Tag Archives: character development

What could happen if a normal person wake up with a superpower? What do you think they will feel, or will do? Thank you.

That is your story.

I don’t mean to sound dismissive, but this question is really too broad to address directly. The real question is, “what do you want to do with this event?”

  • What kind of a story do you want to tell?
  • What kind of a person are you telling your story about?
  • How do superpowers change your character’s daily life?
  • In the short term?
  • Is your character okay with the short term?
  • In the long term?
  • Are they okay with the long term?
  • Are these powers a blessing or a curse? (Figuratively or literally.)
  • How do these powers change your character? (What is their character arc?)
  • How do their powers affect the people around them?
  • How do the people in their life react to their powers? (If they know about them at all.)

Once you start combining the answers for these questions together you should have a much better picture of what you’re wanting to do with your story. This will also tell you things like, “what powers did they receive?” Because their powers need to be in service to the story you’re wanting to tell.

Once you know your character, you should have a pretty good idea of what they’ll do, and what they’ll experience. But, this is your story. I wouldn’t dream of taking that from you.


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Hi, just saw your amazing post on Daredevil. Could you comment on the choreography in Batman v Superman as well?

We haven’t seen Batman v Superman and we don’t really have any intention to. However, I can do the general Wonder Woman, Batman, and Superman breakdown using Bruce Timm’s DCAU/Timmverse which is actually just as useful when it comes to studying superhero combat. There’s some good stuff there, especially in Justice League Unlimited where we get a lot of heroes who fight in a variety of different ways.

One of the really cool things about DC’s heroes in comparison to Marvel’s is that the archetypes build to a lot of really interesting combinations which compliment each other well. It’s my personal opinion that Marvel does “Versus” stories better because Stan Lee loved the concept of superheroes beating each other up and because they’re much more neurotic. They’re more likely to get into spats over ideological differences when it comes to the right way to fight crime. Most of the Marvel heroes are very human, they’re more likely to squabble, and those squabble’s are more likely to result in fights which either threaten half the Eastern Seaboard or involve the Punisher trapping Daredevil on a rooftop full of sonic mines.

It might be weird to say that the DC heroes are more than human, but they are. They’re much more mythological, more ideals we aspire to reach. They’re the best of humanity and while they don’t have the same neurosis of Marvel, they’re stories have the potential to be incredibly uplifting when they embrace their origins. It’s a different kind of human, better than human, in some ways transhuman. They’re much better at overcoming the basic ideological pettiness which leave the Marvel heroes squabbling in a ditch.

If the next question is “who do you prefer, Marvel or DC?”

The answer is Dark Horse.

I’m kidding. Well, I’m not. Ghost is bae.

The truth is I actually like them both and I think they both tell very different kinds of stories, but those stories are very interesting in different ways. They both occasionally have identity issues, but when they’re on point then they’re fantastic.

Okay, fighting styles:

Superman: Superman doesn’t actually know how to fight. Unlike Wonder Woman and Batman, he isn’t a trained fighter. Combat isn’t his specialty and this is, in large part, because he’s never needed to learn. He’s Superman. 9/10 he’s invulnerable to most ancillary damage. He’s willing to sit there with criminals and talk it out, mostly because they can’t really do much to him. His powers mean he has an opportunity for empathy in the heat of combat which Batman can’t afford. This is why he generally gets his ass handed to him by the likes of Zodd or other surviving members of the Kryptonian military, or Darkseid. He doesn’t fight so much as flail and again, it’s fine. It makes sense. Superman is also the most emotionally driven of the Golden Trio. While he keeps himself under very strict control most of the time due to the massive collateral damage his powers can cause, he’s the one most easily goaded. There are a number of villains who prey on this flaw including Darkseid and Lex, who both goad him into taking action that have terrible backlash. His powers can be as much as curse as a blessing.

His lack of training and combat knowledge is the main reason why Batman stands a chance against him and why Batman can knock him down a peg. Wonder Woman doesn’t really have the same issues, but it helps anyway.

Batman: Batman is a very clinical fighter, he’s a tactician and a strategist. He’s trained with and been trained by some of the best warriors and hand to hand combatants the DC universe has to offer. Batman’s brain is what lets him keep up though. Of the three, he’s the most likely to see a situation’s hidden trap door or figure out an enemy’s weakness on the fly then determine a solution. He’s the voice of reason to Superman’s emotion, willing to do what’s necessary to make it through but also coming to the battle prepared. Whether that’s carrying a Kryptonite ring in a lead box every time he goes into Metropolis or just having it on standby for twenty years, Batman will always assess the situation before diving in. It’s a good question of how much Batman knows, but really the answer will generally be more than you think.

Batman is the problem solver. He’s the one who most often gets to the heart of what is really going on, sees through the machinations, and figures out why the fight is happening in the first place. The man with the plan is what he is and the best writers like Bruce Timm will recognize that the detective skills actually trump the combat skills. Batman is the Great Detective for a reason. He studies his opponents, attacks their weaknesses, and that’s the path which leads to victory.

Wonder Woman: Unlike the other two, Wonder Woman is actually a soldier. She is a warrior. She understands battle layouts, strategy, and trains with a wide variety of weapons. She can punch properly, she can grapple, and, really, she can fight. I don’t just mean that in the sense she’s classically trained or one of the best combatants in the DCU, but in so much as that’s a part of her outlook more so than Batman or Superman. They aren’t warriors in the same way and Diana can whup both their asses. When in the trio, Wonder Woman is basically the midpoint between Superman and Batman. Unlike Superman, she can actually fight rather than flail. Also unlike Superman, she has existed without all the powers that have essentially been his birthright. While Wonder Woman is physically enhanced via training and magic depending on who is writing the Amazons this week, it’s her enchanted armor forged by Hephaestus that imbues her with her defining superpowers. This gives her the context to human combat and humanity which Superman often struggles with and she has a leg up on Batman in that she’s… well… an emotionally stable adult.

Essentially, she serves as a great balance point between the two extremes of brains and heart. She fights with both without either controlling her actions. Like Superman, she has the luxury of being compassionate toward her enemies and more so than him the ability to control the fight better. Superman is often so strong he can’t really afford to fight at all if he wants to talk someone down, rather he disables them by destroying their weapons or letting him shoot at him until they run out of bullets. Batman, meanwhile, is much more fragile. While, when written right, he’s a very compassionate individual he also has to use his head to stay ahead of the curve in order to get his enemies into a situation where he can talk to them safely. Wonder Woman is the middle ground between the two. She’s a very good tactician and her skill is such that she’s taken on the entirety of the Justice League.

However, her compassion is the balancing strength. For this reason, she has an excellent track record for turning adversaries into allies.

It may not answer the question you wanted, but that’s the best I’ve got.


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About the Daredevil post, you mentioned in there how some of the hits look like they could kill, and in other posts how it’s difficult to do disabling blows without risking either killing the person or not doing enough damage. But do you think because of Matt’s senses this wouldn’t be a problem? He can monitor his opponent’s heartbeat, breathing, and any internal damage so he knows exactly what kind of shape they’re in. At the very least he could choke someone out safely. Thoughts?

Nah, Daredevil’s whole shtick in the comics is that he’s riding the line between becoming a killer and staying clean. You should always worry that he’s going to cross that line. It’s one of the main themes of the character and it’s present in both seasons. Much as Daredevil gets presented as the “Marvel Batman”, Matt is not Bruce Wayne. Bruce Wayne’s schtick is that he’s a control freak. Matt Murdock’s is that he’s always on the verge of losing that control.

The temptation is always there and the threat for him is that he always could, even on accident. It’s important to remember that he’s accidentally killed people in the comics and done so in the Frank Miller run that the writer’s are pulling heavily from. We even see him ascribing Nobu’s death in Season 1 to being an accident because he burned to death rather than killing him with his bare hands. He even says at the end of the season that nobody died, meaning he didn’t kill anyone because he held himself back from the temptation of killing Fisk and chose to count Nobu’s death (in which he was a participant) as an accident which was not his fault.

This is actually very important to understanding Matt Murdock’s personality and how he deals with the consequences of his actions. Matt is someone who is driven by his concept of morality, but underneath the surface he is also a masochist. He beats people up because he enjoys it and he feels guilty about enjoying it, but covers that by saying he’s doing the right thing. Essentially? He’s weaponized his Catholic guilt.
And we haven’t even gotten to the Daredevil villains who really put Matt Murdock’s “No Kill” policy to the test.

Which, considering he’s always on the edge of breaking it 90% of the time, is actually very impressive.

There will be villains that he should kill, that the audience will want him to kill, that he’ll desperately want to kill, but he won’t because his principles are more important to him than the reality. He’ll be made to suffer for that choice over, and over, and over again.

That’s just Daredevil though.

He accidentally kills the random mooks and goes on to spare the villains that will never change their ways. He’s much more likely to take care when he’s in the company of someone like Elektra or the Punisher.
He’s a hypocrite like that.

At the very least though, we can say the hypocrisy is thematic and part of his personality. It’s something he’s called out for, often by other characters in the comics and in the show. Matt is supposed to be a hypocrite, paving the road to hell with his own good intentions, and the narrative knowing that makes it about 1k times better than similar narratives where they never acknowledge it. Matt is not not a protagonist ordained by the story to always be in the right. The question of whether or not he should even be a vigilante in the first place is one one of the driving themes of his story. Is he any better than the bad guys? Sometimes, he becomes the bad guys. (But, I hope we can all agree that the arc where he becomes the new Kingpin is stupid. Though to be fair, everyone around him thought it was stupid too.)

With Daredevil, it’s never a question of what he can and can’t do. It’s what he will and won’t do. He could do what you’re suggesting, if he’s paying attention and doesn’t get caught in the rush. Which…

There’s a difference between what the powers allow and the personality in play, and Daredevil is a character who is remarkably human. One who is prone to mistakes. He’s a fantastic character and part of that character is the part where he’s a mess. One who is working out his inner demons by taking out people who he perceives as threats to the safety of his neighborhood. Due to all his flaws, foibles, failings, Daredevil is one of the most human characters in the Marvel universe. He’s not very good at keeping a handle on his secret identity, so quite a few of his enemies figure it out and use it against him. He doesn’t have superhuman resistance to damage, he just keeps getting back up. Much of what he does is, in large part, on his own willpower.

I think, really, this is what makes Daredevil such an interesting character and one really worth looking at when setting up your own characters who fight. There’s a nasty habit when it comes to conforming a character’s personality to their fighting style or have their knowledge alone dictate their actions.

There’s what they know and what they’ve learned, then there’s who they are, and that all comes back to direct how they fight.

There is absolutely nothing wrong with a character making choices that directly contradict their own morals, their own best interests, and which fly directly in the face of everything they’re supposed to know how to do.

What is most important here is that choice on the part of the character, rather than just assuming it’s right. At heart, Matt Murdock is a character who is extraordinarily self-destructive. It’s part of who he is as a person and as a superhero. It’s part of his character. He makes bad choices.

He tries, but he also sometimes fails.

And that is what makes him interesting and compelling as a character.

Not the choices themselves but the logical reasoning behind them, the part where who he is becomes the driving factor. Ultimately, when we talk about organic writing we’re discussing characters making choices that are in line with who they’ve shown themselves to be. Even when it’s unfortunate or we disagree with those choices, we can ultimately be content with them because it fits with what we’ve seen them do within the story itself.

The short answer is: Matt’s powers could make his combat safer if he were a different person, but that isn’t who he is and it isn’t how he fights. He’s much more reckless, he gives into his emotions, and is much more inclined toward brutal beatings than controlling his environment. We can joke about the Daredevil helmet and “seeing red”, but it is a very true statement when it comes to Matt Murdock.

The Punisher is, ironically, better at disabling shots than Daredevil. He’s just choosing not to use them and focuses on efficiently killing his opponents instead.


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Is it possible to make a strong female protagonist but still make her mega insecure?


You also never need to ask permission. You want to do something? Just go.

I’m tempted to just leave it there, but we should probably talk about character traits, flaws, and development. The issue with the term “Strong Female Character” is that it’s misleading and often misinterpreted. Very often, in certain circles, it’s presented that strong = flawless. Combined with the whole pressure cabin of worries surrounding the “Mary Sue”, it can lead to some interesting places. Usually into either too much or not enough territory.

When someone says “Strong Female Character” what they usually mean is “Well-written Female Character” which is, I admit, almost as intimidating. However, it’s not just that the well-written female character has flaws, it’s a matter of how those flaws interact with their narrative.

You want to write a female protagonist with insecurities? That’s great! There’s plenty in this world for a woman to be insecure about. However, the development doesn’t stop there.

The next questions are the most important ones when working with any flaw and all flaws. Ask yourself:

What is my character insecure about? How does that affect how they view and interact with the world around them?

One of the biggest issues with the ways that flaws get handled in some fiction, especially with younger writers, is that they assume the key way to escape the dreaded Mary Sue moniker is to  give a character flaws. The problem often being that those flaws often don’t affect anything. The difference between a well-written character and one that isn’t (but may still be compelling to some like wish fulfillment characters) is that their flaws directly affect how they engage with other characters and the surrounding story. They influence their judgement, cause them to make choices which may be dubious, build tension, and are often a direct source of character conflict.

The flaws serve a purpose rather than just existing in an effort to deflect criticism or to make the character seem more human. It’s important to remember though that the more deep seated the insecurity then the more difficult it will be to overcome. The same is true of any other kind of flaw and, really, any other kind of story. The bigger it is then the bigger the impact will be. The more powerful the characters then the bigger the narrative must be to accommodate them. (Or we go in the reverse and have human drama be the focus as it often is with characters like Superman.)

So, the deeper seated the flaw then the less easy a fix will be. They are the only one who can really decide whether or not their insecurities matter and no matter how many times someone else tells them that they’re amazing, confident, powerful, or strong, it might not take until they start to believe it themselves.

Here’s an example of what I’m talking about:

Sara has been training at the military academy since her parents sent her when she was six, she’s now 17 and approaching graduation. Though she ranks in the top or near the top of her class, and is constantly complimented on her fighting prowess, she worries about how well her skills will translate into the field. Being near the top, she’s been trained to take charge of other cadets but the thought of possibly having to decide about her friends makes her feel a little sick. She works hard and doesn’t have time a for relationship with boys or girls, but every so often she stops and stares in the mirror as she’s getting ready. The face staring back at her looks nothing like the girls she’s seen crossing the street from the Prepatory, the ones all the boys and some of the girls sigh over, or the ones on the movie posters. The clothes at the mall never fit quite right.

Whenever she looks at herself a nagging feeling slips underneath the surface, is this a face anyone could love?

Jenna’s been scraping the bottom of the barrel since her parents pulled strings with the General to get her in. She never wanted a military life and she’s tried her best to washout. Blew off her training sessions. Skipped class. Flunked gym. Maybe she can put together her rifle in a few minutes, but it’s not the rigid coordinated thirty seconds of her classmates. Still, graduation’s approaching and the bottom is still a direct line straight into the army. She doesn’t want to be a jarhead, shaved is just not a good look for her. Maybe her family’s from a long line of career military, but she never wanted this. Sure, knocking a few good looking guys and girls around the training floor is fun but put a gun in her hands and ask her to shoot? That’s another question entirely.

The question here is how these insecurities present themselves and often our fears lead to deeper seated fears at the bottom of that deep, dark internal well. Then, there’s the question of how they deal with those insecurities in their day to day existence. Do they avoid them? Do they ignore them? Do they repress them? Do they try to find some other way out of these entanglements? A character labeled as lazy might be actually be trying to find a way out that doesn’t involve admitting they’ve quit.

However, the passage of thought often leads to more questions which allow you to explore the character and those surrounding them more fully.

If Jenna is so determined to drop out then why doesn’t the Academy let her quit or toss her out?

Are Sara’s insecurities a result of the fact she’s dedicated herself to an ideal and cause but never really stopped to evaluate herself and what she wants? Or is she just insecure about her looks? Either way, it’s lonely at the top.

Whatever you do, try to think about how it affects their personality, their interactions, and the way they behave in the world around them. Character flaws inform a lot about a person and their journey in overcoming those fears and adversity is what defines a character as “strong”.

That said, there’s nothing wrong with a character being weak, either.

It’s mostly just a question of the kind of story that you want to tell.


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What do you recommend when writing a scene with a character that’s very analytical, something like a modern day Sherlock Holmes. A character that loves both mind games and fighting and mixes them together is a dangerous character to deal with but it’s an interesting concept though I’m not sure how to get a scene going without being either to descriptive or to vague. Any ideas on how to do so?

Specificity is key.

The ability to think from entirely logical and reason driven perspective, relying only on observations made about your opponent and the environment, empirical data and authoritative knowledge. In this sense, intuitive knowledge drawn from your beliefs, faith, or intuition fall secondary to logic and hard facts during the decision making process.

You also need to know your shit.

The trick to writing a Sherlock Holmes is, in large part, being a Sherlock Holmes. Not in the sense that you yourself are a highly intelligent individual (you may be, you may not), but in that you are accumulating vast stores of seemingly random information. Some may seem useful, some may not. The good news is that this is a large part of what you should be doing already as a writer. Constantly learning, constantly developing, constantly seeking out new kinds of information to aid you in your quest to tell the best stories you possibly can. Whether that’s learning about forensics, going to the gun range and studying different kinds of firearms, accumulating massive medical textbooks, developing a grasp of a multitude of poisons, learning how to break out of handcuffs, or simply picking the brain of a local martial arts instructor or ex-Navy Seal.

The issue with writing a convincing Holmsian character is that one must be precise. In order to precise, one must know. Knowing requires advanced knowledge, knowledge you may not yet have access to. In terms of combat, advanced knowledge that is difficult to come by (though in the advent of the Internet far less so than it used to be).

Be efficient.

These two fight sequences from the Robert Downey Jr. Sherlock Holmes are excellent examples to get you started.

From the opening.

The boxing matchAlso with subtitles.

The reason why I suggest these (more so from the first movie than any of the others) is because it’s exactly what I’m talking about. Holmes makes observations and suppositions about his opponent both in terms of their physical condition, mental outlook, and emotional state, then acts on those in a exceedingly specific way utilizing a greater understanding of the human body and medical knowledge, he tells the audience what he believes the results will be both for short term and long term recovery, he tells us why he is doing this very specific thing and what this attacks purpose is then how it leads to create openings for the followup X, Y, and Z.

He understands precisely what he is doing to the other person, and so we understand that he knows what he’s doing. In doing so, he takes the blame for it and is not shunting blame off to anyone else.

Understand, the more a character knows then the more responsibility they take for their actions. This is true for people in real life too. The more you know, the more capable you are at hurting someone else, then the more responsibility one has morally, ethically, and legally not to go too far.

Mind Games versus Baiting

Mind Games

A character who loves mind games is usually a character in love with their own cleverness or the author is in love with theirs. That or they’re a sadist. The issue with mind games primarily in a combat context is that they’re cruel. The more damning for the analytical character is that it involves provoking an opponent to do something, challenging them to be inventive and creative, which means they will act in a way that the analytical fighter does not expect and did not plan for.

There is no way to account for all possibilities or prepare for them. If you are writing a character who is purely driven by logic then they will not up their own chances of failure for what will most likely be a very minor soothing of their own ego.

The truly confident do not need their opponent to know how clever they are because they know already. The one who lords their intellectual superiority over someone else by actively antagonizing those they know to be inferior is a bully. Too often characters of this type fall into the latter category, especially when they are engaging in mind games.

The key term here to understand is “game”. If your character is thinking about combat and the act of harming others as a game then, no matter how skilled they or their author think they are, they are not a very good combatant. (Keep in mind that there’s a difference between a game and having fun. A character can approach the killing of someone else as a fun activity that they enjoy while still taking the act itself very seriously. The term “game” denotes the act of killing or harming someone as a safe and consequence free environment where one is able to play. Part of where game becomes sinister in the context of violence is that it dehumanizes the victims into toys. Objects. Mind games are ultimately about dehumanizing other people, turning them into vessels for your amusement.)

The Sherlock Holmes of the Arthur Conan Doyle short stories had a brusque and abrupt manner because he rejected Victorian social niceties/polite society behavior as unimportant. He saw no point in engaging with those who did not intellectually interest him. By and large, Sherlock Holmes was not a bully. His brusque attitude was off-putting because, again, he was not engaging in cultural niceties. He also wasn’t cruel. He never forgot his humanity or that he was dealing with real people and real feelings. He simply refused to let rigid social stratification define who it was acceptable for him to care about. He was rude but he didn’t fuck with people, and there is a difference between A and B.


Though they may seem like the same thing, baiting is different from playing mind games. The primary reason being that you’re not playing. Mind games are prodding the bull to see what it’ll do or how far you can go before you get some kind of reaction. Baiting is performing a very specific action in order to engage a very specific kind of response from your opponent.

Baiting is about control. It’s also, usually a single action.

Think about it this way: in fishing, you need different kinds of bait to attract different kinds of fish. If you provide the wrong bait or a poorly made lure then the fish won’t go for it. You want your fish to bite so you can get them on the line and reel them in. What you are doing when you bait a person is setting a trap.

Like with fish, baiting a human requires that the person baiting understands the other person. It’s predictive. “If I do this, then they’ll do that.”

For example, your character could make a crack about another character’s mother in order to offend them and then get them to lunge blindly out of anger. This will only work if that character is the kind of person who responds to that kind of bait and are not aware enough of their surroundings to see the basic trap for what it is. You see this all the time in movies. The mistake many writers and authors make is the assumption that because it works successfully on one kind of person that it will work on everyone. It will not.

When writing any kind of Holsmian/analytical character, your workload will double because the character must tailor each approach to the other characters they’re facing, even more so than a character who is less aware of their environment and their surroundings. There is no “general approach”, every approach is unique because every individual is unique and require different weaknesses be exploited.

In Summary:

You are writing a character who is on the cutting edge, who is highly knowledgeable about a great many things. One of the reasons why Conan Doyle used a Watson as his viewpoint character rather than a Holmes was so he wouldn’t have to do the extra legwork. It also gives the reader a character who is “more like them”, who they can relate to and who grounds them in what is familiar. It’s your choice whether or not you want to use this technique to make it easier on yourself. You don’t have to. Recognizing the character you want to write will be a challenge is part of the process of putting them together.

Check out good martial artists on the likes of YouTube that explain what they’re doing and why, what the techniques are for. Get an anatomy textbook. Criminology. Forensics. There are countless books out there for writers to help them write better crime fiction. You might want to engage with them. Check out your local precincts to see what they might offer.

Start by making observations when you’re writing about the environment and the characters. What does this analytical character notice about their environment? What pops out to them? When they’re studying another person, what do they see?

Practice this when you’re in your own environment. What do you see? What do you notice? What do you look for?

How is it different?

Learning to differentiate yourself from your characters, what you notice versus what they look for, is helpful for crafting a different persona and different headspace to keep “Me the Author” and “X the Character” apart for the purposes of storytelling. Recognize that they don’t, can’t, and won’t know everything. Sherlock Holmes made mistakes. Sherlock Holmes was fooled on more than one occasion. Highly intelligent and analytical characters are not infallible. Try not to romanticize intelligence too much.

Can this character be interesting, skilled, and very good at what they do? Yes. Can they also be a cliched mess of stereotypes like so many Holmes knockoffs (and more than a few adaptations of Holmes himself)? Absolutely.

This could be difficult for you if your brain is not already geared to think in an analytical way. However, the good news is that you can learn. You can teach yourself to think like Sherlock Holmes. If you haven’t read them yet, then the Conan Doyle short stories are an excellent place to start.


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Is there a specific body type that’s best suited for kickboxing? Like, do tall people with longer limbs do better with it as a fighting style? Is there even such a thing as an ideal kickboxing physique?

Some might say yes, but the honest answer from me is no. Questions like this always feel a little like “min/maxing” to me because it always comes with the off-hand implication that if they’re somehow not in that “ideal category”, they will never ever be “as good” as the person who is.

This is a terrible assumption to make because skill in physical combat is defined primarily by effort, not by body type. The body is molded by the training and the student in question learns to make do with what they have. Every type of body comes with its own strengths and weaknesses, every person has a genetic history and what that is isn’t necessarily obvious just on the basis of what they look like. Sometimes, genetics help. Sometimes, they hurt.

Any person can be good either way. The point of training is to reshape. As you train, you will learn how to deal with your own deficiencies. You’ll learn tactics for how to overcome an opponent with greater reach, develop solutions to even the playing field. The importance of training is to help a student develop their strengths and help them discover how to mitigate or fix their weaknesses.

It’s important to understand that there is no such thing as “static”. There are no hard limits here. What matters most is consistency, a willingness to learn, and the determination to keep showing up even when training or life gets tough. When we talk about the “ideal student”, this is what we mean. The one who is there, who shows up, who is willing to put the work in even when they don’t have to, and who keeps coming back. There are people in this world who are naturally very talented, they have more talent in their pinky than you or I will ever see in ourselves than the length of our entire lives. Yet, in the end, if they don’t try or they don’t want to make use of their talent, if they coast on it, then they’ll end up weaker in the end.

Talent + Hard Work = Success

Hard Work = Success

Talent alone is not enough and, in the end, the hardest road often produces the best results. Combat is just a skill set, one that is developed over time like any other specialty. You’ve got to put in some to get something out and the more you do, the better you get. The one who takes their commitment to learning seriously is the one who is ideal like in anything else.

You can start them with any body type you like, any size you like, any fitness level so long as you’re willing to take into account what that means. Either way, they’ll never start perfectly ready. Everything they need can be developed, what they don’t have they’ll learn.

“They’re not good at physical exercise.”

They can get better. They will get better. Wind and endurance are gained over time.

“They’re not a natural.”

Hard work can compensate for that and they’ll need to work hard anyway.

All you need to remember is that this will be true regardless of sex or gender. Both girls and boys have to work hard to be good. They both have to work hard to overcome their weaknesses and develop their strengths. They both have to practice. They both have to fight. They both have to train hard.

People do.

It’s easiest if it’s something they enjoy doing, but they can also learn to enjoy doing it even if they didn’t initially. Sometimes, we start slow and get better. It’s hard to keep working at something and devote yourself to it, to improving, to striving toward some kind of goal. Try not to think of the world or people as static.

I know that’s probably not the answer you wanted.


I have a character that is very adjustable to people and kind of “changes his identity” to get along with people. Do you have any advice on how to do this without seeming like I’m actually changing his personality or like he doesn’t really have one?

You’re talking about someone who adjusts his behavior depending on the situation he finds himself in, not changes his personality. This is actually a normal part of human behavior and part of our survival mechanism. We all do it, all the time, often subconsciously, depending on the situations we find ourselves in.

Ask yourself: how do I change on a day to day basis when dealing with people in my life?

The behavior you exhibit amongst your friends is going to be different from how you behave with your parents, in the same way you’ll modify your behavior when dealing with a teacher, or with a boss at work. Do you behave the same way offline as online? Regardless of whether or not you immediately want to say yes, stop and think about it. The answer is actually no, because different groups have different social mores and expectations that you must abide by on a daily basis. It may simply be, as of yet, you haven’t encountered a social situation where you consciously noticed your modifications or were required to significantly change your behavior.

Again, this is normal. Humans are in a near constant state of flux as they transition between different social circles. Sometimes, even with the average person, they can seem completely different when they move from one culture to another. It can be disorienting for their friends or their family if they’re only used to seeing them in one mode such as school or home. The amount of individual change they exhibit often depends on the person and their circumstances.

Watch any half-decent cop show like Law and Order, The Shield, or The Wire, and you’ll see this at play between the cops and their partners, the cops when dealing with their suspects, and the cops when dealing with their bosses or the District Attorneys.

A character like this involves a great deal of interior versus exterior. There is who he is on the inside and then there’s the persona, or multitude of personae, he presents to the outside world. You need a clear view of who this character is on the inside because every lie he builds comes out of some part of himself. While he adjusts from one person to the next, if he’s too inconsistent, people will notice because, ultimately, we don’t exist in isolation. If he’s actually lying, and he could be, to multiple different people surrounding him in his social circle and can’t control what he’s saying then he’s at greater risk of being found out.

For example: Tony says “I like Transformers!”, I immediately respond “Really? I love Transformers!”, maybe I say it because I want Tony to like me or maybe I say it because it’s a conditioned response, it doesn’t really matter. Whether I really like Transformers or not is not entirely relevant. Now, enter Jennie into this social circle.

Jennie says, “I really hate Transformers!” I immediately respond, “Me too!”

Tony goes, “But wait, didn’t you just say you loved Transformers?”

Now, one of these statements is probably false and whether or not I like Transformers is irrelevant. Both Tony and Jennie know I was lying about how I feel, regardless of who I was lying to. This will have consequences for my relationship with both of them.

So, the first thing you should do is figure out whether or not his behavior is actually more extreme than the average person’s and the example above is more on the extreme end. The next question is how much more so? Why does he do it? What are the causative factors? Is it intentional or unintentional? Does he intentionally try to make himself more appealing and likeable to those around him by modifying his opinions and views completely to fit with theirs? Is he trying to manipulate them? Is it actively malicious? Is it a form of self-preservation? Does he just want people to like him and worries they won’t if he doesn’t say what they want to hear? Is it somewhere in between?

It’s up to you to find out.

His observational skills, how aware he is of what’s happening around him, his ability to track his own lies, whether or not he’s lying at all (and he doesn’t have to be), are going to be dependent on who he is. What’s his interior life like? How does that compare to his exterior life?

His behavior may seem unique to him and he may present it that way in the narrative, but it’s up to you to decide whether or not it is. He may feel like he’s committing some grievous sin by not being whoever it is he think he’s supposed to be. Is he? He might be.

Think about this character’s life in comparison to yours and your own behavior. Think about your friends. Think about your family, especially your parents. Think about school. Think about work. Think about other social activities you engage in such as sports teams, etc. Ultimately, you are who you’re going to draw from for him.

The audience needs to be provided with some kind of baseline for him, even if the answer really is just that he doesn’t know who he is and is trying on different personae to see what fits. (That’s also normal, especially for a teenager.) All you need to do is ensure what’s happening is clear and this may happen on subsequent redrafts. Always stick your writing in front of another, trusted, person to see what conclusions they draw.


I’m actually using a lot if stuff in that list to shine a light on the character’s negatives. Such as their being a braggart. Should I worry that people will misunderstand this? I don’t want it to be heavy handed. “Yes, this guy would actually abandon his teammates if it means he can be a ‘hero.'”

I’m assuming you’re talking about ReadingwithaVengeance’s “Top Ten Things That Are Not Impressive For An Action Character”?

If so, then it’s important to understand that a lot of readers have been conditioned to see those tropes as good/signs of skill. In order to include those traits as negatives, then they have to actually be shown to be negative in your story. This is not someone who takes violence seriously

The easiest way to handle this is by the reactions of the characters around him, where the things he tries actually don’t work or they only kind of work (he shoots two guys in the head and they go down, but the third doesn’t but he’s convinced he’s won so he’s back to celebrating) and then have to be finished up by a different character. If he refuses to change, then even the characters who initially agreed with him start to turn against him. He isn’t portrayed as being right, what he’s doing isn’t shown to be necessary, and is instead portrayed as reckless, endangering those around him. If he fails and someone does die, then he might just shrug it off as “acceptable losses”. Or refuses to accept “acceptable losses” because he doesn’t like the sound of that, getting more people killed in the process with his solution as “that’s what a hero is”.

”I’ll save you, citizens!”

“We really have it under control for ourselves, thanks.”

(Proceeds to ignore them to do things his own way. Expects gratitude.)

However, if you do this then you’ve got to start thinking about why the others, if he travels with any, keep him around and what his character arc actually is. Characters like these can start as humorous, but quickly become obnoxious if left without any development. Try to think about this character’s interior life, their driving motivations, and how they react when they can and do fail. His actions shouldn’t just impact other people, they also should impact him in some way.

You can do a lot when playing around with that list, but the easiest way to enforce that these are negative traits is for them to have negative consequences. On top of that, you also should try to show other solutions that are more positive. It’s usually not enough to just have the traits or examples in fiction and expect them to be seen as bad or commentary, especially not if they are conventionally seen as “good”, “acceptable”, or “appropriate”.

Balanced consequences, negative (though not overwhelmingly) reactions are part of how we avoid being heavy handed. Write how you want, then review, and then edit. Then, ask a friend to read it over and give you their honest opinions without telling them what you’re trying to get them to experience. That should help you figure out whether or not you’re getting the reactions to the character you want.


Top Ten Things That Are Not Impressive For Action Characters


  1. Sticking the landing
    . All this does is jack up joints. Collapse and roll. Hit the ground with the largest surface area possible.
  2. Headshots
    . You sound like bragging gamers.
  3. “One shot, one kill.”
    Same as above. Aim for center mass and unload until they stop moving.
  4. Disabling shots
    . Depending on the time period, you’re either consigning them to a lifetime of nerve damage and pain or a slow death from infection. Also, injured people
    can still fight back.
  5. Anything with a flip
    . Telegraphing your moves and taking several extra seconds to get it done just allows the other fighter time to block.
  6. Throwing people
    . Unless you’re literally trying to get some space for an escape or a ranged weapon, why did you throw them? It takes a ton of effort and now they’re all
    the way over there.
  7. Prolonged fights
    . Most brawls are over in seconds. Seconds. Competition fights last longer because there are safety limits and controls in place.
  8. Ignoring backup
    . Congratulations on your ‘does not play well with others’ sticker.
  9. Overly complicated weapons
    . Different weapons were developed to take advantage of specific conditions, be they environmental, tactical, or weaknesses in your opponent’s situation.
    Picking the wrong one because it looks cooler just puts you at a steep disadvantage.
  10. Basically anything overcomplicated
    . Climbing in top floor windows when you could walk in the service entrance. Fighting through twelve guards when you could poison someone’s dinner.
    Training in eight martial arts styles when a pillow over the face will get them just as dead. It’s not really that impressive to make more work for