Everybody loves it when heroes team up. Well, most people do because you always have haters. Anyway, there are many aspects that authors need to consider when writing about heroes working together. Do their personalities clash? Are their goals the same? Are their experiences similar or different? All of these are very heavy topics. You know what isn’t heavy and tons of fun?
These are actions that require at least two heroes to work in synch. It can depend on physical abilities, powers, gear, etc. The point is that each person brings something to the table and the move won’t work without one of the pieces. For example, the X-Men have a move called the Fastball Special. Basically, somebody hurls Wolverine at an enemy, which may have been done first with Colossus. Think I’ve seen it with Beast and Rogue too. I may have seen it without Wolverine too. The Fastball Special usually requires a hero with weaponry (i.e. claws) and a hero with the strength to throw the other one with precision and speed. It doesn’t work without both of those components.
Combo moves don’t work without trust and understanding too. You can’t really have this happen when heroes first meet, especially if they know nothing about each other. It’s feasible out of instinct and cool to see, but not the most realistic thing. I know this is fiction, but coming up with complicated and effective combo moves with no prior knowledge of your partner is stretching it. Even if they know of their powers and abilities, it doesn’t mean they can do a combo move without working together. There could be information known only to the possessor.
That brings us to trust. If you don’t trust your partner, you’re not going to work well together on a basic level. That means a complicated combo move is impossible. At best, the heroes can hit the bad guys at the same time, but that could be a race to be the one to finish the job. Bouncing a laser beam off a force field tilted at the perfect angle or swapping weapons in mid-battle to confuse the enemy aren’t going to happen without trust. We’re also talking about a situation where the heroes get along from the beginning, which isn’t common. Authors love to have friction in the partnership from the start and keep it going for as long as possible. You need that to disappear to reach a combo move point for a team-up.
Of course, getting the characters to this point is only the first step. Designing the move is something else entirely. Some people will want to get it planned out from the start while others want it to be organic. Much of this depends on how much the author has imagined the team-up. If you’ve been thinking about it for a long time then the moves are probably in your head. A spontaneous partnership that you didn’t think of beyond the present may be more ‘in the moment’. Many times, an author will come up with the idea when they create an obstacle and can’t decide on who to use as the solution. There are 3 ways to go here:
- A single hero from the group does it to show their skills as an individual.
- The heroes fight so much that they fail to clear the obstacle.
- 2+ heroes work together to combine their strengths and claim victory.
I remember in Warlord of the Forgotten Age, I had a scene where I couldn’t decide on who would get the big shot in on Baron Kernaghan. It wasn’t the finale blow, so I had 6 options to end the scene and give everyone some breathing room. Instead of choosing one, I found a way to have all of the champions be a part of this attack and show off what they are now capable of. This took less planning than I expected since I had placed all of them in the right spot by accident. Also, the characters had been together for so long that combo moves were natural to them. They understood each other perfectly even in the middle of a chaotic battle. So, I was able to create a really fun part of what I felt was a great scene.
Keep in mind that combo moves aren’t always attacks too. It could be defensive in nature with them protecting others. Stealth is an option where the heroes help each other avoid getting noticed while making progress. You could have a combo move involving diplomacy if the scene calls for it. The point is that characters are working together to solve a problem. So, you don’t have to make this epic scale either. You’d be surprised how much a low level combination move can help character development. Maybe a hunter teams up with a character who can cook, so they feed a small village. Simple, helpful, and sweet works.
What do you think of combo moves?
I like the idea of Combo moves. I think your point about the characters needing to be familiar with each other’s skills can be said for the reader as well. For the action to work the reader has to know the skill of each member of the combo. It might be obvious that it is necessary but I have read some confusing scenes (not yours) in my time.
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True. It can get tricky. I think it could work if you establish a technique or style too. So, even unfamiliar moves used in tandem still register as correct. For example, a fire wielder and a swordsman do a combo that involves a previously unseen fire spell. Still works.
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Great post! I read a book by Mercedes Lackey and James Mallory where the heroes had to team up to defeat their enemies. There was something specific they planned for the task. I’m trying not to be spoilery, so I don’t want to reveal the book or what was done (though I could do so if you ask me to). But what was done fits what you’re saying here. The task was too big for one person. It needed all of them. The Justice League and the Avengers have shown combo moves many times. I love when people who were formerly in disagreement with each other or who had tried and failed on their own to do a task now come to the realization that they need others to get the job done. I also think of the Pokemon anime–especially the old series. There was one where Pikachu and Swellow did a thunder armor combo move that could only happen in the anime, rather than the games.
I am curious as to what was done. Pokémon is really good at the combo moves. I was actually thinking of Avengers here too, but in a wrong way. Mostly it was how the heroes who had been at odds and were really going solo for most of the movie suddenly worked perfectly with combo moves. It felt unnatural when I rewatched it. Made more sense in the movies that came afterwards.
The book series is the Obsidian Universe. When Darkness Falls ended what was then a trilogy. There are two kinds of magick (yes, they use magic with a K)–high magick and wild. Wild magick is viewed as evil by the mages of the city of Armethalieh. Those who practice it are said to be influenced by demons, who are the big bads of the book. But the belief about wild magick turns out to be completely false. In order to defeat the demons who are poised to destroy the city, a group of high magick practitioners and wild magick practitioners have to wield a spell, each person casting part of it.
That sounds pretty cool.
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It was cool, because former enemies have to work together to defeat a common enemy.
I really hadn’t given this much thought, but will be thinking about it all day now. Of course, I’ve already published my big team-up adventure, but it’s good fuel for the future.
Never a bad concept to keep in mind. 😁
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