Archive for December, 2008

Dec 30 2008

The end is nigh!

Published by under Art

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.

We have page 2 fully colored.  What do you think?  (The main thing from page 1 is that we know someone’s trying to kill the protagonist here).

The rest of our query will include 4 more colored pages, the script for the rest of the first issue, the cover for the first issue, the synopsis for the series, and the query letter.  I think the main obstacle at this point is the cover.

5 responses so far

Dec 29 2008

Writing Tip: Start Your Story As Everything Goes Wrong

Generally, a book has only 5-20 pages (depending on audience age and genre) to establish three critical elements.

  1. The status quo of the main character.  What is this character like before everything goes wrong?  In the Lord of the Rings, for example, Frodo celebrates Bilbo’s birthday before being called upon to save the world.  In Superhero Nation, Gary is a workaholic accountant.
  2. The inciting event.  What throws the character off his status quo?  Usually, this is the point at which everything starts to go wrong.  For example, in Superhero Nation, Gary narrowly survives a car-bombing very early on.  This forces several changes on him:  first, he is transferred away from his job for his safety.  So he’s completely out of his social comfort zone.  Second, assassins are now trying to kill him.
  3. A goal for the main character.  This is usually a response to the inciting event.  This can be as simple as “I want everything to return to normal.”   Gary wants to rebuild his life by getting a job somewhere and he wants to survive the assassins.  This brings him to the superpowered Office of Special Investigations.  Wacky hijinks ensue!  (Buy the book when it finally gets published, heh heh).

A lot of manuscripts get bogged down in details that are typically too far removed from these three goals.

  1. Prologues.  They usually lack immediacy and, far too often, they just skip the main character entirely.  Ick.  The main character is almost always the best available way to hook readers into your story.
  2. Backstory.  Typically, it doesn’t really matter what your character was doing 5 or 10 years ago.  Readers want to know what’s happening now.  If you are literally unable to start the story without explaining what happened 5 or 10 years ago, you may wish to reevaluate the starting point for your story.  Ahem.  “If your backstory is more interesting than your current era, you’re writing the wrong story.”  If you have to introduce backstory, try to keep it to a bare minimum. Tell us only what we need to understand what is going on now.
  3. Side-characters.  If the side-characters are the best hook to your story, there’s probably something wrong with the main character and/or the plot.  For example, if a fantasy novel wants to show us the parents of the hero right before he is born, that will trap us in backstory.  Furthermore, will readers care about the hero’s parents?  Probably not.  If they were the most interesting characters in this book, they would be the leads.  Harry Potter #1 was very well-written, but it made a questionable choice to start the book when Harry was an infant.  It was a very slow beginning.
  4. Elaborate settings.  Typically, the main character is a better hook into the story than the world is.  A strong character can be relatable and likable, mostly unlike a strong world.  Try to limit the setting at the very beginning to just what we need to understand the main character and the plot.

I originally wrote this article for novelists, but it’s largely true for comic-book writers as well.  The main difference is that a comic-book writer has even fewer pages to establish the status quo.  What is your Peter Parker like before he becomes Spiderman?  If your character has a particularly interesting origin story, I’d recommend giving the status quo no more than half an issue (12 or 16 pages, probably).  But readers tend to appreciate introductions that are much shorter. A good establishing shot is typically sufficient and lets you get to the interesting stuff faster. (I love alternate identities as much as anyone, but usually the superhero identity is more gripping.  Would you want to read a comic called The Amazing Peter Parker or Clark Kent/Bruce Wayne?)

In a comic that probably ranges from 24-32 pages, you really need to get to the inciting event (probably the radioactive spider-bite or however else your hero got his powers) as soon as possible.  In a superhero story, I’d recommend giving the hero his powers early enough in the first issue that you can introduce his goal.  Ideally you can conclude the first issue with a fight or some other climactic event that gives you some room to offer some resolution (which satisfies readers) while setting up a greater conflict that will leave the readers wanting more.

120 responses so far

Dec 28 2008

Writing Tip of the Day: Avoid Speculation

Published by under Writing Articles

“Even as we speak, Dr. Insidious might be building a deathray or a weather-control device!”  Unless readers know whether this speculation is accurate, this is idle speculation that’s probably not very interesting. Like musing, speculation tends to make stories stall.

If you’d like to use speculation, I’d recommend narrowing the scope as much as possible.  For example, if the heroes find a giant robotic hand, the characters might speculate how close Insidious is to completing the robot, and where the rest of the robot might be.  At least we have a better idea of what grisly fate we’re contemplating.  As always, the trick to intrigue is giving us enough to care.

No responses yet

Dec 26 2008

I approve!

Published by under Art,Comedy,Guns

I found this Atomic Robo pinup amusing.

Atomic Robo Saturday 6 by ~LordVenom05 on deviantART

No responses yet

Dec 26 2008

Titles that Sold

Published by under Titles

This is a list of the top 35 bestselling paperback mass-market novels.  Afterwards, I have some observations about the titles as a whole.

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No responses yet

Dec 24 2008

Inked Page of Our Comic

This is the inked version of the second page of our comic. On page 1, we just establish that someone’s trying to kill the main character.

I like our artist a lot, but I’m a bit concerned that his depiction of the bystander might be a bit, umm, insensitive to black people.  Yeah.  We’re probably going to have to cut those lips by a third or so and shrink the nose a bit to make them look more realistic.  It would probably be best to clear up these cultural issues sooner rather than later.  Aside from that, I think it’s generally well-inked.  I especially appreciate some of the stylistic notes like the squirrel falling out of the tree in the bottom panel.

In the final version, the bystander will be thinking “Should have bought a Honda.”

If you have any tips or comments, I’d love to hear them.  What do you think?

19 responses so far

Dec 24 2008

Have You Ever Wanted to be an Editor?

I’m very close to sending out feelers on a nonfiction manuscript about how to write superhero stories.  I have one main problem, though.  My target audience is young (10-20 years old) and my writing style is not naturally breezy or accessible.  Ahem.  I’m a political scientist/journalist by training.

So I have a writing exercise/contest for you. Take any one of our articles and rewrite it so that a typical thirteen-year-old would find it authoritative, fun and easy to read.  I have a few stylistic suggestions.

  1. Fragmented sentences are OK, but I recommend against run-ons.
  2. Keep the words as simple as possible.
  3. It must be fun!

We’d appreciate your help greatly.  Depending on how good the entries are, we may also give Amazon gift-cards or a free, signed copy to show our appreciation. Thanks!

11 responses so far

Dec 19 2008

Regular Responses Begin Tomorrow Night

Finals ended today, so we will resume lengthy reviews on Saturday night.  Thanks for being patient.

4 responses so far

Dec 18 2008

I hate Barbara Streisand

Published by under Guns,National service

The students’ lounge had It Must Have Been The Mistletoe on infinite repeat.  Always the editor, I was thinking about some simple ways to fix this song.  It was surprisingly easy:  It Must Have Been the Missile TOW.

No responses yet

Dec 17 2008

Dammit, I’m not a squid!

Published by under Navel-Gazing

I got an e-mail about an annual conference at the Naval Academy and now all of my Google ads are from test-prep companies.  “Do you want to get into Annapolis?”  No!

One response so far

Dec 17 2008

How much do comic book writers make?

This source gives the figure $80-150 per page.  That’s $2000-4000 for a comic book script.

28 responses so far

Dec 16 2008

Our visual approach to dialogue is getting more stylish

Let’s see if this works…
Continue Reading »

One response so far

Dec 15 2008

Writing Music of the Day

Published by under Music for Writing

This is a piano performance of The Corridors of Time.

No responses yet

Dec 13 2008

NEO word processor: Not Enough Operationality

You’d have to be crazy to blow $250 on a word processor that can only display 6 lines of text and has 512 kilobytes of storage capacity.  Dell laptops start at $350.  Admittedly, a $350 laptop only has a nine-inch screen, but even so, it’s far more useful than this.

2 responses so far

Dec 13 2008

Webcomic #27: Making the Big Time

Published by under Comedy,Webcomic

This webcomic is based (loosely) on an article in the Wall Street Journal.

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No responses yet

Dec 12 2008

How is your story better than its competitors?

The guys at Atomic Robo compiled a Few Simple Rules to keep their work from making the same mistakes as other comic book series.

…maybe it’s unfair to say that we “hate” comics. More accurately, we hate the reality of the state of American comics today; what comics have become… We see so many titles making the same mistakes that pushed us away from comics in the ’90s, and the tragedy is that these are wholly unnecessary elements and easily remedied. But it feels like no one ever does.

They have five solutions.

  1. No angst.
  2. No “cheesecake” (ass-shots of women and other distasteful treatment).
  3. No reboots. When something happens, it can’t unhappen.
  4. No filler.
  5. No delays.

I really like those, and I will add eight rules for my work.

Continue Reading »

148 responses so far

Dec 10 2008

Surviving to Page 2

Many manuscripts get nixed on the first page.  Here are a few things that publishers want to see early on.


1.  Is it easy to read through? If your first page introduces many characters, fictional words, place names and the like, the story is probably a slog.  If your first page is hard to understand, your manuscript is dead on arrival.


2.  “Do I care about this story?” The easiest way to make a reader care is to give urgent, pressing goals to a likable protagonist.  If nothing’s at stake, readers will probably find the story boring.  If the reader doesn’t care on page one, your submission is in grave danger.


3.  Does the author have a professional grasp of English? If the author has multiple typos on page one, they’re just going to assume the author is an amateur and move on to the next manuscript.  Making a good first impression is important. Rule of thumb: If the first page has 3+ typos, the manuscript will not survive to page 2.


4.   Does it look like the plot is going somewhere? If the first page gets bogged down in a geography lesson, or a winding prologue, or a lengthy exposition, the answer is probably no.  Pacing the first page well is extremely important.

76 responses so far

Dec 10 2008

Brawls at Chuck E. Cheese: “It was like something out of a Quentin Tarantino movie.”

Some choice excerpts from a decidedly wild profile of Chuck E. Cheese’s customers.

In Brookfield, Wis., no restaurant has triggered more calls to the police department since last year than Chuck E. Cheese’s.

Officers have been called to break up 12 fights, some of them physical, at the child-oriented pizza parlor since January 2007. The biggest melee broke out in April, when an uninvited adult disrupted a child’s birthday party. Seven officers arrived and found as many as 40 people knocking over chairs and yelling in front of the restaurant’s music stage, where a robotic singing chicken and the chain’s namesake mouse perform.

“The biggest problem is you have a bunch of adults acting like juveniles,” says Town of Brookfield Police Capt. Timothy Imler. “There’s a biker bar down the street, and we rarely get calls there.”…

In Toledo, Ohio, four women were charged with disorderly conduct after a melee erupted at a Chuck E. Cheese’s there last year. According to police reports, it started when parents complained to the restaurant manager that children were loitering at the drawing machine…

“I thought they were going to attack me,” says Sheri Kellar-Raab, the first officer who responded…

The company stationed armed security guards inside the restaurant in an effort to make it safer.”It was like something out of a Quentin Tarantino film,” says Mr. Zielinski, referring to the “Pulp Fiction” director. “What parent is going to take their kids to a place where there is alcohol and pistols get brandished?”

9 responses so far

Dec 08 2008

Bad news

It’s almost the end of the semester, so our staff will be writing considerably less here over the next 10 days or so.  Thanks for your patience!

No responses yet

Dec 08 2008

Webcomic Recommendation: Looking for Group

Published by under Webcomic

There are a lot of sword-and-spell webcomics (8-Bit Theatre, Order of the Stick, etc.) but Looking for Group has more flavor and relies a bit less on inanity.  And its art, of course, is much better than most free webcomics.  (It’s comparable to Dr. McNinja’s art, but has better coloring).

Continue Reading »

8 responses so far

Dec 08 2008

Webcomic #26: In It to Win It

Published by under Comedy,Webcomic

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5 responses so far

Dec 07 2008

Common Gun-Related Errors for Authors

This article lists a few tricky points related to writing about guns. I think its list is pretty good…

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12 responses so far

Dec 07 2008

Review Forum Links

At the bottom of the sidebar, we’ve added a category called In-Depth Reviews.  If you give us long pieces to review, we will try to give you a forum to help you (and us) keep track of the rewrites and comments.  You can find the links to each author’s review forum there.

No responses yet

Dec 07 2008

How to Storyboard a Comic Book

I found this article on storyboarding comic books very useful.

UPDATE: This article describes some of the terminology in laying out comic book pages.

17 responses so far

Dec 06 2008

Funny Russian Headlines

Published by under Comedy,Journalism,News

Pravda:  “Condoleeza Rice Decides to Destroy Europe.”  I might have missed that article in the Wall Street Journal and the Guardian.

No responses yet

Dec 05 2008

A Bear Market for Authors and Publishers

Some publishers are cutting staff, and the market for books slumped dramatically in October and November.

No responses yet

Dec 03 2008

Do you want to write comic books? We need a sample script

Today, I received an e-mail from a prospective comic-book artist.  He said that, as part of his application process, his employer wanted him to illustrate a 24-page story.  But he doesn’t have a script.  Would you like to do a sample script for him?  As a sign of my appreciation, I’d be willing to help review your script, which will help you eventually sell your script to a publisher. If you’re not sure how to write a script, Dark Horse Comics has some formatting tips here.

The artist would really appreciate if your script included each of the following:

  • An action sequence (such as a fight, a heated argument or a chase scene).
  • A close-up on faces for emotional effect.
  • At least one cityscape, such as a zoomed out shot of an urban skyline.
  • One male and one female character. (These only need to appear once, so that he can demonstrate his grasp of anatomy).
  • An instance of fire or explosions. (This artist is very confident in his ability to illustrate fire, so he’d like to show that off).

If you’d like to participate, please e-mail me at superheronation[AT[gmail[DOT]com.  Thanks for your help!

Legal details: Allowing the artist to use your work for his application would not affect your legal ownership of the script or your exclusive rights to it in any way.

21 responses so far

Dec 03 2008

From the Onion: Surviving Larry King

Published by under Comedy

The first minute of this started slowly, but after that it’s comedy gold.

NASA Simulator Prepares Astronauts For Rigors Of An Interview With Larry King

No responses yet

Dec 02 2008

Writing Tip of the Day: Twins Are Generally Unhelpful

Generally, character overlap is problematic.  If two characters are interchangeable or perform the same role in your story, removing one is probably wise.  Having a smaller cast-size tends to save space, improve characterization and facilitates tighter scenes.

Twins (and triplets and quadruplets, etc.) tend to be either indistinguishable copies or slightly modified versions of the same mold.  If they’re indistinguishable, then the second twin is heavily redundant with the first and either can be easily removed.

On the other hand, some twins have only a slight difference, usually along a single character trait.  For example, one is optimistic and the other is downcast, or quiet vs. loud/outgoing, etc.  There are a few problems with that.  First, one-dimensional differentiation is typically flimsy and shallow.  Why not just make them distinct characters?  Second, it’s generally harder for readers to keep twins apart, particularly identical ones.

11 responses so far