Oct 15 2008

Do You Have Any Writing Questions?

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…

35 responses so far

35 Responses to “Do You Have Any Writing Questions?”

  1. Jacobon 15 Oct 2008 at 2:45 pm

    When is a story too realistic?

  2. Anonymouson 15 Oct 2008 at 3:12 pm

    Are side-kicks ever acceptable and, if so, how can I use them?

  3. The ReTARDISed Whovianon 15 Oct 2008 at 7:20 pm

    How can I write a blurb which doesn’t give too much and doesn’t overly tease?

  4. Ragged Boyon 15 Oct 2008 at 8:00 pm

    Are there any other, as effective, sites like Superhero Nation. I’m not leaving you guys, I’d just like more people to review my work. You guys are busy, which I totally understand, so I don’t want to bog you down more.

  5. B. Macon 15 Oct 2008 at 9:52 pm

    The Critters Online Writing Workshop will give you access to far more reviewers than we have. However, there are a few caveats about Critters.

    1) After you submit your work into their queue, it will take 4-6 weeks before you get reviews back.

    2) They don’t have many resources on writing– what they provide is mainly per-case reviewing.

    3) Beginning authors sometimes have trouble convincing Critters reviewers to spend time on their work. My first work on Critters got very few comments because it was so bad that I think it scared people away.

    4) Critter reviews are more anonymous and less polite than what we offer. If we gave someone a total asshat review (“B. Mac, your work is crap and you need to start from scratch”), it would totally ruin what we’re trying to do: build friendships between us and our readers. In contrast, Critters reviewers have no vested interest in being friendly. Also, Critters writers tend to be published authors with some experience, so Critters readers have high expectations. In contrast, we understand that the majority of interested superhero writers are younger and not published, so we are far more understanding if a writer asks us to review something that isn’t quite ready for public consumption.

  6. B. Macon 16 Oct 2008 at 12:25 am

    As a very, very rough sketch for blurbs, I would recommend the following:

    1. There’s a very fine line between describing what your book is trying to do (which is good) and making impossibly bold claims about your book, which is not. For example, describing a light-hearted comedy as a “comic romp” strikes just the right tone. I’m a shy and naturally unboastful person, so I’d feel uncomfortable with a claim like “Superhero Nation will leave you on the edge of your seat,” but other writers seem to get away with that. (Even though it’s cliche). But no one can get away with gasbaggery like this: “B. Mac takes on us a stirring exploration of the human condition, shattering preconceptions and paradigms at every turn.” What does that mean?

    2. Since the backcover is written exclusively for the benefit of readers that are completely new to your work, you should probably try to avoid using invented words as much as possible. Even invented names that might seem serious in the context of the story may seem goofy to an uninitiated reader (“Christ… ‘Lord Voldemort?’ What’s she thinking?”)

    3. The core of the blurb is typically the main character, his goal and his conflict. You’ll probably have to lay out the premise, setting, your genre and angle/style as well, but just give us enough to understand the first three elements.

  7. The ReTARDISed Whovianon 16 Oct 2008 at 4:54 am

    Thanks! What are some things a superhero could do for rescues? Things like fires and that. I’m out of ideas for things that would fit into my book.

  8. B. Macon 16 Oct 2008 at 4:58 am

    One of the ones that I remember from Heroes and possibly Lois and Clark was that a hero had to prevent a suicide. Fortunately, the drama in these scenes didn’t come from the question of whether Superman could stop the person from jumping now– if I could fly superfast, I’m sure I could do that too. The emphasis was on whether Superman could convince the person not to commit suicide when Superman wasn’t there to stop him.

    Traffic accidents/violations are very hot– Daredevil gets his powers by jumping in the way of a truck to save someone. Natural disasters (floods, fires, hurricanes, tornadoes, epidemics, etc). Manmade accidents (power plant meltdown, electrical disaster). Riots, especially riots induced by a total breakdown in law and order related to a natural disaster. People are generally very nervous about malfunctioning elevators and airplanes, too. Superman Returns had an interesting opening where Superman had to safely land a plane that was spinning out of control.

    If your character is very powerful but not very fast, you can use a hostage situation dramatically. The issue isn’t whether the hero can beat the criminal, but whether he can do so and save all the hostages. The scene will seem especially fresh if the hero uses guile and/or diplomacy rather than quick reflexes. (Sorry, but counting on your superior speed is NOT a plan).

  9. Bretton 16 Oct 2008 at 5:00 am

    You could have him struggle to do two things at once. (Let’s see if he can catch the robbers AND get the kitty cat out of the tree!) It worked for The Incredibles.

  10. Bretton 16 Oct 2008 at 6:59 am

    Could this explanation for computers work in my setting?

    Computers were a relatively new technology known only in Princepia and, unlike siege tanks, they did not run with gears, cogs, levers, or pedals. Rather alchemists had discovered that when metal was forged in a specific manner, combined with glass and certain chemicals, and then charged with energy, it created a very useful machine that could be used to store and access information, transmit messages, and do many other things.

  11. Bretton 17 Oct 2008 at 5:10 am

    Ok, I get it. I can take a hint. No more genrebending comments, on my honor.

  12. The ReTARDISed Whovianon 03 Nov 2008 at 12:17 am

    Oh, and do the publishers choose the artist? I’ve got an idea of how I want the cover to look (manga-inspired) and I’m going to ask a friend of mine to help me out.

  13. B. Macon 03 Nov 2008 at 10:34 am

    Typically, the publisher will provide their own artist, who will produce something that you don’t have very much control over. For example, you might provide brief character descriptions but you probably won’t get to dictate what the characters are doing in the pose.

    If you have your own really professional book cover, you can ask your publisher to use that instead. But they’re making a business calculation. An established publisher will have an inhouse artist that has worked with them for years and knows what they want. Your artist would have to put something ridiculously good to convince them to try something new.

    For example, if it turns out that thousands of DeviantArt users liked our book cover concept art enough to favorite it, then maybe we could convince my publisher that the art is demonstrably effective and has its own fan-base. It also helps if you and your artist have a great sense of salesmanship. Sometimes a book cover just screams “bestseller.”

    For example, this cover for Soon I Will Be Invincible convinced me to buy the book. The bright colors were eye-catching and it made excellent use of dead-space. SIWBI’s British cover was far less engaging. First, it was less whimsical. It also used a highly muscular anthromorphic tiger as the second-most prominent character, which probably would have scared me away because it kind of looks like furry porn.

  14. The ReTARDISed Whovianon 03 Nov 2008 at 10:57 am

    Oh yeah, and I have another question. I haven’t even written this character in and she won’t even appear until the sequel. But I would like some advice on how to write a love-hate relationship. It’s eight parts hate for every one part love, but I want to show how Isaac cares about this girl while always arguing with her. We’re talking arguments that would wake up the whole street, which isn’t desirable when trying to be part of a secret superhero group.

    Also, what do you think of this as a final paragraph? I just thought it up today, I’m nowhere near finished. I’m not that fond of it, but I just thought I’d throw it out there.

    “Well, I have to go. It’s like six in the morning and I need to get ready for school. But I’ll be back soon to tell you of what happened next, as soon as I get home.”

  15. B. Macon 03 Nov 2008 at 10:59 am

    Final paragraphs have always thrown me for a loop. As a measure of how despicably bad our ending paragraphs are, get a taste of this.

    So one of the recurring tropes in Superhero Nation is that Agent Orange ends many chapters by asking Agent Black a rhetorical question to foreshadow the next chapter. (If the next chapter sounds interesting, that cliffhanger will convince readers to keep reading).

    Over the course of the novel, the questions get increasingly eccentric. Have you ever been to a homicide scene? Have you ever been to Guantanamo Bay? Have you ever disarmed a nuclear weapon with your teeth? At the end of the book, let’s say the heroes defeat Jacob but fail to kill/arrest him before he escapes. After they destroy the mutagen, Agent Black asks “well, what now?” Agent Orange would end the book by shattering the fourth wall with “Have you ever been in a sequel?”

    That’s how bad at writing final paragraphs I am. So please take this advice with a grain of salt.

    I think that your approach (returning to the frame of Isaac narrating his own life) is very sound, but he might be able to do it more with more style. For example, he might try something like this. “I have to go now– school starts in an hour. But I’ll be back soon.” That’s a slightly more subtle way of saying that there will be a sequel.

  16. The ReTARDISed Whovianon 03 Nov 2008 at 12:14 pm

    How do you actually get published? I heard something about literary agents and publishing houses, but it didn’t make any sense to me. Do you give them a call, email, write a letter? Are there face-to-face interviews involved, or can it be done simply through internet contact? Can you get published by a house if they don’t have branches in your country? Does the manuscript have to be fully printed off, or can it be emailed to the editor? What is a literary agent? Do you know anything about how publishers would react to an author wishing to use a pseudonym?

    Yeah, I have a lot of questions, but they’re all really bugging me, especially the pseudonym one. Please help me out here.

  17. B. Macon 03 Nov 2008 at 12:45 pm

    For answering questions on getting published, I find this reference pretty useful.

    On that website, you can also find advice on literary agents. An agent is someone that will help work as an intermediary between you and prospective publishers in exchange for a cut of the resulting advance. They will also negotiate a higher advance on your behalf.

    Pseudonyms shouldn’t be a problem, but please don’t pick one that makes you sound like an amateur. It will also help if you have a legitimate reason to use a pseudonym. I suspect I will end up publishing Superhero Nation under a pseudonym to keep my comic-book writing distinct from my work in political science. Also, if the CIA ever Googles my name as part of an employment application or background check, I’d like this website not to be the top result.

  18. The ReTARDISed Whovianon 04 Nov 2008 at 3:16 am

    I have a legitimate reason. It’s a mixture of three and five on that list. The first is because I wouldn’t want to be hassled at school if someone happened to read it. I’m not ashamed of it at all, but how annoying would it be if anyone just came up to me and asked heaps of questions? Ugh, please, no.

    The second (which that website doesn’t consider) is my age. I’m only young and I’d be afraid of prospective readers judging the book by the age of the author and not the content. In the About the Author section, I’d put that I started writing short stories when I was ten, which is true, but I won’t mention my current age.

    I have no wish to hide my gender, but my prospective pseudonym is a bit masculine. It’s not anything overly stupid like George Painbringer or Henry Mustkill, just a guy’s name and a random word. They’re significant to me, so it’s a bit of an in-joke, but you can’t tell that there’s anything off about it.

    A third one is just for a bit of fun, but don’t tell the publishers that! I think it’ll be easier to write about a guy with a secret identity if I have one of my own! Haha.

  19. Bretton 04 Nov 2008 at 3:55 am

    Wait? You’re a girl? Didn’t see that coming. Usually young female writers, like my sister for example, have young female leads, and usually because they think girls are underrepresented in whatever area. Interesting. Why did you choose a male lead if I may ask?

  20. Bretton 04 Nov 2008 at 3:58 am

    I also use a pseudonym. I use it because I am considering writing in a couple different genres and I don’t necessarily want the works associated because they’ll attract or scare away the wrong people. (How unfortunate would it be if my religious fiction or sci-fi was associated with my fantasy stories?) I want a different identity for each genre.

  21. Ragged Boyon 04 Nov 2008 at 4:08 am

    Oh, why do you guys say pseudonym? I prefer nom de plume.

  22. B. Macon 04 Nov 2008 at 10:49 am

    I think that more readers will understand a phrase like pen-name or pseudonym rather than “nom de plume.” It depends on your readers, I guess.

  23. The ReTARDISed Whovianon 05 Nov 2008 at 12:17 am

    I have a male lead because I was sick of writing girls. In every short story I’ve ever written (with the exception of one), the lead has been female. I thought it was time for a change of pace. Isaac is a combination of some guys I know and some of my earlier minor characters. For example, in my third short story, I had a eight year old boy as the brother to a ten year old girl. He had a fear of Christmas elves, and I incorporated that into Isaac for humorous effect. There’s one part where he lists all the things that a supervillian could use against him, and they are: “Clowns, puppets, Christmas elves, garden gnomes and almonds”. He’s allergic to almonds, but all the others are from bad childhood experiences.

    Isaac does have some typically feminine traits, such as admitting (to the reader only) when he’s upset or afraid. But other than that, he’s mostly your average superpowered student/waiter.

    Girls are a bit underrepresented in some genres, but they’re slowly beginning to catch up as lead characters. I don’t really have a problem with it. If a book’s good, I’ll read it. If there’s a place in the world for a new book, I’ll write it. There was never even a point where I considered making my lead a girl. He was always Isaac Maehara.

  24. Bretton 05 Nov 2008 at 4:05 am

    Cool. I’m guessing Isaac could never face the Joker then?

  25. B. Macon 05 Nov 2008 at 8:02 am

    I find the detail about garden gnomes and Christmas elves very amusing. More importantly, I think it shows us something useful about the character, that he’s not essentially invincible (unlike Superman).

  26. Bretton 05 Nov 2008 at 8:16 am

    Question though, isn’t Batman pretty much invincible? He has fewer weaknesses than Superman, and yet he’s a much better character? How come?

    (Batman = best superhero ever by the way.)

  27. B. Macon 05 Nov 2008 at 1:28 pm

    One of the great things about Batman are that his mental skills are self-evident. We can observe that he makes brilliant deductions. In contrast, when a character like Richard Reeds pulls off a ridiculous scientific feat, well, it’s clear that the scientist only succeeded because the author said he did. We can’t grasp the logic by which Reeds’ brilliance works. In contrast, we can grasp the logic behind Batman’s feats.

    Also, Batman has substantially better fight-scenes (largely because he’s just a human rather than a ridiculously overpowered Superman) and villains. I’m not quite sure why all of the interesting villains in the DC Universe live in Gotham City, but the low-power of the setting is clearly a factor. Gotham’s ambient darkness also helps, I think. Superman, Wonderwoman and the Flash don’t have any villains that are remotely as cool as the Joker or Two-Face (let alone Batman’s superstars, like Scarecrow and Clayface).

  28. Ragged Boyon 05 Nov 2008 at 3:06 pm

    I disagree. DC, with a darker perspective, has produced many odd and interesting villains, such as Deathstroke, Candlemaker, etc. Gotham’s villains are probably just more well-known because of Batman’s popularity, but Doom Patrol and Teen Titans have many interesting villains.

    On the other hand, Marvel is probably more well known, in depth, than DC. That’s why most people can’t really name a lot of DC characters. I love DC because its characters have so much depth and they have awesome backstories and powers (i.e Dorothy Spinner, Crazy Jane, Negative Man). DC is very weird and can be confusing, with characters like Danny the Street. But if you can understand it, you’ll love it.

  29. B. Macon 05 Nov 2008 at 4:42 pm

    Since I’ve never read any of the Doom Patrol comics, I’m not familiar at all with the series. However, the Wikipedia entry lists as its villains (among others) “Animal-Vegetable-Mineral Man,” “The Love Glove,” and “Kor the Conqueror.” As far as names go, it might be possible to come up with something a bit more stylish.

  30. Ragged Boyon 05 Nov 2008 at 4:48 pm

    Yeah, the creators really went all out on the names. Haha.

    “The Love Glove?” That’s hilarious.

  31. The ReTARDISed Whovianon 05 Nov 2008 at 5:17 pm

    “Animal-Vegetable-Mineral Man”? Okay, what the heck?!

    Also, the Joker rocks! Heath Ledger’s acting was top-notch. I just wish he’d lived to be in another Batman movie. I’m wondering what Mary-Kate Olsen had to do with it, but maybe we’ll never know just what happened. There is one final movie coming out, but he only got one quarter of “The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus” done. They just hired three more actors to play him at different parts and changed the story a bit.

  32. The ReTARDISed Whovianon 24 Nov 2008 at 1:36 am

    How can the issue of emo-angst characters be avoided? If it is absolutely necessary for a loved one of theirs to die, how can a character constantly crying be avoided?

  33. B. Macon 24 Nov 2008 at 5:28 am

    If the character’s death provides urgency or develops the plot, then the characters probably won’t sit around wallowing in self-pity.

    For example…
    –In a detective novel, if a loved one gets murdered, that raises urgent new questions. Who killed him? Why? Can the survivors catch the killer? Although this will undoubtedly be an emotional quest for the characters, at least they’re doing something rather than sobbing about it.
    –The friend might die in a way that suggests that the other characters are also in danger. I believe Ocean’s 13 used that.
    –The character’s death might make the hero reconsider, alter or cast aside his quest. (Be careful with this one! A lot of time, this leads to angsty self-pitying like “I can’t go on!”). If you’d like to try this, I’d recommend using it more soberly.

    I’d recommend having the character die in a way that is directly related to the rest of the plot, rather than just having a fatal heart attack disconnected from anything else. That will help ensure that the death takes the story somewhere useful.

  34. Bretton 24 Nov 2008 at 8:11 am

    A good example of deaths that aided the plot and characterization come from Lord of the Rings. The Fellowship had to endure the “death” of Gandalf (He returns, but that’s not important right now). Losing him caused a leadership vacuum that helped flesh out the characters. (Who’s going to take charge? Aragorn, Boromir? Frodo? Who’s going to keep Legolas and Gimli from mauling each other? Who’s going to make the key decisions? Who’ll stop Boromir from stealing the Ring? Will Aragorn return to his destiny? Etc. It raised a lot of dramatic questions.) By the way, Gandalf is one of the few “return from the dead” characters that aren’t insufferable. The Death of Superman story was also handled fairly well I think.

    The second Fellowship death was Boromir. He did not come back and his death created drama without angst. Also compare the death of kind Theoden, and some others.

    Death without angst is possible, and so is resurrection without annoyance.

    Your thoughts, B. Mac?

  35. B. Macon 24 Nov 2008 at 12:22 pm

    Resurrection typically kills the drama. As soon as a story lets anyone come back from the dead, the fear of death typically loses most of its dramatic power. For example, on Heroes Claire’s blood has been used to resurrect four people so far. Now, whenever a character actually dies on the show, it feels contrived. Why don’t the characters just resurrect the dead guy? Additionally, the cast of Dragonball Z has come back so many times that Dragonball Z is well beyond self-parody.

    But even if you thought that your book could be one of the few books* that could use resurrection well, I don’t think an editor would be fond of the idea. Can you convince your editor that using resurrection wouldn’t sap the drama out of the story and make it feel like Dragonball Z? In any case, I’d recommend leaving resurrection out of the manuscript and then asking after you are eventually published whether they’d like to consider adding the resurrection element.

    Each editor is different, of course, but I suspect that most editors would fight pretty stiffly against including resurrection.

    *The list of books that used resurrection well pretty much consists of two works: LOTR and the Bible. Good luck writing the third!

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