In my last posting, I talked about how Stan Lee can help you create better stories by adding drama to your storytelling style. In this posting I’ll share with you how Stan Lee has created many modern heroes with his writing. How did Stan Lee and his artistic teams keep you interested for over 50 years? Stan’s responsible for creating Iron Man, Hulk, Spiderman, Nick Fury, Fantastic Four, and Silver Surfer. Not a bad group of heroes that all were created in the early 1960’s and still draw record crowds to their movie premiers. Many of these characters are the most recognized fictional characters of all time.
I don’t want to let the cat out of the bag but there are several things that Stan does that you can do to help improve your writing, starting today. I’m a lifelong fan of Stan’s and I think he wouldn’t mind sharing some of the tricks he’s learned over the past fifty years to create such memorable characters.
Let’s start at the beginning; you can’t be a Stan Lee hero or heroine without an incredible origin story. All of Stan’s heroes have a fascinating origin story that serves as the foundation for their long careers. Stan creates three dimensional characters. He does this by creating a hero that we might know. In the early 1960’s, our country was involved in a war half way across the globe with people we really didn’t know. Stan took this backdrop and created heroes that could have come right out of the news. Real people that tragic things happen to but they overcome the challenges to become heroes. Iron Man is kept alive by an electronic heart, without which he would die. Spiderman fails to save his Uncle Ben and he commits his life to helping others. Of course, none of these heroes would be complete without their own share of problems and inadequacies. This is one of his best kept secrets, because his characters seem so alive to the reader. We want our heroes to be real and flawed. Perfect characters have limited long term appeal to their readers.
Stan’s characters also have to deal with situations we have all had to deal with like girls, tests, learning how to drive, and how to hide your secret identity from well meaning parents and authorities. They are faced with choosing between good and evil, but on a slightly larger scale than we do in our daily lives. One of the things we find great comfort in is their predictability. We know that Captain America will do what’s right even at times when it’s not so easy for us to decide what the right is. Cap loses his friend Bucky and he doubles down to get the bad guys. We get angry, he gets angry. He has a full set of emotions that he can take us through. We feel connected because he seems real.
Many of Stan’s heroines are flawed women. They are flawed in a way that society finds unacceptable but also has redeeming qualities that we find attractive in a person of the opposite sex. She’s tough but she knows how to take care of things in the way that we’re cheering for her in the end. She is a multifaceted character who both attracts and intrigues at the same time, a black widow.
The final thing these characters do is simplify things. The real challenge for a writer is to use little clues that that add up to big characters. We want to feel like we know them because they are us. They help us bring out the hero in who we are and we want to know that things will turn out right. This doesn’t mean our stories don’t have a certain level of complexity but they are written for our enjoyment and our fantasy.
The final blog of this series next week will discuss how these key elements combine with dialog, conflict and transitions to make these stories become a big part of our lives. We will also talk about why characters can help your writing and help you get more people involved in your own stories and causes.