For example, I will order all mirrors removed from the palace, and scream and flinch whenever someone accidentally holds up a mirror, etc. In the climax, when the hero whips out a mirror and thrusts it at my face, my reaction will be “Hmm…I think I need a shave.”
Superman is obviously faking his vulnerability to kryptonite. It’s highly suspicious that so many people have attempted to use kryptonite against him but none have managed to kill or maim him. Also, doesn’t it seem implausible that someone would be fatally vulnerable to the radiation given off by his own planet?
Although some nay-sayers might argue that Superman is too honest to lie about this sort of thing, I think it’s just like a better version of his Clark Kent ruse.
CNN just did a piece on how cops break the news that someone’s loved one has been murdered. I think the article is an especially useful resource for the authors of superhero stories because a lot of superheroes get so caught up in their superhero identities that regular people are essentially cut from the story. For example, on Heroes normal people are sometimes used as props or plot devices, but they never get any important lines. (Also, the characters haven’t had real jobs since season 1, and all of the recurring characters have superpowers now. Even Suresh and Ando!)
Although breaking tragic news to a spouse might get too angsty, I suspect that an author could play it quietly to add emotional depth to the superhero. One of the things that annoyed me about Bruce Wayne/Batman is that he’s so socially retarded that it seems like he doesn’t care about anyone else. Beating the hell out of bad guys is fine, but that’s just revenge for Batman. If your hero is supposed to be likable, you might want to show that he’s at least trying to empathize with regular people. I’d recommend having him stumble awkwardly in the conversation, though. I think the scene depends on the awkwardness of the hero being thrust into a new role that’s hard even for professional chaplains.
“Then she remembered…” is usually an awkward way to remind readers of backstory. Additionally, it creates sentences that depend on a boring verb (remembered). For example, let’s say John is investigating a murder that may have been committed by his friend Cathy.
Cathy said that she had been on a safari when the victim was murdered. Then John remembered that she was actually deathly afraid of large animals.
Generally, a Scrappy is a character that is hated by readers, usually because he’s exaggeratedly inept in a way that is meant to be funny. For example, instead of having a slight speech impediment, he’ll be Jar-Jar Binks. Instead of being a bit younger than the other characters, he’ll be Scrappy Doo. This character usually distracts from the more competent characters, often so much that he becomes a hate figure.
Here are some common misconceptions that lead authors to use Scrappies…
Be careful when it comes to giving characters unearned reputations.
It’s insufferable when we hear something about a character and see something else entirely. For example, everyone in Heroes tells the audience that Mohinder is a brilliant scientist, but his most notable act of science has been to inject himself with an entirely untested formula that accidentally turns him into a monster. That makes both the character and the writers come off poorly. (Mohinder’s a moron, the plot hinges on total stupidity and the writers clearly don’t know anything about scientific testing, etc). If you need your cast to act very uncharacteristically, at least give us a reason why. For example, if Mohinder’s life had been in immediate jeopardy, it’d be more plausible that he would have taken the formula without testing it first.
Champions Online (the latest superhero-meets-World of Warcraft game) has a quiz I found kind of amusing.
You are pure evil, and hate personified. You don’t care anything about your fellow man, and are guided only by your desire to rule over your inferiors, i.e. everybody but you. ‘Mercy,’ you ask, prior to grinding an enemy beneath your mighty heel, ‘What is mercy?’
Hi, I’m looking to get published. My prospective publishers want me to provide information about my audience. Specifically, are you interested in my book about how to write superhero stories? Would you prefer information tailored to novelists, comic book writers or both?
I would really appreciate 5 minutes of your help. Thanks!
Sometimes a minor character will “steal” the scene from the main character, taking so much of the spotlight that the main character just seems to disappear. Here are several scenarios that often to lead to scene-stealing.
“Keep the change, ya filthy animal.” Indeed! If your character changes in some way , it’s usually a good idea to “keep the change” rather than undo the change later on. Backtracking often makes the characterization feel unsatisfying and usually suggests that there was no reason to make the change in the first place. If the hero moves from psychopathic to mostly sane, it probably won’t feel right if he suddenly jerks back to psychopathic two episodes later. (I’m looking at you, Sylar!)
In a novel or comic book, backtracking is best-handled as a major failure for the main character. For example, it might be a decisive event that sets up the climactic struggle. As an immature kid, Simba runs away when his father gets killed. That sets up his return to fight Scar in the climax, establishing that he has finally become responsible. Alternately, the hero backtracks because the hero loses at the end. For example, if The Lion King were a dystopian tragedy about Simba failing to become mature, Simba gets hunted down and eaten by the hyenas shortly after fleeing to the desert. That’ll teach you to try to run away from your problems!
Backtracking is generally not well-suited for traits that aren’t particularly important, or for minor characters. Backtracking tends to take a lot of space (to clear up potential confusion), so it probably isn’t worthwhile unless the character and trait are crucial to the story.
Fevered rumors occasionally surface that Marvel and/or DC have copyrighted the word “superhero” and plan to sue anyone that uses them. That’s obviously bunk. However, a more credible blogger claims that Marvel and DC have jointly trademarked the term superhero and are the only ones that can use it when naming a comic book. It is true that they have the trademark, but there is virtually no chance that it would hold up in court. (Whether or not your publisher is actually willing to risk a case is another question, though… it’s cheaper to come up with a new title than go to court).
1. The story fails to hook readers in the first three pages.
The easiest way to do this is to show a likable character facing a serious problem. It doesn’t have to be a life-and-death threat, but that helps. Another method is to establish that the writing style is particularly compelling.
2. The plot lacks urgency.
A character walking from his door to his car is not very interesting. Running to his car to make it to work on time is better. Running to his car to avoid gunshots? Even better. To make the plot more urgent, I recommend making giving the characters goals that are time-sensitive and high-stakes. If John doesn’t make it to work in ten minutes, he will be fired. If Captain Carnage can’t find and defuse the bomb in ten minutes, the building will explode. Etc. The goal doesn’t have to be life or death, but it helps.
3. The writers rely too much on exposition (particularly narration and dialogue) to tell the story.
Try not to tell your audience things that they should be able to see in the picture. For example, check out these two versions of one of our panels.
Superhero Nation is slightly eccentric and wacky, so I kind of want an eye-catching cover that conveys that. Here are a few of my latest ideas for our first cover.
1. This cover shows a desk with a careful array of US presidential bobbleheads. (It’s Agent Orange’s desk, so this should look a bit wacky). At the front of the desk would be bobbleheads of Agent Black, Agent Orange and their boss. In the background, we’d place a motivational poster for humorous flavor. (Maybe “Human Resources: Killer Service Every Time.”)
ALTERNATIVE: The desk still has presidential bobbleheads, but the bobbleheads of the cast are gone. Agent Orange is behind the desk in a surly boss pose and Agent Black is staring at him dumbfounded. As before, there’s a motivational poster for humor. (Hat-tip to Brett).
2. Agent Black is getting chewed out in an over-the-top manner by Agent Orange. I’d probably frame it like a scene between Peter Parker and JJ Jameson. I’m relying on the “what the hell?” factor of having a mutant alligator as the boss to make this eye-catching and appealing. I’d probably give Agent Orange a business prop like a wacky chart or graph in lieu of the motivational poster.
3. Agent Black is in a mock Rambo pose, ineptly wielding a machine gun on a firing range. All of his bullets are wildly off his target. (The bulletholes may spell out the Superhero Nation logo). Agent Orange is looking on exasperatedly with a hand on his forehead. He’s shaking his head. This is probably better-suited for the second issue than the first.
We’re up to 62 superhero movies since 2000. You can download the full data here. Some observations: R movies are making up the quality gap with PG-13 movies. Both DC and Marvel movies are getting better over time. DC superhero properties are averaging 47% since 2000, compared to 62% for Marvel and 69% […]
Hey DeadPool, You are a funny guy. How did you become a super hero? What do you do when you’re not doing anything? Do you like being a superhero? Why do you wear a mask? Why do you wear red and white? Are you Canadian? Getting superpowers is sort of a long story. Some people […]
I feel like a marketing executive put a gun to the screenwriter’s head and said “I don’t CARE what the movie is about, put New York City, London, and Hong Kong in it. Just do that thing where the villain is trying to collect plot coupons around the world in places that happen to be […]
Den Warren, (K-Tron, Metahuman Wars) is issuing a call for 3k-5k word submissions for a superhero prose fiction anthology titled, The Supreme Archvillain Election. Each submission will be a supervillain sitting at a huge table explaining why they should be voted as the Supreme Archvillain, then they go into a story, etc. Reprint excerpts and […]
1. This movie is about as bad as Catwoman but, in Catwoman’s defense, it had okay action scenes. 2. Man of Steel particularly struggled with family dialogue. E.g. Clark’s Kryptonian parents take 3 minutes to describe their plan to send him to Earth and say their goodbyes. It’s pretty bland stuff, e.g. melodramatic intonations like […]
I spent 5 hours this week watching Man of Steel and taking 5,000 words of notes. It was like being trapped on an alien planet where the atmosphere consists 80% of characters telling Clark what incredible, grandiose things he symbolizes, 20% of daringly bad action scenes, 15% of grimly constipated expressions, and 15% of acting […]
Out of the Past is a 1947 noir thriller so brilliant I cannot do it justice. I would definitely recommend it, particularly if you’re working with… Characters Plots Accidental deaths falsely claimed as murder-suicides Double-crosses, triple-crosses, and maybe a quadruple-cross depending on how you interpret a self-defense kill with a fishing reel. A complex plot […]