I had a conversation with my boss on the way from the Tube station to work this morning which, I was surprised to find, had a lot to do with my current writing tribulations.
It all started when I he tapped me on the shoulder as we exited the train, causing me to pull the little, rubber speakers out of my ears and offer salutations. I explained that I’d been listening to a podcast review of “Ender’s Game”. I’d actually already seen the movie over the weekend, and just wanted to know what the Spill.com crew thought (it was great). Having read the book about ten years ago, I’d thought it completely unfilmable, and I was glad to be proven wrong.
My boss then asked what I’d thought about the “Watchmen” movie, which forced me to ruminate, for a good ten minutes on why, precisely, I didn’t care for that particular bit of media.
It was Doctor Manhattan. The guy is basically the pinnacle superhero, the apex predator of comic book characters, and the trouble is that you really can’t do that kind of thing in a story. I remember the first time I found the cheat codes in the first StarCraft game. It made me incredibly powerful. I could do whatever I wanted. And the game stopped being fun about an hour later.
And that’s the thing. If a protagonist in a story becomes a god, then unless he’s facing off against other gods, then nothing matters. He can do what he wants. What the bad guy does doesn’t matter. What the bad guy does doesn’t matter. The bad guy’s greatest achievement is not just trivial, it’s immaterial. The good guy just wipes the bad guy from existence and undoes whatever it was he’d done to deserve such ire.
It’s an issue I’ve been dealing with lately, sitting here, writing the sequel to what is essentially a superhero book. How do you make the protagonist powerful enough to be really, really interesting, and yet not so powerful that it completely undoes the plot? I’ve written the prologue to the second book four times now. I’m still not quite there yet.
Damn you, Doctor Manhattan, you turned out to be useful after all.