Learn from The Incredibles: How to Write Super Characters

The Incredibles 2, the sequel to Pixar’s iconic superhero film, offers writers the oportunity to enhance our understanding of effective character development. Here are a few lessons from the movie that you can apply in your fiction.


Photo Credit: © 2018 Disney, Pixar. All Rights reserved.

After a 14-year hiatus, the Incredible family is back, all suited up and saving the world from bad guys and villains. The Incredibles 2, the sequel to Disney Pixar’s original blockbuster, lives up to its name. There are plenty of laughs, chase scenes, explosions and heartwarming moments to delight fans of all ages.

As writers, we can also study the movie to enhance our understanding of effective character development. Well-written heroes are not perfect, and the members of the Incredible family are no exception. They must grapple with their insecurities and fears as they simultaneously fight to keep the world safe and their family intact.

The Incredibles 2 revolves around a campaign to show superheroes in a positive light in order to reverse the current ban that makes it illegal to be a “Super.” The team behind this campaign seek to convince Elastigirl to be the face of this effort, leaving Mr. Incredible home to take care of the kids.

Warning: Minor spoilers ahead.

Motivation

Because all the members of the Incredible family are superheroes, they have a physical power that makes them each unique. But, like all characters in film and literature, an additional motivation drives them to make the choices they do. There is more to this super family than their powers.

Mr. Incredible (Bob) has amazing physical strength and an equally strong sense of justice. He wants to be the hero and thrives in the spotlight.

Elastigirl (Helen) has a flexible and stretchy body. She enjoys taking care of people, and is the grounding force in her family.

Violet has the power of invisibility and is able to create strong force fields. She is a typical teenager, wanting to fit in and be accepted by her peers (especially Tony). Although teenage angst and attitude surfaces, deep down, she is loyal to her family.

Dash has the power of super speed and is driven by similar desires to his dad in that he likes attention, but he also craves extra thrills and adventure.

Jack-Jack the baby surprises everyone with his abilities (no spoilers here, you’ll have to see the movie) and is motivated by cookies. He is still young.

Think about the characters in your stories. Are you clear about what motivates them to get up each morning? Have you dug deep enough into their personalities and backstory to understand who they are what makes them tick?

Photo Credit: © 2018 Disney, Pixar. All Rights reserved.

Obstacles

In order to reveal the true nature of your characters, they need obstacles and challenges thrown in their way, especially ones in direct conflict to their core desires and motivations. It is in these moments when weaknesses are uncovered and vulnerabilities exposed.

The writers at Disney Pixar (with this film written by the acclaimed Brad Bird) do an amazing job showing this with Mr. Incredible. He struggles with the idea that his wife, not him, is out saving the world. His identity is so wrapped up with being a hero and the attention that accompanies it, he feels insignificant staying at home. This goes against everything that drives him. He can’t help Dash with his homework because he doesn’t understand how this “new math” works; when trying to help Violet, he completely embarrasses her in front of the boy she likes; and Jack-Jack’s powers are emerging with dramatic consequences. Mr. Incredible is way out of his element and completely exhausted.

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Helen, who enjoys caring for her family and living a quiet life, puts herself in danger so they can stop running from the law and live openly again as superheroes. We see her wrestle with this when she says to Bob, “You know it’s crazy, right? To help my family, I’ve got to leave it. To fix the law, I’ve got to break it.” She steps up to the challenge, and even enjoys the adrenaline rush of being a hero again, but never fully embraces her role as the Super “poster child.” When she calls home one night and Bob lies to her and says everything is going great, she is clearly disappointed that she is not needed as much as she hoped.

With your stories, are you raising the stakes enough for your characters’ development? Are you putting them in situations that play against their worst fears, exposing their flaws? We spend so much time with our characters they can feel like family, and we don’t want them to suffer. But readers want to see characters thrust into difficult situations and watch as they find the strength to rise above in triumph.

Growth

Characters need room to grow. You have to put them in situations that are in direct opposition to what motivates them. Problems cause conflict, and create the perfect opportunity for characters to learn and grow. When Mr. Incredible is exhausted and feeling hopeless he reaches out to Edna, the wise mentor and brilliant costume designer. She tells him, “Done properly, parenting is a heroic act…”

Here we start to see a shift and growth in him. He begins to recognize the value in his role as a father and steps up to the challenge. Violet shows amazing growth over the course of the two movies. In the first, we see her come out of her shell and begin to gain self-confidence. In the second, when her father humiliates her in front of Tony, she becomes angry and disengages from the family. She grapples with her desire to fit in while accepting her unique super powers. By the end of the movie, we see her embracing who she is.

Obstacles force our characters to face their biggest fears, confront enemies, and realize how strong they really are. Do you put your characters in situations that will help them grow? Are you pushing them far enough to hit them deep at their core? The lower the characters falls physically, emotionally and spiritually, the more room they have for growth.

Creating well-rounded characters is the cornerstone of all good fiction writing. The members of the Incredible family each have their own individual personalities, strengths and quirks, but they share a common desire to keep the world safe and they do it with, no capes.


Learn more from Kerrie Flanagan at the Writer’s Digest Annual Conference, August 10-12, 2018!

 

 

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