Jen sent me an email asking me to write an essay for her new community superhero_muses on my "Thoughts on Writing Bruce" for one of the workshops. I still think that she is crazy for asking me to do this but...sometimes you have to cater to the old and infirm.
Especially when they're capable of producing such great works. [Editor's note: she's not usually so nice to me; I'll have to look into whether someone has been slipping her drugs.]
I can't promise that I'll always make sense or that I even consistently follow the 'advice' that I'm about to dole out, but I can promise you that what I'm about to say will at least be useful.
There are two very important factors that have to be taken into consideration before writing ANY story and those two factors are: 1) gender and 2) the core of the character.
I see you laughing now as you sit there thinking, "Duh that should be obvious?", but not every author takes those two factors into consideration when the crack-bunny comes knocking on their door, pleading with them to, "Write me!". The basis for every story, good or bad, should start off with those two very important factors in mind.
Let's tackle the issue of gender first.
Bruce is a man.
He has a dick.
Sometimes he even is one.
The reason why I point this out is because so many authors', in trying to get Bruce to do what they want, often end up either confusing or forgetting that fact. I've seen it happen before, most frequently in fanfic featuring my favorite pairing in the Sentinel fandom Jim and Blair. Of the two, Blair is the more emotional and demonstrative of the pair and yet that same sensitivity often gets blown out of proportion, turning him into a whiny, weeping woman.
There are stereotypes that exist about both sexes. Those stereotypes exist for a reason. There isn't some secret society out there making up stories about the differences between the two genders just for the fun of it. Some of those stereotypes exist because they have some basis in fact.
For example, one stereotype about men is that they are not overly emotional.
Are they are capable of feeling emotion? Yes.
Are they capable of expressing those emotions? Yes.
But a large majority of men will not openly display most of them. Which means that if you see a man crying in public, it's most likely because something has been cut off, someone has died, or his team of choice lost the Super Bowl/Playoffs, whatever.
I bring this point up because I have seen many a story ruined by the woman-ification of the male character. If the author is writing a humorous story, then it makes perfect sense for the normally stoic Bruce to burst into tears, say things like, "Oh goody", or hug everyone he sees. If Bruce is under the influence of drugs, alcohol, magic, or sex pollen it makes perfect sense for him to suddenly become downright chatty, touchy-feely, or try to get into someone else's pants. Otherwise, try to remember that Bruce is an emotionally constipated man.
That's not to say that Bruce isn't given to emotional outbursts, but given his gender, his emotional 'outbursts' will be subtler as most men aren't prone to huge emotional displays.
For example, a woman might show her support for her son by saying, "I love you", and giving him a hug, while a man might do the same thing by saying, "You did good," or patting him on the shoulder. Going a step further, Bruce might show his support of Dick by not pointing out all the reasons why Dick shouldn't take a certain course of action.
Men tend to internalize their emotions (which is why women tend to outlive them) so when you are plotting out that big story with Bruce, try to remember that while he might not show his pain, anger, or happiness on the outside, he is still more than capable of feeling it on the inside.
The second factor that you should keep in mind is the core of the character. I touched on this a little bit above and DaMo did a better job than I could ever do, covering the basics in his Talking Meta: Batman ( 1 ) ( 2 ) discussion about what, essentially, makes Bruce the man he is. I cannot stress enough, how important it is to remember those facts when writing your story. Bruce the playboy is suave, debonair, flighty, and as dumb as a brick. Bruce the man is socially inept, emotionally crippled, sarcastic, and prone to brooding. Bruce as Batman is cold, efficient, unforgiving, and calculating, always thinking two steps ahead of everyone else. If Batman acts out of character (starts carrying a gun, becomes a killer, or decides to move to Hawaii) then you as the author need to provide a good reason for it. If you keep those traits in mind as your story develops then you can never go wrong.
A lot of authors who write fanfic in the DCU fandom are often intimidated by the very thought of writing Bruce.
I blame Batman for that.
I can only assume that it is because they find the whole Bruce/Batman/Brucie dynamic a little daunting and get so caught up in questions about whether he would do or say a certain thing that their creativity get stifled under the 'pressure' they are putting on themselves. As long as you, as the author, keep those first two factors in mind as you write your story, you can make Bruce do just about anything.
For example, in my head Bruce is a bottom. There are plenty of arguments that could be given for why he would or wouldn't be, but it doesn't change the fact that in my world he's a bottom. What are my reasons for thinking that? It's not because I see him as weak or feminine, but because it makes him vulnerable. Bruce is so emotionally closed off most of the time that the easiest, and yet hardest, way that I can see him showing someone he cares for them and trusts them unconditionally would be to 'offer' himself like that. Doesn't mean that he suddenly becomes complacent, because my version of Bruce is bossy even then.
Whether you're in the process of writing your very first fanfic involving Bruce or you're on story 154, make Bruce your own. Find a mental image of Bruce that suits you and stick to it. Don't worry about whether your image of Bruce fits with DC's because half the time they don't get it right either (do we really need to mention Miller again?) and there's so much to choose from. The reader will forgive the author for a multitude of sins as long as they provide a valid, and believable, reason for Bruce's actions and a good storyline. AU stories are an easy way of writing Bruce out of character without having to develop a back-story for it outside of the story summary.
It is my firm belief that Bruce can be anything.
He can be Batman, a woman, a father, a stripper, a hooker, the possibilities are absolutely endless. Nobody can convince me that he became the World's Greatest Detective without spending some time at the strip club, doing drugs and kicking the habit, hooking on a corner, or teaching dance at a school.
He just needs to be given the proper motivation to do it.
For example, most people would probably agree that Batman would never voluntarily sing in front of a crowd. He is a 'creature of the night', who hates to be put in the spotlight so for him to just agree to sing for someone probably wouldn't happen. But that doesn't mean that it couldn't happen. He could be blackmailed, spellbound, under the influence of drugs, tricked into it, 'accidentally' pushed onto the stage, or any number of other reasons.
And once you come up with your reason, you have to support it. For example arch_schatten wrote a very good story named Impasse which, when boiled down to its core, is essentially a story about Batman eating a tangerine. That by itself doesn't sound like a very interesting premise for a story, but when you add in the sexual tension, the snide comments about Alfred being evil, Superman perving on Batman eating a tangerine, and the way she describes Bruce eating the tangerine, it makes for a truly amazing story.
Handled incorrectly, her plot line had the potential to suck but, handled the way it was, it was very memorable.
My advice to you would be to concentrate on finding your own Bruce-voice instead of trying to imitate the one the writers at DC have seen fit to give him. Since writing is subjective as opposed to objective like mathematics, there is no right or wrong answer to this question.
Instead of forcing yourself to write this bigger than life, iconic figure from the comics, figure out your weak and strong points and work with them. I happen to suck at research. I hate doing it so you'll never see me write a detective story or a fic laden with a lot of technical or medical details.
Use the words that you would use in a conversation. I've never been able to get an 'accent' quite right in a fic, so instead of over-compensating for it by replacing every instance of you with ya, I have Bruce talk the way that I do. So if it's normal for you to say, "I observed a man traversing down the lane", in a conversation instead of, "I saw a man walking down the street", then use that.
Allow common sense to guide you.
By this I mean don't have Bruce react to a situation in such a way that would make you wonder if your friend was on crack, or just really really stupid, if he did the same thing.
For example, Bruce has a high tolerance for pain but if his arm got chopped off I'm pretty sure that he wouldn't be able to just 'shrug it off' and keep moving. He might need a minute to compose himself and move past the freak out factor before going back into Bat-mode.
Bruce is not as difficult to write as most people think. But if, after reading this you're still unsure about whether your approach to writing Bruce is feasible, then run your ideas by a friend or a fellow writer. There are several communities that have beta readers available for an author to use. And if you don't mind waiting a little bit for a response, I can try to help you with that too.
Step 1: The first and most important step to writing Bruce is Don't Panic.
The Dark Knight can be a little intimidating but stroke him the right way and he's as cuddly as a kitten. A sabre-tooth kitten but a kitten nonetheless. Besides, if your muse is anything like mine, tensing up or freaking out will cause your muse to flee. And when that happens, creativity quickly follows suit, so relax.
Step 2: Think about what you want him to do.
Don't immediately dismiss your idea because you think it might be out of out of character until you've had a chance to think it out.
Step 3: Think it out.
Bruce is a logical man by nature. If you can come up with a reason to explain his actions, no matter how flimsy that excuse may be, then the reader can understand them. If the reader can understand his actions, the there's a greater chance that they'll enjoy your story.
Having him pursue a particular course of action just because you want him to isn't enough if the reader can't follow why he would do that. Draw on your own experiences and emotions to help flesh out his reactions.
Step 4: Come to a happy medium.
Once you've figured out what it is that you want Bruce to do, balance what your reaction would be in those circumstances against your perception of what you think he would do to come up with a more accurate picture.
If you scream like a little girl after getting a paper-cut, and you think that Batman wouldn't bat an eye at getting shot in the stomach, then have him grunt in pain when someone cuts him with a knife.
Step 5: Use Supporting Facts.
Okay, we get that Bruce became a porn star because he wanted to feel loved but have you shown the reader that? It's one thing to say that he's unhappy, but showing it is another matter entirely. If Bruce spends the whole story giggling and having fun, without a single incident happening that could be used to base his general malaise on, then it won't make sense. But if he also spends that time thinking his 'friends' are only hanging around him for his money and feeling cut off from Alfred then his actions would be more understandable.
Step 6 Be Consistent
Nothing gives a reader whiplash faster than a character who acts differently than how they've been portrayed throughout the story. Like if Bruce spends 90% of the story being angry at Clark because he made a big deal out of Bruce starring in those illicit movies, it would be hard to see him just shrugging the events off after Clark apologizes for his actions. Being the bastard that he is, he'd probably make Clark work for it or sweat a little before letting him off the couch.
If you're still here then you must be a glutton for punishment or really determined to write that story. :D So I'm going to close out my little diatribe by providing you with examples of Bruce in-character in out-of-character situations. I'd like to thank the members on my flist who provided me with the situations for these drabbles.
Situation 1 - Bruce intentionally comes between Clark and Lois if Clark and Lois are together.
--situation provided by taro_twist
It's easy for me to see Bruce breaking up Lois and Clark because I am a Lois-hater. But if you're not then just think of the reason why you would break up someone else's relationship, even if you never act on those reasons. Now for the first example I chose desire but because I see Bruce as man with family values and a powerful ability to deny himself anything, I knew that his desire for Clark would have to be stronger than the normal garden variety.
It'd have to border on obsession (think Norman Bates).
Once that was decided, I dedicated every sentence to showing that obsession and him breaking under the pressure of it.
Clark is everywhere to Bruce.
He can smell him in the air he breathes.
Taste him in his food and drink.
See him when he closes his eyes and in his waking dreams.
Sometimes, late at night, Bruce can almost feel Clark's skin brushing against his.
Bruce has never wanted anyone as much as he wants Clark, so he decides to take him.
No matter what the cost.
And in the second example I decided to make his reasons more altruistic. Everyone wants their friends to be happy and when they're not we want to make them happy. My version of Bruce would probably shoot himself before admitting that he was concerned for a friend but I could see him allowing himself to see to his friend's happiness if it couldn't be traced back to him.
They're not happy. Even a blind man should be able to see that.
Marriage is about finding the one person on this Earth who will make you happy for the rest of your life, and yet the closer the day of their nuptials comes, the more the two of them argue.
Bruce thinks he is the only one who can see that they are not suited for each other. The others assume their behavior is a sign of pre-wedding jitters but Bruce knows that it's not. They cling to each other for fear of being alone, not realizing that it is far worse for them to stay together.
Knowing that talking to them would be pointless, Bruce comes up with a plan to separate them.
He plants a seed of doubt, first in Lois' ear, and then in Clark's, making them wonder if they are truly ready for marriage.
He arranges for Lois to enjoy a casual dinner with Jonah, the new guy at the Daily Planet, while Clark does Bruce the favor of entertaining the 'suddenly' escort-less half of his double date.
Bruce keeps arranging for little interruptions to disrupt their carefully scheduled lives until their relationship finally crumbles under the pressure. They blame him for things not working out and he lets them, because he knows they were looking for any excuse to break-up without looking like the bad guy to their friends.
Bruce is used to looking like the bad guy, so he is content to see them happy for once.
Example 2 - Bruce killing someone with a gun. Bruce committing suicide.
--situation provided by jen_in_japan
Bruce is a strong-willed man, but even he can break. The circumstances would have to be devastating, even by our standards but it could happen. The first thing that popped into my mind when given this situation was family, or rather the loss of it. Bruce spent years preparing himself to be Batman because his parents died, so I thought, "What would happen if he lost the Batclan in one fell swoop? At the hands of someone he could have stopped permanently."
The results weren't pretty.
One by one his family falls and so begins his slow descent into insanity.
Bruce doesn't know how the Joker found out his secret identity; he only knows that his retribution was swift and agonizing, and focused solely on the members of his family.
Alfred falls first. He is forced to watch the grainy video feed as his father figure is stripped of his dignity, his limbs, and his life, all while the Joker taunts Batman's inability to help him.
Dick is the next to die. The Joker dips his foster son into the same vat of chemicals that turned him into the psychopathic lunatic he is today. The Joker claims it is poetic justice as he dunks Dick repeatedly into the pit. Dick's screams echo in his ears as the acid slowly eats the flesh from his bones, leaving a pristine white skeleton in its wake.
Tim is the last of his children to fall. And his death is the one that breaks Bruce's heart, his mind, and his spirit as the Joker reenacts a gruesome parody of Jason's death, using a batarang as his weapon.
With nothing more to lose, no family members left for him to kill, Bruce decides to repay the Joker in kind with one BANG of a joke. The Joker would probably appreciate the irony if he were still alive.
Punch line delivered, Bruce turns the gun on himself.
Example 3 - Bruce walking away from a crime he could prevent without some ulterior motive (like he is trying to find the "big fish.")
--situation provided by damo_in_japan
Everybody has a moment when they just say, "Screw it. I'm done." Now admittedly I have a harder time seeing Bruce saying something like that (after all he does patrol Gotham, the city with the revolving door in it's prison) but it could still happen. In the first example it happens because he's tired of helping someone who doesn't want to help herself.
I could see myself doing something along the same lines myself if faced with that situation.
Every night at 1:00 am, Sally shuts down her bar and throws the stragglers out.
And every night at 1:30 am, she walks the deposit to the night drop box at the bank.
Each night she does this, a different thug attempts to rob her.
And each time he saves her, he warns her to vary her routine, to make the deposit during daytime hours, and not to depend on him always being there to save her, but she never listens.
It's almost 1:30 am and Batman is once again sitting on the rooftop, waiting for Sally to come out. He isn't sure why he tries so hard to save a woman who has no interest in helping herself, but he still does it.
He watches Sally come out of the bar and walk across the street, oblivious to her surroundings. He counts the seconds until the latest in a string of perps comes out of the shadows to take her money.
Right on cue, one of the Penguin's henchmen comes up behind her with a gun and demands the money in her hands.
Batman's hand is half-way to his grappling gun when he stops himself, wondering just what the hell he is doing. He is not a spiteful man, but he also has more important things to do than to follow this woman around for the rest of her life.
He sticks around long enough to make sure that no harm befalls Sally before moving on to another part of Gotham.
The next time he sees her, he is pleased to see that Sally pays much more attention to her surroundings...and is, thankfully, deposit-less.
And on the darker side of the equation I could see Bruce abandoning someone because of his own strong emotions on the subject. We've seen Bruce take out his anger on unlucky thugs when his emotions are high, so really how much of a stretch is it to see Bruce turn his back on someone because he feels that they deserve their fate?
Bruce thinks about Jason all the time.
He thinks about his smile, the way he moved, and the cock-sure way he carried himself.
Thoughts of Jason haunt his waking hours and follow him into sleep. Sometimes the dreams are pleasant reminders of the good times they spent together, but more often than not they replay the last moments of his life as his blood pools around his body, arms and legs set at awkward angles, head caved in.
This is the legacy the Joker has left him with and he hates him for it. Hates that his vibrant, confident boy had to suffer at the hands of that sadistic bastard. Hates that his son was cut down in the prime of his life and there was nothing he could do to prevent it.
Bruce's pain is still a fresh, gaping wound, as fresh as the dirt on Jason's grave, when he finds out that the Joker has once again escaped Arkham.
He dons the mask and the suit, his focus solely on capturing the Joker. He doesn't allow himself to think past that because he isn't sure what he'll do once he finds him, and is scared to see what the Joker may have made him capable of.
It takes most of the night, but he finally hears the familiar cackle coming from somewhere in the warehouse district. He approaches the area slowly, so as not to alert the Joker to his presence. He is still debating on how much force he can get away with using to subdue him, when he hears a thump followed by a muffled groan. The sound is repeated several more times and curious, Batman tracks the noise to its source.
It isn't until he peeks around the fifth corner that he's able to pin it down and he is taken off guard by what he sees, and the emotions the sight dredges up. He feels pride that Gotham's finest have finally managed to capture the Joker on their own without the aid of one of the Caped Crusaders, and shock at the fact that they are overstepping their boundaries by beating an obviously subdued madman. He steps forward to stop this madness when an image of Jason, laying lifelessly on the ground, flashes before his eyes and he stops. Anger at the loss of his child overrides every other emotion and he thinks, Just turn and walk away. He deserves no less after what he did to Jason.
He knows that he should stay and help. He knows that he'll regret leaving the Joker here when his mind is no longer clouded with grief. He knows that if he goes, he'll be no better than the man himself. But as he leaves the area he also knows that right now, he doesn't really care.