Archive for July, 2009

Jul 26 2009

Darth Vader Redubbed

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.

This redubbing of a few Darth Vader scenes is pretty funny.  Caution: highly profane.

In particular, I found 1:15-1:50, 3:20-3:50, 6:35-6:40 and 7:10-7:25 hilarious.

2 responses so far

Jul 24 2009

How to Do Training Scenes

Training sequences are really useful because they help introduce a new member (often the main character) to a team of superheroes or another group of exotic and powerful protagonists (a SWAT team, an Army unit, etc).  Training scenes are especially important if your superhero team is unusual and needs to be introduced gradually to readers.

Here are some suggestions.

1.  Don’t make it a cakewalk– give the hero opportunities to prove himself to readers. If the team is meant to feel impressive, the training should be hard.  Here’s an article about Secret Service training, for example.

Overseeing them are instructors like Mixon, who wears a size 52 suit jacket, whose T-shirt says “Fighting Solves Everything,” and whose 2-year-old son knows how to do a one-man takedown. This morning Mixon, 40, is testing control tactics, or ground-fighting.

Even his toddler knows how to do a takedown!  That is hardcore.

2.  If possible, I recommend staying away from trainers that disappear as soon as the training is complete. In a realistic Army story, the drill sergeants are gone as soon as the recruits complete basic training.  The recruits will go onto Iraq or Afghanistan or wherever and the drillers stay behind.  If possible, try to develop characters that will be present after the training ends.  For example, use series regulars as part-time instructors (X-Men) or use the instructors as minor characters, a la Ender’s Game.

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17 responses so far

Jul 23 2009

Some tips for comic book artists interested in portfolio reviews

Published by under Comic Book Art

Randy Stradley, one of Dark Horse’s editors, has some portfolio review tips here.

I’d like to add a few of my own.

1.  Include a good mix of regular people, cities, cars, and trees/plants/landscapes. Many artists focus on closeups of superheroes and, frankly, that’s only one part of the art that goes into a superhero comic book.

2.  Show that you have a well-rounded grasp of human anatomy. In particular, a lot of artists have trouble with legs and feet.  If an artist’s portfolio didn’t include any shots that showed at least a bit of human anatomy from the waist down, I’d assume that the artist wasn’t ready yet.  Backshots are also sometimes a problem.

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No responses yet

Jul 23 2009

How I Would Reboot Superman

Superman is a waning superhero.

In the past year, his comics have consistently been outsold by Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Flash, Green Lantern, Deadpool, and every A-list franchise.   (For example, his top-performing comic book in June 2009 placed #43 on the bestsellers list).

According to io9, even DC Comics acknowledged that the Superman movie franchise is struggling.  Superman’s latest film-outing grossed about $390 million on a production budget of $270 million.  That’s notably worse than 1996’s Batman Forever, let alone either of the two most recent Batman films.  Yes… even Joel Schumacher, the “director” that put nipples on the Batsuit, beat Superman.

Here’s how I would reboot Superman.

1.  Give him a real personality with some actual flaws. This does not mean that he has to be brooding.  (Please see Spiderman or Ironman– characters can be three-dimensional and fun!) For example, maybe he’s a bit overconfident or careless.  Even a small flaw would make him more likable and believable.

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65 responses so far

Jul 22 2009

CarsonArtist’s Review Forum

Published by under Review Forums

Hello.  Please see the comments below.  Thanks!

21 responses so far

Jul 22 2009

What else has Ozymandias done in the last 35 minutes?

Published by under Webcomic

Let’s Be Friends Again has some funny theories about what everybody’s favorite Watchmen villain is up to.

11 responses so far

Jul 22 2009

Problematic Superpowers and How to Make Them Work

B. Mac touched on this with a couple of powers, such as super strength, telepathy/mind reading, and to a lesser degree, power suits, plus he mentioned a few others at the bottom of his article on common superhero problems. However, this is going to be a more all-around list, touching on a number of different powers.

All superpowers could be potentially problematic. However, these powers make it unusually difficult to write an interesting story.

1. SUPERSTRENGTH. Superstrength is generic and cliched. It’s very difficult to intrigue a reader with a character whose main power is superstrength. Fight scenes will either be no challenge (since he busts through absolutely everything) or no fun to read (since all he does is bust through everything).  Probably both. Hardly anything will challenge him. Locked in a cell? Bust out. Locked out of a building? Bust in. Girlfriend’s in trouble? Bust up the villain.

Mix it up: Limit his powers. Maybe he only has super strength when his adrenaline hits a certain level, so he has to stay hyped if he wants his powers. Or maybe his super strength only works against certain materials. (Though that would be difficult to logically explain, it would at least be a handy limit.)

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146 responses so far

Jul 20 2009

Brainstormer’s Review Forum

Published by under Review Forums

Please see the comments below.  Thanks!

16 responses so far

Jul 20 2009

Comic-Con Travel Advice

I’m just getting back from San Diego.  If my brother had had the foresight to schedule his wedding a week later than he had, perhaps we could have done Comic-Con.  (Because comic books are obviously awesomer than real life… haha).  Here are some San Diego tips that might help you if you’re going to Comic-Con.

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8 responses so far

Jul 20 2009

How to Do Parody Well

A large part of comedy comes from making references to other things, or by spoofing them. Here are a few things to keep in mind.

1.  Know your target audience. A parody of Pride and Prejudice can be funny (even though it’s been done before… with zombies!), but if you’re writing about superheroes there’s a good chance a large chunk of your audience won’t get it because they’ve never read Pride and Prejudice. If you’re writing a superhero story then your best bet is to spoof comics, with a healthy dose of the movie versions. Also, the more famous the target, the better the odds are people will get the joke.

2.  Know what you’re parodying. One common mistake of people making parodies is they don’t know what they’re spoofing.  If you want to make a reference to Lord of the Rings don’t talk about a quest to find the One Ring.  Anyone who knows about Lord of the Rings will be too busy banging their heads against the wall to laugh.

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9 responses so far

Jul 19 2009

Join our fantasy football league!

If you’re the sort of person that’s enthusiastic about SN and fantasy football, this is the perfect league for you. Below the fold, I have league details and information about how to join.

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Jul 18 2009

Six Tips on How to Write Romance

Many books and comics have at least one official pairing in them, either as a main plot element or as a sidestory.


It can be very difficult to write a believable relationship, and it is something that can very easily become cliché and annoying. I have a handful of tips for avoiding the pitfalls of romance writing.

1. Try to be original when you describe how they meet. We’ve seen the Crash Into Hello so many times that it is more fodder for eye-rolling than anything else. Try combining different stereotypical meetings to get something fresh. Perhaps Alice accidentally knocks Bob through an open window, and Catherine runs to help him, spraining her ankle and needing help from Daniel, the creepy guy who never talks. Two words: love quadrangle.

2. On that note, be careful with love triangles, quadrangles and other polygons. If 2+ characters are fawning over the same love interest, there had better be a good reason. Otherwise it makes the object of their affection appear to be a Mary Sue and the other corners of the triangle look pathetic.

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28 responses so far

Jul 17 2009

Writing Villains Vs. Writing Heroes

1. Villains can be overpowered. In fact, they should be more powerful than the hero. The more a hero is challenged, the more impressive it is when he eventually succeeds.

2.  Likability and relatability are much less important for villains than heroes. The quality of a villain usually depends on his style, competence and scariness. If your audience isn’t enthusiastically urging on the hero to beat the villain, they probably aren’t thrilled about the story.

3. The villain’s powers should usually be easier to explain and more generic than the hero’s are. Working in a really complex power for a character that will probably only fight a few times is usually a waste of time.  Additionally, most villains have fewer powers than the heroes do.  For example, Luke Skywalker has a variety of force powers, but the only power we see the Emperor use is lightning.  Batman has a variety of gadgets, but the Joker has just a pencil.

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36 responses so far

Jul 16 2009

Cover Your Plot Holes… It Could Be Funny

Plot holes are a point in a story where something happens for no believable reason. Indeed, sometimes the plot hinges on a plot hole.  For example, why would a criminal put snakes on a plane rather than kill the witness in a more conventional way?


1.  Plot holes are an opportunity. Most plot-holes can be explained– often humorously!– with a few lines.  Aren’t there easier ways to kill someone than putting snakes on a plane?  “You think I didn’t exhaust every other option?  He saw me!”  This hand-waving helps readers suspend their disbelief.  It isn’t logically air-tight, but it doesn’t have to be.


2.  Readers are generally receptive to your explanations, even if they’re flimsy. Not offering an explanation is almost always worse because it makes it look like you don’t see the problem.  That ruins your authorial credibility.  It also makes it hard for readers to suspend their disbelief.

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18 responses so far

Jul 16 2009

How to Make Your Love Interest a Real Character

“Love interest” is a degrading term. It brings to mind the shiny-eyed chick, with nothing better to do than swoon over the hero and get kidnapped. But they don’t have to be like that! It only takes five steps to save the mandatory trophy girlfriend.

1. Make her her own character. Ask yourself what she’s like. Was your answer “she loves the hero very much”, or worse, something about her looks? Hard as it is to believe, she probably has a life beyond loving the hero. Find out what she’s like apart from him. Don’t think of her as a love interest. Think of her as a girl, who loves the hero. Develop her the same way you developed the heroes. Why does she act how she does? What makes her stand out?

2. Know why they fall in love. This is vital if they haven’t met in the beginning. Now, pick a movie with a romantic subplot. Any movie. Watch the scene where they meet. Chances are, there’s no meaningful interaction. They talk about nothing important…but he keeps eyeing her like he’s never seen a girl before.  It doesn’t work that way.

I’ll admit it’s doable in movies, but it stands out like a sore thumb in written form. Look at it realistically. Ask yourself this: what originally drew them to each other? Was it a personality trait that attracted her to the hero? Why does he love her?

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55 responses so far

Jul 15 2009

Writing Contest: What the Hell!?!

Joe Jusko did his best with a rather strange comic book cover.  Please describe what you think is happening in the issue.   Take as much space as you need.

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7 responses so far

Jul 15 2009

How to Write for Kids

Writing for children isn’t as easy as it sounds. Children get bored very easily and keeping their attention can be quite a challenge. Here are a few tips to help you get kids into your work. (Note: when I say kids, I mean around 8-13 years old. Readers younger than that are a whole different game.)

1. Keep it simple. Not to be mean or anything, but kids are generally not quite as good at keeping track of complicated plots and obscure words. (Although all of that has worked very well for kids in the past ) If you make things complicated, then you should probably compensate. Which leads me to…

2. Slapstick is the best form of comedy… For kids anyway. People falling over and getting hit can always be played for laughs; use that to your advantage. Also, anything to do with gross stuff is comedy gold for kids. It’s worth noting, however, that if you want any form of adult audience then you’ll want to keep it to a minimum.

3. Exaggerate all of your characters. Kids love exaggerated character traits and understand exaggerated characters more easily. Many successful characters aimed at kids have a single exaggerated trait. For example, the Kids Next Door have a leader, the smart guy, the kook (her name is actually Kuki), the tough guy and the cool one. The Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles have a leader, a smart guy, a fun guy and a tough guy. Exaggerating a trait can also make the character more stylish and memorable. A character that’s vaguely unlucky is probably pretty bland. But if he’s the the butt of some kind of universal joke and gets stuck in holes, gets hit by things and fails at everything then he might be really funny.

4. Write for adults too. If you don’t put in anything for the adults, then you’ve effectively alienated about half of your audience. Parents read books with kids all of the time.   Arguably the most successful series of books of the past decade is Harry Potter. Why? Because anyone could read them: kids, adults, boys, girls, etc. It was simple and imaginative enough to excite kids and sophisticated enough to interest adults. Make sure that adults can enjoy the books too, and don’t be afraid to put in jokes that might fly by a kid.  For example, in the first Shrek movie, Shrek looks at Farquad’s massive castle and quips “think he’s compensating for something?”  Kids would probably assume he was talking about Farquad’s height, but adults and teens knew he was talking about length.

5. Don’t scare the kids. Children are much easier to scare than adults. Anything you put in there that may give the kids nightmares will not be appreciated by the parents. For example, a story about an alien that wants 10% of the child population of the Earth to use for drugs, and can make all of them speak in unison to declare ‘we are coming’  is probably not suitable for kids. On that note, it’s worth mentioning the obvious, no profanity. If you absolutely must swear, use a lighter swear word or a replacement swear word.

8 responses so far

Jul 13 2009

Kendall’s Review Forum

Published by under Review Forums

Please see the comments below.  Thanks!

2 responses so far

Jul 12 2009

This is a cool concept…

Asaya’s Blog: How to Write and Draw the Supernatural is a blog similar to this one.  It offers writing advice focused on supernatural fiction.  Quick question.  What kind of stories would you consider to be supernatural fiction?  It strikes me as a slightly more open-ended category than, say, “superhero stories.”

18 responses so far

Jul 10 2009

Writing Tip of the Day: Be Careful With Crying Characters

Published by under Writing Articles

This is our inaugural guest post.  Thanks, Marissa!  If you’d like to provide writing advice, please send me a sample post of up to 500 words at superheronation-at-gmail-dot-com.  — B. Mac

Just recently, I tripped over a very interesting fact of writing: “If your character cries, your reader doesn’t have to.”

Think about it. Which would you rather read: A character bawling her eyes out? Or a character shivering, her eyes squeezed shut and her breathing labored, trying to deal with grief without bursting into tears?

This is probably a painfully obvious statement, but usually, crying is meant to convey sadness. Grief. Loss. That’s not it’s only purpose, however. Most of the time, the author brings their character to tears to garner some sort of reader-character sympathy. The reader sees that Character A is so sad that they’re crying, and so the reader feels sad as well.

Look at movies, though. The saddest parts are never when the character is sitting there bawling, are they? I bet you can’t name one time when the memorably poignant moment is when the character is doing nothing but crying. That’s just it: Crying loses the reader’s sympathy.

Having a character cry is usually the cheap way out. There are so many thoughts, feelings, actions associated with grief that plopping your character into the sobbing stereotype would cheat both the character and the reader. If you want your reader to feel something too, I’d recommend either removing the crying altogether and focusing on other symptoms of sadness, or easing up to the crying stage and not giving it much focus.

Now think about this: How does your character respond to sadness, grief, or loss? It depends on their personality, so it’s really up to you as the author to figure it out. Do they shiver for a while, until it all builds up, then explosively punch an inanimate object? Do they try to take deep breaths, calm themself down? Etc. Just don’t go straight from zero to sobbing. (After all, you wouldn’t have an angry character suddenly punch someone in the face without showing his anger building up, right?

The Emotional Thesaurus does a great job listing symptoms of sadness to help you start small and gradually escalate.

32 responses so far

Jul 10 2009

Website Advice: How to Deal with the Summer Slump

Published by under Website Design

Here are a few trends about the “summer slump” in internet use.  (Well, when it’s summer in the Northern Hemisphere, anyway).

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Jul 10 2009

The Five Page Challenge!

You don’t have hundreds of pages to persuade an agent or a publisher that your work is worth publishing.  More like five.  Since agents and publisher’s assistants and editors receive hundreds of proposals every week, time is not on your side.  Your story has to be interesting immediately.  If it feels like the story’s going nowhere, the reader will toss your manuscript and move on to the next.

To help you write sharper and more compelling openings, I’m starting a writing contest that will end on July 31.  Both novelists and comic book writers can participate as many times as they’d like.  If you’re interested, please post the following below…

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58 responses so far

Jul 09 2009

Want to be a Guest Writer?

Next week, I’m off to a wedding.  I’m very excited, but I’ll be away from my computer for 4-5 days.  Over that time, I’d like to run some articles written by our guests here.  If you have any writing advice you’d like to share, please write up a sample post up to 500 words and send it to me at superheronation-at-gmail-dot-com.   Thanks for your help.

36 responses so far

Jul 09 2009

Comic Book Writing Tip of the Day: Make Your Recaps Stylish

After the first issue, comic books often include a page-long recap so that new readers can figure out what’s going on and who’s who.  Here are a few tips.

1.  Make your recap stylish and inviting. It needs to convince a prospective reader that this series is worth his time.  Ideally, it will interest him so much that he goes back to look for the old issues he missed.  The most effective recaps tend to be funny.  Failing that, at least make it easy to follow and exciting.  If it feels like the backstory is hard to follow, readers are probably going to put the book down.

2.  You can make the recap feel fresher by doing something that fits into your story. For example, most of the characters in Superhero Nation work for the Human Resources department of a top-secret agency.  So we do our recaps as personnel files and mission debriefings written by the head of Human Resources, who is a bit crazy.

For example, the main character’s “file” might contain blurbs like these.

Superpowers? None known.  We’ve ruled out intelligence and usefulness.

Main contributions to team? Could be used as a battering ram.

That’ll help remind readers that he’s the guy without superpowers and that his co-workers regard him as useless. Just as importantly, we want to show to prospective readers that this series is witty and comical.

3.  Make us feel the appropriate emotions. If your series is a horror, the blurb should feel eerie and chilling.  If your writing is supposed to be remotely funny, make us laugh.  If it’s a romance, focus on why we should care about the characters and their relationships. Etc.

2 responses so far

Jul 09 2009

Take That, Joel Schumacher!

Published by under Comedy,DC Comics

Joel Schumacher is a director best-known for his vicious crimes against Batman, including putting nipples on the batsuit. Earlier today, I was browsing through TV Tropes and found that one of the Batman cartoons had a hilarious scene mocking Schumacher.  (The idiot in the scene is named Joel and is standing in front of a sign that says Shoemaker).

One response so far

Jul 08 2009

Other things about your characters that rarely matter

Published by under Character Development

1. What their eyes look like. Eyes are almost never as interesting to the reader as they are to the author.  Additionally, describing what the eyes look like suggests a level of closeness that often implies romantic intimacy.  Finally, eye-color comes up so rarely in real life that it’s weird to mention it in fiction.  Here’s a mental exercise:  take yourself, your mom, your dad, and your significant other.  How many of their eye-colors can you name with certainty?  If eye-colors are such a minor detail to you that you can’t name your mom’s eye-color, what are the odds are that your readers will care about your protagonist’s eyes?  Very, very slim.

2. What they did when they woke up. It is almost impossible to write an interesting morning routine.  If your book starts with a character waking up, the manuscript is probably dead on arrival.  Just cut to the part where they do something interesting.

3. Extra names. In most cases, I’d recommend a first name or a last name, but try to avoid switching between the two.  Middle names are almost always a waste of time.  (In contrast, secret identities are usually acceptable because they are plot-important and because readers can easily understand why the character is sometimes called Superman even though his name is Clark).

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21 responses so far

Jul 08 2009

How to Do Settings and Scenery Well

Published by under Setting,Writing Articles

1.  Focus on details that develop a character. For example, it’s not so interesting that your hero’s bedroom has a dresser. What can the dresser tell us about the character? If he’s such a neat-freak that he even sorts and folds his underwear, that helps build his personality.

2.  Use sensory details and props to develop a mood. For example, let’s say you’re describing a hospital.  Is it clean and professional like the Mayo Clinic?  Or is it seedy and dangerous like a Tijuana chopshop?  Is it primal and raw like a shaman’s hut?  What do the patients look and smell like?  What sort of medical implements are on hand?  How do the staff and receptionists behave?  What does the place smell like?  Are there any noticeable sounds?  What are the bathrooms like?  Etc.

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12 responses so far

Jul 08 2009

The Ridiculously Implausible Escapes of GI Joe Characters

Cartoon shows aimed at kids usually have tight restrictions on violence: usually drawing blood, maiming, shooting and killing are off the table.  Sometimes this merely forces writers to get creative.  For example, TMNT’s Leonardo tends to use his sword more as a tool than a weapon and he’s usually the first turtle to get disarmed.  However, GI Joe raises the “no real violence” restrictions to an art-form.  Never before has there been so much warfare without any injuries.  Slate has more.

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Jul 08 2009

Featured: Which female characters are the most awful and why? Who’s awesome?

Which female characters do you think are the most awful? Which are the most excellent? What separates the two? Marissa and I really appreciate your feedback; Marissa’s writing an article for us about how to do female characters well. (You can see our article on male characters here).

205 responses so far

Jul 07 2009

How to make travel-scenes interesting

Many novels, particularly fantasies, spend a lot of time on traveling scenes.  Here are some suggestions to keep the journeys smooth and interesting.

1. Don’t give the journey more length than the goal merits. If the characters take a 20-page trip through the wilderness to find something minor, readers will probably feel annoyed.  In contrast, a journey that is absolutely critical to the plot might span hundreds of pages.  For example, if the book is about settlers on the Oregon Trail, then almost all of the book is probably going to be in transit.

2. Make the journey urgent. For example, the characters are running out of time and/or they are in danger.  Urgent journeys are usually more interesting.  Urgent journeys also go farther to develop how impressive the characters are.  Anyone can get around the world, but doing it in 80 days in 1872 is pretty remarkable.

3.  Use the trek as an opportunity for character development. A strong journey usually requires chemistry between the characters.  Chemistry is hard to pin down, but it generally entails a bit of conflict and style.

4.  Show us some new scenery. In a fantasy, this is a great opportunity to use your imagination.  Why should travelers should stay away from the Mangled Forest?

5.  Stay away from redundancy.   For example, if the characters defend themselves from bears one page, it would be pretty boring if they had to fight off wolves or wild zebras or rabid gnomes or whatever a few pages later.   Also, don’t spend too much time building the landscapes. Show us just enough to build a mood.

6.  A journey depends on effective use of low-intensity pacing. Unlike, say, a car chase, a journey is going to consist of scenes that are mostly unintense.  There may be brief intervals of intense action (probably combat), but those will get redundant fairly quickly.  In general, suspense and/or spookiness usually go farther than a battle royale rumble through the jungle.

7.  If at all possible, just cut out the description of the journey by having the narrator tell us that the characters made it. If you can do that without eviscerating the plot, chances are that the journey isn’t important enough to draw out.  Readers will really thank you for glossing over minor, boring details.  (For example, see our review of Empire of Ivory).

15 responses so far

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