View Full Version : Avoiding Superman Syndrome
December 9th, 2002, 01:26 PM
I have a problem - how do you avoid Superman Syndrome?
"What's Superman Syndrome?" I hear you ask. Well you've seen Superman (probably) Now the million dollar question - did you, at any moment, believe that Superman was NOT going to save the day? Or that James Bond won't save the world this time?
Hmmmmmm. Thought not.
I have the same problem in my stories. How do I get my readers to think that maybe the hero (or heroine) may not get out of a certain situation?
I guess it's a quetion of creating suspense, but I would love to hear the opinion of others of this. Maybe I'll get some ideas :)
December 9th, 2002, 01:34 PM
Good thing with writing is that you can get away with a lot more than in the movie industry.
Have the hero fail to get out of certain situations. Horrible things happen to all of us, and we are all influenced by many things in our lives.
eg Bond fails to save Australia from the latest nuclear launch. How would he react (traumatised by it for example)?, how would his superiors regard him? Now has something to prove etc- will he become more reckless or more contemplative? Does he keep getting flashbacks of the event in his nightmares?
Throw out the rules. 'Anything can happen in the next half hour.' Keep the readers wondering what's going to happen next by showing that the villan does manage to achieve a few victories along the way and is a worthy adversary to the hero. Letting the villain win a few does open up different avenues in your story as a pose to than letting the hero outsmart him all the time
Takes a slightly different writing style to show the darker side of human nature than just the hero saves the day.
December 9th, 2002, 02:17 PM
Readers know "the hero" will save the day eventually, but how the "the hero" goes about it is the main event. If the reader can't figure out the how then it makes the reading more enjoyable. If the how is easy to figure out, it won't make a good story and would be like a "Superman Syndrome".
So it's the "path" to the ending that counts.
December 9th, 2002, 03:29 PM
In my larger fantasy works, there is never a clear 'saving the day'. Thus the primary characters struggle to simply find better paths in a series of difficult paths.. and lo and behold, they make mistakes even at that. Like real life, there are few black and white save the world events. I know some of the greats have done this well (some guy named Tolkien did it nicely, among others) but I just can't write it. My characters struggle with decisions, and struggle with bad information, and still have to make due...
December 9th, 2002, 05:53 PM
This is an interesting question and I generally agree with what has been said so far.
Is Superman syndrome a bad thing? I don't think so. There's so much crap that goes on in the world it's nice to relax with a story where the good guy wins every once in a while. But the real problem is how to make this suspenseful and dramatic.
Bring it all back to the main conflict in the story. If the conflict is basically good versus evil, there shouldn't be too much of a question about which side the reader is on ( these days it seems more people root for the bad guy - maybe just to cheer on the underdog).
The best conflicts arise when both sides are right. This kind of thing makes for good drama and hides the outcome of the story. Say for example you have a hero who is off to rescure the cute pricess from the evil dragon. If you look at things from the dragon's point of view, the story changes. What if the dragon needs the princess to keep her eggs alive? Now if the hero succeeds, he does so at the expense of the eggs. In the end the author will tell us what choices the hero makes and what ends the dragon will go to to ensure the survival of her offspring.
In other words:
Superman always saves innocent Loise Lane. What does he do when Lex Luther picks on the drunk homeless man who sleeps in the alley behind the Daily Planet?
December 9th, 2002, 07:20 PM
<spoilers re George R.R. Martin>
Personally, if you really want to avoid this, do a George R.R. Martin - you liked Ned Stark? You thought he was a hero? Kill him. Do the same to his son. Do the same to his wife (or maybe not!).
In other words, treat no character as sacred. In life, no-one is sacred. The most important person in your life can be taken in a flash, and books can reflect this. If you want to write traditional fantasy, I wouldn't recommend it, but if you are aiming for a certain grittiness, it's a great tactic.
December 9th, 2002, 10:39 PM
I agree :). That's all I can say. Make it different, make it interesting...shock the reader into a numb state of disbelief.
December 10th, 2002, 03:00 AM
I remember seeing a film called "Deep Blue Sea" starring Samuel L Jackson, and a collection of lesser known actors.
The film was about great white sharks that had been altered by science and had become smarter and more lethal blah-de-blah.
Anyway, in answer to the thread, what happened in the film was...
. MAJOR SPOILER!!
Samuel L Jackson was killed off very early on in the film!
Hence you knew that it was open season on the rest of the cast as none were as well known as SLJ.
I suppose my point is, don't make the hero too obvious from the start. Have a red herring /sacrificial hero who bites the dust early on to completely throw the reader off-tilt!
Just a thought anyway!
December 10th, 2002, 05:06 AM
Judging by the above, if your story is short, you could throw everyone off track by just having the hero beat the baddy a few times- just put him/her in very near death situations every so often, making us think - ah this is where the author kills off the character and puts in the 2nd character (s)he's been building up the last few chapters. Then keep the hero alive for a bit.
There's room for all sorts out there- the more varied the better
December 10th, 2002, 03:19 PM
I have three heroes in my story. One of them knows about a quarter into the novel that he's going to die. In order for the world to survive, he has to be sacrificed. - Jesus syndrome-. He has the time to reconcile himself to the idea of death. When the time for him to die comes everybody finds out it's not him, it's his brother. Everyone is shocked, but no one more than the brothers.
This is how I keep suspense in my novel. The "Good Guys" still win, but with an unexpected, switch around sacrifice.
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