The co-creator of the New Teen Titans, Marv Wolfman was on hand at Comic-Con International in San Diego, hosting a writing seminar for a capacity crowd. As Wolfman talked about character creation and the need for conflict, he kept coming back to the same concept: family.
Raven? Daughter of a demon and a woman that demon raped.
Starfire? Her father sold her into slavery to save their planet.
Deathstroke? Forced to pick up a contract for a job botched by his son.
The family theme continued when discussing characters Wolfman didn’t create.
Robin? Parents murdered before his eyes.
Spider-Man? Something about an Uncle Ben and “great responsibility.”
When asked about the obvious thread in these characters’ pasts, Wolfman explained that family is a great way to build internal conflict into your characters — and that it was no accident that the “New Teen Titans” all had family issues. “Theme is what you’re really talking about,” explained the writer, and the theme for his “Titans” run was family. To help the book stand apart, it was important to Wolfman that the Titans be a family instead of a team. That meant the book’s conflict needed to be family-related.
To accomplish this, Wolfman mapped out the dynamics between his young heroes in triangles. For example, Wonder Girl, at the top of the triangle, has both warrior and mythic sides. Starfire came from a warrior culture, while Raven came from mythic Azarath. And, of course, they all had issues with their parents (or, in Wonder Girl’s case, the fact that she didn’t know who hers were). This structure created both relationships and conflicts, and allowed the Titans characters to grow into a family of their own.
Wolfman noted that perfect characters are rarely interesting, so it’s vital for a writer to build flaws and internal conflict into their characters. Thinking about your characters’ past is one way to do that.
His initial character designs for the New Teen Titans served Wolfman well, as he’s gotten approximately 250 stories out of them so far. In fact, he recently pitched DC with an idea for the characters 30th anniversary next year. Those characters also made the jump to the small screen for the popular “Teen Titans” cartoon series.
While written for a younger audience, Wolfman was thrilled to see the characters he co-created survive with personalities intact. “I loved it,” Wolfman said. “I absolutely love every one of those characters.”
Other helpful hints for writers that emerged from Wolfman’s hour-long session:
- Before writing, create a short list that describes each character. Flesh out their likes and dislikes. And make sure to note how each character feels about the others.
- When crafting characters, don’t be afraid to use friends and family as models. “Steal their personalities when you write. It’s great!”
- New writers often get so hung up writing detailed notes that they never get around to writing the story. Get that first draft out there. Use it to learn about your characters and to perfect your plot.
- “The only rule I believe in is that if it doesn’t advance character and plot — preferably at the same time — get rid of it.”
- In writing, the old axiom “You have to kill your babies” is absolutely true.
- “I’m a firm believer in the subconscious” — it can get you through story problems when you’re stuck.
- Another trick when stuck: Do a 180. Have the character go in an opposite direction and see where that takes the story.
- Don’t forget: “Writing is about rewriting.”