An Ode to Superheroes

I have always loved superheroes. Always. I remember waking up on Saturday mornings or rushing home every day after school just so I could park myself in front of the T.V. I rarely missed an episode of Spider-man or the X-men as they battled their foes. I even watched the old-school, live-action version of Batman with Adam West. As I grew up, I never lost that love. I still watch every superhero movie when it comes out and think about them often. I’ll be the first person in line when The Guardians of the Galaxy movie comes out. I would even tell you about the dream where I lived out my own episode of Doctor Who if I wasn’t thwarted by the evil that is my alarm clock and its dream-erasing abilities.

In the past I’ve written a blog post titled Why We Love Superheroes, but I never explained why comic book lore is so important to me. I turned to superheroes because I needed them. I can still recall an incident when I was six years old and my superheroes served me well. After a day of being teased at school, back when I hadn’t made a single friend, I headed home, bundled up in a new blue snow suit. It was my first Canadian winter and I wasn’t used to wearing so many layers. I looked like the clumsy Smurf cousin of the Pillsbury doughboy. It was also the first time I fell into a small, icy ditch, (and yes, that’s happened more often than I’d like to admit).

All the layers I wore acted as a cushion but it didn’t keep my bare face from smashing against the ice. I hit the ground, right cheek first. Stunned, I tried to get up but the ground so slippery that each time I found my legs, I fell again. Aside from the actual fall and the bruise that covered my face for a good two weeks after, what I remember the most about that incident was that I didn’t cry. I didn’t fall apart or give up. Instead, I just kept trying to stand up and crawl out of that ditch.

Why? Because Spider-man didn’t cry. Batman wouldn’t stay down after he took a hit. The X-men didn’t give up in the face of adversity. And I wanted to be like my heroes.

Superheroes are our modern-day incarnates of ancient myths. They inspire us to rise above our limits and circumstances in order to become something greater. They teach us to believe that through our actions, we can change the world. They are role models that show us that integrity and morality are a choice, and that the choice can be a difficult one that often comes at cost. And most importantly, they reflect the best in us — our strengths and our vulnerabilities.

As I’ve gotten older, my definition of the word ‘hero’ has evolved. It’s no longer limited to those who can fly and crawl up walls. Many of my current heroes have no superpowers. But they’ve taught me that showing courage, providing inspiration, persevering, and being compassionate are the kind of superpowers that can be greater than invisibility and superhuman strength. Writers like Stan Lee and J.K. Rowling gave me worlds to disappear into when the reality I lived in crumbled. I once had a teacher who made me stand up and answer questions until I learned to speak up for myself and another who told me that I could do anything I wanted. The former gave me a voice, the latter changed my life. During my toughest times, I have also been able to turn to great friends. When it comes to finding good ones, I have been uncommonly lucky.

As I prepare to prepare to head into the publishing world with my book series, The Dark Matter Chronicles, I’ve turned to my superheroes once again. Through my characters, I get to live out my hopes and fears on blank pages. And I’m not at all surprised that when I made the choice to be a writer, I created a world where superheroes exist but still struggle to find their place.

While I try to find my place in this world, I’ve encountered a lot of people who have told me to put away the kind of dreams and fantasies that are often associated with childhood. You can’t build a life imagining superheroes, they said. I know now that they were wrong. I’m glad I was too childish to listen. They are welcome to become proper grown-ups if that’s what suits them. I prefer to be that six-year-old kid who got back up thanks to a team of caped crusaders.

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The Importance of Failure

At some point you’re going to fail. It’s inevitable, especially if you’re a writer.  It’s what you do with failure that really counts. If you accept that’s an opportunity, (or ‘crisortunity’ as I’ve learned from Homer Simpson), then you can use it as a platform to succeed upon while learning something about yourself in the process.

I recommend that everyone watch JK Rowling’s Harvard commencement speech on the importance of failure. It’s a lesson we all need a reminder of every once in a while.

Simple Ideas Lead to Scientific Discoveries (and Great Novels?)

We’ve all heard the expression that the simplest idea/solution is usually the correct one. I think that definitely applies to the field of science but it also applies to writing. I find that the best stories, (even the ones that are very intricate), are simple at their core. *On a side note: I’ve touched upon this topic in my post about The Simpsons and Writing (see below).*

I’ll use one of my favorite series as an example: Harry Potter. *Spoiler Alert*: skip this paragraph if you haven’t read the book but want to! If you’ve read the series then you know that each of the 7 books has its own plot line with many twists, characters, Chekhov guns, and plot details. J.K. Rowling has created a very elaborate world with a million little parts that all add up into something that’s magical yet tangible–a world you’d actually want to be a part of. Who would pass up on a chance to go to Hogwarts, am I right? At the same time, it has an underlying plot line that permeates the entire story; one goal that all 7 books work towards. I think the entire story can be summed up with 2 statements: ‘Boy learns he’s a wizard and goes to wizarding school’ and ‘Hallows vs Horcruxes’. Interesting fact: J.K. Rowling has said that idea came to her as ‘boy who’s a wizard that doesn’t know he’s a wizard’. That one simple idea launched one of the most beloved and successful series of all time.

As with science, it’s important to remember that when it comes to writing, the simplest ideas are often the most powerful. That’s not to say that story can’t have depth and layers. It should. But it should also convey simple truths and revolve around one central idea. That one idea then becomes the foundation that the story and all its details rest upon. And anything that isn’t consistent or relevant to it should be cut out in the editing process.

I highly recommend this short and interesting TED Talk that elaborates on this topic wonderfully. Take a look and enjoy!