Aug 01 2014

Guardians of the Galaxy Blew My Mind

Published by under Movie Review

I provide advice about how to write novels, comic books and graphic novels. Most of my content applies to fiction-writing in general, but I also provide articles specifically about superhero stories.

My expectations were modest — e.g. “What if they made a watchable version of Green Lantern?” The movie is better than I think anyone could have reasonably anticipated. It’s more like an exceptionally funny version of Star Wars. 5 stars.

 

PS: I’d suggest against bringing most kids younger than 13. The violence level is more like a Vin Diesel movie than a talking raccoon movie. (You did notice that the talking raccoon has a machine gun, right?)

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May 26 2014

X-Men: Days of Future Past

Published by under Movie Review

  • In my opinion, it was easily the best superhero movie this year (Amazing Spider-Man 2 and Captain America 2 so far).
  • The action scene with the speedster (Quicksilver) was amazing, but I think it indicates how ridiculously hard it would be to use a speedster as anything but a one-off change of pace rather than a main character. Quicksilver spends the rest of the movie at home because his powers were strong enough that he would have broken the plot.
  • I believe the only major problem with the movie was that the plot holes were massive. SPOILERS:
    • The movie apparently isn’t sure how many people know about / are afraid of mutants. For example, at one point a government official claims that the whole mutant business in Cuba (X-Men: First Class) was “unconfirmed.” Uhh, several mutants employed by the CIA engaged several U.S. and USSR ships, with probably thousands of people witnessing a destroyer being telekinetically lifted from the sea and at least 10 military casualties. If mutants can get through that “unconfirmed,” I need to hire their publicist and/or defense attorney. Later on, there’s a scene where a U.S. businessman reveals to a (North) Vietnamese delegation that one of their members is a mutant and they instantly freak out. So… people do care what mutants are?
    • Dr. Trask has an apparently foolproof mutant-detection device but forgets to use it at a presidential press event. It works out about as well as you’d imagine. 3) One recurring limitation of the X-Men series is that its characters are notably uncreative when it comes to solving problems besides just killing people. For example, you’d think that a character with the ability to impersonate anyone would be able to come up with some more creative way to discredit a (criminal) scientist than turning him into a martyr and instantly vindicating his research. For example, exposing that he’s a criminal and/or committing outlandish acts while impersonating him?
    • It is completely unbelievable that the final confrontation between Magneto, Mystique, and the President ends well for most mutants.
    • This movie raises massive plotholes for the previous X-Men movies. For example, Magneto’s been imprisoned for killing one President, attempts to kill another, and he breaks out of the Pentagon pretty easily. Magneto is later taken into custody in X-Men 3, I think. Not immediately executing him is definitely an idiot ball.

16 responses so far

May 22 2014

Learning Curves: An Alternative Approach to Superpower Limitation

Often with works of fiction that involve superpowers, writers look for ways to effectively limit or check those powers. This is done to keep characters vulnerable to challenges while maintaining dramatic effect within the story. After all, if a character can consistently deal with situations by using their unrestricted abilities, how invested will a reader (or publisher) be in the work? Probably not very.

 

Writers of comic books, superhero novels and other forms of speculative fiction utilize a variety of approaches in addressing this issue. Examples include requiring a specific power source or item to use an ability (e.g. Green Lantern’s ring or Mr. Freeze’s  diamond-powered freeze gun). Another example is requiring the character to be within a specific proximity (e.g. in the film Push, Kira has to be able to see people to tamper with their minds). Sometimes a character is susceptible to a specific substance or external force (e.g. Superman and kryptonite or his vulnerability to red sunlight).

 

These limitations are mostly environmental or physical contingencies that the character must yield to. One alternative is using a character’s progressive learning curve to limit their capabilities.

 

If you want to restrict a character who can channel cosmic energy as concussive force blasts, a good place to start might be by asking: What does the actual development of that proficiency look like? (Keep in mind this question can be asked of anyone in any endeavor, not just fictional superheroes. Choosing to spend time with it as a literary theme could be a good way to develop relatability within the work.)

 

So what does it look like for a character to actually learn about their extraordinary powers over the course of a novel? Is it believable that they would start out fully knowledgeable in their understanding, or would there be gradations of trial and error, of setbacks and success, of growth? A character learning to use concussive force blasts will provide their own limitations in the form of their inexperience. Be encouraged to explore that. It could be a much more resonant and effective restriction than a target that has to be within X amount of feet.  Even as the character grows in the use of their powers, surpassing old limitations, the learning process by nature should continue to supply new thresholds for them to meet and be challenged by.

 

In the sci-fi novel Psion by Hugo Award-winning author Joan D. Vinge, the main character Cat is recruited into a psychic research program. The technicians are able to determine the vast amount of telepathic power Cat possesses; they can ascertain what he should be able to do… But Cat can’t do those things because doesn’t know how to be psychic. Even as he gains greater understanding and command of his telepathy throughout the course of the novel, his learning curve continues to provide natural limitations and challenges for him in the use of his powers.

 

Of course, not every story’s main character is a fish out of water. While most superhero stories handle the initial emergence of the primary hero, some characters come to the plate further developed than others. And that’s fine. Even in those instances, I’d encourage writers of superhero fiction (especially novels) to consider the learning curve (specialized here, perhaps) as well as the more concrete and specific limits meant to rein in the chosen superpowers.

 

Wolverine can be used as an example of an already expertly-skilled character forced to negotiate the learning experience. When he first joined the X-Men, he was leagues beyond his teammates in training, combat experience and the use of his mutant powers. Despite this he still had a significant learning curve dealing with the way the team functioned and occasionally his approach to obstacles was more detrimental than helpful. Additionally, it was because of his experiences with the X-Men that he learned to take more control of his berserker rages, which were a danger to everyone.

 

Well-rounded characters resonate more with readers. Going through the journey of learning to use superpowers along with those characters – most notably experiencing how that process provides limitations, checks and challenges in organic and relatable ways – can contribute greatly to the development of that relationship, potentially endearing readers even more than originally considered.

 

To finalize, focusing on the superpower learning curve can be an enormous boon as there are potentially countless ways writers can incorporate it regarding their character’s superpowers, specifically as a means to limit those powers. These elements can be made to manifest as significant and effective by simple virtue of being so unknown, or it can be more a matter of learning to use familiar capabilities in entirely uncharted situations. In either instance, this also demonstrates the flexibility and personalization of the learning curve, in that it can be uniquely shaped to fit each character. This kind of development and attention to theme can greatly increase the depth and resonance of a novel while providing necessary restrictions and challenges for the characters within them.

 

4 responses so far

May 01 2014

And now, an exciting business opportunity in Ghana!

Published by under Comedy,PG-13

One of my coworkers (who asked to remain anonymous) received this business proposal from Ghana.

 

Dear  Maccabee

My name is Barrister Agams Enoch Mifetu, the personal attorney of late Mrs.Eunice  Maccabee based here in Accra republic of Ghana I did a lot of web search before choosing your contact from the skype. It is with trust and sincerity that I approach you for assistance in this business.

Please do accept my apology if my mail infringes on your personal ethics and honestly it will be my humble pleasure if we can work together.

I would like you to act as an executor of late Mrs.Eunice  Maccabee my deceased client who made a deposit of (US$14,000,000.00) with a Bank here in Ghana a few years back. She died in Plane crash with her husband and their only child leaving behind no next of kin. And a citizen of my country cannot stand as  next of kin to late Mrs.Eunice  Maccabee that is why I contacted you.

Dear friend I am ready to share 70/30 with you, if you are interested mail me immediately for further details in this great future relationship.

If you are interested write me with your email and telephone number,reply me immediately. 

Regards.

Barrister Agams Enoch Mifetu

_________________________

Dear Honorable Mifetu,
Thank you exceedingly much for contacting me! It has been many years since I have heard the name Eunice. What a shock it was to hear that name again and from such a surprising, but altogether trustworthy, source.

Now, your position as barrister affords you the close knowledge of many things personal to the Maccabee family that one in your position would have and know of from the very nature of the position that you hold in close proximity to those in the family whom hold the secrets close to their hearts of which I speak.

However, there are some things that you may not know. Firstly and foremostly, is that Eunice was not all that she seemed to be. Please know, now, that at the time of her fiery death, she had quite effectively become the black dingo of the family. You see… Eunice was actually born under the name Eugene.

It was with great consternation of the family that the family’s general practitioner admitted to the accidental circumcision of the boy during a routine visit for treatment of dengue fever. While the name of Eugene was hidden from public purvey, the incident itself is well documented in the Ghana Premier Aboriginal Court of Law of which I am quite sure you are well accustomed. The case played out over years and, toward the end, even appeared in an episode of Current Affairs.

But I digress… let me speak more of Eugene… that he lived his early years as a woman was only the beginning of the shame that would befall the Maccabee namesake in the coming decades. Eunice, as she wished to be called after the accident, would go on to make her own name before the court, in activity ranging from strong arm tactics to online thievery, of course, it should be noted that most of the rape charges were effectively dropped as the court believed that she (he) had no way of carrying through with her threats of same.

Now, speaking of ethics… it is with the humblest of sincere intentions that I must inform you of the other piece of information that I am certain you are not aware of: You said the plane crashed killed Eunice, Bentley and the boy… but this is just the story we wanted the press to hear. I survived. I SURVIVED, Agams! I AM EUNICE’S SON!

I don’t blame you for not knowing. No one knew. I was found in the jungle, still in the loving arms of my mother-father, and they say I was quite sun burned but crying. That’s how they found the plane; a woeful child’s cry in the dense jungle.

Which brings me to the following: A very much appreciated the offer you made… but as I am a man of business, I am prepared to counter offer: Because of your sincere due-dilligence, and to keep you from revealing the secret of my identity, I offer you a substantial piece of both the inheritance, which as it has been accruing interest in the National State City Bank of Ghana since the seventies, is quite substantial. I cannot reveal numbers here, but let me just say that should you see this figure written down on a piece of paper, your eye balls would quite literally fall from their respective sockets.

Along with this, you are also welcome to keep a portion of the monies of fourteen million of which you earlier spoke. This is chump change to me as, I am sure you have done your research, know now that I am a tin foil magnate and make fourteen million in my sleep every month.

Your only requirement is that you breath not a WORD of any of this to any party, and should I learn that you went to the press with any of this information ALL POSSIBLE OUTCOMES WILL BE REMOVED. I hope I have made myself abundantly clear.

So, Mr. Enoch, it is up to you now to contact me.

Good luck.

-Uncle Maccabee The Third Esq.

2 responses so far

Apr 05 2014

Captain America 2…

Published by under Writing Articles

My expectations were far too high — with a Rotten Tomatoes rating of ~90% at the time I saw it, I was expecting a really excellent movie. There were a lot of competent moments but personally I wouldn’t recommend rushing out to theaters to see it.

In Scott Pilgrim, there’s a scene where Chris Evans (Captain America’s actor) parodies a really bad action star. Captain America 2 gave him so little to work with that I feel he came off like the bad action star.

Some notable issues with the movie:

  • In terms of genre, the first CA movie was an unusually fun summer action movie. I found it very exciting, although the level of seriousness was not notably high (i.e. it’s mainly a movie about stopping Nazi/Hydra researchers from taking over the world). This movie took itself far more seriously than the characters were able to support. Iron Man or James Bond might possibly have been able to make a conspiracy/thriller movie work without it feeling silly. With Captain America, it was like a pretty goofy take on Person of Interest.
  • Generally, I think the key factors separating a good superhero movie from a great one are almost always comedy and character development. (There are exceptions, most notably Dark Knight, but I don’t think we’re looking at one here). Unlike the first Captain America movie, this movie had virtually no humor and I found the characters less interesting.
  • I felt the villain selection was unusually ineffective. Personally, I would have recommended using a different enemy team than Hydra and taken out the Winter Soldier altogether. (Everything about the Winter Soldier felt overly like a comic book, which is probably not the best fit for a thriller with political aspirations).

38 responses so far

Dec 16 2013

A Criminal Profiler’s Guide to Superheroes

Email: “One of my protagonists is a detective looking for superheroes/vigilantes. What sort of traits might tip him off?

 

Here are some trends that come to mind for American superheroes.

 

Strong Associations

  • They’ve had a loved one(s) murdered by a stranger. That’s pretty rare in the United States. Only about 2,500 U.S. murders are committed by strangers per year. If we rule out intergang violence and drug deals gone bad (because most people in a Uncle Ben or Martha/Thomas Wayne situation are not gang members), we’re probably looking at about 500 murders per year that might be of interest to police looking for superhero origin stories, and probably less than 10-15 a year in any particular city.
  • They’ve had a loved one(s) kidnapped by a stranger, sometimes repeatedly. (For example, are there any Metropolis supervillains that haven’t kidnapped Lois Lane at some point?) Normally, it’s EXTRAORDINARILY rare for someone to get kidnapped more than once by a stranger. I doubt it’s happened in U.S. history. It should certainly raise a lot of questions about why so many major-league criminals have an interest in kidnapping this particular journalist rather than any of the other major journalists in town.
  • Most superheroes are 1) extremely physically fit but 2) do NOT work out regularly at a gym or at home. If the investigator has access to credit card records, he can look for purchases of gym membership and/or fitness equipment. Most superheroes won’t have any. (If Clark Kent started bench-pressing thousands of pounds at a gym, it would raise a lot of questions, and any fitness equipment specialized enough to help a superhero train is suspicious enough that they probably wouldn’t keep it at their residence).
  • Most superheroes don’t have any kids or pets. First, there’s the time factor. Being a superhero is a major time commitment. There could also be security issues if a kid sees anything interesting or mentions to a stranger that his parent(s) disappear every night.
  • Superheroes will give off lots of signs of combat experience but almost never have any military experience. (Even Captain America had only 1-2 years before getting iced). These signs may include paying a lot more attention to exit routes, habitually glancing at anyone entering the room, and avoiding turning his/her back towards an entryway or window.
  • Adult superheroes are almost always college-educated. In contrast, 70% of U.S. adults don’t have a bachelor’s degree.
  • If you interview the coworkers/boss of a superhero, certain traits will probably crop up. They’re brilliant, but hard to work with. They have major absenteeism issues and frequently come into work tired or with (poorly explained) injuries, and they NEVER follow orders or a chain of command.  Despite their many failings, superheroes’ coworkers will unanimously agree that they are exceptionally competent at their job. (Bruce Wayne is virtually the only exception here — most superheroes are too proud/lazy/careless to pull off a dummy act).
  • In most cases, everyone that knows a superhero well will agree that he’s unusually courageous and altruistic, but has issues with punctuality and reliability. A lot of people that know him will attest that it’s hard to get him on the phone and/or that he sometimes disappears during work.
  • Everyone that has observed this person in a life-or-death emergency will agree that he was unusually collected, even if he’s normally sort of bumbling (e.g. Clark Kent).
  • They won’t own any guns, no matter how bad their neighborhood is.
  • Most superheroes don’t have a criminal record, but will be surprisingly familiar with police capabilities and tactics. For example, in most cases, the police can get a suspect to unwittingly give a DNA and fingerprint sample by offering a soda (or paperwork to fill out). These techniques will certainly not work with a superhero. However, a superhero will never insist on having a lawyer present, which will come across as highly unusual for a suspect that otherwise knows what he’s doing. (In-story, superheroes might not get a lawyer involved because they think it’ll make them look suspicious and/or afraid and/or because they really hate defense attorneys. (Not surprising after how many times Lex Luthor has gone free on a technicality). However, the main reason writers avoid having lawyers present is because they almost always make interview scenes less interesting… it’s basically a lawyer’s job to keep its client from saying anything interesting).
  • Superheroes are generally extremely sensitive about their medical records. Even the identity of their general practitioner will be a closely-guarded secret because the doctor is almost always an active collaborator that knows what’s going on. It would be very hard for a superhero to hide the truth from his doctor because routine x-rays will show an extensive history of broken bones and the superpowers may cause their bloodwork or DNA to be highly unusual.
  • We can rule out virtually everyone who has an unprestigious job. In-story, this might be explained because a vigilante that’s flashy enough to create a gaudy persona is probably an attention-seeker. Also, prestigious jobs tend to be more helpful for a superhero than an unprestigious job would be (in terms of resources, access, training/skills/education, etc).
  • Superheroes tend to value money quite a bit less than the population as a whole. Most superheroes could be wealthy if they wanted to be, but most don’t care that much about it. Even billionaire superheroes tend not to be that personally involved in the day-to-day operations of their company.
  • If a superhero suspect has a personal connection to a supervillain, follow up on that. People that know a superhero are far more likely to become a supervillain. In particular, the easiest way to become one of Spider-Man’s villains is to meet Peter Parker.  (Green Goblin is his best friend’s father, Lizard employed him as a teaching assistant, Venom is a rival at work, Dr. Octopus once taught him at a science camp, Man-Wolf is J.J. Jameson’s son, etc).
  • Most superheroes have exceptionally good reflexes and reaction times. If the investigator has access to insurance or police records, it’s unlikely a superhero has any routine accidents on his record. If there are any accidents, it’s probably because the driver was doing something outlandishly daring/reckless.
  • If a superhero has the ability to fly or teleport or run extremely fast, he probably drives and/or takes public transit much less than normal. “Your credit card records indicate that you haven’t purchased gasoline or refilled a public transit card in the last 3 months. How do you get to work?” If he claims that he made all of his gas station purchases with cash (yeah, right), then the investigator can check the speedometer on his car. If he claims that he pays cash for public transit, the investigator can ask routine questions about public transit (e.g. “which stop do you usually get off at for the Daily Planet?”). In addition, if I were looking for a superhero that could move especially fast, he probably won’t have any records of taxi usage on his credit cards.
  • If a superhero does not have flight/teleportation/super-speed, his credit card records will probably show he travels less often than normal because it’d be logistically difficult for a hero to get back to the city quickly in case of an emergency. Also, the more time Peter Parker spends outside of New York, the more likely that someone will notice that there are no Spider-Man sightings while he’s away.
  • We’re probably looking for someone that isn’t at home most nights. If you check his credit card records, there probably won’t be any purchases over these hours-long absences.
  • We can probably eliminate anyone that can be easily tailed and/or put under surveillance. Most superheroes have situational awareness bordering on the supernatural and are mobile enough to disappear around any corner or through any fence.

Weak Associations

  • Superheroes are generally romantically dysfunctional. There are a few superheroes that make a long-term relationship work (frequently because they date/marry other superheroes), but more often it’s a Bruce Wayne or Punisher situation where the character is a pathological loner or divorced by murder.
  • We can safely rule out anyone that’s been divorced. In-story, one explanation might be that the significant others of superheroes are in so much danger that they don’t usually make to the 7 year itch, or that they’re so dysfunctional they can’t find anyone to get married to. Alternately, most superheroes are desirable enough (e.g. generally wealthy and intelligent, athletic, altruistic, and interesting) that significant others might not start to wonder if there are better options available.
  • We can safely rule out anyone that’s had an affair. Betraying someone that generally knows life-or-death secrets is a really bad career move.
  • We can safely eliminate anyone that’s poor, and I’d look especially closely at billionaires. In-story, the explanation here is that someone who is ludicrously wealthy probably has more resources (e.g. gear, vehicles, training, healthcare, etc) and probably more ability to spend tens of hours each week on unpaid volunteering.
  • Most superheroes are 15-40, particularly 20-35. In general, most superheroes have had unusual success in their chosen day-job at an early age.
  • I’d take an especially close look at scientists, journalists, and corporate moguls.
  • Generally very talkative/outgoing, but secretive.
  • Some people close to the hero may suspect the person is having an affair or otherwise hiding something because he lies so often (and perhaps so implausibly) about so much (e.g. where he is, why he misses appointments, why he’s been injured, whatever).
  • Most superheroes aren’t noticeably religious, even the ones that personally know gods. In contrast, most Americans attend religious services regularly.
  • Most superheroes aren’t noticeably politically active. In contrast, most American adults are registered to vote with a particular political party.
  • Nobody’s ever seen him sweat or show any signs of fear.
  • Generally has lived in a particular very large city his/her entire life. In particular, most Americans don’t attend college in their hometown, but most superheroes do.
  • Probably attended a very respectable university in a city (e.g. Empire State or Gotham University). In real life, the United States only has a few of them (U-Chicago, Columbia, maybe USC and Rice). There’s going to be so much strangeness surrounding these few elite urban universities that it’d be impossible to miss — e.g. Dr. Connors turning into a lizard monster.
  • Even within the city, most superheroes do not move very often. (If there is a secret compartment in the house, moving would be very inconvenient). If a superhero does move, he does not use a moving company.
  • Superheroes tend to be significantly more attractive than the population as a whole. In particular, most superheroines could pass as models.

 

“Too Long, Didn’t Read” Version:

Almost every adult superhero will meet at least at least 5 of the following:

  • They’ve had a loved one murdered by a stranger.
  • They’ve had a different loved one kidnapped or seized by a stranger.
  • No divorces or infidelity.
  • They will not give police any medical information (e.g. medical records or a saliva swab) because it might be incriminating.
  • They’re exceptionally good at their day job but have trouble following orders.
  • They’ve graduated from college (usually a prestigious one) and have a prestigious or glamorous career.
  • They’re exceptionally physically fit, but not a member of a gym.
  • There is evidence they’ve been in combat, but they don’t have any military experience.

 

37 responses so far

Nov 06 2013

Superheroine Costume Suggestions

Modern superheroines are easily the most abused type of character in any story.  And while you’re likely aware that most of them are simply there to be cardboard love interests (all ravishingly beautiful, of course . . .), today I’m not going down that path.

 

Instead, today we’ll discuss superheroine clothing (or the lack thereof).

 

From Wonder Woman to Supergirl, costume designers seem to think the more bare skin the better.

 

As we all know, it’s pretty unpractical.  Still, for superheroes, they might not engage in a lot of hand-to-hand combat, therefore, there’s no reason for her to have plate armor from head to foot.  But that doesn’t give any reason to be wearing bikinis.

 

Obviously, any superhero or superheroine you’ll likely want to look good, some girls (or guys) might want to look hot, which would reflect in their suit.  But, this also means no clashing colors, elf shoes etc. etc. etc. all of which you can identify and learn more about on this article.  Nevertheless, with every variation of character you’ll need to modify your take.

 

Generally, lighter and brighter colors should be used for more youthful characters, and darker gloomier colors for older, more serious characters.  But aside from the specifics of each character you will have to decide for yourself, there are a few stereotypes in the looks of superheroine costumes you will want to avoid.

 

First and foremost, practicality, but we’ll have more on that later.

 

Second is that not every female in a story that’s supposed to be beautiful has to have skimpy clothing.

Continue Reading »

20 responses so far

Sep 28 2013

Prisoners Was Really Good, But…

Published by under Realism

Prisoners was highly entertaining and I think the writers did a good particularly good job portraying the families going through the kidnapping of their daughters. However, basically everything the police did in the movie was exceptionally Hollywood, so much so that it nearly turned the movie into an idiot plot. If you’re the sort of person that would be distracted by characters habitually acting stupidly to put themselves in suspenseful situations, this movie may not be for you.Pro tip: ace detectives should not hunt alone for serial killers. There must have been SOMEONE in his unit that was good enough to keep up with him… and have Thanksgiving dinner with him.

 

I think the best decisions in the writing/direction were in what they DIDN’T show (e.g. the kidnapping, the 911 call, the relative lack of emotional outbursts from family members, the way the movie ended, etc).

 

Anyway, the movie was extremely entertaining. If you like Homeland or Dexter even though they play really, really loose with realism, you’d probably find this movie very entertaining.

 

10 responses so far

Sep 17 2013

Why superheroes & supervillains need each other

Published by under Writing Articles

The rivalries between superheroes and supervillains represents the battle between good and evil as a whole. It could be said that, without villains, there would be no heroes. Supervillains provide the opportunity for comic book characters with superpowers to become superheroes, as opposed to just regular everyday super people.

 

But would supervillains even exist without heroes to fight against? The answer is probably not. Heroes tend to either be born with their powers or gain them accidentally. Crime suddenly becomes a difficult way to make a living in whichever city they are based in. The simple solution would be to start a new, crime free, life. But with criminals being criminals, this never happens, leading to them taking often unethical steps to acquire comparable superpowers.

 

If superheroes create supervillains, then supervillains definitely keep superheroes relevant. Take Batman for example, without the Joker, a villain only he could handle, his uses would be limited. He could be replaced by a stronger police force or something to that effect.

 

Villains give their counterparts the chance to shine, heroes are pushed to greater accomplishments. Nobody wants to watch or read about an allpowerful hero who destroys all of their opponents quickly and easily. Having this happen can make the hero come across as a bully. Having a strong villain to test their wits against creates suspense and keeps the reader coming back for more.

 

Facing adversity allows our heroes to grow as characters and truly become superheroes. It is no coincidence that all of the most popular superheroes have become synonymous with their villains. Batman would be nothing without the Joker and Spiderman would be nothing without the Green Goblin. At the same time, the opposite is true.

 

Superheroes really do need their supervillains, and vice-versa.

 

Mark Enright is a comic book enthusiast and writer for GB Posters, a retailer of high quality posters.

116 responses so far

Jun 27 2013

Donations Appreciated

If you can spare a few dollars/pounds/euros, I would really appreciate it.

 

 

4 responses so far

Jun 27 2013

The Comic Book vs. The Superhero Novel (Or: The Hulk Is People Too)

Tony Stark has a drinking problem. And a broken heart. Peter Parker is a nerd. Superman has daddy issues. And Bruce Wayne? Where do you start?

 

These are our heroes. And we learn about their addictions and predilections, their agendas and vendettas over the course of hundreds of issues, creating a tableau of identity that evolves over the span of years, or even decades. But in any one issue we are given only a snapshot of their character, another piece of the puzzle that we have to thread together ourselves, week by week.

 

Not so in a novel. The novel is a tapestry in itself. All the threads already stitched together so the reader can unravel it, page by page.

 

It doesn’t take a genius (or even a writer) to figure out how such a dramatic difference in form can impact a superhero narrative. What’s interesting, however, is exploring how authors of superhero novels can use the boon of all those extra pages to revise, and sometimes even pervert the norms of comics as a genre.

 

The comic book, by its very nature, is plot driven (which is not to immediately suggest that many novels aren’t). This is simply a matter of real estate. Geniuses that they are, comic writers and artists are capable of cramming all the conventions of good story telling into cramped panels, but when it comes to the more nuanced issues of theme or character development they often must engage in a type of literary guerilla warfare—a hit and run of suggestions and asides, because as soon as you turn the page, somebody’s going to have to “do what they do best.” Action is paramount, and for every moment of pathos where our hero reveals his innermost fears, desires, etc. there are three more where he opens up a can of Snikt-brand whoop-arse. This is to be expected. It’s what gives the genre its returning weekly audience.

 

A superhero novel, on the other hand, has fewer limitations and a much wider repertoire of conventions to draw from; after all, the history of the novel and the sheer number of books vastly dwarfs its glossy-covered counterpart. This allows for a multiplicity of purpose that can be both daunting and exhilarating to a writer.

 

Continue Reading »

14 responses so far

Jun 24 2013

A Writer’s Review of Sidekicked

Sidekicked is a superhero novel about a sidekick who’s got just enough superpowers to get everybody killed and the various forces trying to screw him (e.g. a possibly nefarious superhero/spymaster, a squad of supervillains hell-bent on revenge, and whoever named him “The Sensationalist”). Here’s what writers can learn from it and how it could improve your writing.

 

The team dynamic was unusually believable and three-dimensional. In particular, the conflicts between the sidekicks and their sort-of-spymaster boss were more satisfying because both sides of the conflict were somewhat likable and sympathetic. Instead of just having the kids fight with Hardass Drill Instructors, for example, the spymaster instead grilled them during debriefings about various decisions and mistakes. It raised the stakes for their superheroics (e.g. not noticing that someone reeks of mind-control chemicals and/or explosives could make for a really bad day).

 

–I love the idea of a team leader bringing in an outside superhero because he thinks the team is lacking in some way. It’s a very promising way to create a dramatic conflict between the team and the new guy (and perhaps between the team and the leader). It also helps develop the character more quickly than just randomly adding someone because the team wanted an extra person.

 

The characterization was not very groundbreaking… For example, the main character is generally a stereotypically ordinary teen who gets relatively few opportunities to make decisions that any other young superhero wouldn’t have made in the same place. Generally, I’d recommend giving your characters more opportunities to stand out from the crowd because it’ll help make them more memorable. For example, this main character gets a kickass scene with a cop car and is unusually gutsy when confronting a deadbeat hero. Both are a great start.

 

The main character’s voice/dialogue is interesting enough that I think most readers can let his personality slide. E.g. “[If my identity got leaked] I’d have to tell my parents everything… even about mixing nitroglycerin in the bathroom sink.”

 “At least ten weeks [until my arm heals up],” Mike said… “I asked [our boss] if we could just chop it off and get me one of those cybernetics jobs like Cryos has?”…

Cryos has this killer cybernetic arm… It was pretty awesome. If Mike got one of those, I’d catapult myself down the stairs until my own arm broke off.

 

–The story was usually most interesting when the superheroes were improvising. For example, mixing nitroglycerin in your parents’ sink is far more memorable than mixing it up in a secret lab that is actually suited for mixing nitroglycerin. Hot-wiring a police cruiser is more interesting than having a Batmobile, especially given that the “driver” can’t actually drive and the “hot-wirer” is an electrical superhero with explosively imprecise powers.

 

–I can’t speak for the target audience (grades 3-7), but I felt like the non-superheroics elements could have been incorporated in a more interesting and coherent way. For example, right after a terrifying supervillain breaks his gang out of prison, I would not recommend cutting to an uneventful flashback of a middle school romance. I’d recommend instead incorporating that sort of information into scenes which somehow develop the central plot moving forward, so that it feels more coherent with the hunt for the supervillain. For example, see how X-Men: First Class used a romance between Mystique and Beast to advance a critical plot arc about mutant self-acceptance or how the romance between Bob and Helen in The Incredibles influences their major decisions.

 

Refreshingly non-stupid for a work aimed at this target audience. I’d feel a lot more comfortable using Sidekicked than Captain Underpants in a (say) 4th grade classroom.

 

I think the book skews considerably older than the target audience. If the author had removed all of the lines where the characters’ age or grade were mentioned, I would have guessed the main characters was 16-18. It doesn’t have any of the focuses I’d associate most with tween audiences (e.g. an emphasis on fitting in and/or being socially acceptable, academic angst like too much homework or a nasty teacher, and low-stakes conflicts with siblings or parents).

 

The book has fun with superhero tropes without getting too ridiculous. For example, although a few of the side-villains were a bit wacky, it never felt at all like the work was either aimed at idiots or written by someone who sort of hated superhero stories. For example, in introducing a new side-villain, the main character helpfully notes that “I have no idea what his deal is, though anyone who dresses up like a bumblebee and carries around a rocket launcher is obviously several eggs short of a carton.” In comparison, if a superhero’s facing off against (say) Sticky Glue Man, the villain probably feels so pathetic that 1) there’s no danger, 2) it doesn’t matter whether the hero wins, and 3) both the heroes and the villain lose the reader’s attention.

 

The dweeb vs. jock conflict could be fresher. Fortunately, it’s a pretty minor plot arc, and the target audience probably isn’t old enough to have seen hundreds of these stories yet.

 

I like that the character’s superhero name only comes up a few times, especially given that the name is a bit hard to use in conversation (“The Sensationalist”). The name isn’t a huge deal, so I wouldn’t recommend spending hours on this when you’re writing your own manuscripts, but here I would have recommended something a bit shorter, perhaps Keen or Sharply.

 

CHICAGOANS DO NOT USE THE PHRASE “WICKED COOL.” For your handy reference, here are some phrases you’ll hear in Chicago but not Boston:

On the plus side, Kid Colt sounded a lot more believable (to this Chicago-area layman with very little exposure to Western or Southern accents).

 

 

SPOILERS 

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Jun 01 2013

Dagger Drop’s Review Forum

Published by under Review Forums

Please see the comments below.

38 responses so far

May 25 2013

Setting as a Character

New writers have a tendency to focus so much on their character development that they forget that the right setting can be just as important. Setting provides a picture for a reader, without which your characters are flying through nothingness. Action and drama mean very little without interaction between the characters and their environment so, in the right circumstances, a well-established setting can become a character in its own right. Think of Hogwarts, where the staircases are just as likely to move as the people walking on them, a flying car that saves the protagonist from his enemies and the hidden caverns and passages which not only help move plot along but which often interface with the characters too. It is this intelligent use of setting that sets your work apart from average writers and makes your work truly readable and re-readable.

Magic

“I don’t believe in the kind of magic in my books. But I do believe something very magical can happen when you read a good book.”

–J K Rowling

 

Setting can be magical without the presence of magic though. If you’ve ever visited the ancient ruins of a castle, you will know that age brings with it a sense of history and stories unknown. So as your character stumbles across a castle in the night, a hundred feet tall all around, its harsh grey stone covered in green and gold lichen which reflects the moonlight and all but one window dark, you are able to bring about a sense of age and vastness, a sense of mystery and majesty. Similarly, if you’ve ever found yourself in an exotic plant store, there is something about the bizarre, unknown vegetation that demonstrates you don’t need a tree that takes a swing at you as you pass to give a fantastical element to the setting. In the shade of leaning palms, your character finds escape from the arid heat. Winding your way along an isolated trail in the Amazon rainforest, the flora and fauna hold a great deal of surprises, distractions, obstacles and dangers which can be relevant to the progress of your story. Familiarity is what causes something to become clichéd. As long as you stay fresh and thoughtful about your setting then you won’t fall into this trap.

 

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May 02 2013

Elec’s Review Forum

Published by under Review Forums

Please see the comments below.

24 responses so far

Apr 28 2013

How Power Levels Affect Your Story

Published by under Superpowers

When mapping out any kind of superheroic narrative, a consideration has to be made that is not often an aspect of other types of stories, and by that I mean you have to determine power level, or maybe we should say Power Level, since so many superheroic concepts work better with capitals.

 

This is not just a concern of traditional “long underwear” types of superhero stories either. Really, any story in which characters are differentiated from the usual run of people in their setting by powers above and beyond the norm can be termed a superhero story. This can be a movie script, a story or novel, a comic, or even a roleplaying game. Before you ever start plotting, you should decide on what kinds of power level your characters will transact, and that starts with the setting itself.

 

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Apr 14 2013

Jay’s Review Forum

Published by under Review Forums

Please see the comments below. Thanks.

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Apr 05 2013

WinslowMudD’s Review Forum

Published by under Review Forums

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Apr 05 2013

Blackscar’s Review Forum

Published by under Review Forums

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11 responses so far

Apr 02 2013

Kirby’s Review Forum

Published by under Review Forums

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Mar 22 2013

Proxie#0′s Review Forum

Published by under Review Forums

Who am I?

Hello, I am Proxie, and I am a… ahem, a Marine in southern California. I try to defy the laws of physics and avoid the use of as much language as possible.

What am I writing?

I have two “great works” in the, well, in the works. The first is actually under another screen name I had on here for a while, WinsloWMudd, but you can look there for THAT synopsis. This other thing I’, working on is sort of a Supernatural Mystery with elements of horror added in…not arbitrarily i might add.

[Series?] Synopsis:

This is a story of one woman who tries to return home to her family after having estranged herself for years, but must first save it from the people she believes will endanger it. The only thing is, her family may be just as involved in the web of lies as the enemy themselves.

Who is my target audience?

My target audience is going to be fairly flexible, I think. I know that I grew up on mysteries, even though every character was almost ten times my age. But if I had to but an age or a group to it, I would say it would be late high-school or older

I am going to begin posting different character summaries and plots/subplots soon. I can be really busy sometimes, but I will try to post at least one thing a day…

10 responses so far

Mar 09 2013

Can Graphic Novels Help You Learn Faster? Test It For Free

Short version: Dr. Short at the University of Oklahoma conducted a study which found that graphic novels helped students learn material more easily and were preferred by 80% of the students. You can enroll for free here to test whether they are more effective for you.

 

Here’s an example of the study incorporating visual cues to make business-school material easier to learn/understand:

If you’d like to see for yourself, please enroll for their free option here:

I’m definitely in; diagrams and other visual cues really helped me in school, especially in understanding complex processes with distinct phases like the Krebs Cycle in biology and the earmarking process in congressional budgeting.

4 responses so far

Mar 05 2013

Real Superhero Power of Technology Infographic

We live in a world where technology has taken over our lives and it has got to the point where it is saving lives but where did this notion of technology saving lives come from, the answer is superheroes. Many people think of superheroes as a comic book character but there is more to them than meets the eye. Have you ever studied the abilities and power they have? If not, then this infographic below will show you what the real value of their powers and abilities are and how it can influence life in the real world.

 

From DC Comics to Marvel characters, these characters have influenced the growth of technology. The U.S army for instance has looked to them as role models when developing super human soldiers. The “Iron Man” soldiers are just one form of technological advancements and as you shall see in this real superhero powered infographic it has been a wise investment. Much research goes into developing powered technology and armour suits and this has inspired the medical community to develop products that will help those with disabilities. Superheroes have even influenced the digital world we live in, no one would have thought that Tupac would return from the dead through a hologram, but he did through the inspiration of the Green Lantern from DC Comics.

 

The world incorporates many super humans and through some real training and parkour movements you could be the next superhero.
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Feb 28 2013

Outside of the U.S.? I Need Your Help!

I’m currently writing a page for a U.S. company which is targeting business worldwide. At one point, we have a form which asks for a “ZIP code” rather than a “postal code” or “postcode.” As far as I’m aware, only the U.S. and the Philippines use the phrase “ZIP code.” Would the phrase “zip code” be hard to understand and/or annoying for many international readers? It seems like it could be a problem. Then again, I have been pleasantly flummoxed before–while writing a proposal for The Taxman Must Die, I asked ~20 international readers if they knew what the IRS was, and almost all of them did (including several readers too young to have paid income taxes).  Apparently antipathy for taxmen is global. :)

 

 

I categorized this post as “Questions, Frequently-Asked and Otherwise.” Umm… definitely otherwise, I think.

10 responses so far

Jan 27 2013

The 5 Least Promising Scenes for a Superhero Story

1. Bank robberies with faceless criminals that never had a chance of accomplishing anything. If you’re mainly including this scene to give the superhero(es) a chance to show off their powers, I would recommend reevaluating whether anything is at stake and whether the scene actually contributes anything to the story. For example, Dark Knight’s opening bank robbery does a really good job developing the Joker and the main antagonist-vs.-antagonist conflict, even though the main character is not at stake.

 

2. Any scene featuring more or less helpless antagonists. If your superhero’s opponents cannot challenge him, there’s probably very little at stake, which means that the fight will create very little suspense. Some possible solutions:

  • Give the hero stronger opposition. For example, if your hero’s superpowers are incredible enough that he can only be challenged by someone with superpowers, it’d be worth considering a plotting element which makes it easier in your universe for low-grade antagonists to get superpowers or some sort of threatening capabilities. (For example, perhaps criminals can buy a temporary super-serum or a Hulk-grade hunting rifle).
  • Change the scene so that it’s harder for the character to use his powers (e.g. characters with fire-based powers should probably be careful if there are innocent bystanders and/or volatile chemicals present).
  • Give the character(s) problems which his/her powers can’t effortlessly solve. For example, it’d probably be more interesting to see The Thing deal with a hurricane than a guy with a gun. The gunman probably isn’t challenging. Alternately, the hero might be in a situation where the character can’t openly use his superpowers because they’d blow his secret identity.
  • Weaken the character’s powers. For example, a faster-than-sound character could probably defeat an average bank robber with little (if any) difficulty or drama. A character that could merely run at ~60 miles per hour would have to put more thought into it, particularly if hostages are involved.
  • Temporarily reduce the character’s capabilities. For example, perhaps the character is injured or temporarily has lost access to his/her superpowers (like during an eclipse in Heroes).
  • Increase the cost of the character’s superpowers. Please see #2 in How to Keep Your Story’s Superpowers Extraordinary.

 

3. Confrontations between protagonists which hinge on a protagonist(s) being irredeemably stupid. Particularly with protagonist-vs-protagonist conflicts, I’d recommend making both characters at least somewhat sympathetic. For example, in The Dark Knight, both Lucius and Batman have a likable reason to oppose each other on the use of a cutting-edge tracking system. In contrast, if one (or worse, both) sides are wildly dumb and/or childish (e.g. see Batman & Robin), the conflict is more likely to make readers want to brain everybody involved and throw the story in a fire.

3.1. “I hate you because I’m one-dimensionally evil and/or stupid.” Common offenders: abusive parents, bullies, and Jim Crow stand-ins (e.g. more or less every non-mutant in X-Men). If you have to demote characters to mind-numbing unlikability, I’d recommend doing so sparingly. For a potential solution here, I’d recommend checking out how Homeland and The Wire treated mostly unsympathetic antagonists (terrorists and drug dealers, respectively) with some degree of human empathy. It made them feel more believable and the conflicts against them more satisfying.

 

4. Any scene where the main character does the same thing(s) 95%+ of other superheroes would have done. Give your characters more chances to be original. For example, in a particular scene, is there anything the superhero does or says which is really unique? If not, I’d recommend reevaluating the character development (so that the characters have more unusual traits to act on) and/or reworking the plot so that the characters have more chances to demonstrate these traits.  For example, if you have a superhero who is uncommonly loyal to his friends, you could make his/her loyalty more memorable by developing friends that many superheroes would not be loyal to. In Point of Impact, the main character is a fugitive that risks his life breaking his dog’s corpse out of an FBI-guarded morgue. The scene develops the character very effectively–he risks himself for honor in a way that almost no protagonist would have and it establishes how isolated he is (the dog is the closest thing the protagonist had to friends or family).  

 

5. Any funeral scene so generic that 95% of the words could apply to 95% of superheroes. E.g. “Captain Awesome was a great hero who risked himself for us on so many occasions” while teammates sob about how hard it is that he’s gone. Boohoohoo, nobody cares. I’d strongly recommend moving towards more distinctive scenes–e.g. you can focus instead on teammates/friends/family sharing memorable stories showing us what kind of person the fallen superhero was, and that would help readers genuinely care on their own that he’s gone. I’d recommend staying away from eulogies, especially by faceless extras–it’s generally not the best approach to making your funeral scene memorable.

5.1. Any funeral scene where the character isn’t actually dead*. Personally, I’d probably lean towards a quick rejection on an unsolicited manuscript here–the scene (and the death arc in general) is probably a waste of time. Also, this is very cliche–see pretty much every comic book funeral. For best-selling superheroes, it’s sort of justifiable because actually killing the character would leave millions of dollars on the table. Most unsolicited manuscripts don’t have that excuse.

5.2. Undoing death. Unkilling a hero means that death doesn’t actually matter, which tends to ruin action scenes. If death is temporary, there are no stakes to losing — it doesn’t matter whether your characters win or lose a fight. That’s much less interesting than characters that actually have something to worry about. If you want to kill a character, please be brave enough to make it stick. Alternately, just take it out. As a last resort, if you’re absolutely committed to resurrecting a character, I’d recommend setting some hard limit (e.g. the destruction of the time machine or whatever was used to unkill the character) so that readers know that this cop-out was absolutely just a one-time thing and will not happen again.

Exception: The readers know the funeral’s not real. E.g. characters holding a fake funeral to convince an enemy that the hero is no longer a threat. This is more promising because you’re not asking readers to be emotionally invested in a supposed death which won’t actually go anywhere.

18 responses so far

Jan 14 2013

Justice League Movie Update 2

Will Beall, the screenwriter for the upcoming Justice League movie, just had his first movie (Gangster Squad) out. It averaged 33% on Rotten Tomatoes (thanks to “lackluster writing and underdeveloped characters”) and disappointed at the box office. I think this bodes poorly for the JL movie.

 

To recap:

  • Writing the Justice League movie will likely be much more challenging than a relatively simple police shoot-em-up. (For example, several of the Justice League characters have their own movies in the works, so the creative coordination will be more complicated).
  • Introducing multiple characters simultaneously on a team would be challenging for a very good screenwriter.
  • It does not look like DC-WB has A-grade writing talent on this.
  • Several directors have passed on Beall’s outline/script for Justice League (which might suggest problems with the outline, or might be totally unrelated).
  • DC-WB’s had some notable problems with scheduling/delays before (e.g. Green Lantern’s production delays set back marketing efforts by months and contributed to the under-editing).
  • Avengers 2 is scheduled for release in May 2015. DC-WB’s under pressure to get JL out in time to face Avengers 2, but Justice League doesn’t even have a director yet. Hollywood studios sometimes rush out godawful movies before they’re ready because of pressure from competing films (e.g. Skyline vs. Battle: Los Angeles).

 

I’m lowering my Rotten Tomatoes prediction for Justice League from 30-45% to 25-35%.

 

PS: Speaking of box office results this week, the three top-performing theaters for Zero Dark Thirty (a movie about the hunt for Osama Bin Laden)  were within 5 miles of the CIA headquarters in Langley, VA.

54 responses so far

Jan 13 2013

A Brief Review of the Only Redeeming Feature of Cars 2

Published by under Pixar Movie Reviews

I won’t mince words: this movie was generally disastrous, juvenile, and the plot was driven by idiocy. However, the final confrontation between the hero and the villain is incredible–the best of any Pixar movie. If you need help writing a more interesting climax to your story, I’d recommend checking it out.

 

Here’s a spoiler-laden breakdown of the scene:

  • The hero has a few minutes before a bomb will kill him. Only the lead villain (identity unknown) can defuse it.
  • In this situation, most heroes would run off with the bomb to ensure it does not risk anybody else (e.g. Dark Knight Rises).
  • The hero instead confronts a character meeting with the Queen on a wild-eyed hunch that this character is the villain.

 

Here’s a few reasons this makes for an incredible scene:

  • The confrontation between the hero and lead villain is not a fight. The hero uses the bomb to blackmail the villain into defusing the bomb (thereby admitting that he is the villain). This confrontation is much more interesting than a fight would have been (particularly considering that neither the hero nor the villain is an especially capable combatant).
  • There is doubt as to whether the main character’s actually picked out the villain correctly. Besides being a successful businessman, there isn’t any reason to guess that the CEO is a supervillain.
  • This confrontation raises the stakes beyond just the main character dying. His plan brings several civilians (including the Queen) into risk if the bomb goes off. First, this was effective because I cared more about the side-characters–the main character was so relentlessly annoying up until this point that I was hoping he would die. Second, this created an unexpected and surprisingly dramatic conflict with non-villains (the Queen’s security team).

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Jan 13 2013

Silverfish’s Review Forum

Published by under Review Forums

Silverfish: “I’m writing a novel about facing your fears and learning from your past mistakes. The story is told from the perspective of a superhuman with incredible power, but a flawed personality and with much to learn. He is chased by the demons from his past: not only the hauntings from his past mistakes, but also the superhuman cult he has recently betrayed. At least at the start, a lot of the updates on this forum will be character and setting development.”

 

“My target audience: 16-20 year olds that enjoy action with moments of emotional turmoil. This will probably be targeted more towards a more stereotypical male audience, as I do not intend on including a romance throughout the novel, and the violence might be quite graphic.”

 

“Author experience: I have no professional experience in writing, though I definitely need to improve my writing skills as they are, put mildly, bad. Therefore, I would ask that you please be polite, but do criticise my work when needed.”

 

Please see the comments below to learn more.

6 responses so far

Jan 08 2013

Infographics on Historical Travel Times

Published by under Research and Resources

Especially if you’re interested in historical fiction, I’d recommend checking these infographics for a better idea of how much harder it was to move hundreds or thousands of miles before railroads were widely available.

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4 responses so far

Jan 05 2013

Some Brief Observations on Writing From a Marketer

  • If you’ve ever wondered why so many stores use bizarre prices rather than whole numbers (e.g. $9.99 rather than $10), check out my article on pricing psychology. (Short answer: the prices look cheaper, so customers are more likely to buy).
  • Ads with the word “you” or “your” are generally more likely to persuade readers to make a purchase. Personally, my ads with “you”/”your” are about 11% more persuasive. I’m not sure that people consciously notice these little personal touches, but they definitely have an effect. 
  • Some people read an ad and are wavering so close to making a purchase that even a little burst of enthusiasm might seal the deal. My ads with a single exclamation point are 6% more persuasive. Fortunately, nobody likes multiple exclamation points. I’d go crazy if I had to write like this!!!
  • I mainly write 2-line online ads for Google, so my perspective here may be biased. In my limited experience, customers are more receptive to an unsubstantiated claim (like “Great [products]“) than any sort of evidence to substantiate the claim.
  • The average customer actually does care about proofreading. My strongest recommendation for young writers would be to pay attention as closely as possible to spelling/punctuation/grammar in schoolespecially if you are thinking about possibly pursuing a full-time writing job.

 

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