Archive for August, 2008

Aug 31 2008

Salon asks why the Star Wars trilogy beat LOTR

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.

The author claims that Star Wars was better because it was human-centric rather than world- or action-centric.  Our contributors respond…

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Aug 31 2008

George Lucas Disproves Evolution

Exhibit A:

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7 responses so far

Aug 31 2008

Superhero Visual References: Boots

B. Mac provides these references for boots.  These will help you design a character for a comic book or novel-cover.


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12 responses so far

Aug 30 2008

Please let me know what you think of this webcomic revision

Published by under Webcomic

I’ve revised the first edition of our webcomic.  What do you think?

NEXT COMIC

In case you’d like to see the old version of this comic, please look below the jump.

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4 responses so far

Aug 29 2008

An interesting argument about why we’ve never made contact with ETs?

Published by under Science Fiction

Maybe Earth is under quarantine?

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Aug 29 2008

No Heroics Trailer

No Heroics is a thoroughly British sit-com about 4 superheroes, with some PG-13 sexual humor.

This felt time-worn but likable.  I appreciate that the superpowers are not meant to be laugh-lines. Absurdly useless superpowers are rarely funny.

2 responses so far

Aug 29 2008

Webcomic 17: It Wore a Top Hat

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2 responses so far

Aug 28 2008

Mr. Buckell reports: the median advance on a first sci-fi or fantasy novel is $5000

Tobias Buckell gathered some data describing how much authors make on their first advance. The median author in SF or fantasy makes $5000. The average in both categories is slightly higher (about $6500), but that’s probably distorted by a few superstars that skewed the distribution curve.

He also broke the data down by agented vs. unagented submissions. The median advance for an unagented manuscript is $4000, compared to $5500 for an agented manuscript. You might think to yourself “aha! I will make more if I have a superior negotiator on my side!” That’s probably true, but please also consider that a novelist that is good enough to convince an agent to work with him is probably better-than-average to begin with. In addition to that selection bias, you’d also have to factor in the agent’s share of the advance.

That said, I think an agent can be a powerful ally and (all things considered) one that will probably pay for himself.

5 responses so far

Aug 27 2008

The Wrath of Farrakhan

Living Color put together this pretty hilarious blend of Star Trek and Louis Farrakhan.

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Aug 27 2008

Your Title is Bad, But You Can Fix It (Part 7)

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

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23 responses so far

Aug 27 2008

We Added a Blogroll

Published by under Navel-Gazing

Our new blogroll focuses on the sites we find particularly funny, but we have a few sites devoted to writing and the publishing industry. If you’d like to suggest a site, we’d love to hear from you.

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Aug 26 2008

First anniversary!

Our website is a year old now. Without navel-gazing too much, I’d like to offer some quick visuals to suggest just how dramatically our crappiness quotient has dropped. These are our first six months worth of headers…

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Aug 26 2008

Writers’ Resources: Elite Guard Dogs

If you’re interested in writing about thieves at the top of their game, you might find it interesting to know how the super-wealthy protect themselves. For example, a German shepherd from a security services firm will cost $40,000. What kind of face-ripper does that buy you? Here’s what one customer says…

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Aug 25 2008

Webcomic 16: The Prestigigator

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One response so far

Aug 23 2008

How can you make book trailers work?

Some authors are now marketing their books with videos (book trailers). Frequently they emphasize Hollywood-lite visuals over elements that would speak well of the book. For example, this one for Christine Feehan’s Dark Curse uses a live-action dragon and bats at a decent production level. But the trailer’s writing is atrocious. There’s no dialogue and the text that shows up on the screen is almost too bad to believe.

FROM New York Times BEST-SELLING AUTHOR CHRISTINE FEEHAN.

THE TIME HAS COME

TO FIGHT THE EVIL

TO RECLAIM A BIRTHRIGHT

TO CLAIM A HEART

TO SAVE US ALL

AT ANY COST

FROM THE…
DARK CURSE.
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34 responses so far

Aug 23 2008

Demotivational Military Poster: Captain America

Picture taken from one of the Marvel Civil War comics. #1, I think.

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Aug 22 2008

“You interest me, strangely. I accept your invitation.”

Published by under Comedy,Comic Books

You can shake it like a Polaroid picture… but can you shake it like Batman?

One response so far

Aug 22 2008

Webcomic Issue #15: Just Married?

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Aug 22 2008

An observation about Lois Lane and Clark Kent

In Lois and Clark: The New Adventures of Superman, Clark Kent is written to be an idealized Red-Stater and Lois Lane is an idealized Blue-Stater. What I love about her, compared to the average damsel in distress, is that she adds something.  She completes him. Usually, fictional stories write love interests as cardboard characters designed to show that the protagonist has “arrived.”  These characters typically seem more like trophies than people.  If they are developed at all, it will be to show how desirable a trophy they are: really beautiful and super high-class! Enter Eragon, stage right.

One response so far

Aug 21 2008

Rewriting Batman

(This comic had a convoluted plot; Batman wore funky costumes to prevent anyone from noticing that Robin’s arm was in a cast).

2 responses so far

Aug 21 2008

Please Don’t Write This Badly

Published by under Uncategorized

Some editors can rewrite an absolutely mediocre story into a masterpiece, but please give yours more to work with than this…

From the New York Times: “Few want a handout, but fewer want government to abandon them. A simmering hurt suffuses their words, a sense that neither hard work nor their unions could save them.”

It’s hard to tell which part of this passage was the worst, but it probably wasn’t “a simmering hurt suffuses their words.” I found “fewer want government to abandon them” more painful. The author really struggled to create a parallel structure with the previous clause. I would recommend rephrasing that sentence as “When polled, residents were uneasy about government handouts but enthusiastic about vocational education programs,” or another form of government assistance that came up frequently.

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Aug 19 2008

A Heavily Fictionalized Account of the United States… in Japan!

Published by under Comedy

To save face in Japan, tourists may have to tell lies. Crazy, jaw-dropping lies. Should you ever have to tell outrageous lies about life in the United States, this article will help.

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Aug 19 2008

How to Sell Freelance Art

Published by under Art,Technical Advice

B. Mac, a regular customer of freelance art, offers this article for freelance artists that want to maximize their sales.

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10 responses so far

Aug 18 2008

Protecting Your Writing

Published by under Writing Articles

On Fiction Addiction, literary agent Jeff Kleinman offers a few ways to protect your plot ideas. I have nothing against copyright registration (although it is unnecessary for novelists), but I wouldn’t recommend getting hung up on fears that someone is going to steal your ideas. Most novels excel based on their execution rather than their original content. An extraordinarily well-written story will stand out even if its premise is time-worn.

For example, His Majesty’s Dragon has a premise very similar to Harry Turtledove’s Into the Darkness. (Humans use dragons to fight Napoleon or a thinly-veiled fantasy Hitler, respectively). HMD is drastically better, not because its plot is original but because its characters are far better-executed and its writing is snappier. If someone writes a book with a premise similar to yours– and that will almost assuredly happen to superhero writers– you will probably have to compete with them for readers by demonstrating superior style and execution.

I will leave you with this cryptic cartoon about the dangers of relying too much on an unusual concept to sell a book…

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Aug 16 2008

Coming (Back) to America

Published by under Superhero Nation

My plane leaves Nagoya in about twenty hours and I will get back home roughly twenty hours later, thanks to an extended layover in Detroit. 

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Aug 15 2008

Manuscript Killers: Homo Superiors

Diagnosing the Problem

Homo superiors are characters that are like humans but better in every conceivable way. How would you describe how Superman differs from a human? “Well, he can do anything a human can, but a hundred times better.” He even looks like a human. Homo superiors are usually aliens or elves, but sometimes a human with enough superpowers or enhancements.

A homo superior is usually not merely better at fighting than everyone else, but also more sophisticated and savvy. If he has a character flaw, he’s probably arrogant because he knows he’s so much better than everyone else in the story.

Why Homo Superiors Wreck Stories

Homo superiors are usually undramatic. Superman never really struggles to do anything, because he’s the best at everything. But a struggling character is what makes stories interesting. If a police officer is in a standoff with a hostage-taker, that’s dramatic because we don’t know if the police officer will succeed. The police officer will only win if he’s wittier and craftier than the criminal. Perhaps he convinces the criminal to surrender. Maybe he convinces the criminal to lower his gun and then shoots him in the face. In contrast, Superman just uses his superspeed or eye-rays and stops the criminal. That’s quite boring, especially after you’ve already seen it a few times.

Homo superiors also usually lead to overpowered characters, which can make the plot feel unbelievable. Let’s say you want to write a fantasy story with a dragon rider. But why would the dragon take a rider? What does he think he gets out of having a puny human on his back? Why is Superman willing to risk his own life for humans? I couldn’t imagine myself being so charitable to ants and, from his perspective, we must seem something like smarter ants. Why would an incredible elven-mage be willing to join a ragtag band of adventurers? Etc.

Fixing the Problem

The best way is to try to explore ways in which the character is either mediocre or inferior. Maybe that elf, normally so elegant and well-spoken, completely goes to pieces in high-stress situations like combat. Maybe the dragon thinks that having a human might be useful in certain situations.

Here are some other ways in which a character might be different and/or inferior.

  • Physical– strength, dexterity, stamina, reflexes, senses, coordination, precision, aim.
  • Mental– logic, memory, cleverness, wit, associational reasoning, rhetorical skill, investigative prowess, gullibility, curiosity, adventurousness, bravery, education, magic.
  • Social– teamwork, selflessness, diplomacy/tact, persuasion, subterfuge

18 responses so far

Aug 14 2008

Your Title is Bad But You Can Fix It (Part 6)

Published by under Titles,Writing Articles

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

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2 responses so far

Aug 14 2008

Comments are Content– Edit Accordingly

Published by under Writing Articles

If you are (or want to be) a credible writer, hopefully your sentences are free of spelling, grammatical and punctuation mistakes. No one will take your website seriously if you write like you’re texting a message. With that in mind, please check the last five comments that users have left on your blog. Do any of them meet the level you set for yourself? Even on the writing sites I follow, the comments are poorly written, sometimes so poorly that they reflect poorly on the website. Even intelligent comments are often hidden behind grammatical nonchalance. Here are some suggestions.

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One response so far

Aug 14 2008

Book Cover Project

Published by under Art,Marketing

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Aug 13 2008

When Spiderman ties up a criminal, what do the police charge him with?

One of the tropes of superhero stories is that the superhero ties up the bad guys and leaves them for the police. This helps readers feel that Spiderman isn’t a vigilante trying to replace the police, he’s just helping them. But when the police find a criminal tied up somewhere, what do they charge him with? Unless they have enough evidence to make a case, the police have to release him.  Here are a few ways you can use this to create dramatic situations…

1) The superhero comes across several criminals he tied up the day before. If this happened repeatedly, it may make him cynical about his work as a superhero.

2) Your hero blathers about how much he loves police officers (“they do all the things I do but without superpowers!”), but cops hate him because he never gives them anything they can use to secure a conviction. He never shows up to testify or deliver depositions. If the hero ever comes looking for leads, expect the police to give him the cold shoulder.

3) The police department gets sued because they’re complicit in the superhero’s abuse of the civil liberties of alleged criminals. Look at this from the perspective of a defense attorney or the ACLU. The police department gets easy arrests because Batman savagely beats confessions out of suspects. Batman regularly assaults criminals. Not only has the police department failed to arrest Batman or freeze his assets, but he sometimes meets with police officers in the station. If a defense attorney can’t convince a judge that’s police-sponsored brutality, he should be disbarred.

5 responses so far

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