Archive for July, 2008

Jul 31 2008

Major Updates to Our Writing Index

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.

We’ve added 12 articles and a new section on dialogue to our index of writing articles.

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Jul 31 2008

Manuscript Killers: Mentors

Mentor characters are usually insufferably bad.

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45 responses so far

Jul 31 2008

Webcomic Issue #12: NSA Does Not Stand for “Ninja-Sniper Assassins”

Published by under Comedy,Webcomic

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One response so far

Jul 30 2008

Writing Tip of the Day: Avoid Symbolic Animals in Titles

Published by under Titles,Writing Articles

I wouldn’t recommend putting an animal in your title unless the animal actually features prominently in your book. No matter how obvious you think it is that Corporate Wolf is not actually about a Canis lupis, the red herring will throw off at least a few (and possibly many) of your readers.  It would probably be worth your time to take out the animal name, particularly if your book will be on a shelf with fantasy or science fiction offerings.

One response so far

Jul 30 2008

Website-Design Tip of the Day: Readers Deserve More than Archives

Archives are not a particularly effective way to organize your website’s content. A list of years and months doesn’t help readers figure out what sort of content your site offers. In contrast, listing a few of the categories you post in most frequently will help readers understand what your website offers. Archives are also inadequate because they’re daunting and impenetrable for new viewers. I wouldn’t recommend placing archives high in your sidebar, although you may that they are useful at the bottom because returning viewers like using them.

I recommend placing index pages ahead of archives. For example, readers that click on the entries in our Top Categories sidebar get sent to an index page where we tried to lay out our content intelligently. For example, our index of writing guides organizes 30 writing articles into seven sections, such as Characterization and Common Writing Mistakes. Readers can navigate through an index more easily than through a flood of articles thrown at them in no particular order. If readers can easily find the content that interests them, they are far more likely to actually read it.

What do you think? Which sites do you find particularly easy to navigate?

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Jul 30 2008

This video about fonts is probably the funniest thing I’ve seen in a week

Published by under Comedy

(This video notwithstanding, Comic Sans is a wholly unprofessional and awful-looking font).

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Jul 29 2008

Writing Tip of the Day: Avoid Superfluous Lines of Dialogue

This article will help you write tight and effective dialogue, courtesy of Shut Up, He Explained.

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One response so far

Jul 29 2008

Good News and Bad News: the Neuromancer Movie

Fans of trippy science-fiction novels everywhere can rejoice that Neuromancer is getting a movie. In other good news, the movie poster shown by i09.com looks pretty stylish and suggests that it won’t be a remake of Swordfish.

The bad news is that Hayden Christensen, the same “actor” that ruined Star Wars and Jumper, is starring as Case. Dare I say that John Travolta could do this better? Egads. How could we have come to the point where John Travolta is the lesser of two acting evils? Hayden [censored]ing Christensen.

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Jul 29 2008

Archaeological Discovery Proves Humans, Alligators Co-Existed!

Published by under Comedy

It’s true!  I read it in the Mineral Wells Index.

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Jul 29 2008

Get Me Rewrite!

Published by under Comedy,Journalism

The New York Times wrote an article on women bloggers titled Blogging’s Glass Ceiling, which they put in the “Fashion and Style” section.  Comedically speaking, I don’t think there’s anything I can add to that.

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Jul 28 2008

Henry Ford & The Value of Perseverance in Writing

Published by under Quote of the Day

“You can’t build a reputation on what you are going to do.”

Nor can you sell a publisher a manuscript you haven’t written yet.* Get writing!

*Unless your past books have sold notably well, in which case I hate you.

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Jul 28 2008

Status Updates

Published by under Superhero Nation

Unfortunately, summer is about to end in roughly two weeks.  Cadet Davis has received a new-and-improved position as a writing instructor and I have eight months to complete a thesis and graduate.  Accordingly, I don’t expect that we will be able to keep up the frenetic pace throughout the year.  We will probably scale back to several thousand words of posts and 1 webcomic each week.

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Jul 28 2008

The Modus Operandi writing guide is delightful…

If you’re interested in writing crime-based fiction, Modus Operandi: a writer’s guide to how criminals work is definitely worth your time. For example, if your police officer were investigating the theft of a truck and the merchandise inside, the book suggests considering these possibilities…

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Jul 27 2008

Writing Tip of the Day: Don’t Spend Too Much Time on Weather

Published by under Writing Articles

Describing the weather sometimes helps develop the story’s mood and can emotionally affect the audience. However, I have a few main problems with the weather.

1. Authors tend to spend too much describing the weather independent of the characters. I recommend showing the characters interacting with the weather, ideally either raising the stakes or developing the character. If you’re writing a chase scene in the rain, one character might slip in a puddle as he’s trying to get away or struggle through the winds. Your protagonist’s wedding might be moved inside if it starts hailing, but if he’s stubborn enough maybe he’d refuse to move it.

2. Mentioning the weather in the first sentence of a book is rarely effective (“it was a dark and stormy night”). Your opening sentence has to convince readers to keep going and it’s difficult to imagine weather doing that. If you’d like to mention the weather anyway, I’d recommend using it to develop the lead character. For example, your opening sentence might be something like “Private Perkins hated the rain.” That’s not a great opening, but it uses the rain to faintly suggest that Perkins is unhappy because his life is boring and dour.

3. Please use weather in unexpected ways. Publishers have seen a lot of manuscripts that use dark storms to feel foreboding, or light-and-sunny weather to feel cheerful, or rain to feel sad and moody.  When the guy finally gets the girl, why does it have to be sunny?  I think it would be more dramatic if they passionately embraced in a light hail, myself.

3 responses so far

Jul 26 2008

Webcomic Issue #11: Boy Meets Squirrel

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7 responses so far

Jul 25 2008

Our Exam for Novelists now has over 125 questions!

Published by under Writing Articles

We have decided to take advantage of the thousands of hours we have spent reading frightfully bad submissions by compiling over 125 common mistakes into a questionnaire for first-time novelists. Give it a look!

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Jul 25 2008

Writing Tip/Caption Contest of the Day: Don’t Overuse Obscenities

Writers use obscenities for the same reasons they put in exclamation marks: they want to show that a character means it. Like exclamation marks, obscenities quickly lose their impact and come to sound goofy with overuse.

To help illustrate how goofy obscenities can look, we’re offering a caption contest. Abuse obscenities to create a hilariously bad conversation between Agent Black and Agent Orange. (Agent Black is the guy on the left; by the process of elimination, Agent Orange is the mutated alligator).

4 responses so far

Jul 25 2008

Don’t Write for Yourself: You are Your Own Worst Reader

Published by under Commentary

Today, a commenter at Nathan Bransford’s site said…

While I’m striving to write a book that I hope will be some kind of bestseller, I never forget that I’m also striving to write a book that *I* would want to read if I saw it on the shelf.

That is badly misguided. Whether you want to buy your book is irrelevant. You are not the audience of your book. Publishers do not want to publish a book for you. Publishers need to sell thousands of copies and they want books with that sort of appeal.

Authors that write a book they want to read tend to lose sight of the audience. I think that leads to self-absorbed and completely ineffective titles like “The Legend of Edarotag” and “Cimmeria’s Song*”. It may contribute to in-jokes and references that no one can relate to. As a rule, I think it’s safe to say that no one finds your interests as interesting as you do.

In conclusion, your career will probably be more successful if you forget about what you want to read and focus on finding what you can (and would be proud to) sell.

*These are both fictional titles (try reversing the letters in Edarotag).  I hope that demonstrated how easily in-jokes can disgruntle mass audiences.

8 responses so far

Jul 24 2008

Webcomic Issue #10: Some Unconventional New Year’s Resolutions

Published by under Comedy,Comic Books,Webcomic

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4 responses so far

Jul 24 2008

Writing Tip of the Day: Don’t Abuse “There’s”

1. Don’t let the contraction “there’s” lure you into grammatical traps. “There’s” means only “there is,” so it can’t be applied to plural nouns. I once asked an aspiring author if he really thought that publishers would want to buy a manuscript that he was pitching as “Tolkien in space.” “There’s many reasons to think they would,” he wrote back. That statement is incorrect (grammatically and otherwise).

2. Constructions like “there is” tend to create passive, slow sentences. For example, you might write “there are five buroughs in New York City.” It would be smoother to rewrite that as “New York City has five buroughs.”

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Jul 22 2008

Five More Mistakes of First-Time Authors (#36-40)

This short article will help beginning novelists avoid another five common mistakes that will usually cause publishers to throw out a manuscript.

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10 responses so far

Jul 21 2008

Five More Mistakes of First-Time Authors (#31-35)

This short article will help beginning novelists avoid another five common mistakes that will usually cause publishers to throw out a manuscript.

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One response so far

Jul 21 2008

“The Dark Knight” Rocked

Published by under Comic Books,Movie Review

I loved the new Batman movie. I’d say that it was the best DC-licensed movie I’ve ever seen, but that would be damning it with faint praise. Although the action was low-key and frankly forgettable, the writing and side-characters really redeemed it. Instead of getting campy one-liners from the Joker, the script echoed The Lord of the Flies. It wasn’t exactly deep or insightful, but it was unexpectedly dramatic and entertaining.

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2 responses so far

Jul 20 2008

Writing Tip of the Day: Color is the Weakest Form of Visualization

Beginning authors usually try to visualize objects by describing their color. Their characters have brown eyes and black hair and inhabit a world of green bushes and brown tables and grey clouds. Or, if they have a thesaurus on hand, maybe the grass will be emerald and the sky will be azure.

 

Color hardly ever suggests anything interesting about the character or object. For example, let’s say that my villain’s eyes are blue instead of green or brown. Who cares? Do blue eyes suggest anything about the character or advance the plot? If not, then the the detail is irrelevant and should be removed. Most color usage is irrelevant.

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28 responses so far

Jul 19 2008

Your Title is Bad, but You Can Save It (Part 3)

Published by under Titles,Writing Articles

Cadet Davis reviews and revises the titles of 30 manuscripts submitted to a writing workshop. This will help you evaluate and improve your titles.

Above Average

  1. Houndsditch and the Age of Meat. Even though we don’t know who Houndsditch is, “the Age of Meat” slaps readers in the face. And it foreshadows how frighteningly funny the story is. Also, there’s meat involved.
  2. Self Love. Definitely a head-scratcher, but an intriguing head-scratcher. However, it’s vague. Adding more details would probably benefit this story.

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2 responses so far

Jul 19 2008

I’ve decided you need a surrealistically cheerful painting

Published by under Art

I just got back from an art show where I was most impressed by the landscapes of Amy Taylor.

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Jul 19 2008

Picking a Font for a Webcomic

I’m particularly fond of Gosmick Sans and Agency FB. Stay the hell away from Comic Sans, Times, Impact, and Helvetica. None of the default Microsoft Word fonts are particularly attractive. I recommend browsing through a free-font website like 1001 Free Fonts. I’ll have more thoughts on this later.

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Jul 18 2008

A question for fans and reviewers of the Superhero Nation novel

Published by under Superhero Nation

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3 responses so far

Jul 18 2008

Problem Characters: Cameo Celebrities

It is tempting to write historical celebrities into any historically themed work (“look, there’s Winston Churchill!”). If you do so, please avoid these common mistakes.

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Jul 18 2008

Webcomic Issue #9: Maybe This is Why Delivery Rooms are a Reptile-Free Zone

Published by under Comedy,Superhero Stories

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One response so far

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