I wrote down Susan’s timeline. There are a few years that are a little sparse, but I think it’s enough of a start. Next is nailing down the plot, which I’m beginning to think doesn’t have nearly as much to do with my main character as it did originally.
When I started this story, Susan was a Mary Sue (I believe that’s the right term). She was me with super powers. She was insecure and naive, with an addiction to Cherry Coke and chocolate. As the story has evolved, it’s now to the point where I’m not sure I can even use her as a narrator. I had forgotten that environment shapes the character as well as personality. Years spent in nonstop training would leave a mark on Susan’s personality, would make her foreign to me.
The transformation started because my older brother asked me if she was a Mary Sue. I denied it at first because that hadn’t been my intention. Yes, she blonde with blue eyes (used to be, anyway), but that was because it’s what you expect with a girl hero. I made her small like me, but only so that it would seem so unexpected for her to be strong, etc. I wanted her to be the ideal sidekick, I guess. I also wanted her to have a personality the reader could relate to, which meant being more natural in the character. When I read over that original short story, I know I was writing me. I also know it was because that was all I had to work with. Me. I had tons of characters in my head, but they were all me. Sometimes exaggerated reflections of me, but all me. I can only write what I know. When I write what I don’t know, I end up with two-dimensional drivel.
Further analysis of the character showed me a big problem that would have ruined the story. I’ll call it the Superman. When Superman first came on the scene, he was strong, fast and could jump really high. I don’t know all the details, but over time, he got more and more powerful. He got more powers. His jumping turned into flat-out flight (which is now an ability taken for granted, though it is by far, in my opinion, the most unrealistic ability). Superman is not a hero to root for. He’s a really nice guy, incorruptible and damn near invincible. Oh, except for that Kryptonite thing. Which is so rare that every super villain in Metropolis has a stash. Otherwise, they don’t stand a blooming chance against him. Don’t get me wrong. I do like Superman. I may have been one of the few that really liked “Superman Returns” and I adore the “Batman/Superman” comics. He’s just too good. Susan started out that way. Incredibly strong and fast with a plethora of other abilities at her finger tips. Her major failing was confidence.
But it doesn’t make sense. A girl spends her whole life training to be a hero and that’s exactly what she’s not confident about? No way. Her confidence issues should lie in the things that you can’t train for or learn from books. And to avoid the Superman, she had to become more realistic. About now, my friend Carlos (Uno, not Dos) would be whining about how it’s fiction so it doesn’t have to be realistic. Which is how many of you will know that he doesn’t read fiction. Once you break the suspension of disbelief, you lose your audience. The story becomes just that: a story. The book is set back on the book shelf.
So, yes, Susan can fly without wings or any other means of visible support. I’m still working out how that could work in real life. But her advantages in strength and speed are comparable to any professional athlete who trains their whole lives for those skills. They just come a little easier and are slightly disproportionate to her size and build. That’s something I had to change. Scrawny little girl with the strength to punch through walls is preposterous, but tall muscled woman build like a professional weight lifter could do a significant amount of damage. The only advantage that I’m allowing to go unchecked is her regeneration. It’s not really healing, because healing leaves scars. She doesn’t have scars. She doesn’t have freckles. Her skin won’t tan at all. Her hair is the same color it was when she was born because it doesn’t degrade with time. And unlike her other abilities which plateaued in her late teens/early twenties, her regeneration keeps getting stronger. That’s what really makes her dangerous. She’s nearly impossible to kill. But that’s the point. She can be killed. Superman? Well he’s “died” before, but so has every other character in the super hero comics. Some of them multiple times. Up until recently, Captain America and his sidekick, Buddy, were the only Marvel characters that had never been brought back to life. No, as much as I like Susan, she has to die. That’s all there is to it. If she can’t, then she’s not really human. If she can’t die, then she can’t really live.
So what’s her personality become, then? Well, she has all the symptoms of being home schooled. I think home schooling is great provided the parents are responsible enough and intelligent enough to handle the challenge. Schools are definitely underfunded and you have a fifty/fifty shot (if you’re lucky) at getting good teachers. The problem with home schooling isn’t in the education itself. It’s what it can’t teach. Even with play dates and extra-curricular clubs, etc, home schooled children still lack many of the social skills that public school kids have. I will admit that public school does churn out a decent percentage of socially inept children, but I’m getting off topic. Susan spends her entire childhood training with adults and well away from outsiders who might notice her abilities because she is too young and inexperienced to hide them (or even understand that she must hide them). They don’t really think about it because for most heroes, the struggle is to train to be a good hero. They start out as normal kids with normal homes. They go to school with kids their age. Some of them may show abilities early on, but those become their after school clubs or sports teams, I guess. It’s like the difference between a soldier/musician and a musician/soldier, if that makes sense. “Kill Bill Vol 2” had a great analogy for it. Every other super hero puts on a mask to do their job. Superman takes his off. They trained Susan in the mask so long that it became her face. The mask she needs is the one that is a regular person.
That’s why Susan isn’t a good narrator anymore. She’s a Sheldon. She analyzes situations, studies details. looks at everything to see where the danger is and prepare for it. She reads body language, looking for signs of aggression, clues to indicate an attack. She doesn’t see the world in a way that’s relatable. I’m not sure if she even sees people as people. She is detached and that’s a HUGE problem.
She’s my protagonist. But she’s not the narrator. Everyone else can be the narrator. They can try to connect with her, try to make her humanity come through. They can wonder if she is human at all. They can wonder if she is the threat they should really fear, if she will be the end of everything.