Serendipitous Inspiration #9 — Superman

Okay, at this point I’m sure most of us have heard the song Superman by Five for Fighting, but if you haven’t, give it a listen real quick.

Now that you’ve heard it for the first time, or you remember it I want to say that I didn’t really appreciate this song until just today.  I heard it on the radio as I drove around the streets of Buffalo making my deliveries working my day job.  I was on a long jump toward East Aurora today and this song came on and I finally listened to the lyrics with the ears of an adult.

You see, the song came out sometime in the early 2000’s and honestly when I heard it for the first time I just didn’t get it.  It’s not that I didn’t like the song, I just didn’t understand the impact.

I do now, and I realize that this is something very important to learn about writing a solid character.

I know, I’ve said it over and over again to give your characters flaws so that they are easier to relate to, and while this is true, there’s more necessary.

They need to have fears and insecurities, they need to get hurt and bleed.

No matter who your characters are or what species/alien race/whatever they are, there needs to be a human element.

The best way?

Make their life hard and painful in a way that’s very unique to their situation, just like Five for Fighting did in the song about Superman.

Imagine that thought.  If the Man of Steel were real, he’d have problems just like the rest of us.  He’d have fears and insecurities.

The man who could topple nations, the man who could dominate the world over a long weekend has problems accepting himself just like us mere mortals.

My favorite line from this song is:

“I can’t stand to fly, I’m not that naive.  Men weren’t meant to ride, with clouds between their knees.”

The #1 ability that makes Superman so amazing to us, is the thing that tortures him the most!

He’s able to do something that some of us would give our right arm to be able to do, and he wishes he couldn’t.

Why?  Because he knows it’s unnatural on the planet that he lives on.  The only planet he’s ever lived on.  The only planet that he calls home.

All he wants is to be able to be just like us, despite the fact that he’s so much better in everyway.

Do you understand how powerful that is?  How humanizing and empathetic that makes, for the lack of a better phrase, a living God?

This is a necessary component to crafting any character, but even more so for the amazingly powerful ones as I’ve just demonstrated.

Think about when you’ve seen this happen in your life.  When have you felt the most empathy for someone?

When you understand their pain right?  When you can hear them talk about their worst fears and insecurities and say, “Me too!”

This is what you need in your characters!

Now, flaws and other associated character foibles will accomplish this, but not nearly as well as a fear or insecurity.

Fears and insecurities run rampant in our society, and strangely they usually fall into the same handful of categories for us all in one way or another.

  • Body Image
  • Money Issues
  • Self-Acceptance/Self-Esteem
  • Fears/Phobias
  • Personal Baggage

I challenge anyone in the world to find one person who doesn’t have at least one fear/insecurity in every single one of those categories.  If you do, tell me, because they’d make a great source to base a character.

Since these are the most common categories, it’s time to put inject them into all of your characters, but in a smart way.

It has to be done in a way that doesn’t break the internal logic of your character or the world that he’s in, but done correctly this will totally increase the quality of not only your characters, but the story as a whole.

So what do you think?  Agree?  Disagree?  Think I’m nuts?  Whatever you’re thinking leave your thoughts in the comments section below.

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