Friday, May 4, 2012

What the Avengers Can Teach Us About Character

This Friday The Avengers, Marvel's ultimate superhero team, comes out in theaters in the US (if you're in the UK it's already opened and it was called Avengers Assemble.)

So today I want to talk about what the Avengers can teach us about character.

What makes the Avengers unique as a superhero team?

Joss Whedon described it as "these people shouldn't be in the same room let alone on the same team—and that is the definition of family."

These guys are all heroes. They're all used to saving the day on their own. They've all got big egos. I mean, one of them's the god of thunder, not to mention the supersoldier, the incredibly strong green monster and the genius who invented the Iron Man suit "in a cave, with a box of scraps."

If any story ever adhered to the rule that "everyone is their own hero," it's the Avengers.

So what can this teach us about character?

The Avengers is a prime example of every character doing something. They tease each other and fight with other each other and snap at each other and work with each other because they each have their own agenda.

Superheroes are larger-than-life characters. And if you want larger-than-life characters - not necessarily characters with superpowers, but characters that walk off the page - you need to follow the example set by the Avengers.

Every single one of your characters must have an agenda. Every character is a hero in their own mind. Your main character, your secondary character, your villains, your minions, your female lead - even the janitor is the hero of his own individual story.

But that doesn't mean you must write a backstory for every character who appears in your story.

Take Hawkeye, for example. He has no previous movie in the Marvel universe like Thor, Iron Man, Cap, and Hulk have. He only appeared once in Thor, and then only for a three-minute cameo. But does that mean he doesn't have an agenda?

No! In his three minutes of screen time he showed us that he clearly had a goal. He was alive, he knew what he wanted and how he felt about things. He can hold his own against the other Avengers, even backstory-less as he is in the movie, because he has an agenda.

Of course, Hawkeye does have a backstory in comic book history. I'm not saying a secondary character can necessarily thrive without one. But we didn't need it revealed in the movie in order to make Hawkeye a well-rounded character.

Your characters should be pushing at each other, each struggling to get what they want.

People don't really get along with each other. They stand each other, certainly, and sometimes even like each other. But real, flawed, sinful human beings don't live in harmony. They just don't.

I mean, think about it. How many people do you get along with? Really get along with? How many people want the exact same thing that you want?

I'm guessing the answer is not many. It should be the same for your story. If your characters live in perfect harmony, they're not real.

Look at your current WIP. Which of your characters get along best? When do they fight or differ in opinion or think bad or selfish thoughts about each other?

If the answer is never, then either you meant to create perfect people, or one of your characters doesn't have his own agenda.

That doesn't mean you should sprinkle flaws like confetti all over your characters and have them bickering in every single scene. 

That would get annoying pretty fast, as Misha covers in this post.

But do realize that tension comes from character, from the way that characters respond to other characters.

No two people can ever perfectly get along. They'll fight and be at odds at some point in their lives, because they each have their own agendas.

The real heroism comes when they resolve their differences and reconcile their agendas because there is something better that they must work towards. The Avengers always come together at the end, as a team, because they know that saving the world is more important than their own selfish desires.

So take a look at your own writing. Be sure that each character has their own agenda, their own fears and hopes and desires.

And if you go to see The Avengers today, or sometime in the future, be looking for the ways in which the characters conflict. Try to find each character's agenda. Look for the ways conflict is handled. Learn from it.

Make your characters struggle and strive, and soon they'll be living and breathing and walking off the page, whether it be the page of a novel, short story, script, or comic book.

'Nuff said!

Do all of your characters have an agenda? A backstory? Do any of your characters get along perfectly? Have you seen The Avengers?

Lauren is an aspiring authoress with a love of words and too many story ideas to count. In her spare time between completing her BA, reading, and having a life, she works on her novel and blogs bi-weekly over at her writing blog, Word Art.


  1. Excellent tips and comparison. And yes, seeing Avengers in less than two hours.

    1. Thanks, Alex!

      Less than two hours? Awesome. Hope you like it. :)

  2. Saw it on Tuesday in 3d. Loved it. ^_^

    1. Nice! I want to see it in 3D. It should be pretty neat.

      Thanks so much for having me, Misha! I had a lot of fun writing this post. :)

  3. Wonderful post and definitely great tips! I really do want to see the Avengers, but I don't know if I'll get by the movie theater to see it or will have to wait.

    1. Thanks, Cherie!

      Hopefully you can see it in theaters! Although for at least the next two weeks it will probably be pretty crowded. :)

  4. You've got me so excited to see this movie now - see how these big egos conflict and learn to work together.

  5. Replies
    1. I haven't either, but I've seen all the previous movies, read some of the original and newer comics, and watched the trailers way too many times. ;)

  6. Excellent advise. It's very true that no relationship is smooth sailing and everyone has a personal agenda even if its just to scrub a toilet bowl.

    1. Definitely! Everyone has their own internal motivations and personal goals. That's what can make relationships rough. :)

  7. Hmmm, or to paraphrase: one character's salt is another character's poison!
    My three daughters are off watching The Avengers as I type.
    The eldest saw it last night an liked it so much she thought she'd take her sisters.

    1. Nice paraphrase. :)

      The great thing about the Avengers is that it appeals to girls as well as guys!

  8. Great post and observations!

  9. Awesome and very much informative post.
    Thank you to share this.


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