Meanwhile, at the Hall of Justice…

Justice League

Even in the Justice League, there are secondary characters who need to tell their stories. Artwork by Ed Benes. © 2007 DC Comics, all rights reserved.

Writing a story involving multiple characters is never easy. Heck, it’s hard enough writing a story about one main character, knowing there are going to be secondary characters moving in and out of their story. But the bar gets raised when — to the writer’s surprise — several supposed secondary characters begin to cry out for attention.

This is what I call the “Justice League Effect.”

In the comic book world, there are two types of superhero comics: solo titles and team books. Some characters (think Superman, Batman, and Wonder Woman) are big enough to anchor one or more solo titles. But other characters never have enough fan support to manage it.

Second-tier characters like Plastic Man, Red Tornado, or Black Canary rarely have their own monthly titles, so they usually only appear in team books. The problem with a team book is giving these second-tier characters enough breathing room to stand out, when it’s the A-list characters that drive the story.

That’s where the “Justice League Effect” comes in. It’s about juggling the second-tier characters and making them real enough, so they don’t stand in the shadow of heavy hitters like Superman and Wonder Woman. Everyone has a story to tell, it just might not be the MAIN story.

When I write a story, I try to concentrate on a single character — whether the story is written in first person or a third-person limited point of view. But that doesn’t mean I can ignore the other characters in the story. I have to find a way to make them believable, relatable, and interesting even though they’re not the main story.

Last year, as I wrote the first draft of a superhero manuscript, I discovered just how difficult this can be. I had a team of heroes, and I had to keep in mind who was in what scene and what they were doing at any given moment. Plotting battles between the heroes and the big bad was like playing chess against a computer. I had to think 10 steps ahead before every move.

Sure, I had read enough comics in my day to prepare me for the challenge, but even I struggled when my heroes went up against a team of villains in downtown Chicago. Now instead of one team to manage, I had two. And it wasn’t enough to just have them fighting one another. I also had to manage a dozen different conversations.

I don’t want this post to come off sounding like a product pitch, but one thing definitely saved me. Before starting my manuscript, I downloaded a trial version of Scrivener, a writing studio software from Literature & Latte Ltd. ( Scrivener allowed me to keep track of all my characters, from major to minor ones, and I had the ability to easily reference them while I was in the middle of a scene.

Keeping track of all my heroes (and villains) was a bit of a logistical nightmare. But with a little planning, I was able to keep track of everyone’s whereabouts and the role they played in a given scene. I didn’t want to lose track of the minor characters, and — because I put some planning into them — they didn’t come off as part of the scenery.

As a result, I created secondary heroes who didn’t stand in the shadows. Each one had a moment or two in the spotlight. Now if I can just figure out how to give each character his/her own novel…

Kevin Wohler is a copywriter and novelist living in Lawrence, Kansas. During the day, he works at a digital marketing agency in the Kansas City area. When time remains, he likes to tell stories of the weird and bizarre. And sometimes, he writes them down for others to read.

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