Nancy: Characters With a (Super)Hero Complex

imageSo this is what it’s come to: drinking airplane-size aperitifs while sitting alone in a hotel room. While I’m being a road warrior for my day job (the reason for the hotel room and the drinking alone), I promised I’d keep my story brain engaged.

One of the ways I’m doing that is by keeping a journal of observations that one day – one very wonderful day in the not-too-distant future – I’ll use in my writing. This past week, I spent a lot of time people watching, thinking about people’s words and actions and how those can tie into archetypes for characters. One character type that got the wheels in my writer’s brain spinning was the eternal hero.

I don’t mean hero in the romantic lead sense of the word, nor am I referring to a story protagonist. This type of person needs to be a real-life hero, needs to save the day, needs to be indispensable in every  situation. Like the characters in our stories, protagonists and antagonists alike, we all like to be the heroes of our own stories. But I’m talking about a hero complex that runs deeper than that, a need that runs so deep, it becomes a superhero complex.

So what might motivate this self-appointed savior? His motives could be noble. Perhaps he’s a nurturer, and when put in charge of the care and feeding of another, he wholly devotes himself to the task. He might be the ultimate protector, and he might be damn good at it. He might actually be the on who saves the day. That’s the upside to this character archetype.

But when it comes to writing well fleshed-out characters, it’s important to consider the downsids to our characters’ defining traits as well. By always inserting himself into difficult situations and claiming responsibility for solving every problem, our superhero can quickly become a choke point, a single point of failure. When that happens, all the balls he’s been trying to keep in the air could come crashing to the ground. When everyone is counting on him for everything, failure on his part could mean everything falls apart.

Taking it one step further, maybe the character with a superhero complex has such a need to save the day, he intentionally sabotages situations just so he can pull things back from the brink of disaster. Perhaps he has a more nefarious plan to make everyone so used to his day-saving skills, they come to depend upon him, only to have him let them down at a critical point of the story in a way that benefits him. Suddenly, our superhero can become a supervillain.

I already have some ideas about how and in what story I might use this character with a superhero complex. I won’t for sure until I actually translate these observations into words on the story page, but I hope they’ll help me add depth and a real-world feel to the fantasy world that, for a least a few more months, will only exist in my head. What have you observed in the real world recently that you plan to use in your fiction world?


4 thoughts on “Nancy: Characters With a (Super)Hero Complex

  1. Some interesting observations Nancy. I was also thinking that the superhero character could be an impediment to the development of other characters in a story. If the superhero is the one who always saves the day, then the other characters have no reason to develop the skills to save themselves. Seeing how they could change that, or even how the superhero character might change enough to let someone else “save the day”, could be interesting.

    As for what I’ve observed in the real-world recently that might make it into a story – that would be the “above the law / rules don’t apply to me” aka “the ends justify the means” character. That character tends to focus on short-term desires/gains rather than a long-term perspective and consistently puts their wants and needs above those of anyone else. When problems happen, it is someone elses fault / responsibility to fix. The antagonist in my Regency romance is just this kind of character.

  2. And taking what Elizabeth says one step further, the superhero character could also be the villain, by taking charge of every situation and controlling it. Interesting!

    I can’t say that I’m observing more than I usually do, but, if my own real-world situation will have any ripples into my fiction, it’s going to be that paperwork never ends! A lot of fiction has involved characters finding letters in boxes in attics, and so on, and I can exactly see how this event might not be just a convenient device.

  3. This makes me think of Bobby Tom, hero of SEP’s Heaven, Texas and surely the most hotly debated character in the entire McD romance writing program. He had superhero status thrust upon him by virtue of being the most famous, successful and wealthy son of his struggling hometown, but it was a kind of co-dependence and when the heroine didn’t want anything from him, he engineered her into unwittingly accepting his benevolence because it was the only relationship he was comfortable with.

    My recent foray into writing fantasy was completely triggered by a real-life experience – not mine, but my hairdresser’s. Who knows, Nancy, by the time you get to the other side of your Day Job Hell, you may have a whole series’ worth of ideas 🙂 .

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