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Sunday, July 09, 2006

Satan and Superman: Thoughts on Character Development

Satan, as a character for a story, is a particularly noisome creature for the author trying to work within this legend to create the penultimate in evil. You're better off making up your own bad guy since Satan, like Superman, introduces the same types of problems for the writer.

While it may seem odd that I'm comparing the epitome with evil with the epitome of good (well, except for God, but if you think about it, this character usually only shows up in comedies or at the end of movies like Omen 3 to save the day. Deus ex machina and all that rot) but the two of them have a lot more in common as far as the writer is concerned than appears at first glance.

The most important thing has to do with their weaknesses. Superman has multi-colored Kryptonite that he has to deal with and the only thing that seems to conquer Satan is a combination of ultra-faith and/or a willingness to sacrifice one's self in favor of another. Now, not many of us have the necessary breed of ultra-faith that is required to conquer the Devil any more than we've got some Kryptonite if we want to cross Supes. Humans, being humans, falter and waver in their faith and most people aren't willing to sacrifice themselves for anyone else but family and/or friends...even that's an iffy proposition. When you add in the fact that both Satan and Supes have superpowers beyond human capacity you're automatically stacking the deck in their favor.

While having a "stacked deck" may be fun to play with, for a while, it creates a lot more headaches than is necessary. Especially since it makes the battles between good and evil a lot less interesting.

There are several other ways to create ultimate good and ultimate evil without resorting to the "stacked deck" method of "dealing the cards" that can make your characters, and therefore, your story a lot more interesting.

  1. Create a more viable weakness. The most recent example I've seen of this was on the kid's cartoon Ben10. In one episode there was a character who had powers that were the equivelant of Superman's, however, his weakness was none other than chocolate. Granted, he's from a planet that doesn't have chocolate in large supply, so when the title character, Ben, inadvertantly gave him some, this hero didn't recognize it and he was turned into this weakened husk (rather mummy-like in appearance) who was unable to fight. In this example, you're almost looking at a Superman-like comparison when you consider the rarity of chocolate on the hero's home planet. This problem, however, is taken care of since the majority of the storylines focus not only on Earth, but on Ben as well who always has the peculiar (and yet admirable) quality of carrying said substance in his pocket for when he needs a quick energy boost.
  2. Counterpoint strengths. Brain vs. Brawn is by far the most popular one, in second place is street smarts vs. educated smarts. Give one to your villain and the other to your hero and watch the sparks fly to find out which one will win and which one will use.
  3. Give everyone the same powers. If the bad guy has magic, give it to the good guy as well. JK Rowling emphasizes this best with Voldemort and the Death Eaters. When this evil team goes after the Muggles (non-magic users for those 2 or 3 folks still unknowledgeable about this term) it's either for play (like they did at the beginning of Goblet of Fire) or to prove a point to the Ministry of Magic (Cornelius Fudge, in fact, got fired for being unable to deal with this abomination in Half-Blood Prince ). See, even they knew that Muggles weren't their equal. And then there's Harry, Voldemort has a wand, and so does Harry. Voldemort knows how to use the wand, and so does Harry. Sure, Voldie is more knowledgeable about spellcraft than Harry and is more capable of dealing out unforgiveable curses than Harry, but Harry has "something else." Ok, right now, I'm not sure what that "something else" is outside of his "mother's love" but it better be something otherwise Book 7 will be awfully disappointing.

So, go ahead and write about Satan if you want, but pit him against Superman and watch the sparks fly.

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