Writing The Superhero


I’ve decided to share extracts of an article from Script Magazine focusing on how to write dynamic superheroes in the action genre. Whether you are writing a Jesus Christ or Superman screenplay, a writer must create dynamic imagery infused with dramatic narrative and potent pop-mythology rather than cardboard cut outs in tights. Consider why “The Avengers” has grossed over $1 billion globally. Because it panders to humanity’s innate need to feel special in the universe and protected from evil.

THE HERO MUST BE MOVIE WORTHY

These days it is not enough to rely on tights, a cape and explosive action to carry your script. The character must be dramatized and humanized. For instance, Superman becomes more accessible to audiences when he must disguise himself as a geek reporter and can’t tell Lois Lane he loves her, or when Batman must avenge his parents after witnessing them being murdered. Iron Man pandered to the maternal nursing instinct by having a weak heart.

RESPECT THE MATERIAL AND TAKE IT SERIOUSLY

Stay true to the original material or risk alienating your audience. Don’t mock or distort the characters. You have a duty to capture their essence. Remember the daddy issues that The Hulk was burdened with? The traditional action genre was substituted for drama. However, you don’t have to slavishly adhere to every character element either.

TELL THE ORIGIN STORY

Sometimes called the backstory, the origin story tells where the superhero came from and how they came to be in their current situation e.g Spiderman being bitten by an irradiated spider. The origin story also informs the audience of the heroes’ grand intentions e.g Spiderman is a spotty kid with adolescent problems, but must realize that with great power comes great responsibility. It indicates a sense of character arc. If there is no origin story, your screenplay runs the risk of being a series of set pieces with no soul; all flash with no backbone.

THE HERO MUST BE A REAL PERSON

Humanize your superhero. Allow them to experience grief, anger, love, guilt and socially awkward situations just like us. Without fleshing out their characters, superheroes run the risk of being too cartoonish.

YOU NEED A GOOD VILLAIN, BUT NOT TOO MUCH OF ONE

The role of the villain is to stifle the hero, not to drive the plot. Make your villain credible and of similar strength to the hero. The hero should never become a subordinate to the villain. Only have one villain per story. A villain and his/her faithful underlings counts as one villain.

DON’T CREATE AN ORIGINAL SUPERHERO

Given Hollywood’s obsession with branding and pre-existing properties, stick the the tried and true or risk rejection.

BE AWARE OF GENDER DIFFERENCES

Don’t write female superheroes with alpha male traits such as Cat Woman. Consider the nurturing aspects of Wonder Woman. Unless, you’re Angelina Jolie, masculine females don’t generally appeal to audiences no matter how tight their outfits are.

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2 Comments Add yours

  1. Luis says:

    Hello Gideon, thank you for writing this article. Do you have experience and insights on; 1. Trustworthy script doctors to go to in order to get constructive feedback on your screenplay, and; 2. Once you finish your “final” draft of your superhero, how can you sell/pitch it to those that own the rights to the branded superhero? Thank you so much!

    Sincerely,
    Luis
    Luis_Aponte@usa.com

    1. JG Sarantinos says:

      Thanks for reaching out. Firstly, I give constructive feedback on feature scripts through my Hollywood Outreach Program. Email me at hop@scriptwritersnetwork.org to discuss.

      In terms of pitching to owners of superhero properties, my best advice is not to bother. There is a legal minefield involved and producers won’t even consider it. Sorry. You can either invent your own superhero, but even then, it’s tough unless there are successful underlying works like comic books or novels.

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