In May, I attended an SCBWI conference and came back with some great strategies for looking at characters. One that has recently returned to my mind is form a workshop by Lisa Schroeder. I don't know if she got it from somebody else or not. It's called the Superhero test. And it goes like this: Every character, like a superhero, should have the following:
* a power
* an arch enemy or nemesis
* a special place
* a love (though it doesn't have to be a person)
Like any writing tool, it is not an iron-clad rule, but a helpful litmus test when thinking about what might be missing from a character.
At the Willamette Writers Conference this weekend, Elizabeth Lyon spoke of giving your character some deep past wound, the "hole in the soul" that results in a yearning, need or drive they must try to fill. I think this, too, belongs in the superhero test. After all, what would Spiderman be if his gentle Uncle Ben had not been murdered? What would Superman be if he had not lost his home planet? What would Batman be if his parents had not been killed? You get the idea.
Try applying the Superhero test to a character you are developing or wrestling with. See what you discover.
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