Archive for September, 2009

Sep 26 2009

Jmilb’s Review Forum

Published by under Review Forums

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.

Please see the comments below.  Thanks!

14 responses so far

Sep 26 2009

Your Readers Are Not The Same As You!

One of the most common mental mistakes that plagues writers is the logical fallacy that if they do or prefer something, their target audience does too.  Not necessarily!  Here are a few ways in which readers tend to differ from authors.

1.  Readers are usually less patient than writers. As a result, they tend to get aggravated when the author doesn’t give them enough information.  (Rule of thumb: the readers are entitled to anything relevant that the POV knows).  Many writers like being cryptic because they think that hiding the POV’s information from the reader will create intrigue.  Most readers do not like reading cryptic works.

2.  Readers start at page 1 and typically will put down the book as soon as they are dissatisfied. Ahem–they aren’t patient.  This means that the quality of the opening few pages is absolutely critical to readers. In contrast, writers often phone in the beginning because they want to get to the “meat” of the story or whatever.  THAT IS A MISTAKE.  Most readers will not plod along in the hopes that the story will get interesting or clear.  They will put down the book unless it is interesting and clear from page one.

Continue Reading »

13 responses so far

Sep 26 2009

Comic Books in the Courtroom

Here’s an amusing excerpt from a Washington Post article

“We are at a point where no one could have even imagined 15 years ago,” said Albert J. Lurigio, a professor of psychology and criminal justice at Loyola University who has written about electronic monitoring and privacy since a New Mexico judge, inspired by Spider-Man comics, became the first to sentence a defendant to home confinement with an electronic monitor

Does this mean we’re on the verge of surgically implanting explosive nanites in dangerous parolees? In your face, recidivism!

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Sep 22 2009

Mix Up Your Comic Book Panels: Removed Narration

In most cases, a comic book writer will have the text describe what is visually shown in the panels.   For example, if two characters are speaking, usually the panel will show the characters as they speak.  But there are some great reasons you might want to consider using removed narration, where the speakers are out of the panel. 

For example, Gotham Central includes a scene where an officer is describing a raid to Internal Affairs off-panel.  On-panel, we see the raid happen in a totally different way.  That’s effective storytelling because (short-answer) it shows us that the cop is lying about what happened.  If we only saw the cop as he talked, it wouldn’t be as clear or as striking as seeing the truth. 

Here are some reasons you might want to consider removed narration. 

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5 responses so far

Sep 18 2009

More Ideas About How to Write for Kids

Published by under Writing Articles

Tom first addressed how to write for readers aged 8-13 here.  Here are more suggestions. 

1.  Don’t make your language more complicated than necessary.  I don’t think that you need to dumb down your vocabulary, but your book must be easy to read.  If your readers struggle with twisting sentences and flowery language, they will probably put down the book.  That’s particularly important if your book is meant to be read as entertainment (read: not assigned in classes).  

2.  Relatability is key.  This does not mean that your protagonist has to be a 8-13 year old student facing typical school issues.  But something about the character and his struggles has to resonate with readers.  Hopefully there are at least some parallels between what your characters are facing that will make it feel familiar to your audience.  For example, Luke Skywalker argued with his uncle about argued with his uncle over where he’d go to school and what he’d study.  I think that relatability is always important, but it’s particularly tricky for authors writing for young readers because the readers don’t have as many life experiences to relate things to– they’ve never had a job and they’ve only seen one side of family life, for example.  So, if the characters are removed from a school-like environment, the relationships are probably critical.  For example, kids can’t relate to the life of a superhero per se, but The Incredibles and (to some extent) Fantastic Four tried to make it relatable by focusing on the family angle. 

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4 responses so far

Sep 18 2009

StarE’s Review Forum

Published by under Review Forums

Please see the comments below.  Thanks.

48 responses so far

Sep 07 2009

Kryptonite-style Weaknesses Are Usually a Weak Option

1.  Well-constructed characters generally do not need weaknesses. If you have to resort to something like a vulnerability to Kryptonite or the color yellow or whatever, it’s probably because the character is too powerful to begin with.  Something like Kryptonite is not a satisfying or particularly effective way to resolve that.  For one thing, going from “largely unchallengeable” to “helpless rag-doll” does not make for great fight scenes.  Also, relying on Kryptonite may force writers to pull goofy Kryptonite Ex Machinas where minor criminals somehow acquire rare and random substances.*

*Some Superman stories explain this by having Lex Luthor give Kryptonite out to criminal groups, but it’s incredibly rare.  Why would a random gang have a better chance of killing Superman than his own assassins?


2.  Kryptonite-style weaknesses are a bit outdated. In the past twenty or thirty years, there haven’t been many major superheroes that have been successfully introduced with a serious vulnerability to something that’s usually harmless.


3.  Rather than using something like Kryptonite to limit your protagonist, I’d recommend limiting his capabilities instead. If the character is practically indestructible and can move as fast as a space shuttle, then you practically have to pull something like Kryptonite out of a hat whenever you want to challenge him.  But the fight scenes are generally more interesting and the character will probably be more relatable if his powers are less impressive to begin with. Over the past thirty years, heroes that are merely somewhat better-than-human (like Wolverine, Batman and Spiderman) have been dominant. Heroes that are so impervious that they need a gimmick weakness have generally not fared as well.

3.1. Another approach would be making the character’s opposition more powerful. As long as the character can be challenged, it’s not a cosmic disaster if he’s essentially a demigod. (That said, unusually powerful characters do raise some obstacles for writers — for example, if you’re writing a character like Batman, you can write interesting scenes with unpowered criminals, but a character like Superman basically forces you to pull out supervillains if you want to do anything. Supervillains usually require more thought/preparation/attention than an unpowered mook would).


4.  If you’re deadset on using a vulnerability, I’d recommend using something that is usually dangerous. For example, the Martian Manhunter has sometimes been vulnerable to fire.  That is a lot less goofy than the Green Lantern’s one-time vulnerability to the color yellow or wood. Alternately, if you’d like to try something creative, I’d recommend looking at things that are plausibly dangerous for someone with his powers.  For example, someone with particularly good hearing might be sensitive to loud sounds.  Someone with psychic abilities might be vulnerable to anything that disrupts his concentration.


5. If you’re deadset on using a Kryptonite-style weakness, I’d recommend having it be merely damaging rather than incapacitating. As noted above, if the protagonist is limping around like a rag doll after getting poisoned by Kryptonite, that really limits your opportunities for fight scenes and other interesting sequences. One alternative would be having the weakness temporarily disable the character’s powers. The character would still be very vulnerable without his powers, but at least he’d be able to try to do something. (For example, you might have him fight an unpowered battle against low-level mooks or do an escape scene where he tries to get away from a superpowered villain that is far too tough for him at the moment).

57 responses so far

Sep 06 2009

Don’t Tell the Reader What the Character Isn’t Doing

Published by under Writing Articles

“John almost slapped his wife.”

It rarely matters what the character is not doing, or is almost doing, or whatever. Positive actions– what the character is doing or has done– are almost always more powerful.

One of the problems is that telling us what almost happened is usually dull narratorial exposition. If what the character almost does is really that important, please at least show it with an action rather than narrate it. (Show, don’t tell!) For example, instead of “Mary almost shot Jamal,” it would be much more effective to show her hand wavering as she holds the gun on Jamal. First, it’s more visceral and easier to visualize. Second, it’s very awkward to switch from a character almost doing something to actually doing it.  That’s a problem because saying that someone almost does something essentially takes the action off the table, which damages the suspense.  In contrast, when Mary’s shakily holding the gun against Jamal, we don’t know whether she will shoot. It gives us more to wonder about.

Another problem is that telling us what doesn’t happen is rarely necessary. If it is truly notable that the character does not do something, the reader will notice that the action doesn’t happen whether or not you explicitly say it. For example, here’s an author explicitly telling us that a husband doesn’t respond to a serious accusation.

“You’ve been cheating on me,” she said.

He didn’t say anything.

“He didn’t say anything” is wasted space that could have been used to develop his emotional state and personality. Check out these alternatives.

“You’ve been cheating on me,” she said.

He buttered his toast. OR He studied his shoes. OR He shrugged.

In each of these cases, the reader will still notice that the husband doesn’t say anything. But the positive action adds emotional depth. The character that butters his toast is eerily nonchalant and will probably come off as callous. The guy that studies his shoes is understandably embarrassed. If the author just leaves it at “he didn’t say anything,” we don’t pick up any of these emotional cues.

13 responses so far

Sep 01 2009

Disney announces deal to buy Marvel

You can see the Associated Press’ take here and The Wall Street Journal has more here (subscription required?).   I have a few thoughts below.

  • Disney is paying roughly $50 per share, which is a 29% premium over Friday’s closing.  If you own Marvel stock, you will come out ahead quite nicely on this.  It was trading around $25 earlier this year.
  • I am cautiously optimistic that Disney knows how to buy a successful firm without ruining what made it successful.  For example, Pixar’s movies didn’t drop in quality after the Disney buyout.  (Nor have they released a lot of straight-to-DVD sequels to successful movies).
  • I doubt this will have a noticeable impact on Marvel’s products.  Even the movies.
  • I think Disney is the biggest loser here.  It’s betting 4 billion dollars that it can leverage Marvel’s characters better than Marvel did.  I’m skeptical.

10 responses so far