Archive for September, 2008

Sep 06 2008

Check out Dr. McNinja

Published by under Comedy,Webcomic

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.

Dr. McNinja is a doctor that is also a ninja.  More importantly, he’s the protagonist of an absolutely hilarious webcomic.  This is what Real Ultimate Power would be if Robert Hamburger were a real comedian.

If you’re new to DMN, I recommend starting with series 2. For example, on page 21 a conniving pirate attempts to convince the Doctor that he can win his family’s respect by proving his medical skills are not worthless to a ninja.

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Sep 06 2008

Don’t Let Your Characters Walk Away from the Quest

Let’s say you’re writing a book about a candidate trying to join the Navy SEALs.  Unless there’s something holding him there, he can always walk away if it gets too hard.  That’s a lousy plot.  There’s no consequence for failure!  If failure is an acceptable option, we probably won’t care whether the character succeeds.  You can make this story more dramatic by adding personal urgency.  For example, perhaps the SEAL candidate had a brother or father that died as a SEAL and he sees it as his life’s mission to finish the job.

Here are some other suggestions to keep your characters in the story.

  1. There is nothing to return to. The Empire killed Luke’s family.  (Careful, this is a bit cliche).
  2. Too much is at stake to walk away. In The Day After Tomorrow, the protagonist doesn’t have to trek from Philadelphia to Manhattan, but it’s the only way to save his son.  Alternately, the characters in LOTR have no choice but to fight their genocidal enemies.
  3. The character physically cannot walk away. If your character is in prison, he can’t avoid the local thugs.  His only choices are submission and resistance.  Alternately, she may be trapped on a spaceship with a killer alien.

5 responses so far

Sep 05 2008

Destroying the Earth: A How-To Guide

This is a useful resource for anyone that might want to destroy the world.

One response so far

Sep 05 2008

Marvel Comics: Environmentalists are the Vanguard of an Alien Invasion?

Inquiring minds will want to check out Marvel’s Secret Invasion.

I’ve never been a fan of the Skrulls, Marvel’s standard shape-shifting alien villains.  Sort of like an Atlantean invasion, aliens feel so far removed from the standard Marvel setting that the effect is campy rather than sinister.  It’s also extremely hard to write an interesting alien invasion plot.  Marvel seems to be treating this plotline like it’s novel, but the concept of a secret alien invasion is pretty tired (Invasion of the Body Snatchers, the second Wild Cards novel, Animorphs).  “Benevolent” alien invasions aren’t much better (The Day The Earth Stood Still and maybe The Happening).

I found the ads for Secret Invasion above-average, but more because the slogan “Embrace Change” is vaguely threatening and sounds like it came from a US political campaign.

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One response so far

Sep 05 2008

John August on Coincidences in Fiction

John August did a post on writing a plot that isn’t contrived.  He focused on the role of coincidence. I found it highly useful…

Given a choice, try to find cause and effect. One event happens because of something else we’ve seen — ideally, something the hero himself has done.

Instead of having the hero accidentally overhear a key conversation, get him actively trying to listen. Or have an interested third party steer him in that direction — perhaps for his own reasons. At every juncture where a reader could ask “Why did that happen?”, try to have an answer that isn’t, “just because.”

CADET DAVIS ADDS: The most contrived plot I can think of is Heroes season 2.  Please consider the following…

  1. In the last two minutes of the first season, Sylar is nearly killed by a crowd of ten heroes but somehow slinks away into a sewer.  No one, including a psychopathic MPD victim or the police officer who was seriously wounded by Sylar, thinks to make sure that he’s dead or otherwise accounted for.
  2. The Company captures Sylar and keeps the formerly-superpowered serial killer in a zero-security facility with a single attendant that is tasked with restoring Sylar’s powers. There’s no reason to suspect that Sylar would have made a good employee under any circumstances, but how were they hoping that this would turn out?
  3. Sylar kills the attendant and walks out of the facility.  He tries to return to the US to find Suresh, but he drops of famine along the side of the road.  The first person to come across him is Maya, another superpowered person that’s looking for Dr. Suresh’s father.  What a lucky break!  Sure, why not come along?
  4. In spite of being wanted for murder and presumably not wanting to attract suspicion, Maya and her brother take Sylar along.  Do not pay attention to the gringo in the back seat!
  5. Peter’s failure to consider the possibility that Adam is evil starts out as implausible and gets so unbelievable that it strains the suspension of disbelief.  Peter knows the following facts:  The Company has held the virus for 30+ years without using it.  Shortly after Adam escapes, the virus is unleashed.  If you’re wondering whether Adam’s escape is related to the release of the virus, you’re already 5 episodes smarter than Peter.

2 responses so far

Sep 04 2008

Writing Tip of the Day: Don’t Trade Characterization for Comedy

One of the easiest ways to create comedy is to use a double act.  You set up a comedic conflict between two characters– usually, one character is sober and the other is crazy or one is savvy and the other is clueless.  This is a very flexible setup that can handle most genres.  For example…

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Sep 04 2008

If they play that ad again, I’m going to scream

Published by under Football,Marketing

“It’s the most heart-warming phone ad of the year!”  I’m not sure that heart-warming is the best fit for NFL Live.  I think that the average American man likes his humor a bit more robust and, umm, funny.

UPDATE: We’re in the second quarter now and the ad has played three five times.

SECOND UPDATE: The ad ended up playing nine times, by my count.

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Sep 02 2008

This Serta advertisement is strong comedy

Published by under Comedy

As an advertisement, this probably didn’t sell Serta mattresses very well, but the laugh-line at :25 was remarkably well-delivered.

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Sep 01 2008

Don’t Make Your Villains Unnecessarily Evil

Many villains do gratuitously bad stuff to remind us that they’re EVIL. For example, the nerdy antagonist in Live Free or Die Hard coldly executes his hackers even though there’s surely enough money to go around (ahem… hundreds of billions of dollars). Not only was it unnecessary for him to kill the hackers, but it was also out of character (he didn’t seem otherwise psychopathic). There’s no reason he should have been that evil– it didn’t gel with his main objective, which was to show his old agency that it was wrong to cast him aside.

Authors usually write their villains as gratuitously evil to make them badass. That rarely works. Except for Dark Knight’s Joker*, superevil villains are rarely as badass as their more restrained peers (such as Darth Vader, Dr. Octopus, Naomi Novik’s Napoleon and Dr. Doom). Why are superevil villains insufficently badass? A villain that feels more evil than his plot requires is probably cartoonish. In contrast, a badass villain is almost always serious and sober.

*In case you’re interested, I argue below the jump that the DK Joker isn’t unnecessarily evil.

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102 responses so far

Sep 01 2008

Does this writing site work?

The site is .  Anne is a friend of mine and I would really appreciate if you would check out her site, particularly if you’re a fan of real-world magic stories.  Does the site work?  It feels like there’s something not quite clicking, but I’m not sure what.

4 responses so far

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