Sam definitely grows over time, gradually becoming less of a womanizer. Mat Cauthon also develops into a more mature person when he meets the woman he ends up marrying. I think that growth is necessary, otherwise the audience would lose sympathy for the character and grow tired of his childish antics.

And, of course, there’s no reason why these roles I’m describing have to be stuck in a male/female binary. You could take any character, male/female/trans/etc, and have them start off as immature, pursuing relationships with all the wrong people and constantly getting rejected. Until they find the right person, someone they respect, someone they’re willing to grow and change for, and they take the steps necessary to make themselves a better person.

I think it would be challenging to write such a character, since you’d always be walking the line between portraying the “Sam Malone” of your story as either a charming scoundrel or a chauvinistic pig. But it might make for some interesting storytelling, since, if nothing else, a character like this would be a prime source of conflict. And conflict would keep the story moving forward, up until the final moment when “Sam” either wins the girl/boy/etc, or gets the final rejection and slinks away in defeat (hopefully having learned some valuable lesson along the way).

Either that, or Ted Danson is just a damn good actor.

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All I Want For Christmas is a Revised Manuscript

Christmas and I don’t get along.

Christmas-Lights-11Okay, so Christmas doesn’t kidnap me, tie me up with sparkling lights, and lock me in the bathroom (though it could!). However, I do tend to have bad experiences with Christmas, and I don’t expect this one to be any better. I’m not on speaking terms with most of my family, my Dad is living on a tight budget so Christmas these days has no thrills, and I don’t expect anyone else in the world to get me anything. Beyond that, I can’t even get on board with the whole “Christmas should be about love and hope and etc etc, not presents!” thing because I’m not religious and I don’t really have the kind of hopeful, positive influences in my life that would make Christmas worthwhile. I have casual friends who I’m sure will text or tweet me some Christmas wishes, but I don’t really have the kind of deep personal relationships where you expect to bond with people over hot chocolate in front of the fireplace Christmas day.

All I want for Christmas is to finish this draft.

I think I’ve been suffering from #NaNoWriMo Burn Out, coupled with a touch of seasonal depression. Which happens every year. After writing 160,000 words on my NaNo novel, I’ve written . . . five blog posts in two weeks, and revised one chapter of Contamination. That’s not much. And I have no excuse. I just sit home all day anyway. It’s not like there’s a reason I can’t get the work done.

All I want for Christmas is some motivation.

I think that Author Fragile Ego Syndrome is keeping me from working on my novel because I’m afraid that it sucks. That no one is going to read it or buy it or like it. That people who praise my writing are just doing so to be nice. That one day soon I’m going to be back to working at a crappy restaurant for a sexist boss, Master’s Degree from Rowan University notwithstanding.

All I want for Christmas is some self-esteem.

What I said a moment ago, about Christmas not being about presents? It’s true. Christmas isn’t about presents. I don’t want material goods. I just want a Christmas where I can get out of this rut and get some work done. I want to be able to send my revised novel to my CPs as their Christmas present. I want to stop feeling like crap. I want to get through a Christmas without crying.

All I want for Christmas is to be successful with my writing. But that’s a gift no one else can give me. So I’ll have to do it myself.

mani_promoManifestation is available in paperback format through:

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Author Fragile Ego Syndrome

EMSStar-redwhitecopyMEDICAL ALERT

An epidemic has been spreading among a certain group of individuals. You may be at High Risk for AFES if you are in any of the following high-risk categories:

  • You stay up late at night, drinking coffee and mumbling about the inconvenient timing of your Muse
  • You speak in strange tongues and use words and phrases like MS, WIP, “Show, Don’t Tell,” character motivation, climax, turning point, YA, NA, and Query
  • You obsess over word counts and go on long rants about how a hyphenated word should count as two words, damn it, and you don’t care what the word processor says
  • You’re constantly looking for excuses to explain why you’ve neglected your fictional characters for so long
  • You cry when a loved one dies, then cry more when people tell you “It was just a fictional character!” (They’re real, damn it!)
  • You’ve been nodding along while reading this list
  • You simply hate when people ask you how your writing/revisions/sales are going (there’s no right answer)

If you show any of these warning signs, you might be an Author.

Authors should seek medical attention immediately if they show any symptoms of AFES, including but not limited to:

  • Nervous jitters when you send your WIP to be read by a CP, Beta, Agent, or Editor
  • The idea of friends/relatives reading your book makes you nauseous or lightheaded
  • You sit and stare at the monitor repeating, “I suck I suck I suck I suck…”
  • You ever made the mistake of reading the reviews on Amazon or Goodreads
  • You experience erections writing sprints lasting longer than four hours
  • You ever want to make a fort out of copies of your book so you can hide inside it forever

There is currently no known cure for AFES, but you can experience temporary symptom relief by writing a blog post about it.

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Superman and Vanity

superman-evolution2Look at the picture above, and tell me what you see.

Okay, yes, nine versions of Superman. Look closer.

Okay, they’ve all got variations of the same classic costume, except the one dressed all in black. They’ve all got a tall, muscular build. But look closer.

What do I see? Confidence. Shoulders set back. Chins held high. A few of them even have an almost cocky smirk. And why not? They’re Superman. Generally considered (by an average person, not necessarily a comic book buff) to be the most powerful superhero of all. And not only does he have more powers than you can shake your, err, kryptonite at, he’s also suave, charming, heroic, honest, and basically all around perfect.

And maybe that perfection will go to his head.

There’s a line in the original Christopher Reeve Superman movie, when Superman is talking to his father, Jor-El. Jor-El warns Superman not to succumb to his vanity:

Lastly, do not punish yourself for your feelings of vanity. Simply learn to control them. It is an affliction common to all, even on Krypton…Our destruction could have been avoided but for the vanity of some who considered us indestructible. Were it not for vanity, why, at this very moment… I could embrace you in my arms…my son…

Superman’s vanity, and through it, his overconfidence, are almost his undoing. He thinks he’s indestructible, so he doesn’t bother to take precautions. This is how Lex Luthor is able to trick him and expose him to kryptonite, which nearly kills him. (In turn, Luthor’s own vanity and overconfidence leads to him walking away and not watching Superman die, allowing Miss Teschmacher to save him.) I’ve seen this issue be Superman’s undoing in a number of different versions of the movies and TV shows. He underestimates his foes, he doesn’t consider the consequences of his actions, and he may even sometimes consider himself to be above the law.

Superman is just one example. Many other superheroes can have similar vanity issues; just look at all the ego being thrown around in The Avengers and you can see how each character’s pride is affecting their behavior. It’s been addressed in some comics from time to time, when people ask whether these heroes should be held accountable for their reckless behavior when they cause massive destruction while “saving” people.

One of the reasons I started thinking about the vanity of superheroes is because of a conversation I had with my academic adviser at Rowan University about my own writing projects. We were discussing one of the main characters from my novel, Manifestation, and I was describing some of the powers she has and the scale on which she’s able to affect the world in the later novels in the series (which gets bigger and stronger as the series goes on). After describing one particular scene at the end of the second book, Contamination, my adviser asked, “Would you describe her as godlike?”

Godlike characters can be a problem in a variety of ways. For one, there’s what I’ve called the Superman Dilemma, where a character is so powerful that it’s hard for there to be any suspense. But pride and vanity are definitely another issue. Vanity can be something that can actually add conflict, however, if it proves to be the character’s downfall. Vanity can lead to mistakes, it can make a character easy to manipulate, and it can alienate a character’s friends who think the character has gotten too big for their britches.

No wonder it’s the Devil’s favorite sin.

So if you find that your characters are too powerful, too unstoppable, too perfect, it’s not necessarily a bad thing. As long as their power and perfection becomes a foil for them in the story. One way to address this is to put the character up against something that all their power isn’t enough to defeat. This is something I try to do later in my books. A character who has gotten used to solving every problem by throwing her unstoppable, godlike powers at it full force suddenly finds herself faces with an obstacle that can’t be beaten this way. She has to step back from the situation and consider other angles. She has to think. She has to realize that, just maybe, all of her powers don’t amount to all that much sometimes. It’s a hard lesson to learn. But once she learns she has to think outside the box instead of trying to overpower her foes, she ends up being that much stronger.

And hopefully, not too many cities will get destroyed in the meantime.

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