Oct 31 2008
Oct 31 2008
Oct 30 2008
Are you in need of a writing exercise? Try writing a story with one of these titles.
Oct 29 2008
Oct 29 2008
It’s ridiculously hard to come up with unique superpowers, but let’s try this. The ability to inflict blindness. I suspect it would work pretty well in novels and comic books.
Oct 29 2008
National Novel Writing Month starts in two days. We’re going to finish our first novel manuscript. We need beta-reviewers.
What this would entail: We’ll give you our novel’s outline, 2-3 pages describing what we envision happening throughout the book. Over the course of the month, we will write chapters to bring that synopsis to life. We’d like you to read these chapters and offer advice. That might look like any or all of the following.
So, what’s in it for you?
If you’re interested, please either leave a comment or e-mail us at bmckenzie05–at–gmail–dot–com.
Oct 28 2008
Beginning authors tend to overuse “said bookisms,” which are words used to replace the word “said.” For example, in the sentence “I’m ready!” he declared, declared is a said-bookism.
Using more than a few said-bookisms per page will probably make the dialogue feel melodramatic and stilted (“I’m hungry,” he uttered). Some common said-bookisms are wrong because they aren’t actually a way to speak. For example, “I knew you’d come back,” she smiled lazily conflates two actions: the speaking and the smiling. No, she didn’t smile those words. It would be clearer and more publisher-friendly to change the phrase to “she said with a smile” or give the two actions their own sentences.
Additionally, animal-sounds are unusually annoying. It doesn’t take much of him clucking and her purring to sound absolutely ridiculous.
Oct 27 2008
If only I had realized that before picking it as the topic for a research paper.
Oct 27 2008
If your characters are comfortable, chances are that the story isn’t doing anything interesting. “Could you pass me a crumpet, dearie?” Far too many manuscripts get bogged down in characters chatting. Scenes that focus on chatting are typically boring and pointless. Fortunately, you can easily fix these scenes by adding discomfort and conflict. What if the two conversants hated each other but couldn’t avoid talking? What if John and Margaret had utterly failed on a joint project at work and they could only keep their job by moving past what had gone wrong? Or what if John were obnoxiously, madly in love with Margaret? Suddenly the scene has potential. Dramatic possibilities abound.
Here’s a webcomic to help remind you to keep things uncomfortable.
Oct 27 2008
You have 170 days to file your taxes. Don’t be late!
Art taken from this artist at DA.
Oct 27 2008
…but Summer Fun Cthulhu is rocking out in style!
Oct 25 2008
Cadet Davis reviews and revises the titles of 30 manuscripts submitted to a writing workshop. This will help you evaluate and improve your titles.
Oct 24 2008
This quiz will help you diagnose some common manuscript problems. If you’re not sure why your answer was right or wrong, please see our explanations either by waiting until the end of the quiz or hitting “previous question” during the quiz.
Oct 24 2008
Superhero parodies are very hard to write. Generally, you can’t parody something that treats itself as ridiculous to begin with. This means that poking fun at ridiculous elements of superhero stories, like what superheroes wear, is usually unsuccessful. Fortunately, many elements have more comedic potential because the stories take them seriously.
1. Superhero origin stories have always been outlandishly tragic, but since roughly 1990 it has just been ludicrous. Instead of just watching his loved ones get murdered, the hero might get betrayed by the CIA, set on fire, sent to hell and then return as some sort of crazyass demon-hunter.
2. As superhero stories progress, the writers run out of material and the likelihood that the stories will take bizarre twists approaches 100%. He’s a clone! His parents were superspies! His aunt marries a supervillain! His girlfriend falls for a werewolf! He grows six arms! He writes his girlfriend out of history by making a deal with the devil! And that’s just Spiderman. Don’t even get me started on the total strangeness surrounding Jimmy Olsen.
Oct 23 2008
In the four weeks since we’ve added the Recent Comments widget, our comment-traffic is up about 800%.
Oct 22 2008
Oct 22 2008
Unless you have a compelling reason to do otherwise, I’d say the start of chapter 2 at the very latest.
Oct 22 2008
One of the signs that your villain doesn’t suck is that he’s interesting enough to handle a scene on his own. No, we don’t need to hear about his pathetically traumatic family history or the byzantine machinations of his evil organization. Readers just need some sign that your villain has the competence, style and/or ambition that mark a good villain.
Your villain should not be out of the hero’s league. In fact, for most of the story, the villain should probably be winning against the hero. One common misconception is that the hero will seem less impressive or likable if the villain beats him a few times. No! A hero that defeats a crazy-competent villain will resonate more. For example, the only reason anyone remembers Luke Skywalker is because he defeated Darth Vader.
Fortunately, you can make your villain competent fairly easily. When your hero attempts some course of action, take 15 minutes to list anything that could go wrong. Then list anything that your villain could do to make the hero fail even more spectacularly. Your villain only has to exploit one glaring weakness in the hero’s plan to look competent. Does the hero’s plan require logistical support from his Batcave? Whoops. Even if your villain can’t take down the Batcave, he could try something like an EMP or sunspots to interfere with communications signals. Is the hero unable to teleport around town? Throwing him off with a decoy could buy the villain enough time to carry out his real plan.
Style is harder to pin down than competence, but there are still a few discernable signs of style. A stylish villain tends to dominate his scenes, even if he doesn’t have many lines. For example, there were a few scenes in the first season of Heroes that Sylar dominated even though he wasn’t actually present.
One scene that particularly sticks out is when Parkman and his FBI partner were fumbling around one of Sylar’s icy murder-scenes. First, there’s the horror factor. Sylar is obviously an extremely depraved killer. But more importantly, the gruesomeness of the murder is contrasted with the incompetence of the cops. They have no idea what’s going on. Sylar was more of a presence because he was obviously playing out of their league.
I recommend giving your villain an overarching and genuinely sinister plan. If your villain’s plan is only to get revenge against a few people, the stakes of your hero failing will be very low. For example, the first Spiderman movie dropped the ball on this one. What would the stakes of Spiderman not fighting the Green Goblin have been? Pretty much nothing, unless you were on the board of directors of OsCorp.
This doesn’t mean that the villain’s plan has to endanger the world or universe. That gets cheesy very fast. But this goes to competence: a villain that’s only playing for small stakes (like trying to kill a few OsCorp businessmen) probably won’t seem very competent or frightening. In contrast, Dr. Octopus’ plan was more ambitious and interesting even though it wasn’t particularly evil. He wanted to perfect a crazy-ass scientific theory to redeem himself for killing his wife the first time. Octopus’ plan had significantly higher stakes for Spiderman because he endangered many more innocent victims. (Sorry, ruthless businessmen, but readers just don’t care about you).
Oct 21 2008
Leading a series with a “pilot” that isn’t actually the first episode is probably the stupidest thing I have ever heard of in any human endeavor. Even using “blah blah blah blah blah” as a sentence in a university fundraising letter is not that inane.
When a network decides at the last moment to use another episode as the pilot, it’s essentially admitting that the first episode is too awful to air. So they switch to something that was never meant to be used as a pilot in the first place. Smooth. That would be like an NFL coach telling his quarterback that he didn’t like the way he was throwing with his right arm, so he should play the next game with just his left. A surefire plan for success!
Oct 18 2008
I went to a pub tonight and ordered a glass of wine instead of a Sprite or Guinness. According to the menu, my wine was supposed to taste of “notes of white and black pepper with a forward fruit.” Hmm, not quite. It tasted more like someone stabbed my tongue with a cattle prod. I ended up getting a Sprite and a Coors to wash the taste away. Blerk. I’m going Guinness next time.
Oct 16 2008
Usually, it’s a problem when a story gets very strange. The weirdness spirals out of control until eventually you find out that Spiderman’s really a clone, or he has six arms or something. Dr. McNinja has started out wacky (the first villain was Ronald McDonald) and it’s only gotten wackier (his villains have also included a robotic Dracula and raptor-riding banditos), but somehow the result is total hilarity.
Oct 15 2008
Unfortunately, work is crazy this week and I haven’t had time to think of any writing articles. If you have any writing questions or topics, this would be a great place to post them. For example, some of the questions we’ve answered before are…
Oct 15 2008
Please don’t open your novel with any of these.
1. The main character introduces himself to the reader (“Hi, my name is ____, but you can call me ____.”) Isn’t there anything more interesting you can tell us about the character than his name? If not, you should probably get back to the drawing board. This type of opening is also annoying because it’s usually the only part of the book that’s addressed to the reader.
2. The main character wakes up and does his morning routine. Instead of showing your character waking up, getting dressed and then having breakfast, why not skip to the interesting part? Furthermore, virtually everyone eats breakfast and gets dressed. Please show us something distinct about the character.
3. The main character is immediately plunged into danger. OK, so the hero is getting shot at. Why should we care? If you go down this route, make sure we’re emotionally invested in the character. Introduce the character a bit before throwing him to the sharks.
4. Something unusual and cryptic happens in the first half-page. For example, a mysterious woman hands the hero a baby and then walks away. Typically, this type of opening could be improved by spending more time describing what the hero’s life is like before the strangeness starts. I’d recommend that novelists spend at least half a chapter describing the hero in his element. Then, when you shake up the status quo, we will have a better feel for the character moving forward. For example, CS Lewis described his characters for several chapters before bringing them to Narnia.
5. The narrator delivers a geography lesson. I recommend showing us your characters before the world, particularly if your world is similar to Middle-Earth.
6. The opening sentence uses pronouns for “suspense.” “Until it happened, I had no idea how badly they had screwed me.” This narrator is obviously hiding what “it” and “they” are. That’s not suspenseful, just annoying. Make sure you give us enough to understand what’s going on. For example, we could rewrite that sentence as “until the dragon’s face exploded into a gooey mess, I had no idea how badly Adventurers, Inc. had screwed me.” Please remember to let readers know everything that the point of view character knows.
Oct 15 2008
Today we reached 100,000 pageviews. With ten weeks left in the year, we should be able to clear 150,000 by New Year’s. Thanks for coming!
Oct 14 2008
Uhh, yeah. It’s what it looks like. Thanks, i09.
Oct 12 2008
One of the most common reasons that superhero stories fail is that they try too hard to be serious and end up killing the fun. This does not mean that a serious story has to be unfun (see Wild Cards). But the line separating seriousness from insufferability is very fine. Here are some signs that you’ve crossed it.
For example, let’s compare Heroes to Spiderman here. Tracy discovers her ice-powers by accidentally killing someone and tests them by destroying a rose. In the Spiderman movie, Peter Parker discovers his superpowers by finding out that he no longer needs glasses and tests them by trying to sling his way across town in a comically inept fashion. Parker’s story features enthusiasm and positive energy. Tracy’s story is laced with emo wangst. It doesn’t help us relate to her or see through her eyes. Worse, it prevents viewers from wanting to see through her eyes.