Archive for August, 2009

Aug 30 2009

I’m off to Washington!

Published by under Mea Culpa,Navel-Gazing

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.

I’ll be back in a few days and won’t be on much until then.

3 responses so far

Aug 26 2009

How to Design Outstanding Superhero Costumes

Many first-time comic book writers mistakenly think that it’s okay to give their character bland costumes and let other factors make up for it. While other aspects contribute to the overall success of a superhero, the costume is critical because it’s the first thing a reader sees. Don’t blow your only chance at a first impression by making your hero look like a bum. Here are some tips to design effective and stylish costumes.

1. Keep it functional. When a costume doesn’t feel practical, it will probably make the character seem less realistic and/or competent. For example, if your hero wears a large cape, it’d be hard to believe that he never gets caught on anything. And if it doesn’t, the character may come off as a Mary Sue.

2. Be bold. Don’t be afraid to let your creativity flow when designing a costume. If you have a idea for something that could be interesting try to work it into the costume without compromising functionality. Personally, I prefer to start with an outrageous costume then take away until I find balance. Play with colors, patterns, styles, layers, and accessories until you find the perfect costume exhibiting style and functionality, but…

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97 responses so far

Aug 25 2009

Fox’s Review Forum

Published by under Review Forums

Please see the comments below.  Thanks!

29 responses so far

Aug 24 2009

How to Beat Disbelief and Immerse Readers


  • Characters should act consistently.  It’s usually better to err on the side of a trait being too strong/consistent than too weak/half-hearted.  When characters grow and change, his change should be caused by something understandable and visible.  Don’t leave your readers wondering why this character is acting like that.
  • Powers like time-travel, memory-alteration, impersonation and sometimes resurrection can make it very difficult to understand what is going on.  (Is that memory real or imagined?  Who remembers what? Who’s dead?)  I would not recommend adding these powers lightly.  If readers are confused, they will be jarred from the story.  Don’t make the reader work to understand the basic facts of your story.
  • Don’t be coy with readers.  If the point-of-view character knows something relevant (like backstory or something he knows or can observe), the reader is entitled to know the same.  I strongly recommend against trying to create drama by having the POV hide information from the readers.  “Surprise, I was the killer all along!”  If you hide information that the reader feels entitled to, he will probably feel angry rather than satisfied when you finally reveal the truth.

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5 responses so far

Aug 22 2009

Update of Webcomic #8

Published by under Webcomic

You can see the before-and-after below. What do you think?

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5 responses so far

Aug 20 2009

Ghost’s Review Forum

Published by under Review Forums

My novel is kind of a cross between a dark superhero story and teenage angst. “My father is abusive,” “school sucks,” “I can’t get a date,” “I survived a terrorist attack and now the government is hunting me down.” You know, just the typical stuff.

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57 responses so far

Aug 18 2009


Published by under Uncategorized

4 responses so far

Aug 16 2009

Would SN webcasts be helpful or gimmicky?

I just bought a webcam, but I’m ambivalent about using it here.  Would it be helpful if I supplemented our usual lineup of written advice and reviews with some webcast material? Or would it feel like a gimmick?

Here are some of the factors I’m considering. What do you think?

1. The visual element can provide a solid opportunity for style and personality. For example, Angry Nintendo Nerd’s rants and Ask Prudie’s etiquette advice both use the author’s presence to create flair.  However, quite a few webcasters waste that opportunity by dully reading a script.  What’s the point?  I wouldn’t subject my readers to something that’s slower and more complicated unless I was confident that I had the style to make it work.

2. Webcasting generally strikes me as more entertaining but less informative than pure text. For one thing, it’s harder for readers to follow a video at their own pace and it’s easier to misconstrue something that is spoken rather than written.  However, university classes about fiction writing often involve a lot of oral instruction.  So I think something like a video-lecture is plausible.

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22 responses so far

Aug 14 2009

Only 10% of novels clear their advances?

That’s what Agent Kristin says.  Clearing the advance is the point at which a novel sells well enough that the total royalties exceed the advance.

9 responses so far

Aug 13 2009

The Onion Takes On Applied Phlebotinum in Sci-Fi

Published by under Comedy

It’s pretty funny.  By the way, if you replace “quantum flux” with “Speed Force” or “Pym particles,” it applies just as well to superhero stories as it does for sci-fi.

6 responses so far

Aug 13 2009

How to Avoid Info-Dumping

Info-dumping is when a story gives too much information, too quickly. Nicole Denis provides a useful introduction to the problem and offers some tips about how to use different scenarios to avoid it.  I have some suggestions of my own.

1.  When characters are conversing, give them an objective of their own, NOT “informing the readers.” This will reduce “as you know, Bob” dialogue where characters speak about information they already know.  Such dialogue is fatal because it lacks urgency– nothing is at stake if both speakers already know the information being discussed.  Contrast that with a conversation where an investigator is trying to grill a hostile witness for information.   High stakes usually make for more interesting scenes.  Another problem when the characters lack in-story motivation is that it compromises the audience’s respect for the characters.  If the characters aren’t doing anything except what the author wants them to do– even when it doesn’t make sense for them to do so– it will be hard for them to suspend their disbelief.

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15 responses so far

Aug 10 2009

How to Handle Competence on a Superhero Team

It’s usually a problem when some of the characters on a team of superheroes are substantially weaker or less useful than others.  Here are some tips to avoid those problems.

1.  I recommend giving all of the teammates skills and/or powers that can be useful in a variety of situations. If a character’s skills are so limited that he doesn’t have the ability to participate, he will probably come across as useless and may attract the scorn of readers.  (I’m looking at you, Aquaman).  Additionally, if your characters have versatile skills, you won’t have to come up with goofy contrivances so that each teammate can contribute.

2.  In most cases, I would recommend keeping the characters roughly as powerful as each other. Otherwise it will be hard to come up with challenges that match one hero without being effortlessly easy or absolutely impossible for the rest of the cast.  For example, any hit hard enough to hurt Superman should kill Batman, right?  If teammates one teammate is that much more powerful than another, the writer will probably have to just pretend that Batman is actually strong enough to shrug off a punch that can break a skyscraper. That is a goofy and contrived way to try to work Batman-like characters into a Superman fight.  If you’re dead-set on a significant superpower disparity, the best solution is probably having them split up as much as possible.  Alternately, you could do fights with some weaker antagonists and some tougher ones.  The problem is that this usually relegates the weaker heroes to cleanup duty, because the most plot-central villains are usually the most dangerous and get the most face-time in battle.   (If the weaker heroes are minor characters, that might not be a problem).

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5 responses so far

Aug 09 2009

Please help me complete a glossary of writer’s terms!

The Turkey City Lexicon is a great resource for writers that want to understand reviewing jargon.  I’d like to come up with something similar for this site, which has a slightly different jargon.  Have you read any terms here that you weren’t familiar with?  (Or that you think a typical prospective writer wouldn’t be familiar with?)  Which terms?  I’d really appreciate if you could point out any to me in a comment.

Here are some that occurred to me…

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5 responses so far

Aug 08 2009

I wish I had come up with this myself…

In Green Lantern #9, Batman gets a GL ring.

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62 responses so far

Aug 08 2009

SVT’s Review Forum

Published by under Review Forums

What am I trying to write?

I’m trying to write a superhero novel about a guy and a girl, I’m uncertain about the age (it happens), who battle some kind of huge pseudo-army of people. Whether it be a criminal organization or a mystical race of vampires, I am uncertain (there goes that word again).

Who is in my target audience?

Teenagers, possibly college students. Of the older, more mature sort. I don’t intend on making this book full of rainbows and butterflies. Some comparable works would include Animorphs, Maximum Ride, Kung Fu Panda, Fantastic Four, Spiderman, and The Wizard of Oz (I’ll explain later).

How thick is my skin?

If you don’t call my work terrible or anything of the like, we’ll be fine.

11 responses so far

Aug 08 2009

Webmasters, don’t pull rank on your readers!

Here are a few tips about how to treat commenters and reviewers respectfully.

1.  It’s rarely helpful to highlight the host’s comments in a different color. First, it usually looks annoying, particularly if your comments are long.  Second, most of the people that read the comments on your website will know who you are, particularly if you comment frequently.  Third, shouldn’t your writing stand out on its own merits?  By virtue of your experience and effort, you are probably among the most competent and best-written people on your site.  (Ahem– if your guests were more competent than you, they would move on).  When a host highlights his comments, it may feel like he’s insecure about the quality of his writing.

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No responses yet

Aug 08 2009

Scaling Your Story: How Epic is Too Epic?

How epic is your story?

  1. The hero has to overcome a problem that isn’t life-and-death (like most romance).
  2. The hero has to save himself or another character from serious danger (like most action).
  3. The hero has to save a city (like most superhero stories).
  4. The hero has to save a nation or species (like most epic fantasy and national security thrillers).
  5. The hero has to save the world(s).  (This is pretty rare outside of epic sci-fi).

Here are some suggestions about how to handle the scope of your story.

1.  It’s rarely a problem when a story evolves from #1 to #2. For example, it would be pretty easy to write a story where a journalist covers a story that becomes ludicrously dangerous.  First, the change in epicness is fairly slight.

Second, the author has a variety of ways to prepare the reader.  For example, you can foreshadow the danger.  Or you can gradually ratchet up the violence– first a witness dies under mysterious circumstances, then the journalist gets death threats, then his brakes suddenly stop working on the freeway, etc.  Preparing the reader is important because otherwise the reader might be disoriented when you change the stakes.  If your readers have no reason to suspect that the journalist is in danger, they may be confused rather than thrilled when a mysterious man suddenly draws a gun on him.

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14 responses so far

Aug 05 2009


Published by under National service

3 responses so far

Aug 05 2009

Teen literature is selling quite well…

The Motley Fool reports

But what began with Harry and Hogwarts has grown into something more. Teen literature is hot. Estimates suggest the category will generate $744.3 million in revenues for U.S. publishers this year, up 13% from $659.1 million in 2008. In comparison, book retailing in general is slumping, with revenue expected to fall nearly 5% from a year ago.

Instead of trying to grab kids’ eyes as they rush past the book stacks toward the movies and music, Borders is creating an in-store boutique called Borders Ink, featuring graphic novels, manga (Japan’s homegrown style of comics), vampires, and, of course, wizards. It hopes to have as many as 90% of its superstores featuring the teen reading section by the end of the month.

This is encouraging. First, more readers generally means that publishers will have more room to take on more authors in this field. Second, diversifying comic book sales beyond comic-book stores is extremely important.  That’s especially true if you want to write for demographics that are far more likely to visit a bookstore than a comic-book store– like women, children/parents, first-time comic book readers, etc.

13 responses so far

Aug 04 2009

Lighting Man’s Review Forum

Published by under Review Forums

Lighting Man is working on a superhero graphic novel.  Please see the comments below for more details.  Thanks!

No responses yet

Aug 02 2009

Polaris Spark’s Review Forum

Published by under Review Forums

Please see the comments below.  Thanks!

8 responses so far

Aug 01 2009

Conveying Knowledge the Point-of-View Character Doesn’t Have

One of the tricky parts about first-person narration is that the story is largely limited to what the narrator knows.  What if you want to cover an event that happens without the narrator?  Here are some possible solutions.

1. Even if the character isn’t there, he can still make inferences afterwards. For example, the protagonist of a detective novel almost never witnesses the crime he’s trying to solve.  But he can still come up with some conclusions about what happened just by examining the crime scene.  Observations work outside of crime scenes, too.  For example, let’s say the protagonist notices that his girlfriend is noticeably less interested in him after his ex-girlfriend has a chat with her.  The protagonist isn’t sure exactly what happened in that conversation, but he can probably narrow it down to a few possibilities.  He can also talk to people that might know more than he does.  For example, even if his girlfriend isn’t returning his calls, he might be able to get a hold of one of her close friends.


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9 responses so far

Aug 01 2009

Kuro’s Review Forum

Published by under Review Forums

Please see the comments below.  Thanks!

16 responses so far