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How to Be a Super Hero: Create an Alter Ego

Alter Egos

Is Clark Kent Superman’s alter ego? Or is Superman Clark Kent’s alter ego?

If you want to learn how to be a super hero, you need an alter ego, but alter egos are everywhere, not just among those with super powers. The protagonist in your novel, whether super or not so much, can have an alter ego, too. In fact, alter egos are a great characterization strategy.

Alter Egos In Music

Female singers seem to be very fond of alter egos: Beyonce has Sasha Fierce, Mariah Carey has Mimi, Nicki Minaj has Harajuku Barbie (whatever the heck that means).

Dudes get in on it too; see Garth Brooks’ experiment as Chris Gaines, and David Bowie’s turn as Ziggy Stardust.

Alter Egos In the Movies

Pretty much any spy novel or movie will have code names or alter egos (interestingly enough, James Bond seems less than fond of cover identities). Characters on television will get in on this too: Parks and Recreation has two characters who go by the aliases of Janet Snakehole and Burt Macklin, and The Office has Michael Scott’s alter ego of Michael Scarn.

One of the most famous alter egos is that of Superman, the mild-mannered reporter Clark Kent.

Alter egos allow your characters to take time off from their regular lives and enter a different world, whether it be as a real crime-fighter, or as the nonexistent daughter of a fictional bar owner. It can allow them to protect their loved ones, or just give them a chance to blow off some steam.

The one thing almost all alter egos have in common though: their name sounds amazing.

Have you ever used an alter ego in your stories? What is he or she like?

PRACTICE

Imagine a second life for a well-known character in fiction, or for one of your own characters. Write for fifteen minutes about a day in the life of the alter ego. Post your practice in the comments and don’t forget to check out the work of your fellow writers.

About Liz Bureman

Liz Bureman has a more-than-healthy interest in proper grammatical structure, accurate spelling, and the underappreciated semicolon. When she's not diagramming sentences and reading blogs about how terribly written the Twilight series is, she edits for the Write Practice, causes trouble in Denver, and plays guitar very slowly and poorly. You can follow her on Twitter (@epbure), where she tweets more about music of the mid-90s than writing.

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  • http://twitter.com/ShaiHussain Shai

    I’m currently writing a romcom about a lovelorn girl who feels her new arranged marriage fiance is hiding something from her. The main theme surrounds the institute of marriage – How can you marry someone if you don’t love them? How can you love someone if you can’t trust them? Especially when their alter ego is Saddam Hussein…*

    * ‘A’ Saddam Hussein, not THE Saddam Hussein

    • http://joebunting.com Joe Bunting

      Ha. Nice alter ego.

  • http://www.facebook.com/karl.tobar Karl Tobar

    This makes me think of pseudonyms i.e. Stephen King as Richard Bachman. I always wondered what the point was, though, when it says right on the cover that it’s Stephen King?

    • http://joebunting.com Joe Bunting

      I believe when he first did that, it was his second book in the same year. At the time, there was a rule against publishing more than one book in a year. His editors were concerned that he would be overwhelming his readers, and so they published it under a different name. Later, obviously, it mattered less and so they just told everyone it was really Steven King. You may want to fact check that though.

      • http://www.facebook.com/karl.tobar Karl Tobar

        That is pretty interesting. I’ll just take your word for it, for now.

        • mariannehvest

          What Joe said is right. I just read about it the other day in an excellent Kindle Single thing that Kind wrote
          called “Guns” in response to the Sandy Hook killings. When he first wrote that was how it was. He was writing more than one book a year and had to use two names. There is a collection called the Bachmann books that originally included four books. He pulled one called “Rage” after it was mentioned by four people who when into public with guns aiming to kill some people. Two of the four did murder several people at schools. I must say that King says he did not think that his book “Rage’ caused the killings but he said something to the effect of you don’t leave a can of gas with a kid that is a pyromanic. It is an interesting monologue. I think he has a lot of sense about the gun debate. I don’t read his books because they scare me nearly to death – I tried “The Shining” and didn’t sleep well for a long time. But that is the reason he used Bachmann because they didn’t want to saturate the market with books by Stephen King.

          • http://www.facebook.com/karl.tobar Karl Tobar

            Thanks Mary. I wish I had a Kindle… I love reading anything Stephen King writes whether it’s his stories or even the forwards.

          • http://thethoughtfulbuttonhook.wordpress.com/ Kate Hewson

            you know you can get a kindle app on your computer, right? And on your phone too, for that matter. I download kindle books onto my laptop and then transfer them onto my phone, and then you can read them anywhere.

  • http://www.facebook.com/zoe.dyer Zoe Beech

    We heard her crashing down the
    corridor.

    ‘She’s coming for me,’ Matilda
    whispered into her desk.

    No one moved. Even Jimmy Ponce didn’t
    scratch. We heard her. The sound of her nose snorting, that
    sickening sound of fat slapping against itself. The wooden floors
    creaked under her weight, struggling to hold the size of her rage.
    And that rage was making its way to my classroom.

    Certain things scare me. Rock music,
    my principal, high tide start the list – in that order. I shrink.
    When Mrs Trunchbull comes into my classroom, I hover towards the book
    section to find my equilibrium, trying to find courage in their
    spines. The smell keeps me from fainting. I grow that super status
    smile because that’s what I do when I hate someone – I smile so
    much that my face hurts. I count backwards from a hundred and the
    rest of her horns and her bellowing and the debris she would leave
    behind my classroom becomes a haze as I try to remember the number
    right before eighty three. I wouldn’t see my little darlings’ eyes.
    And then I don’t meet their eyes until the very next day.

    But I am no longer here. Katie Cannon
    has taken over. And there’s no ounce of honey in her – not a drop.
    Her hair is the colour of a robin’s chest, her temperament even
    fiercer Nobody, not even Bull on her worst day, stands a chance
    against Cannon.

    I stood in front of the classroom,
    watching the Bull run. She was flesh and fury, with eyes that were
    looking to saw Matilda in half, the fat dancing to the beat of her
    evil heart. She cut the air into bits until she saw me. Her head
    was the first thing to stop before the rest of her followed. And as
    she ground to a halt, the weight of her fat pulled her backwards,
    onto her big fat bum.

    Matilda giggled into her desk, and I
    heard somebody’s ruler drop.

    ‘Trunchies,’ I said, ‘what’s got your
    knickers in a knot?’

    The fat quivered with rage on the
    floor. She tried to push up by her palms, but I crunched her two
    baby fingers with my red stilettos with such gusto that she started
    crying like a baby.

    ‘Would you mind? We’re in the middle
    of algebra. I’m sure this isn’t that urgent.’

    • http://thethoughtfulbuttonhook.wordpress.com/ Kate Hewson

      Ahh, I LOVE this Zoe!! Ms cannon certainly gave old Trunchball what she deserved! I adore all the wonderful descriptions of Miss Trunchball’s fat and how it moves when she is walking and when she stops! I also love the description of the tranformation from Miss Honey to katie cannon – great writing!

      • http://www.facebook.com/zoe.dyer Zoe Beech

        Thanks Kate!! :)

    • plumjoppa

      I love that she’s afraid of rock music and high tide. The fat is like another character, separate from Miss Trunchball! Nice descriptions.

      • http://www.facebook.com/zoe.dyer Zoe Beech

        Thanks! :) I think those fears are my favourite part of the piece!

    • Paul Owen

      “Cut the air into bits” – I like that description. Thanks for the great reading, Zoe!

      • http://www.facebook.com/zoe.dyer Zoe Beech

        Thank you Paul! :)

  • http://www.facebook.com/karl.tobar Karl Tobar

    The dark alley behind Gotham Federal Back was only lit by a moon obscured by clouds and sporadic headlights shining on the old brick buildings momentarily before shrinking and leaving Batman to face the Joker in near darkness. “I’m only going to ask you once, Joker. Where. Is. The. Bomb?” He gripped Joker’s shirt in one hand and pulled him face to face.

    The Joker’s face twisted into a maniacal sneer while a thin trickle of blood flowed out of his nostril and little red beads fell to the dark concrete, exploding on the pavement like miniature water balloons. He breathed in through his teeth and exhaled a mechanical sounding “He, he, he. He, he, he.” Batman held the detonator in his hand and carefully set it on the ground. Just then a beeping sounded from his utility belt. Pinning Joker against the ground he pulled out his batPhone and read the notification as his alarm sounded “Na na na na na na na.” “He, he, he.” He punched Joker in the face one more time and said, “To be continued.”

    With a battape-bound Joker in the trunk of the batmobile and the detonator placed carefully in the bat compartment, Batman sped towards concert hall. He’d almost forgotten his second duty to Gotham and the incident with the Joker almost made him late. With the push of a button the batmobile converted to a black Lincoln in the Concert Hall parking lot. Batman ran to the side of the building, cape flowing behind him. He looked up at the windows that lined the second floor counting from the left–one, two, three, four. His bat grapple projected up to the fourth window from the left and he flew up toward the building.

    Inside, he jerked off his cape, his gloves, his mask. He wiped the splatters of Joker’s blood from his chin and changed into a flannel shirt and a pair of faded Levi’s. There was a knock at the door, an impatient tapping and a man’s voice calling through, “2 minutes, Mr. Johnson; what are you–doing your makeup or something? HURRY.” Batman frantically pulled off his black leather boots and replaced them with a pair of chucks. Giving himself a once over in the mirror and satisfied with his appearance, Jack Johnson strapped the Gibson acoustic around his shoulder and made his way to the stage.

    • http://thethoughtfulbuttonhook.wordpress.com/ Kate Hewson

      AWESOME!!! Haha, I enjoyed that!

    • plumjoppa

      I love the detail of wiping the blood off his chin. Nice twist on the alter ego.

    • AH Roberts

      Interesting … an alter ego we think we know with yet another alter ego.

      • http://www.facebook.com/karl.tobar Karl Tobar

        Right. I thought hey, why can’t an alter ego have an alter ego, even one that the first ego doesn’t know about?

    • Paul Owen

      Jack Johnson… …didn’t see that coming! This was so fun to read, Karl. I especially liked the little things, like blood as miniature water balloons, and battape, hahaha

  • http://thethoughtfulbuttonhook.wordpress.com/ Kate Hewson

    I had fun with this! Written purely for my own amusement….

    The whole house shook as my daughter slammed the door shut
    on her way to catch the bus for school. I held my breath for a moment, the
    better to hear if she was coming back, maybe for her lunch bag or her PE kit or
    something.

    But no. It was quiet. Everyone had gone out for the day.
    No-one would be back until at least 3.30. I had the whole day to myself.

    I ran upstairs to put my Monster-catching outfit on. I didn’t
    NEED a Monster-catching outfit. Jeans and a jumper would have been fine, but I
    liked to look like I meant business. Plus it gave me a little bravado. Some of these
    monsters were ‘bad-ass’ even for a seasoned professional such as myself.

    I had been catching monsters ever since I was child, since
    the first time I heard them growling and snorting under my bed while I tried it
    sleep at night. At first they scared me so much I could barely sleep, but one
    night I had the BEST baby-sitter ever. Her name was Eleanor Lionheart; she was
    small but deceptively strong and she was afraid of nothing. Over the year or so
    that she came to baby-sit me, those nights when my parents went out to their
    boring Whist drives and business dinners, she taught me how to Monster-whisper
    to reel them in, how to wield a harpoon and how to scoop them into the net with
    a deft flick of my wrist. Then one night she told me her work was done, I could
    go it alone, and she sent me off into the wardrobe shaking with fear and
    excitement.

    My first monster had been a small one – pink and round, like
    a beach ball with arms and legs and a stumpy tail. It had sharp teeth though,
    and I still had the scar on my hand where it bit me as I grabbed it out of the
    net. I learnt the hard way to grab the monsters by the scruff of the neck and
    shove them quickly into their collection jars. I’ve got a photo of it somewhere,
    glaring at me through the glass with moody eyes. After that the monsters, the
    net and the jars got bigger, but the technique was the same, even though some
    of them were so big I really had to man-handle them into their jars.

    I checked my look in the mirror. Black all-in-one, black
    boots, black jacket. Thick black eyeliner, mascara, red lipstick. The makeup
    was unnecessary too, but hey, who said Monster-catchers couldn’t have a little
    glamour? Hair scooped into a side pony tail. Done.

    I grabbed my Monster net and the harpoon from under the bed
    and opened my wardrobe. I could hear them already, behind the rail of clothes,
    slathering and drooling and smacking their lips.

    “Right then, you load of fat, baby-eating puppy-munchers!!”
    I shouted, “I’m coming to GET you!”

    • http://www.facebook.com/zoe.dyer Zoe Beech

      I love the quirkiness of this! Being taught how to monster-whisper by the babysitter!! My favourite part is the first monster – the beach ball one that’s still glaring through the glass – that’s a really striking picture. This reminds me of the BFG, still one of my favourite protagonists!!

      • http://thethoughtfulbuttonhook.wordpress.com/ Kate Hewson

        Thanks Zoe!

      • Genie

        Nailed it! That’s exactly what I was thinking!

    • plumjoppa

      This is fun! It has a Nanny McPhee meets the ghost busters feel to it.

      • http://thethoughtfulbuttonhook.wordpress.com/ Kate Hewson

        Interesting analogy! Thanks Plum!

    • http://www.facebook.com/karl.tobar Karl Tobar

      I love the character you created here. Except for her side ponytail.
      Bravo Kate very well done!

      • http://thethoughtfulbuttonhook.wordpress.com/ Kate Hewson

        you don;t like the pony tail? I thought her hair would just be down, blowing free in the wind, but THEN i though what if it got caught in the monsters claws or something? She could lose her face…..Or was it just the SIDE bit you didn’t like? haha, thanks Karl!

        • http://www.facebook.com/karl.tobar Karl Tobar

          Just the fact that it’s on the side. :D Maybe she could put it in a bun. Or I could just let it go.

  • Puja

    Her pale form lay still in the glass coffin. The air hung silent except for the occasional bird chirp.

    When all of a sudden…the princess’s eyes popped open. Slowly, head still on the goose down pillow, she peered around her.

    She blew an impatient sigh out of her mouth. Did she have time? Snow White checked her wristwatch. Taking into account traffic, bridge trolls, and the dragon who hung around Aurora’s kingdom…yes, she could do it and be back in time for Charlie. Charming. Whatever his name was.

    Eyeing the glass case that confined her, Snow White reached for her headband. With a deft wrist twitch, she unraveled a laser cutter from the red ribbon’s folds. Using swift, precise movements she cut a rectangular hole in the glass, slipped through it, and after dusting herself off, replaced the glass.

    “Agent 7, are you there?”

    Snow White hitched up her skirts to reveal a small radio and gun strapped to her leg. She opted for the first and spoke into it.

    “Roger that. Operation Big and Bad underway,” she said. She pulled the gun out and held it securely between her hands, pressing her back against a tree. “Let’s find this wolf quick, huh, Belle? Don’t want to ruin Charlie’s happy ending.”

    • SC

      Badass Snow White. Nice contrast.

    • plumjoppa

      Always love a fractured fairy tale!

    • ee

      Nice!

    • AH Roberts

      Excellent!

    • Puja

      Thank you for the comments everyone!

    • http://www.facebook.com/karl.tobar Karl Tobar

      This is freakin’ AWESOME!

    • Paul Owen

      Made my day reading this – fantastic!

    • Genie

      Absolutely awesome!! I love the turn you took. I wasn’t expecting this at all!

  • Katrina Tatum

    More than fifteen minutes, but I really couldn’t stop writing this one.

    Inside St. Anne’s gym, the air is stale and my body is
    rigid.

    “You can’t make those passes!” Dirk Harris pulls
    me towards him, hand firm. “You keep making those weak girly passes,
    they’re going to be picked off in games!”

    His green eyes pierce my own.

    “Jenna, you have to understand that you have to change.
    This is a serious team, and you’re on it for a reason. And you won’t improve if
    you aren’t coachable.”

    He pauses, continuing to look into my eyes. His hold is
    making my arm hurt; I want to shake it.

    “Can you do that for me, please? Work on making better,
    stronger passes? This team needs you.”

    I try to swallow. Can’t. My mouth is dry and throat raspy. I
    can only mutter a quick “yes,” nod, and stare at the newly painted
    three-point line. It’s a nice gym, new and clean. Shame not one of us can take
    advantage of it.

    “Dirk, we gotta go.” Sarah motions to me and the
    door. My coach takes another look at me, nods, and releases my arm. After
    grabbing my duffel bag, I turn back to watch my team. Seven girls are heaving
    underhand shots from beyond the arc. Dirk has his attention focused on his
    phone. Maia, our only other real player, sits in the bleachers wearing footsie
    pajamas. This is supposed to be a serious team?

    ***********

    “Dude, you’re late.” Hailey shoves me down on the
    couch in between two of my fellow volleyball players and presses a slice of
    pizza into my hand. “Zoe and Gigi thought you were getting the fungus
    shaved off your toenails. But I said you were getting your mustache
    waxed.”

    I choke out a laugh and settle in to watch the movie. None
    of us are really watching; Hailey and I spend most of the time sharing
    hilarious school stories with our teammates, who bust up at every opportunity.
    After all the pizza’s done and the movie over, jokes run dry and cell phone
    batteries drained, we head into Zoe’s garage, where a net is set up, and play ball
    until all of us are wiped.

    Zoe ushers us all up into the loft, where the entire team
    curls up in a heap of comforters and couch pillows and spends the night
    reliving moments from our last tournament–second place out of over a hundred
    teams. Finally, at three in the morning, we finally give in to our exhaustion.
    I take a look to my left before closing my eyes and snort–Alannah’s face is
    coated in whipped cream, and Devon is sleeping upside down in her sleeping bag.
    A bag of chips has spilled all over the floor, and Gigi is eating them. This is
    supposed to be a serious team?

    • http://www.facebook.com/karl.tobar Karl Tobar

      I’m glad you kept going. Your writing has really good flow.

  • Sefton

    “Madam, you must excuse me.”

    Darcy bowed to his dance partner, turned on his heel and strode away, pulling at his cravat as his did so. His guests thronged back into the ballroom where music still played. The wine and card tables would keep them occupied whilst he was absent.

    Darcy reached the top of the stairs, his coat and cravat already off and in his hand. He called to his valet for the dark clothes he wore at these times. “Quick, man! The family needs help at this instant!” He pulled on an enveloping dark shirt: no touch of brass or gold thread to catch a lantern’s light, no darts or vents to
    give away his form. “Good. My horse is saddled?”

    In the stables he patted his horse reassuringly before mounting. The animal always picked up on his adrenaline and it was best to remain calm, unhurried. Haste cost lives.

    They reached the crossroads swiftly. The robber had fled, and the family were still in their carriage, sobbing. Darcy briskly enquired about injuries – none – and sought the direction in which the thief had gone. Remounting he nudged the
    horse to a gallop through the trees.

    He caught up with the robber in a clearing, counting his gold, and springing from the horse overpowered him with a practised tackle. “You dog. Hand over that gold.”

    “Stop, both of you.” A gruff voice sounded and Darcy looked up to see a pistol at his head. A figure draped in black, even as he was, stood squarely in his way. “Do even thieves rob each other now? I will shoot you both.”

    “I’m no thief! I return this gold to its owners in the carriage.” Darcy darted forward and swiped the pistol aside, sending the veiled figure staggering. “Save your weapons for this scoundrel whom I have already apprehended.”

    Together he and the newcomer bound the robber to a tree to await the sheriff. Darcy went to retrieve his skittish horse.

    As he held the animal’s reins, comforting it, he looked more closely at the slender figure beside him. “Your voice… you are no man. Can a woman be patrolling these forest roads even as I do?”

    The figure shook its head and began to move away, but Darcy grasped the veil and pulled it aside.

    They stood staring at each other, gasping for breath.

    “No,” breathed Darcy. “It cannot be….Elizabeth?”

    • Missaralee

      Pride and Prejudice and Vigilantes. Nice.

      • Sefton

        Thanks. Maybe I should turn it on its head and have Darcy as Dick Turpin’s alter ego….also thus gaining anachronism points!

  • http://twitter.com/JewelsCat Giulia Esposito

    I wrote something for this yesterday for a story I’ve been working on, but as I was writing it, I realized I was writing the scene for the wrong character. I already have a character that has a duality to him–dark and light, and my practice helped me see that very clearly. I’d been a bit worried that I wasn’t writing this character correctly somehow, like I wasn’t doing him justice, but I realize he’s got more layers than I thought I wrote for him, so this article helped a lot. Thanks Liz!

  • http://conthis.blogspot.com Joe Sewell

    I’ve always had a fondness for the Batman character, especially as portrayed by Michael Keaton (well, to a point, at least). He’s really Bruce Wayne, but he has not one, but two alter egos. One, of course, is Batman. The other is the billionaire playboy, also named Bruce Wayne. The “real” Wayne is the one tracking the other two alter egos, directing them where they need to go and what information to pick up. Total genius.

  • Genie

    I love that I found this topic because I was just discussing making an alias with my best friend.

    Gina was sitting in her rolling spinny chair at her desk in her room, talking to her good friend Amber on Facebook. They were planning a night out at the bar in a new neighborhood so they were going to go all out. Gina logged off and cranked up her music. Dancing around to Lady Gaga she picked out her favorite pair of skinny jeans and an adorable sequined crop top. This was Gina’s favorite time of the week; when she could set aside the studious goody two-shoes and become a sexy creature of the night named Vanessa. Vanessa and Sabrina (Amber) would go out every Friday night to a different bar and when a creeper would hit on one of them Sabrina became married and Vanessa became a lesbian. Will Sabrina and Vanessa score tonight? Or will they kick off their blue suede heels at the foot of their own beds tonight?