10 Writing Lessons from Batman
You could be written on the lessons on writing that could be drawn out of the Batman character. Whether the movies, the comics, the cartoons or the TV shows each of them has plenty that can be learned from any of them. I plan to focus not on any of those stories, but the character himself. One of the most famous characters in the world.
Say what you want about some decisions made by writers it regards to Batman’s voice Batman talks whether is is calling a teenage boy he just kidnapped names or talking like he’s been gargling gravel it is never a question who has spoken. This isn’t always easy, but it doesn’t have to be all that hard. A few commonly used words can not only make it easy for you to create dialog but to get a feel for the voice of the character. A character who says “Because, I’m Batman” will speak differently than someone who says dude and it’s probably not going to take a lot of effort for you as a writer to find the difference.
Almost as important as character voice is the interplay between different characters. I first noticed this with Batman in a video game, but it exists in many places. Just think about the way Batman talks to Alfred and compare it to how he talks to Commissioner Gordon or The Joker. You can hear the respect for a father figure, a friend, and the exasperation of dealing with an insane person. But it goes further than that. Victor Freeze falls somewhere else. A person who Batman might save and can understand but still has to stop. And then there is Catwoman, Robin, Batgirl, The Riddler, Batwoman, Azrael and of course Superman. If you know the character well, you can almost hear the difference in his tone and wording.
Finding this is largely a result of time with Batman. He has had hundreds or thousands of interactions with every one of the listed characters, but it doesn’t have to take that long. If you know that characters will interact then spending a few minutes thinking about their relationship will help considerably. Are they friends, mentor and student or enemies? Do they have a friendly competition or do they cooperate completely? Whatever the answer mixing this into the character's voice will give the reader information on both characters and even if only one of them is vital to your story, it’s worth the effort. Which leads to the next writing lesson.
No Batman is an Island
Batman is known to be a loner. Watch any Justice League cartoon or even the movie (if you have to) and you’ll find a Batman who doesn’t like other people. And it makes perfect sense to make him a loner since it’s just him against the world. And Alfred. And you can’t forget Dick Grayson, or Tim Drake, or even Jason Todd. And of then there is the Gothem PD with Commissioner Gordon and several other honest cops he regularly works with. And on the other side he has fairly strong bonds with both Catwoman and Talia, the latter of which led to Damian Wayne. Oh, and he’s been working with Clayface recently. And Barbara Gordon, Batwoman, the other Batwoman and his best friend, even if he won’t admit it, Superman along with fairly regularly working with the Justice League and its individual members, and that isn’t mentioning any of the characters who show up in the future in the comics and cartoons.
The obvious point is that characters need other characters to interact with. And if your character is a loner, the key isn’t to make him interact with fewer people but to make the people he interacts with so important to him it seems obvious he or she would have to deal with them. Whether that is a father figure, a child, a coworker or the friend who doesn’t care If you push him away they show up. So the writing lesson is think about the people your character has no choice but to deal with and if there aren’t any, then this writing lesson is that you probably need to create a few.
Know a Batman by Knowing his Enemies
There is another group of people with whom Batman regularly interacts. That is the antagonist and as Batman easily shows they often have more influence and can be more interesting than the protagonist. Everyone knows that a Riddler story will differ from a Catwoman story, which is entirely different from a Mr. Freeze story or a Poison Ivy story. And most all of them are better understood characters than many characters from major movie or book franchises. Mostly because they’ve been around for decades, but also because the writers of Batman understand how important a good side character is.
And that isn’t even mentioning the most famous of Batman’s antagonists a character who has almost as many fans as Batman and entire movies made about him. The writing lesson here is to put more effort into your protagonist. Every character is the hero of his or her own story is one point, but even if they are just an insane clown people can be drawn in if you put some effort into the character.
A Batman for all Seasons
Batman is a dark brooding character who might be insane. He is a broken man who fights a never ending war on crime. Unless he is wearing blue and yellow and dancing in nightclubs and making silly puns.
I am of course referring to the 1960s Batman. And not just Adam West. Batman was a much more fun character in the comics at times as well. That is because different times and different audiences want and need different character and different tones and it’s worth thinking about.
What makes a Batman
A good character needs to have a core. Often people assume that the core of a character covers far more than it does. The writing lesson you can learn from Batman is how little it takes to define a character. Batman is rich, his parents were killed, he’s a detective, and he fights crime dressed like a bat. That is the core, and the rich part isn’t vital. Even the detective part of the story is often ignored. Yet no one would question that a character who does these things is Batman, even if almost nothing else is the same.
You can have a Russian Batman, a batman who uses guns, one who is funny and one who wears a giant robot suit and surround him by friends and family. You can make him poor, break his back or send him through time and he remains Batman. That is because he has a solid core. So the writing lesson is boil your character down to his most important points and then build up from there.
We all are Batmen, in our own natures frail, and capable of our flesh; few are Superman.
Batman is an absurdly skilled character. He’s the greatest detective in the world, a master martial artist, a ninja, he runs a multi-billion-dollar corporation and far more. Yet it isn’t any of those things that makes him interesting. One thing that makes an interesting character is his or her flaws and how they fail or succeed because of those flaws.
One of the classic Batman stories is that of his paranoia which creates massive problems when someone discovers that he has planned to defeat every member of the Justice League and uses it. And even though this costs him the trust of many friends others understand that it is important.
But the biggest flaw Batman has is that he can’t move on from loss. This makes him Batman. He is obsessed with a war on crime because of childhood trauma and while that has allowed him to do a lot of good it has kept him from really being happy or at peace.
I Am Not What Happened To Me.
I Am What I Choose To Become.
I am Batman
Batman is one of the most popular characters in history in part because of his pain. We empathize with him from the beginning and because of that we’re willing to overlook far more than we should. This is true of any character. If there is one shortcut to making people care about a character it is hurting them, then kick them while they are down. Then when they get up shove them down again. Then when they finally turn the tables, the reader will be entirely on their side.
This writing lesson can even work with a villain. People may not like the Joker or pull for him, but, when he is given a history, it’s typically of someone who lost everything and was broken by it. A mirror of Batman to be certain, but understanding makes him a much more interesting and bittersweet character. You may still enjoy seeing him get punched in the face by Batman, but you might even pull for some type of redemption, though that is unlikely.
If you really want to understand a Batman, don’t just listen to what he says, but watch what he does.
Batman is obsessed with justice, he hates crime and has dedicated his life to fighting it, but that doesn’t mean he will do anything. We all know the most basic part of his code which is that he doesn’t kill. But there is more to Batman than that. When written well he has put a great deal of limitation on himself and requires a great deal from himself.
Good characters have a code even if it’s not as codified as Batman’s. You know where their lines are. A useful piece of information for any character if for no other reason that if people know what their limits are, they know just how important when they cross that line. So when you’re making a character it’s worth considering what is their code.
Everyone Loves an Underdog
People call Batman a superhero because he wears a costume and fights crime, but by the strictest definition of the word he isn’t one. Yet he regularly fights side by side with virtual gods. More than that people regularly ask a question of whether he could beat one of the most powerful superheros in existence in a fight. And many people argue he would. Why, because it’s a lot more fun to think about how Batman could win. He would have to be creative and smart, where Superman would just have to be Superman.
The writing lesson is simple. Always make the path hard for your protagonist. Give your antagonist the high ground, the position of power and the superpowers. Then tie your protagonist’s shoelaces together and make them think their way out. It will be a lot more satisfying than if they were in a fair fight.
Batman is an enduring character for many reasons. His adaptability, his relatability, his power and his weakness. He is a loner and the heart of a huge family of characters, the weakest member of the Justice League and the one who usually saves the day. He is a simple character and yet there are a hundred more lesson you could take from this character and adapt to your own writing. But then that draws me to writing. You can improve forever and still learn something new from almost anything.