Archive for December, 2007

Dec 10 2007

The dream lives!

Published by under Football

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.

Having trounced Pittsburgh, the New England Patriots appear to have a clear road to a perfect 16-0 season.  But they won’t go 16-0 because the Miami Dolphins are going to beat them and go 1-15.  I will further predict that their win against the Patriots will be their only win this season. 

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Dec 10 2007

Preliminary Search Engine Optimization Results

10 days ago, I changed the title of one of my most popular articles from “Helping Girls Write Guys” toWriting Male Characters(I explained my reasoning here). I think that it’ll take 20 or so more days until I have conclusive information, but so far the article has tripled in unique hits over the past ~9.5 days compared to the 10 days before the change. I had anticipated some change, because my target audience is much more likely to use words like male/writing/characters than helping/girls/guys, but the magnitude of the leap surprised me.

Additionally, the article has become more effective. I suspect that the new title retains readers that click the Google link more effectively. “Writing Male Characters” is very straight-forward and serious; “Helping Girls Write Guys” doesn’t sound nearly as helpful.

  1. Before, the article bounced an unacceptably high ~60% of readers. That has dropped to 35%. My preliminary conclusion is that strong titles are critical to retaining readers.
  2. Including readers that bounce after a very short amount of time, the average time spent on the article has increased from two minutes to three. Excluding relatively unpopular articles that are skewed by a few devoted readers (three people spent an average of 30 minutes on one of mine), only my review of Soon I Will Be Invincible and my article on naming characters retain readers longer. And my SIWBI review is 4000 words long.
  3. With the exception of the main site at www.superheronation.com, more readers enter my site through this article than any other.

 

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Dec 09 2007

Quote of the Day: Dec. 9

Agent Orange: Contrary to popular belief, the New York Times is not actually the most anti-American news outlet. CSPAN is far more dangerous, and not just because it is more accurate than the average comic book. You couldn’t design anti-American propaganda more effective than around-the-clock Congressional coverage.

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Dec 08 2007

Quote of the Day

“You don’t change the world by whispering.” — NY Governor Eliot Spitzer

“Only a New Yorker could think that volume can change the world.”– Jacob Mallow

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Dec 08 2007

Page 2 Storyboard

Published by under Art,Comic Books

This is my storyboard for the page I’d like illustrated first.

Panel 1:
The camera is zoomed in on a young accountant in the doorway of his ideal suburban house (see reference below for the house). The angle here should be askew, slightly canted so that the frame is not quite parallel to the ground.  The accountant (Gary) is a disheveled wreck getting ready to run out to his car. His tie is hanging around his neck and his teeth are hanging on to a piece of toast that he didn’t have time to eat. He is frantic and has clearly overslept. His right hand holds a briefcase.

Panel 2:
He runs madly towards his car (reference below). I’d like the camera to focus on his legs and waist. His left hand should, at this point, reach into his pocket. (Yeah, it’s OK if running with a hand in his pocket looks awkward).

His car should look pretty plain but not boring. He’s an IRS accountant but I want readers to feel that they can relate to him. Something like this car below. (Colorwise, I’d like it in a beige or a weak blue).

Panel 3:
This shot should be angled so that the car is oriented like it is like it is in the shot above. We see him from the back as he’s facing perpendicular to the car from 5-10 feet away. He has pulled out a starter. We should be able to read the car’s license plate, which says TAXMAN. Again, this is meant to establish his style. I think that readers will like him a lot more if they feel he has flavor… so, if you need to adjust the angle or the car to get the license plate in, please do so.

Panel 4:
He clicks the starter. (Sound effect: Click). Again, it’s important that he be illustrated 5-10 feet away from the car.

Panel 5:
When he starts the engine, he unwittingly sets off a bomb that was intended to kill him. (Sound effect: boom).

Proportionwise, this is how I was envisioning it: 35% of the page’s height for panels 1 and 2, 25% for 3 and 4, and 40% for panel 5. Panels 1, 2, 3 and 4 would each span half of the page horizontally and 5 would span the entire page.

Visual References

Miscellaneous Details

  • It’s very early in the morning.
  • It’s summer.
  • Please don’t illustrate any bystanders.  Gary should be alone when the bomb goes off.
  • I want Gary’s house to look ideal and Eden-esque.  Please replace the bushes and hedges out front with some flowers (see reference for some examples).
  • Except for the explosion, this scene should be very cheerful/bright/happy.

If you have any questions, please email me at bmckenzie05-at-gmail[dot]com.

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Dec 07 2007

Quote of the Day

FROM: AgentOrange@osi.hr.gov

TO: OfficeofSpecialInvestigationsListServ@osi.gov

SUBJ: December Morale Issues

As you receive your duty schedules this December, please think of the story of Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer.

What happened in the Rudolph case study

  1. Team-members pulling together to complete an important task
  2. Division of labor

What didn’t happen in the Rudolph case study

  1. Reindeer complaining about “hazard pay” or “life insurance premiums”
  2. Reindeer demanding to be at home on Dec. 24 or 25.
  3. Threats of congressional investigations into Reindeer Resources practices and relevant reindeer being kicked into a food processor

Ho, ho, ho! Have a cheerfully nondenominationally cheerful December season!

–Human Resources

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Dec 07 2007

Quote of the Day

I reject the cynical view that politics is a dirty business.”– Richard Nixon

Sorry, I can’t think of any way to make that any funnier.

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Dec 06 2007

Script Blurb

Published by under Comedy

Hello, these are the first four pages of our script.

PAGE ONE (five panels)

Panel 1. The morning sun is rising over a cheerful-looking suburban house. It’s summer.

CAP: 7:35 Monday at the home of IRS Agent Gary Williams.

Panel 2. The front door is now open, showing a mundane-looking man around 25 years old, dressed for work in a drab suit and carrying a briefcase.

Panel 3. He is closer to his car. He reaches into his pocket.

Panel 4. He pulls out his keys and starts the engine remotely. He’s several feet away from the car.

SFX: Click.

Panel 5. The car explodes (because starting the engine set off a car-bomb). Agent Williams is within 5-10 feet of the car when it explodes.

PAGE TWO (four panels)

Panel 1. Williams wakes up in a hospital. He should have some bandages but generally look uninjured. A police officer with a US Marshal’s badge is staring out the window at a generic US cityscape.

WILLIAMS:
What happened?

US MARSHAL:
A car bomb. Someone wants you dead.

Panel 2. Williams looks shocked and scandalized.

WILLIAMS:
But who would want to kill an IRS agent?

US MARSHAL, with a grim smile:
300 million people, easy. But mainly we’re considering the criminals you investigated. Do any cases stick out to you?

Panel 3. Williams is counting on his fingers, recounting the criminals he’s investigated this year. He should look innocent and oblivious to the fact that many people have an incentive to kill him.

WILLIAMS:
Well, uhh… this year I had a money laundering case against a drug gang, a fraud case against the KKK, a few mob indictments, seven or eight hundred individual charges of tax evasion…

Panel 4: Williams cuts himself off after seeing a clock over the Marshal’s shoulder.

WILLIAMS:
–it’s 9:20. I’m late for work!

MARSHAL:
You are not going to work, Mr. Williams.

PAGE THREE (five panels)

Panel 1: Williams tries to get out of his bed, but the Marshal presses his hands down on Williams’ shoulders.

WILLIAMS:
But I can still make my 10 o’clock appoint—

MARSHAL:
We told the IRS that you’re dead. You can’t go back there.

Panel 2. Williams looks puzzled.

MARSHALL:
We don’t know who tried to murder you or how they got your address.

Panel 3.

MARSHALL:
We have to assume that someone at the IRS helped them. If you returned to your workplace or home, word would get out that you survived and the killers would finish the job.

WILLIAMS:
Those are my friends! You can’t ask me to give my life away.

Panel 4.

MARSHALL:
I wasn’t asking. The alternative is being taken into Witness Protection until the investigation is complete. Probably a year. I hope you like Anchorage.

Panel 5. Williams slumps against the bed’s backboard, melancholy.

WILLIAMS:
A year…

MARSHAL:
We’ll put you on paid administrative leave and you can even get a new job if you’d like. It’s not that bad.

PAGE FOUR (five panels)

Panel 1. scrawny government agent in a business suit is having a telephone conversation with Williams from his bland office. In the back, we see an American flag and the FBI seal painted onto a window.

FBI HUMAN RESOURCES AGENT:
I’m sorry, Mr. Williams, but…

Panel 2. A very similarly dressed agent is having a similar phone conversation with Williams. This time, it’s a Drug Enforcement Agency seal painted either on a window or the back wall. To help differentiate this speaker from the previous one, please vary the character’s race and/or gender.

DEA HUMAN RESOURCES AGENT:
…our agents require at least a year of training, so…

Panel 3. Yet another government agent is speaking on the phone with Williams. This time the Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms Bureau seal is somewhere in the office.

ATF HUMAN RESOURCES AGENT:
… I must inform you that, regretfully…

Panel 4. Another government agent is on the phone. This time, please use a seal from the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency. (Readers won’t recognize the seal, but they should be able to pick up the message that Williams is exhausting every option).

OCC HUMAN RESOURCES AGENT:
…we cannot hire you at this time.

Panel 5. Williams is slumped over at a mostly vacant bar, with a few empty mugs near him. On the edge of the paper, we see a muscular and hard-looking man approaching Williams, but the main visual here is Williams taking his job rejections hard.

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Dec 05 2007

Quote of the Day

“I’m a conservative, but I’m not a nut about it.”– George H.W. Bush

“And that is why you and I are different.”– Dr. Lizard, webmaster of the Lizard Lounge.

“Poor Darrell Hammond. What’s he going to do when I leave office?”– Bill Clinton

“Probably enjoy his internship more.”– Dr. Lizard

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Dec 05 2007

A few quick tips on encouraging traffic

  1. Post something every day. If you’re gungho enough to actually log on to your site every day, great. If not, write a few more posts than you need and set their timestamps so that they come out once a day. Having one post a day is vastly preferable to a few posts every few days.
    1. Daily posts encourages readers to check your site often. It also reminds your readers that you’re still alive and why they love coming back. (Right, guys?)
    2. Coming up with 7 posts each week is not too hard. I think we have 400 posts over the five months. Admittedly, we have a team of contributors, but to be fair I would venture to say that at least 200-250 of those are mine.
    3. If interested readers see that you haven’t updated in the past few days, they may stop coming. I loved Your Webcomic Can Still Be Saved but it hasn’t posted in quite some time. I no longer check it.
    4. Your readers won’t derive as much enjoyment from the second article as the first (diminishing returns). But it’s just as hard to write the second article as it is to write the first. From an economics standpoint, it makes more sense to stash the second article.
  2. Strategic post timing. I think the most popular time to browse the web is (for adults) around 5pm-8pm. It’s probably around 3-5 pm for students. Target your posts to just before your audience is likely to check.
  3. What should you post? That depends on what your site’s aim is. If you’re trying to market a novel, you can show your writing style with one-liners from your characters, strong scenes or a short conversation between two characters. Character profiles may be useful, particularly if your characters are fresh enough to draw us into the story.

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Dec 04 2007

Characterization

I hate little writing guides. I read one this morning that offered only ~300 words on writing characters, all of which could be summarized as “write authentic characters,” which was incidentally the chapter heading. Write authentic characters. Thanks!

Hopefully, this article will prove more useful to you. As you craft and introduce a character, you have many tools at your disposal. I’ll offer some tips for the following aspects and tools of character creation.

  1. Character genesis: what kind of character do you need?
  2. Introducing your character
  3. Making your characters memorable/sticky
  4. Three dimensional characters
  5. Character problems

Character Genesis: what kind of character do you need?

Virtually every well-designed character has each of the following:

  1. Purpose
    1. This is the role he plays in your story. If your character does not play a unique and useful role in the plot, you need to rewrite or remove him. Characters are unique if their role can’t be performed by the story’s other characters. A character is useful he cannot be removed without dramatically weakening the story. That’s subjective, but often your beta readers agree which characters are productive and/or interesting and which aren’t. If you have beta readers, ask questions like “what role did John play in this chapter?” or “which character contributed the least?”—those are pretty direct ways of getting reader impressions on the material. If you don’t have beta readers, go to http://www.critters.org; it’s a very professional and free online writing workshop.
    2. Purpose comes first because everything else you put into your character hinges on the role you need him to play. Purpose should drive development. For example, if you want a character to add comic quips, he should be witty. Readers will notice if a supposedly slow character is verbally quick.
    3. Your audience and world often reach the same conclusions about a character. But, if you intend your readers not to agree with what your characters think about another character, make it clear why there’s a distinction. (Failing to do so will make your characters feel flat or unbelievable). NOTE: this should be done as sparingly as possible. Discrepancies tend to disconnect readers from the story.
  1. Goals
    1. Real people have goals. Your characters should, too! Goals add plot coherence. If your plot moves from one characters attempting to achieve his goal to another thwarting him by pursuing his own agenda and then back to the first character trying again, it tends to flow nicely.
    2. Goals make characters deep and believable. Did Neville Longbottom go to Hogwarts just so Snape could pound on him? Hell no! He wants to be a man, which drives him to (hilariously) confront Harry Potter towards the end of the first book. Goals are essential to making your characters more than just props. Even your minor characters should have them.
  2. Problems
    1. Real people have problems, too. Problems are a great way to develop your characters. In fact, sometimes the problems are more memorable than the characters themselves (how long could you talk about Luke Skywalker before saying “Darth Vader?”)
    2. Sometimes you reach for your goal and fail. Failure adds drama! Someone who succeeds the first time, every time is not really interesting. The higher the barriers are, the more your readers will enjoy watching the leap. Failure also helps develop characters. Adversity brings out resourcefulness, ingenuity and strength.
    3. Problems also help you mix up the plot. If your character tries shouldering open a locked door but fails, it wouldn’t be very dramatic if he just kept hitting it until it opened. This gives you an opportunity to show that your character is able to do more than solve all of his problems one way—action writers often tend to focus on violent or confrontational solutions. If you feel you have that problem, try mixing it up by placing your hero in a position where he’s hopelessly outpowered, ideally in a social setting. You can’t punch your boss…
    4. Are you using a broad set of problems? Here are a few to consider. 1) Nature/natural phenomena 2)Violent antagonists 3) Iagos (diplomatically savvy antagonists) 4) The hero’s shortcomings 5) The hero’s goals conflict 6) Conflicting heroes
  3. Flaws
    1. Authors sometimes mistakenly confuse problems with flaws. Problems are obstacles or failures. Flaws are attributes that the audience won’t find endearing.
    2. Many authors tend to subconsciously write characters as reflections of themselves. That’s fine, as long as you don’t idealize yourself. Realistic characters virtually require flaws. “But I want my audience to sympathize with my hero!” That’s a good point, but keep in mind that flaws can accentuate positive traits. For example, an idealistic character might be depressed because the world doesn’t meet his expectations. His depression will remind us that he lives by his ideals.
    3. On the other hand, villains often have too many flaws. Sympathetic villains—with agendas we can relate to, even if we don’t want them to succeed— are often the most memorable and feel the most realistic (Darth Vader).
    4. Flaws tend to be more memorable. For example, in Naomi Novik’s Temeraire series, Temeraire has an interesting set of characteristics. Let’s see… he’s a dragon, enthusiastic about geometry, he is very affectionate towards his Captain/partner, is strongly anti-slavery and wants sweeping reforms to make British society more dragon-friendly (like tearing up London buildings to make the streets widers). But what is most salient about Temeraire—and characterizes him the best—is that he’s politically radical and doesn’t care about what society deems acceptable.
    5. Flaws tend to add plot coherence. Temeraire [SPOILER] goes rogue and refuses to carry out a plot to poison French dragons. [/SPOILER] That flows naturally from his deeply held views about the dignity of dragons. It doesn’t feel like the author randomly decided to have Temeraire rebel to spice the plot up. Plots driven by flaws tend to be more coherent and feel less arbitrary, partially because flaw-driven foreshadowing is more noticeable and memorable.

Memorable/Sticky Characters

You want your characters to be memorable, I’m sure. More precisely, your characters should be sticky—something about them needs to stick long and hard with your readers.

Readers will often miss minor details, especially one introduced only once or twice. The essence of stickiness is giving each character one or two defining characteristics that provide memory cues to everything else about the character. If you bring attention to those defining characteristics a few times, readers will gradually make a lasting impression and they will easily remember the character.

Here’s an example from my own work: one of Agent Orange’s defining characteristics is that he’s an (reptilian) alien. I assumed that readers would remember that unusual detail. WRONG! Not only had the majority forgotten that he was the alien, many more had gotten confused about the species of some human characters. To help cue my readers, I had Agent Orange say “mammals*” whenever he’s exasperated, faces a political obstacle, has to explain something about himself or is otherwise perplexed by American culture.

[1]

ORANGE: Do you smell that?

LASH: That you smell like an ashtray?

ORANGE: The squid. He’s a mile off.

LASH: How the hell could I smell a squid a mile away?

ORANGE: Mammals.

[2]

Agent BLACK: I’ll stick with the experience and Darwin factors.

Agent ORANGE: (Mammals). When Freakshow is melting your neural synapses together, let me know how much inspiration and comfort those give you.

BLACK: I will try to remember to do that, sir.

ORANGE: (Wiseass).

This recurring remark has benefits beyond reminding readers that Orange isn’t human. Sometimes I’ll ask my reviewers questions like “do you remember a passage that shows how Agent Orange (or nonhumans generally) get along with humans?” They almost always pick a “mammals” passage. I think the word “mammals” is a pretty good cue that the reader is supposed to make associations there.

Since I’ve introduced the “mammals” lines, readers have fared much better on open-ended questions like “how would you characterize human-nonhuman relationships in Superhero Nation? I’m looking for words like “awkward,” “well-intentioned,” “strange” and “friendly”—at least, that’s what I meant to convey. Before I used mammal lines, most readers had no clue and the rest mentioned discrimination. That was certainly puzzling, given that the only recurring nonhuman character is a ranking government official that’s friendly with his co-workers.

Now, I see a lot more answers that use words like “strained,” “symbiotic,” different perspectives, etc.

Big picture, “mammals” helps characterize Orange. It reminds us that he’s not a human and that his relations with humans are mostly positive but kind of outsider-looking-in (I like “symbiotic”).

*I experimented with him saying “humans” but that came off much more sinister and lacked the whimsy and exasperation I was looking for. Reviewers overwhelmingly agreed that “mammals” was friendlier. One said that “humans rings with contempt. It sounds like a slur.” Another agreed that mammals was less threatening because it paralleled racism less. By using “mammals” instead of “humans,” Orange implicitly contrasts himself as a reptile rather than a dragon. “I don’t think he’s suggesting reptiles are categorically superior to mammals, but I think using ‘humans’ does suggest a categorical assertion about the superiority of his species [dragons].”

I’m only done with part 1 of this, but it’s pretty late here. I’ll complete this later.

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Dec 03 2007

You heard it here first (unless you work in drug rehab)

Published by under Uncategorized

The Miami Dolphins, vying to be the first team ever to lose more than the 0-14 1976 Buccaneers, will beat the Patriots and end their hopes of a perfect season.

I saw it in a dream.  It was one of those trippy-as-hell dreams that you KNOW is a dream even before you wake up.

KAPOW. 

Superhero Hallucination

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Dec 03 2007

Poorly Slapped Together Art, Pt. 3

Experimental Mutagen

My execution has improved somewhat. This time I actually remembered the mana cost and the art looks a bit cleaner than my first two attempts. Art c/o the White House.

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Dec 02 2007

Quote of the Day

Note on the OSI Human Resources Branch Refrigerator

ATTENTION HUMAN RESOURCES TEAM:

Several letters, ‘Special Investi,’ faded off my door placard. Since this sort of event happens passively all the time, there’s no reason to suspect that any of you were involved or spike the office coffee with truth serum. I’m sure the scratch marks are coincidental and entirely unrelated to the cruelly disfigured statue of Albert the Florida Gator that was left as a doorjamb.

–Agent Orange, Human Resources Director and Special Investigator

Postscript: In completely unrelated news, I’m holding an interrogation information session office party today. Everyone with claws or a proficiency with knifes/cutting implements is invited. (RSVP not mandatory but attendance is. These employees can check the attached schedule for their required party time).

Post-postscript: Agent Black, don’t even bother checking. You’re first.

Post-post-postscript: In other completely unrelated news, the OSI is adjusting its service schedules to enhance public safety. We will deploy a number of agents to conduct the esteemed work of bomb-searching every dumpster within a ten mile radius of the University of Florida’s Griffin Stadium before each football game. OSI-HR has not yet decided how many agents to deploy; the investigation roster evaluation is still pending.

Post-post-post-postscript: You—you know who you are (and I do, too)—are considering time-travel. “What if I undrink the truth serum but decapitate Albert anyway?” Please. Unless you’re also interested in Florida baseball, I’d recommend against it.

Post-post-post-post-postscript: Mammals. [Note: this is not a legal statement implying that I know the species of the partyer-of-honor. However, it is a statement that I know it’s Black.]

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Dec 02 2007

Another Poorly Slapped Together Piece of Art

This next one is dedicated to a certain fictional counterterrorist we all know and love, rather than anything in real-life.

My last fake card was done like a Magic: The Gathering card. It’s come to my attention that there are superhero card games (!). One of my Australian (!!!) readers says that he has actually played one, OverPower.

He says: “Your art [expletive]s but I bet Hegemon will be funner to play than” Overpower.

In honor of this alleged card game that has apparently made its way to Australia already, I give you your second Hegemon card, There’s No Time!

(Please click to see the full image if it’s cut off).

There’s No Time!

To the extent that the art is not painfully bad, I made use of Dali’s classic Persistence of Memory.

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Dec 01 2007

Quote of the Day: Dec. 1

Published by under Comedy,Quote of the Day

The following is not based on my work as a journalist… but it could be.

Political scientist: I noticed that your article called me an “imperialist.”

Journalist: Right. You said you were an imperialist.

Political scientist: Empiricist! I’m an empiricist!

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Dec 01 2007

Search Engine Optimization for Online Novels

This article describes some remotely technical details of search engine optimization, particularly for authors/novelists.

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