Supervillains are cool

Supervillains are cool.

Don't get me wrong. The story of a superhero is a story of empowerment. The reader – an ordinary person who can't easily fix the problems in zir society – gets to imagine having awesome powers and saving the world.

But if the superhero is empowered, the supervillain is even more empowered. Ze doesn't just have more physical power (although that's still true, so that the audience can root for the underdog). Ze also has more freedom. Ze isn't limited by laws or social norms. Ze can do anything ze wants to. The supervillain, and ze alone, has a vision to change the world.

Tell me – why is this character the villain? Many of our laws are unjust. Many of our social norms are repressive. In a typical story, the hero stops the villain's plan and restores the status quo. But in our world, the status quo is not good, and has never been good. To reach a good world, we need a vision for a change.

Give me a story where the hero accepts everyone's identity and sympathizes with everyone's struggles, not because the wise old mentor told zem to, but because fuck the rules. Give me a story where the hero ignores people's hypocritical moralizing, not to become evil, but to forge a better morality. Give me a story where the hero has a genuine project to change the world.

And then let the hero succeed.

– Eli

Story idea: The Power of Love

(I've posted this elsewhere before, but I'm reposting it here because most of my blog audience probably hasn't seen it.)

(Content warning: discussion of abusive relationships.)

A certain individual gains The Power Of Love. Unfortunately, the only thing ze loves is to cause misery, so ze becomes a supervillain. Ze makes people love each other so intensely that it throws their lives into ruin. Ze makes victims love their abusers, and ze makes stalkers love people who fear them. And if any of society's heroes or leaders use their power for good, ze makes them fall in love with someone who will exploit their powers for evil.

To oppose this villain, a new hero arises, who has The Power Of Friendship. Ze can project a magical force field called The Friend Zone. People in the Friend Zone automatically stop, think, and work out their problems with each other as if they are close friends. Our hero tracks down all the people who were influenced by the supervillain, and uses zir power to help them solve the problems the villain created. Despite their intense feelings, the power of friendship lets them pull through and make arrangements that are tolerable for everyone.

Anyway, ze's so successful at helping people that ze ends up with a crowd of admirers following zem everywhere, hoping ze'll friend zone them.


I didn't just write this to make a joke out of the “friend zone” concept. (Don't worry if you don't know what that is – you're probably better off that way.)

On a more serious note, I think there's a problem with the idea of “true love”. The feeling of love, like any other feeling – excitement, anger, pride – can either cause good things to happen, or it can cause bad things to happen, or both. So what is “true love”? Many people think that love only counts as “true love” if it's the good kind. So what should we call the bad kind or the mixed kind?

This isn't just a semantic dispute. Because love can hurt people, people NEED to have a way to talk about the kinds of love that can cause harm. Otherwise, how can they think about it without fighting with themselves? (“But it seems so much like love! But it's hurting me! But it seems like love, and love is good, right?! But...”) This applies to both the all-bad case (“he's only beating you because he loves you!”) and the mixed case, like where people have a loving relationship that is mostly good, but sometimes their love manifests itself as possessiveness that ends up hurting the other person.

If you're talking to someone, and they call this kind of thing “love”, don't say “this is not love”. Say the thing that matters: “this love is not good”.

– Eli

Story idea: The “Big Data Killer”

Our hero, an ace detective, gets called in to investigate a mysterious serial killer.

Apparently, the “Big Data Killer” strikes completely at random, all across the country. The only thing the cases have in common is this: The killer leaves behind a notebook listing all the metadata of the victim's recent communications. The notebook says who the victim called on the phone, how long they talked, what websites they visited recently, what search terms they searched for, and so on. The killer must be someone with access to some sort of big data database. It creates a picture of a terrifying surveillance state, seemingly assassinating people at random.

After many misadventures, our hero finally tracks the person down. But that's when the twist comes. The “killer” wasn't actually killing anyone at all. Ze was just a disillusioned life insurance executive. Zir company had used big data to accurately predict when its clients were going to attempt suicide, but didn't do anything about the suicides, because the insurance company didn't have to pay in the case of suicide. The “killer” had tried to work within the system to solve this, but failed. So ze decided to sabotage zir own company by altering scenes of suicide to make them look like murder!


I think this gimmick is pretty funny. I'm not sure it justifies building a whole story around it, though. The message seems unnecessarily cynical. I don't think it's bad to be cynical about mass surveillance, but I'd rather write something that actually says what we can do about it.

I also think there's something exploitative about this idea, and detective stories about serial killers in general. The story is about a tragedy – a series of deaths. But the story isn't a tragedy – it's a spectacle, a tale of intrigue. The main character is the detective, who usually has nothing in common with the people who are actually suffering. In this particular case, it seems like completely the wrong way to approach the issue of suicide, as well.

I guess maybe you could make it work by making the detective have a personal relationship with suicide and surveillance as well.

As it is, though, I can't really use this idea. But it does make a good example of 90% of my creative process: “Coming up with clever ideas, but discarding them because they aren't quite right.”

– Eli

Story idea(s): The imprisoned good being

Here's a story you've probably heard before:

The heroes stumble upon someone who has been magically imprisoned. Maybe it's a thousand-year-old spirit, maybe it's a regular person. Maybe it begs them to free it. Maybe they free it by accident. Maybe this is a game where you can choose whether to free it. Either way, freeing it is bad. If it eventually gets free, then it turns out to be evil. The heroes may have to spend the rest of the story fighting it.

I've seen a lot of different stories that follow this pattern. On the other hand, I can hardly think of any stories with an imprisoned good being. The main exception is when there's a good counterpart to an imprisoned evil being in the same story. These stories seem to encourage the belief that “if someone is being punished, they must have done something to deserve it”, which is generally a bad thing to believe.

I'd like to change this pattern. I live in the United States, which injustly imprisons huge numbers of people. Because imprisoning people is generally bad in real life, I would like to make it look bad in my stories as well.

Story idea #1

Legend says that in ancient times, there was a battle between a great good spirit and a great [...]

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Story idea: The legendary monster hunter

A legendary monster hunter arrives from another world.

In zir own world, people are generally good to each other, but they can be transformed into monsters by curses. Some monsters are huge and grotesque, but others look a lot like humans. When people turn into monsters, monster hunters have to stop them – sometimes by killing the monsters, but usually by ending the curses that caused the problem in the first place.

When the legendary monster hunter appears in our world, ze is shocked by how often people hurt each other here. But ze quickly comes to a conclusion: our soldiers, our tyrants, our child abusers, are not human. Instead, they are human-like monsters who have been transformed by curses. So ze starts doing the work of stopping them – sometimes by killing the monsters, but usually by ending the curses that caused the problem in the first place.


This is basically a fantastical version of my [...]

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Story idea: The shell

I had an idea that doesn't fit into any of the current stories I'm developing, and basically wants to be a novel in its own right, so I'm probably not going to be able to write it. So I'll write about it here instead. For fun, I'm going to describe it in the order I thought of it.

It started with the idea of destroying a person's mind. Zir body still functions, and ze can even still talk a little and give basic replies, but most of zir personality is gone, ze doesn't recognize people ze used to know, ze's completely cold and unfeeling, and ze barely bothers to fulfill zir basic needs. This kind of thing can happen in real life, but it's more common in fantasy settings, especially horror-fantasy; I was thinking about it because something similar happens in HP:MoR.

I've got a lot of respect for good horror stories. After all, what is writing if not an attempt to effectively convey an image or idea, and what is horror if not a [...]

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