Archive for November, 2008

Nov 28 2008

Writing Tip: Give Your Characters Urgent Goals, Not Joy Rides

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.

Giving your characters urgent goals will help make your story dramatic and interesting.  For example, let’s say John wants to go to prom, but his parents won’t let him unless he does well on a chemistry test.  Will he actually go to prom?  That’s a dramatic question.

Unfortunately, many manuscripts introduce the character without a goal, hoping that readers will trudge along until the character actually has something to do.  Don’t trap yourself into something like this.

CADET DAVIS:  In this first chapter, your hero doesn’t do very much except for walking across town and chatting with another character.  What’s the point?  What’s he trying to accomplish?

AUTHOR:  He’s introducing himself and the setting.

CADET DAVIS:  That’s what you’re trying to accomplish.  What’s his goal?  What’s at stake for this character?

AUTHOR:  Well, nothing, not yet anyway.  In a few chapters, he’ll find out that he has to realize his destiny by going on a quest to stop the villain.

CADET DAVIS:  If nothing’s at stake now, why will readers find this chapter interesting?

AUTHOR:  *silence*

Unfortunately, if publishers or readers find your manuscript’s first few pages boring, they will not keep reading.  From the earliest part of your story, your main character needs to have a goal.

So what do you do if your hero doesn’t know what his main goal is yet?  For example, at the start of Harry Potter, Harry doesn’t know that his primary goal is to “go to Hogwarts and thwart Voldemort.”  He doesn’t even know that he’s a wizard.  J.K. Rowling used temporary goals to tide us over.  For example, “read the letter that Uncle Vernon is trying to hide from you.”  Those goals made him interesting even though we didn’t know anything about his magical destiny.

What sort of temporary goals work? Anything that has high-stakes for the character.  It doesn’t have to be life or death, of course. (Harry Potter only needed to obtain a letter!)

What sort of temporary goals don’t work?  Joy rides.  If a character is trying something just for kicks, or to have a good time or just because he’s curious, the stakes are probably not high enough for him for us to care.  One main exception to the rule against joy rides is that sometimes, deep into a superhero story, you can briefly show the character trying out his new superpowers.  That will stall the plot, but that’s mostly OK because we need to know what the hero is capable of.  Also, by that point of the story, you better have convinced readers that you have a plot or you are screwed anyway.

34 responses so far

Nov 26 2008

“How to Be Edited”

This article offers strong advice on how to use criticism effectively. To summarize:

  • Positive advice from friends and loved ones cannot be taken seriously.
  • Some reviewers will offer inane and ridiculous advice.  But if reviewers keep offering advice that sounds ridiculous, the problem may lie more with your writing than your readers.
  • When are you done editing?  Use the Ten Percent Rule:  when you change less than 10% of a manuscript from one rewrite to the next, you’re probably ready to submit.

There is one main issue that I think he kind of misses, though.  He says that “the value of critique varies widely depending on whether it is given with the same goal in mind as you had in writing it.”  That measuring stick is pretty useless.  You’ll probably never know whether the reviewer’s “goal” is the same as yours.

For example, let’s say I write a story that’s a cheap knockoff of Eragon.  If my reviewer says “this needs to be totally overhauled,” is it because he hates this specific knockoff or because he finds the entire epic-fantasy genre cliched?  Unless he specifically admits to hating epic fantasy in general, there’s no way for me to know.

A more useful measuring stick in judging a review is “does this get me closer to what I want to accomplish?” It doesn’t matter at all what goals the reviewer has, but whether his advice helps you achieve yours.

14 responses so far

Nov 26 2008

A Texan and a Harvard professor walk into a bar…

Published by under Comedy

The Texan asks “where ya from?”

The Harvard professor says “Where I come from, we don’t end our sentences with prepositions.”

The Texan asks “where ya from, jackass?”

2 responses so far

Nov 25 2008

Do you have any writing questions?

Ack.  I misplaced my weekly list of article ideas.  If you’d like to suggest any, I’d appreciate that.  Here are some of the questions we’ve previously answered.

One response so far

Nov 25 2008

Does this sound remotely realistic?

Published by under I'm not making this up

A friend of a friend (who graduated from a pharmacy school with a 2.5/4.0 GPA) has supposedly been offered $3 million to spend six years as a permanent resident in a remote region of Alaska.  Is that remotely believable?

2 responses so far

Nov 23 2008

Interactive Quiz: Is Your Hero a Homo Superior?

Homo superiors are characters that are just like humans, but better.  That usually makes them bland and two-dimensional, like Superman or Legolas.  This quiz will help you diagnose the problem and fix it.

 

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6 responses so far

Nov 22 2008

Is Your Hero a Chosen One?

A Chosen One is a hero that is passively chosen for greatness, like Eragon.  Readers typically prefer characters that make their own destiny.  This quiz will help you diagnose and fix the problem.

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51 responses so far

Nov 21 2008

Interactive Mary Sue Test

Mary Sues are characters that are overpowered and too perfect.  This test will help you diagnose and fix the problem.  It typically takes around ten minutes.

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150 responses so far

Nov 20 2008

Webcomic 25: He Saved The Union… With His Machete of Freedom!

Published by under Comedy,Webcomic

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21 responses so far

Nov 19 2008

We’ve Updated Our Sidebar

We’re mostly satisfied with our header, so now on a monthly basis we experiment with major site-design changes.  I’ll let you know what happens in a month.

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2 responses so far

Nov 19 2008

7 Common Naming Mistakes

Published by under Writing Articles

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7 responses so far

Nov 18 2008

Three urgent pieces of novel-writing advice

  • 52% of the readers that took our interactive writing quiz admitted that they describe what a character looks like by having him stare at his reflection in a mirror.  Please don’t!  It screams “amateur.”
  • 45% of readers admitted to using food-centric scenes (like dinners, Elven banquets, etc).  That’s not necessarily a problem, but please make sure that your eating scenes are more dramatic than “pass the biscuits.”  If the food is the most interesting element of the scene, the scene is almost certainly boring.  No one started reading your book to learn what foods your elves like to eat.
  • 55% of readers admitted to overusing obscenities.  As a rule of thumb, please don’t use more than one obscenity in a sentence.   Please also try to limit the number of obscenities on each page.   If you use too many obscenities, the piece will probably suffer (even if you’re writing about Marines).  See this for an example.

3 responses so far

Nov 18 2008

I Love The Onion

Published by under Comedy

I found these recent videos particularly funny.


Attractive Girls Union Refuses To Enter Into Talks With Mike Greenman


YouTube Contest Challenges Users To Make A ‘Good’ Video

No responses yet

Nov 17 2008

Webcomic 24: Death, Taxes and Canada

Published by under Comedy,Webcomic

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3 responses so far

Nov 17 2008

Futurama Presents: The New Justice Team

Published by under Comedy

“Citizens, never fear.  Crazy do-good freaks are here!”

No responses yet

Nov 17 2008

Common Problems with Third-Person Narration

We’ve already discussed why beginning writers tend to struggle with first-person narration, but third-person narration has its own share of problems.

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15 responses so far

Nov 15 2008

Common Problems with First-Person Narration

First-person narration is tricky. It often suffers from several major problems.

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36 responses so far

Nov 14 2008

DAMN!

Reading through The Watchmen, I notice that they used Captain Carnage as a minor character.  Damn!  I loved that name.

No responses yet

Nov 13 2008

We’ve restructured our interactive quiz for authors

We shortened our interactive quiz to 40 questions and about 20-30 minutes.  If you’d like to get published, give it a try!

No responses yet

Nov 13 2008

Larceny Tip of the Day: Don’t Go for the Computer

I can definitely relate to the protagonist of this article.

Arizona State University student Alex Botsios said he had no problem giving a nighttime intruder his wallet and guitars.

When the man asked for Botsios’ laptop, however, the first-year law student drew the line.

“I was like, ‘Dude, no — please, no!” Botsios said. “I have all my case notes…that’s four months of work!”

Police said Gabriel Saucedo entered Botsios’ apartment through an open window early Thursday morning. When Botsios woke up, Saucedo threatened him with a baseball bat, police said.

He was just like, ‘I’m going to smash your head in,'” Botsios said.

At that point, the law student wrestled the bat away and began punching Saucedo, Botsios said.

“I basically grabbed him and threw him this way, and he held onto the bat so it threw him to the ground,” he said.

Police said they took Saucedo to the hospital for stitches before they arrested him on charges of armed robbery and kidnapping. Other than a bruised knuckle and a few scratches, Botsios was unharmed.

5 responses so far

Nov 12 2008

Fallout 3 was disappointing

Published by under Video Game Review

The controls worked pretty well, but the visuals and musics made this game a chore.

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8 responses so far

Nov 12 2008

Webcomic 23: Don Gato Must Die

Published by under Comedy,Garfield Parody

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No responses yet

Nov 12 2008

Manuscript Killers: Immortal Characters

When I’m reading a novel manuscript, immortal characters make me roll my eyes.   

 

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36 responses so far

Nov 11 2008

This music haunts my dreams

Published by under Uncategorized

This is the music that plays on the insanely hard Battletoads bike level.  If you’ve never played this game, let me offer a taste of how ridiculously impossible it was.

One response so far

Nov 08 2008

Movie Forum

Published by under Movie Review

If you’d like to comment on a movie, this is a good place to do so.  (We may relocate movie-related comments made elsewhere).

70 responses so far

Nov 07 2008

Writing Tip of the Day: Please Don’t Include Art with Your Query

Some authors make or commission sketches about their novel so they can visualize it better.  That’s fine, but please do not include any in the query package you submit to a publisher.  (If you’re writing a graphic novel, please see this guide to graphic novel queries instead).

Art will probably not make your novel query seem more appealing!

  1. It feels amateurish.
  2. Publishers pick manuscripts based on the author’s ability to spin an interesting story, not on his ability to visualize the characters or make them look interesting.  Consequently, any art you included would distract from your most important qualities.
  3. Even if you’d like to use your illustrations in a novel, publishers are wary about the cost of illustrations.  Author/illustrator Jane Eldershaw says that “it can be surprisingly difficult to talk publishers into using illustrations, even for non-fiction and gift books. I’d suggest (especially if you’ve never been published) that you not mention illustrations until you have a publisher who adores your prose. Then suggest they look at books that have been illustrated in the manner you envisage and wheedle.”
  4. Do you have sample cover-art you’d like your publisher to consider? If so, please show it after your manuscript has been accepted.

One response so far

Nov 07 2008

Writing Tip of the Day: Make Your Story Intriguing, Not Cryptic

Many stories create suspense by withholding important information (like the killer’s identity, in a mystery) until the end. But publishers usually reject works that are cryptic. How can you make your work intriguing (good) rather than cryptic (painful)?

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21 responses so far

Nov 07 2008

Survival of the Fittest in Action

This story’s a little bit gross.

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16 responses so far

Nov 06 2008

Looking to lose 5 IQ points fast?

Published by under Comedy

Check this out.  The singing’s surprisingly good… the animation not so much.  I present to you “The Ultimate Showdown of Ultimate Destiny.”

3 responses so far

Nov 05 2008

RIP

Published by under News

Michael Crichton was one of the only modern novelists to have a lot of success with single-word titles.  He passed away today, so to commemorate his memory we have a one-word title for this parting post.

No responses yet

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