Tag Archives: superhero

Thoughts on Writing – Originality in Writing

As writers, we constantly try to write something original, or something with a unique twist. But how often do we come up with a super cool idea, only to discover there are already dozens of similar ideas out there already? (Looking at you, Marvel. Every time Isaac and I think we have a unique story idea, your next movie covers something really similar. All I need to say is “dancing baby tree.” *Sigh.*)

It can be depressing.

But here’s the thing: having similar ideas is okay.

That’s why genres and sub-genres exist. That’s why certain tropes show over and over again. We enjoy them. We like being able to follow patterns, and we’re delighted when those patterns fulfill their promises in unexpected ways.

For example, readers of romance know that the stories they reading will have a happy-ever-after or a happy-for-now ending, no matter how dire things may seem at the moment. They enjoy seeing how the two characters finally get together, despite the odds.

Readers of horror know to expect chills and moments of tenseness… and that the little kid down the road might very well not be a little kid. But the joy comes in seeing how the characters succeed or fail to tackle the issue, and what kind of monster is really lurking in the dark, not quite seen.

These tropes and ideas play into reader expectations, and if you know how to play your genre cards right, you can use those cards to add a new twist on an old idea.

Readers enjoy the familiar. Why else do we read hoards of dystopian books, or try to get our hands on every thriller we can find?

It’s after you consider genre conventions that you want to add a new twist, a new environment, or a new type of character to an old arc to see what might make it different.

This is the reason there are so many takes on different fairy tales. For example, Cinder by Marissa Meyer, puts the classic Cinderella tale in a space-age environment with robots.

You’ll find all the classic plot elements, but in a new setting, the old story takes on new life.

I’ve come to terms with the idea that nothing is ever completely original, and that really, the best we can do is know (to the best of our ability) what is already out there, so we can play on what exists and make something even better, or more unique, just a little bit different.

Have you ever watched a movie and wished it had turned out a bit differently?

What twist would you have added? What direction would it have gone?

(For Distant Horizon, one of the major changes of typical superhero stories was the idea that the supervillains won the day during the age of superheroes, and now the villains are secretly in charge of what otherwise seems like a perfectly functional society).

We enjoy the familiar, but we enjoy seeing how a different author spins the tale.

A while back I was reading a superhero book, Elevated by Daniel Solomon Kaplan (a fun book–I recommend it if you like YA superhero stories) in which the main character is in school (high school), preparing for a potentially life-changing event (getting her superpower–or choosing not to), and then she goes to a history lesson (which benefits us readers into knowing what’s going on in the world and how she feels about it), before moving on to the day of the big event.

At the time, it got me to thinking about the book I coauthored, Distant Horizon. The main character is in school (college), panicking about a potentially life-changing event (testing to see if she has a hallucinogenic disease… but the event secretly tests for super powers), and then she goes to a history class (which shows a little about the world so the reader knows what’s going on), before moving on to the day of the big event.

At first I was discouraged by the similarities, but when I started thinking about it, I realized that those similarities weren’t a bad thing. They help the reader get their bearings before going two completely different plot directions. Those starting events are tropes of the genre. Even the similarities were different (example: both characters have an interest in plants, but the difference is that the main character gets plant powers in Distant Horizon, whereas in Elevated, the main character gets a completely unrelated (but interesting) ability (I’m not going to spoil the book for you).

In Distant Horizon, the big day is secretly testing for superpowers in a world where people don’t know superpowers exist. In Elevated, the big day is a rite of passage where people are zapped for powers in a “Russian Roulette” of sorts (which is instantly different, and automatically leads to different plot twists). In Distant Horizon, powers are genetic. If a parent has a specific power, the odds significantly increase that the child will, too. In Elevated, the powers are random (though the book hints that there may be an unseen pattern). Both stories involve radiation in the explanation of powers, but hey… so do quite a few other superhero stories.

Where does this lead us?

Both stories have a similar start (albeit in different locations–Distant Horizon is dystopian, Elevated feels more near-modern day). It’s a result of both having superhero elements. But those similarities are what drew my interest into reading Elevated in the first place (which I again recommend reading if you like superheroes and young adult fiction. It’s a fast, entertaining read). These similarities are why I read other similar books in the genre, like Minder by Kate Kaynak, though it has a much heavier romance plot.

Do writers often have similar ideas at the same time? Certainly. Do writer’s absorb ideas from other books they’ve read and movies they’ve seen, then delve into them with their own twists? Yep.

Try not to be discouraged if you read something that reminds you of something you’ve written or plan to write. Look to see if the differences are great enough to constitute being their own story. If so, you’re good. (And beta-readers can help you here).

How about you? Have you read something that reminded you of something you’re working on? 🙂

2 Comments

Filed under Writing

Thoughts on Writing – Literary Doppelgangers

You know those times when you’re writing a story, and you think you’ve finally created a character that’s at least a little bit different… and then you find their literary doppelganger?

That character which just seems far closer than you would have liked?

While watching Jessica Jones (which is an awesome show, by the way), one of the things that struck me and Isaac was the similarities between the villain of the show, Killgrave, and Brainmaster, the villain of our story, Distant Horizon.

They’re definitely different, but they do have some striking similarities (except that Killgrave is just so much more evil… An absolutely fascinating character, but evil). Note: I have only seen the show, so I’m not sure how he compares from the comics.

First, let’s take a look at Killgrave.

Killgrave has mind control powers. He can walk up to a person, tell them to do something, and they’ll do it. His powers have a time limit (12 hours), and a limited range. He’s obsessed with Jessica Jones, trying to win her back after she finally managed to escape his grasp. He doesn’t mind leaving behind a body count just to get Jessica to move in closer as she tries to stop him. (But he doesn’t do the dirty work. No. He comes up with creative ways for other people to kill each other or themselves… and leaves an even bigger mess for Jessica to clean up).

Also, he wears a purple suit. Kind of his style.

Now, let’s take a look at Brainmaster, from the story Isaac and I are working on.

Brainmaster has telepathy, which, in our story, equates to three possible options… mind reading, mind control, or communication via thought. Powerful characters can do all three. We see her doing all three of these things, but one of her trademark moves is taking control of characters by implanting suggestions in their brains… some of which cause them to attack others or themselves.

And she wears purple robes.

(This is where I was cringing watching Jessica Jones. Killgrave, also a mind controller, has a purple suit. I’d never even heard of his character (at least, not other than a single cartoon episode of X-Men with a very different version of him) until a few weeks ago.

These characters are different, but they do have similarities. Both have mind control powers. Both haunt the main characters (Jessica has traumatic flashbacks of Killgrave, Jenna has traumatic memories that Brainmaster plants in her head), and both wear purple. Maybe it’s because of the idea that the color purple often reflects royalty and power. (There’s an interesting web page about the historical uses of the color purple here).

For characters who are meant to be powerful, it makes sense to have them wearing purple.

Anyway, I thought it would be fun to post a short scene from Distant Horizon, one where we get to see Brainmaster for the first time.

Note: This scene has been truncated to minimize spoilers.

I pushed the door open.

Inside, a lady wearing a flowing, deep purple robe stood at the end of a long metal table. Her robes were fringed by golden swirls and thick, bold lining. Part of her white hair was rolled into an elaborate bun; the rest cascaded to her shoulders.

The lady’s eyes narrowed and her face contorted into wrinkles. She wore just enough eyeliner to accentuate her fierce eyes, and her nails were painted a gold that matched her outfit. More than most leaders, she was dressed for appearance.

Beside her, an elderly woman with graying hair was bound to the chair. Her shoulders were slumped and her head lolled back.

Go away.

I jumped. I hadn’t heard anything, but it was clear that the woman standing with her manicured hand on the corner of the woman’s chair had spoken. She lifted her chin and scowled.

“Let her go.” I tightened my grip on my spear.

Brainmaster smirked and slid her nail along the edge of the chair. Something forced me– my mind– away.

I couldn’t move. My arms were frozen in place.

She smiled and brushed back a wisp of white hair. Drop the spear. Close the door behind you. Take a seat. She gestured to the chair, a slow, elegant motion.

I dropped the spear, took a seat. Listened.

A slow smile crawled across her cheeks. She gestured to the woman in the chair. “The true plague is disobedience. It makes our society inefficient. This woman is a traitor. She spreads the plague by her presence. She’s a lost cause. Kill her.”

I stood, vines uncoiling from my arms, and walked the length of the table. Power pulsed through my vines, urging me to take control. To let them flourish. To use them.

The traitor turned her head, her eyes half-shut.

“She’s the true monster,” Brainmaster murmured. “A threat to everything we hold dear.”

I wrapped my vines around the woman’s throat. Felt their pressure against her skin. Closed them tight. The woman coughed, gasping, but I didn’t let go.

Funny thing, Nickleson. Do you ever wonder how a beast feels when it’s given orders? Is this what you want?

I stared at the dying woman, confused.

A beast is such a mindless thing. You could be so much more.

The woman sputtered and fell limp. Her head lolled.

A chill clawed through my spine.

She was dead.

I’d killed her.

And that’s where I’m going to leave that scene…

*Cough.*

Brainmaster. Yeah, she likes messing with people’s minds. Maybe that’s why I enjoyed watching Killgrave’s character so much.

Anyway, I hope you enjoyed this post. 🙂 Have you ever written a character, then found their literary doppelganger?

 

2 Comments

Filed under Writing