Today is my stop on the 21% Monster blog tour and I’m excited to be sharing a guest post by the author himself, PJ Canning about what makes a superhero. I was lucky enough to read an proof copy of this incredible action packed book, and let me tell you, it was such an adrenaline inducing, exciting read! My review will be up very shortly.
As always a big thank you to Usborne for inviting me to take part in this blog tour and do go and check out the other stops.
What Makes A Good Superhero?
What makes a superhero?
The odd thing about superheroes is that there aren’t very many that resonate with most readers. You would have thought there would be a lot considering how easy it is to invent a person with superpowers. Pretty much every kid does it at some point with a result no less believable than Spider-Man. Perhaps therein lies the problem – the superpower itself holds no real interest. It is the character who must be engaging.
My debut novel, 21% Monster is generally viewed as a superhero sci fi adventure. I didn’t initially intend it as such, but as I wrote (with my agent’s excited words, ‘it’s like Hulk meets Stranger Things’ ringing in my ears) I slowly realised that’s what it is. It’s ironic because I’ve tried and failed to write a superhero before. So, why did it work this time and what would I do to repeat the trick? I believe the answer is the following:
1. Start with the origin, not the powers. The question I’d ask is what has been going on to lead to someone gaining powers? This, really is a world building question. In 21% Monster, the first thought I had (while looking at a packet of purple Monster Munch) was ‘what if eating something made you monstrous?’. Before I wrote the story, I’d worked out how a secret organisation could have laced food. This led to two possible outcomes. Either Darren Devlin (my main character) was essentially a lab rat, or he was an accidental side effect that has since been discovered. I chose the latter which formed the background to the plot.
2. The second step, I think, is the truly important thing to get right: When looking at Darren himself, I didn’t initially consider his abilities. Instead, I considered how his personality and way of seeing the world might be influenced by being part ‘monster under the bed’. So, he hides – not just physically but emotionally. He says little and watches and listens. Like the monster you never see, if you don’t look for him, he won’t bother you. This means he gets isolated and doesn’t engage in school.
Also, being monstrous, he has a terrible temper, but this rage only triggers when he is threatened – just like the monster in your wardrobe who you know will only bite if you take a peek.
This step also led to two critical decisions for how engaging Darren is as a lead character. The first is that I realised he needed a loving family. Otherwise his monstrous qualities would be too extreme. Due to his capacity to listen, I felt within a close family he’d develop strong empathy and positive values. This led to a straightforward motivation for Darren while on the run from the organisation that created him: “I just want to go home.”
The other decision was that I decided the monstrous genetics would impact how his brain is structured. This means he cannot read. It also makes him extremely intuitive and so clever in his own way. But due to academic failure, he believes he’s stupid which hits his confidence hard and means he is judged socially.
3. Only in step three would I consider superpowers. This was the easy bit with Darren. He is incredibly strong and has extraordinary hearing. Since he is part ‘monster under bed’, he is exceptional at hiding and can see in the dark. I used the abilities of various animals to make those abilities believable and consistent.
But while Darren’s powers are exciting and cool, it’s not why you root for him while he’s on the run. The person you’re cheering for is a quiet, sensitive boy who lacks confidence and is only going to take down an evil organisation because he wants to go home.
So, that’s how I did it. I wish you the best of luck building your own superhero. The world could do with a few new ones, don’t you think?
21% Monster by PJ Canning
Published By: Usborne
Released: 7th July 2022
Bookshop.org / Goodreads / Waterstones
Fun, fast-paced, high-octane action adventure, 21% Monster is a perfect page-turning new series for fans of Alex Rider, Percy Jackson and the MCU generation.
When Darren Devlin is arrested for destroying his school with his bare hands, it’s not just the police who are after him. Enter Marek Masters, 14 years old, 19% alien, and the most intelligent, most wanted “almost human” alive. Marek is here to tell Darren the truth – he is 21% monster, and together they must take down the secret organisation that created them. Darren and Marek are wanted, powerful and dangerous. And now it’s payback time.
About the Author
P.J. Canning has a PhD in Chemistry and works in Cambridge. He is married with three children, all of whom are brutal critics of his work. P.J. heard someone say “write about what you know”, but he prefers to write about aliens and monsters instead. 21% Monster is his first novel.