Helen Comerford on hurdles to writing Superheroes

To celebrate YA debut novel, The Love Interest, we have invited Helen Comerford to chat with us about writing superheroes.


To celebrate YA debut novel, The Love Interest, we have invited Helen Comerford to chat with us about writing superheroes. 

I am a superhero superfan and whilst I grew up reveling in Storm (from the X-Men) flying about creating hurricanes, I was also watching Mary Jane being dangled from bridges, Lois Lane being kidnapped by the villain of the day and Rachel Dawes being blown up for absolutely no reason. So, when I decided to write a feminist story about a Love Interest refusing the role thrust upon her, it was always going to be in a superhero-verse. Turns out though, writing a genre that has evolved in pictures – first in comics, then TV and the cinema, has its own particular set of hurdles. And here they are, four tricksy elements of the superhero genre, which, co-incidentally, are also four reasons I love writing it.

  1. Powers

Watch any Superman film or episode and you’ll see clever writers solving the same problem over and over. How do you add tension when your protagonist is all powerful, indestructible and has an unbendable moral code? When you write a superhero, they need to be powerful enough to be interesting, but still leave a believable chance that someone could come along and defeat them. I love superpowers and went for the classic superspeed and flight for my superhero, Blaze, mostly to get some cheeky Superman references into the book. But all characters need a weakness and not everything is straightforward for my Blaze.

  1. Science

Leaving Dr Strange and Scarlett Witch to one side for a moment, Superhero stories often link themselves closely to science. The X-Men writers used genetics and evolution to explain their characters. Both Tony Stark (Iron Man) and Bruce Wayne (Batman) are technology moguls and radioactivity can be used to tick off several more heroes including Spiderman, The Hulk, The Fantastic Four (it was Cosmic Radiation for them). When writing The Love Interest, I did try and root my world in science. It went off in a crazy direction, but it at least started in reality. I did the same with the sequel, which is why someone who bluffed her way through GCSE science keeps finding herself trying to understand university level physics.

  1. Battles

There is nothing more fun on the big screen than an epic multi-hero pitch battle, Captain America: Civil War springs to mind. There are also great battles in literature, the Battle of Helms Deep in Lord of The Rings, for example. So (spoiler alert) I decided to put a big old battle in the sequel to The Love Interest. Writing a battle scene is a challenge, you need to plan it like a General and write it like a screenwriter making sure to feature all those incredible superpowers. And if you have chosen to write in first person, present tense, well … It’s fun *looks into the middle distance with a glassy-eyed stare* It’s fun …

  1. Love

Romance is a generous genre that will share a space with almost all other types of story, but the romances of superhero stories often feel like they’ve been tacked on so the brave hero has someone to kiss just before the credits roll. In The Love Interest, I decided to pair romantic comedy with superhero fiction and slowly discovered why romance often seems like a bit of an after-thought in Superhero stories – it takes a lot of time. It takes time to develop a relationship between your characters and that time can’t always be when they are fighting bad guys or running for their lives or trading puns in high stakes situations. Superhero stories are plot driven and romance is connection driven – when touches and conversations are happening, when people are falling love, there can’t always be something exploding in the background, but I think where the plot driven meets the connection driven, something magic can happen.

If you enjoyed these hurdles, you’re going to love my book. The Love Interest is available now for all your feminist, superhero and rom-com needs.

The Love Interest by Helen Comerford is out now (Bloomsbury UK).

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