Archive for October, 2007

Oct 29 2007

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Published by under Writing Articles

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.

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Oct 25 2007

Book Review, Empire of Ivory

This article will review Empire of Ivory (the fourth book of the Temeraire series) and focus on what beginning novelists should take away from it to improve their own skill.

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Oct 24 2007

Pun Explanations

Hello.  A few of my readers asked me about the chapter titles.  Did I mean ____ as a pun on ____? The answer is probably yes.  I’ll go through a few…

Gotta Kill ‘Em All! is a dark play on Pokemon’s slogan, “Gotta Catch ‘Em All.”  The popular children’s cartoon series, Hegemon, plays a prominent role in this chapter.  A related pun…  in politics, a hegemon is a completely dominant nation.  Since the end of the Cold War, “the hegemon” has always referred to the United States.  After all, what story about superheroes could be complete without a superpower?

How Many F’s are there in Katastrofy? (Win a Pulitzer in 20 Minutes a Day!) is a play on the latest Superman movie, where a supposedly Pulitzer-calibre journalist (Lois Lane) wonders how many F’s are in “catastrophe.”  Katastrophy is the name of the Hegemon that’s clearly based on Mewtwo (he’s in the header).  For reasons that I will hopefully be able to reveal by the end of 2007, the real-world incarnation of said character decides to go by “Catastrophe” because you’d have to be a complete idiot to spell it “Katastrofy.”

National Catastrophe is a phrase.  In a book that already has a character named Catastrophe and Nation in the title, how could I resist?

Dr.  Berkeley’s name is actually a reference to George Berkeley, an 18th century philosopher who claimed that anything we perceive is necessarily real.  (Mirages and The Matrix are both perceivable things that probably aren’t real).  The more obvious Berkeley association features a certain university in California, but that wasn’t my main objective.

What Do We Do About Berkeley? This time the reference actually IS to the university.  Governor Ronald Reagan (R-CA) had been advised by his gubernatorial staff not to hit on the counterculture of UC-Berkeley.  Reagan responded: “Look, I don’t care if I’m [campaigning] in the mountains, the desert, the biggest cities of this state, the first question [I get is]: ‘What are you going to do about Berkeley?’ And each time the question itself would get applause.”  I amended the phrase to “What do we do…”  rather than “What are you going to do…”  because the title is already a bit long.

Forget Who’s Watching the Watch-Man…  Don’t Leave Yourself Alone with Him is a play on the phrase “but who watches the watchman,” and of course the comic book series The Watchmen, but most prominently Syler from Heroes.  You definitely wouldn’t want to find yourself alone with THAT watch-man.

The Empire State Strikes Back is an obvious play on Star Wars…  not too tricky.

Gods and Supermen at Yale is a reference to God and Man at Yale, conservative William Buckley’s seminal work on the relationship between faith and scholarship.  In the context of Superhero Nation, the “Gods” are researchers…  well, I shouldn’t spoil a chapter I haven’t written, right?

The Crisis of Infinite OSIs is a play on DC Comic’s seminal series, The Crisis on Infinite Earths.  Really, really devoted students of US government might know there is a separate Office of Special Investigations within the Department of Homeland Security, the Department of Justice, the Air Force, and the legislative Government Accountability Office.

It Takes a Child to Raze a Village  the original is liberal Hillary Clinton’s quote, “it takes a village to raise a child.”  I can’t say any more without hopelessly spoiling the chapter.  Suffice it to say that I hope you won’t miss Greenwich.  (Heh.  A red herring, I assure you).

The First Draft of History is a reference to the quote that “journalism is the first draft of history.” 

Hegemonic Instability Theory.  Maybe you’ve heard of “hegemonic stability theory,” the theory that particularly strong nations contribute to world peace.  Well, mental instability appears to be more relevant to the plot (and creation) of this novel, so I thought that was more appropriate.   It’s also a play on the Hegemon angle, if you’ve been paying attention.   (Additionally, Orson Scott Card wrote a book called “Shadow of the Hegemon,” which  I might turn into something like “Shadowing the Hegemon”)

The Last Oorah.  Oorah” is a Marine concept…  hell, a way of life! Its origin probably derives from “heard, understood and acknowledged” (HUA), a general expression of enthusiasm (ahem…  anything and everything but no“).  At one point, I had the chapter called The Last Huah because I wasn’t sure whether the character that dies is a Marine or an [Army] soldier.

The pun is that there’s a novel called The Last Hurrah, which is also a stage in Star Fox 64.  (Wow, I am such a nerd).

A few of the chapters (Agents of Change, Agents of Destruction, etc.) play on the double meaning of “agent” as a federal employee (IRS agent, OSI agent) and a causative factor.  The Free Agent plays on a sports-term for someone who currently has no employer.

Yep, that’s most of it.  I should add– well, it should be obvious that– a title that has to be explained is probably not working.  So hopefully titles like A Free Agent or What Are We Going to do about Berkeley? work even if the reader isn’t familiar with the inside joke.  If they don’t, then the author has needlessly alienated a lot of his readers.  I think the titles would be effective even if the reader didn’t know.

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Oct 23 2007

How I Would Rewrite Heroes

I like the show Heroes a lot.  However, I think that it’s generally pretty poorly-written, at least flabbier than most shows I enjoy.  So many characters are thrown at us that take up an episode but have no bearing on the plot.  Like the woman that’s able to access the Internet remotely…  she was so insignificant that no one noticed that it looks like the writers forgot about her after her first episode.

I can’t tell what the remaining episodes in this season will look like, so it’s hard to tell which characters will become interesting and serve to drive the main plot, but I think that from the first four episodes we can start to tell which characters aren’t working.

In the first season, we had several main clusters of characters.  There’s a lot of overlap.  If one character could fit in several clusters, I tried to place him in the cluster that would be most affected by his removal from the script.

  • Peter and Nathan Patrelli (and their family)
  • The painter and his girlfriend
  • Hiro/Ando
  • Claire/Mr. Bennet and the other Bennets.
  • The Haitian and The Company employees
  • Linderman and his guys
  • Nicky, her kid and her husband
  • The L.A. cop, his family and the hot FBI partner.  I’d also probably put the nuclear guy and the remote control woman here.
  • Suresh
  • Syler

(I probably missed some people.  Heroes has an enormous cast).  Please forgive me for having a bad memory.

A few thoughts about the different clusters.

  • Peter was the main character– supposedly!  But he does very little.  He matters a lot more in terms of what he doesn’t do, namely destroying New York.
    • Well, he’s instrumental in saving Claire from Syler.  But that doesn’t matter very much, does it?  Remember the episode that looks at five years in the future after Syler survives the stabbing (because he had Claire’s regenerative powers)?  At the end of that episode, five years after he survives the stabbing, Syler kills Claire and takes her powers.  Most people didn’t notice that glaring plot-hole, probably because saving the cheerleader didn’t seem like a major element of the plot (because it wasn’t).
  • I would give Peter a more prominent role in the fight against Syler.  If he doesn’t tie into that fight more directly, he should probably be removed from the plot entirely.  His quest, to prevent NYC from getting nuked, really has nothing to do with Syler.
  • Syler is probably the character I enjoyed the most.  “This is usually the point where people start screaming” is one of my all-time favorite TV quotes.  As far as supervillains go, he has an interesting modus operandi and origin story.
  • I would, however, remove the scene where he kills his mother.  It wasn’t any MORE gruesome than anything else he did over the first season, but it just came out of the blue.  Why did he kill his mother again?  How did that advance the story?  We already KNEW he was damn creepy and violent.
  • I’d remove the Nicky/son/husband cluster entirely.  That ENTIRE cluster amounts to two relevant plot points: the device by which Petrelli is going to win the election and Nicky making a ridiculous cameo in the climactic fight against Syler.  As far as supervillain plots go, trying to rig an election with a wunderkind hacker is stupid and ill-conceived.
    • Let’s see… a candidate al0ready under federal investigation for mob ties moves from a 4-way dead heat to a “landslide” victory on the strength of bajillions of electronic votes.  Wouldn’t anyone get suspicious that precincts that presumably turned out pretty close in paper-voting produced enormous Petrelli majorities?
  • I like the Company, but it’s never quite clear (to me, at least) why they’re tracking the special people and what their eventual goal is.   How does Linderman tie into the Company’s goals?  I assume that they aren’t related.  If so, what IS the Company trying to accomplish?  Why does it attempt to take in Syler after it knows he’s a serial killer?  etc.  Critiques of Superhero Nation frequently offer some variation of “I don’t get the distinction between the Office of Special Investigations and the Social Justice League.”  I’d say that the Company-Linderman distinction is way hazier.
  • Suresh is OK, but do we really have to hear him narrate every episode?
  • I love the LA cop, but his role in the plot serves mainly to show what the law enforcement authorities are doing to stop Syler (not much, apparently).  He also makes an almost-cameo in the climactic fight against Syler.  I like this character a lot, but I would deemphasize his personal life– which is kind of trite– and emphasize the Syler connection.
    • The writers shot themselves in the foot with his hot partner.  The writers REALLY want this to be a world where no one really knows about people having superpowers.  To some extent, this suggests that the FBI is comically incompetent, but we’d have to believe that his partner is WILDLY stupid.
      1. She knows that he can read minds.  Ahem, he read HER mind and she knows that he is able to get all sorts of #$^# out of interrogatees.  She eventually shrugs that off with a few lines that are so painful that I can’t imagine they were written with a straight face.
      2. Syler’s kill scenes are distinctly unnatural.  Stuff like a building being iced over is par for the course.  Heads lopped off, etc.
      3. Mr. Radioactive produces radioactivity without any logical scientific explanation.  THEN Mr. Radioactive and his Homeland Security convoy are eliminated by something that threw the van down without leaving explosive residue or a collision impact.

    The easiest way to resolve all of this would be to remove the scene where the cop (Parkman) exposes his ESP secret to his partner.

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Oct 15 2007

A5 Sheet Sample for Retardised Whovian

Published by under Technical Advice

Using size 12 Times New Roman and short margins, I was able to fit 300 words.  The page fit 25 lines, including paragraph breaks.

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Oct 15 2007

How to Name Your Character–Superheroes and Otherwise

This article will cover how to name characters effectively and how to avoid the most common naming problems.

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Oct 05 2007

Combatting Cliches

Published by under Uncategorized

Short post.


Character One: “Give it up or I’ll pound on you.”

Character Two: “Is that a threat?”

Character One: “No… that’s a promise.”

My Version

(Agent Orange speaking to a Social Justice League director about League mutants waging an insurgency against city sewer-cleaners)

Agent Orange: “The sewers, of course, teem with mutant alligators and rats and terrapins and whatever else is stupid enough to want to live in New York City but smart enough not to pay New York rent. Municipal sewer drills have been repeatedly attacked. I won’t say that Leaguers were responsible and I definitely won’t say that they weren’t. But I will say that if a municipal employee is bruised, that the leathernecks that clean out the sewers won’t be crocodiles.”

Leaguer: “Is that a threat?”

Orange: “Fast on the uptake, aren’t you?”

(In case you missed the pun, leatherneck can refer to either a Marine or a certain NYC-sewer-dwelling crocodile). I vaguely doubt that a third of my audience got the Marine reference and probably less know the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle character. However, I do expect that a large majority of my readers would get the TMNT references in “mutant alligators and rats and terrapins” living in the NY sewers even if they didn’t know that a terrapin is a turtle.

A Brooklynite writes:

I don’t know what you’ve got against New York’s sewers. They’re a lot cleaner than Chicago politics.

Touche. Go jump down some more pipes or something.

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