What Batman Can Teach us About Writing

by Thomas Smith


When I was a kid I wanted to change my name to Batman. In many ways it was only natural. I had the lunch box, the Halloween costume, a Batmobile, a signed Batman photo (signed by Adam West his own self), Batman stickers, hundreds of Batman comic books, and two sets of Batman bubblegum cards.

I was a fan.

So, when I asked my parents if I could change my name to Batman, they were not surprised. They also weren’t inclined to say yes. So I thought about it a while, and the next day I asked if I could change my name to Bruce Wayne (Batman’s true identity…don’t tell anybody). They said I could, but I’d have to wait until I was 18 because it was the law. That was 12 whole years away. A whole lifetime.

Man, being cool sure did take a lot of patience.

I’m still holding out to drive the Batmobile one day (I sat in it for two minutes when I was 10, and that has held me over this long), but other than that, I am pretty well over wanting to change my name. But that doesn’t mean I have forgotten the lessons Batman had to teach us in the 60s (that was somewhere between the time the earth cooled and just before the last dinosaur died). Think about it; how many comic book and movie heroes today fight crime and still have time to remind us to brush our teeth, work hard to become good citizens, never park in a loading zone, be respectful of your elders, and don’t forget to vote?

None that I know of.

But if we take a closer look at the caped crusader, he has some things to teach us about becoming writers too.

Where Does He Get Those Wonderful Toys?

In 1989 Michael Keaton put on the cape and cowl and surprised a lot of people with the fact that “Mr. Mom” could make the transition to The Caped Crusader. Of course, all it takes to become batman is millions of dollars, a really cool car, an underground cave, years of training, the suit, and all the bat-gadgets.

In that same film, Jack Nicholson stepped into the Joker’s garish costume, was thwarted on more than one occasion by Batman’s ingenuity, and asked the seminal question: “Where Does He Get Those Wonderful Toys?”

While it might take millions to amass Batman’s toys, we as writers have access to our own “toys” for considerably less than the cost of a Batpod ($1,500,000 in case you were wondering). For example, if you don’t have the ready cash to purchase the latest version of Microsoft Office, there’s always Open Office (www.openoffice.org). It does everything Office does, saves files in just about every known format, and it’s free. Or sign up for the free version of Celtx (www.celtx.com) and download their software which allows you to format novels, screenplays, TV shows, stage plays, comics, and various media scripts automatically.

And what about record keeping? If you don’t mind doing a little work, most office suites either have a basic accounting program, or offer the tools to build a spreadsheet and invoice system that is workable.

If you’re like me, you carry your office in your pocket. With the advent of smartphones, tablets, mini-tablets, and e-readers that do everything but walk the dog, we have apps for every phase of our lives from the silly to the serious. We can write and edit with a number of apps. And even if you’re on a budget (who isn’t?), even expensive apps are usually less than $10, so if you don’t go overboard, the applications are accessible.

To the Batcave!

Whenever evildoers were out doing evil, and the bat signal was projecting a giant bat high above Gotham City, Batman would turn to Robin and say those immortal words, “To the batcave.” Then they would race to the batpoles, slide down into the lair under stately Wayne manor, and emerge fully dressed as the Dynamic Duo. Ready to go to work.


My commute is not nearly so adventurous. It’s about forty feet from the bedroom to my office. And I am often decked out in workout clothes (long workout pants and one of two Batman tee shirts. Honest) because I will have either already been to the gym, or will go just before lunch. And I generally work from my office. I have everything I need. Reference materials, internet connection, a printer/fax/scanner/Swiss Army knife setup, music, and a great view.

Once upon a time that’s what most writers did. They carved out a spot and that was their writing place. It may have been an actual office or a corner of the kitchen table. But the writing place was well defined and that is where the work was done.

To quote Edith and Archie, “Those were the days.” Just as Batman once had to construct a flying batcave, the writer’s lair is now equally mobile. We write on trains, planes, beaches, and in coffee shops by the score. Comic writer, New York Times best-selling and multiple Bram Stoker Award-winning author, Jonathan Maberry, can often be found writing at his local Barnes and Noble. And I recently read about a writer who typed the first third of a recent novel on their phone.

So, looks like the batcave is now mobile as opposed to being a fixed place.

Keep Your Identity Secret

OK, he didn’t do so well on that one in The Dark Knight Rises. By the end of the movie, everybody knew Batman’s secret identity except Commissioner Gordon. But throughout the years Batman was able to keep his identity secret. That was the key to his being able to do his job effectively. And it’s the same for writers.

What are you working on these days? What are you writing?

Wait…don’t answer that. Not in the great ongoing detail many writers are tempted to blurt out: “I’m working on an urban fantasy with a steampunk twist. It’s about a troll who lives in a castle in the middle of downtown Detroit. He has this cat who watches Castle reruns all day. And the troll has this girlfriend who is really ugly. I mean as ugly as homemade soap ugly. But their pet dragon who is secretly the mayor of Knightdale, North Carolina, is a computer hacker who…”

Whoa! It’s much better to just say, “I’m working on a suspense novel right now” or “I’m writing a travel, article about Atlanta” and just let it go at that. First, most people really don’t want a drawn out synopsis. They’re just making polite conversation. Plus, when you tell enough people what the plot is, you start to pigeon hole yourself into what you’ve told people and shut off other possible creative avenues. So, keep the identity secret until the appropriate time. It will make your life easier.

OK, enough of that. Put on your capes and tights and get back to work. The reading world is counting on you.

Thomas Smith is an award winning writer, newspaper reporter, TV news producer, playwright and essayist. His supernatural suspense novel, Something Stirs, is available at a bookstore near you. In addition to writing he enjoys teaching classes for beginning writers at conferences and local writers’ groups. He has been a joke writer for Joan Rivers and his comedy material has been performed on The Tonight Show. Currently in his fifth decade of service, he is considerably younger than most people his age. Find Thomas on Twitter and Facebook.