Superhero fiction: a writing experiment

Last year, I wrote a novella and two novels back to back. But you wouldn’t know it, because they were fanfics. I’m hugely proud of them … but they have a very limited audience.

So I started wondering how hard it would be to change the names and make them into fantasy. After all, most of the setting and a lot of the characters are my own.

So I’ve been undergoing the labyrinthine task of changing a story from fanfiction to original fiction. Can we say I underestimated how difficult it was going to be? With fanfic, your readers already know the setting and characters. With original fiction, they don’t, and you have to establish them. Doing that without dropping a slab of exposition on the reader has been massively difficult. Fortunately I have a group of patient beta readers who can look at it and go, “Nope, it’s not there yet.”

As I’m chewing on this massive revision, I look at authors like Kathy Tyers for inspiration. Her Firebird series is renamed Star Wars fanfiction. Supposedly there’s a plot line in there about “what if Jesus came to the Jedi?” But what I got out of it was, “When a Jedi Psychic finds his Empire royal soulmate, things get hot.” They use crystal swords instead of lightsabers and use psychic powers instead of the Force. If you didn’t know it was Star Wars, you might not ever pick up on it. It’s just Romance In Space. It’s skillfully done. That’s the kind of thing I want to pull off, here.

Trouble is, when you take the kind of stories I’ve been writing and turn it original, it comes out as superhero fantasy. Small-town superheroes with moderate powers who get way, way over their heads with foes beyond their strength. So I started looking up superhero fantasy on Amazon.

First off, there’s not really much there. Second, it all looks like this.

superherobooks1superherobooks2

It’s either licensed novels, comic book anthologies, or indie offerings that … aren’t really that great. In my sniffing around, I found the Gender-Swapped Iron Man Saga, the X-Men Fanfic Saga, the Hey Guys My Hero Is Cool books, and Look Guys Aliens books. I even read the middle-grade Don’t Tell My Parents I’m A Supervillain. The first half was great. The second half devolved into “Spot who’s carrying the idiot ball in this scene!”

Nobody really does small-town heroes who do anything but do the regular plot of “look I have powers! Look, I have to save the world now!” It’s kind of discouraging. Either nobody reads this genre, or nobody writes anything good for it. (I’m leaning toward the latter, because I saw lots of reviews from people who said that they adore the genre and will read anything in it.)

So, I’m going to take a shot at contributing to the badly underdeveloped superhero genre and see how it goes. You know, once the thing is in a readable state.

Meanwhile, it has crossover potential with the other urban fantasy series I was planning, so we’ll be reworking the worldbuilding on that, too. So much fun!

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11 thoughts on “Superhero fiction: a writing experiment

    1. Oh, the characters got so dumb in the second half. I guess I got spoiled by Diana Wynne Jones and ND Wilson who have competent adults alongside the kid heroes.

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  1. Which series are you trying to adapt? Finite Resistance is the entire Forces plot, so that may not be as easy. I would guess you’re trying to pull the Sonic Boom Angel Island, which is probably a lot easier if you change the names, and workaround the roles of the mains.

    Excited for whatever it may be!

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    1. Boom is the one with all the unique worldbuilding, so that’s what I want to do. Finite Resistance is a war story, and it’s a standalone. I’ve thought about switching it over, but … it would be a LOT harder.

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  2. Is this Carda and company that we are talking about here???

    I’ve been playing around with an idea for some super hero stuff for middle grades inspired by my kiddos. I even have a title and messing around with costume design and artwork. I could message you them, if you’re interested in seeing them. I was wanting to co-author it with my kids, BUT we have differing ideas on the villain and HQ and all. And the kids keep changing their super powers. Ha!

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  3. You are so creative. I hope it all works for you the way you want it to work. I am reading an interesting cross over, I will tell you about it after I have read more. I am still in the mildly curious part. I can’t wait to see how it goes.

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  4. -‘Nobody really does small-town heroes who do anything but do the regular plot of “look I have powers! Look, I have to save the world now!” It’s kind of discouraging.’

    Thank you! This was exactly why I decided to write my own. Literally every super hero book I’ve read so far follows the same plot. A nobody–almost always in high school and with self esteem issues–suddenly gets powers. Now he’s got to learn to use them. Then his super identity immediately becomes the most famous person in the world. Then he goes and saves the world. And all while juggling the superhero life with the everyday struggles of high school. And while a few have been decent, most of what I’ve found have been terribly executed, to be honest.

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    1. I know there must be good superhero fiction out there, but it’s not on Amazon’s radar, that’s for sure. I’ve been reading samples from the top books, and the experience has been … underwhelming. This genre needs good writers!

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      1. Agreed. I just hope my work qualifies. Part of me is certain that it will be well-received, and I’ve gotten very positive feedback from my weekly critique group (after a rocky first few chapters, anyway). But I’m at the beta reader phase on this book, and I’ve yet to find a beta reader who has ever read superhero prose before. So of the niche group of readers that are into superheroes, I can’t be sure how they’ll take it.

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