Archive for April, 2010

Apr 29 2010

Examining Your Story

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.

  • In your first few paragraphs, do we learn anything interesting (particularly about the main character or critical elements of the setting) that will make us want to keep reading? Is it something that differentiates him from other protagonists in similar stories? If not, it is probably not very interesting. For example, telling us that Johnny goes to school blurs your book with roughly a bajillion others. Telling us that Johnny goes to a school for reformed pyromaniacs does a much better job of differentiating the book from its competitors.
  • In the first few pages, how do your characters and writing make themselves stand out? (As opposed to, say, just another picked-on student that becomes Spiderman a superhero).  For example, Kickass starts off with a bit of dark comedy.  On the first page, we see a superhero about to fly and we’re led to believe it’s the protagonist taking a bold step towards a glorious future.  Instead, the guy hits the pavement and the main character adds something like: “That’s not me, by the way.  That was a guy with a history of mental illnesses.”  Right away, you know we’re NOT talking about another Spiderman series.
  • Okay, so starting with a wannabe superhero accidentally committing hara-kiri probably wouldn’t fit your book.   What’s something you could do to launch your story with something truly distinct to it?  (HINT:  Unless the character’s morning routine involves something truly bizarre and interesting, DO NOT START WITH A CHARACTER WAKING UP).  One way to differentiate yourself is to freshen familiar material by using an unexpected tone or putting it towards a different goal.  For example, the comic I’m working on is hardly the first to open with the protagonist narrowly avoiding an assassination.  But it’s probably the first to do so for comedic purposes.
  • On page 100, does anything interesting happen?  What about page 212?  Don’t let your book stall in the middle.  Keep developing characters, adding plot wrinkles, unexpected complications, etc.  On page 230, is anything at stake?  Do characters pursue their goals with the same (or greater) intensity as on page 1?
  • One thing I see often is that the author successfully sets up the hero’s journey in an interesting way but then the journey itself is sort of bland.  Plot coupons are probably the most common problem there.  (The heroes must collect __ pieces of ____ to do _____, like destroy 7 Horcruxes to defeat Voldemort or collect 8 badges to become a Pokemon master).  Using plot coupons makes sense in a video game, sort of, but it tends to weaken suspense by making the plot predictable.  For one thing, it’s pretty much 100% guaranteed that the heroes will destroy the first six Horcruxes because the plot would break if they didn’t.  To some extent, you can generate suspense along the way to destroy the first six Horcruxes, like leaving readers asking which minor characters will die or who will get romantically involved, and kickass execution has saved many poor concepts before, but it is almost assuredly not the best concept you can come up with.

10 responses so far

Apr 28 2010

How Long Should Graphic Novels and Comic Books Be?

If you’re interested in length guidelines for graphic novels, please see this LinkedIn discussion. By the way, if you’re interested in getting published, I’d recommend getting on LinkedIn. It’s like Facebook for professionals. For example, right now I’m in discussions with other writers about how best to build up a writing platform to impress prospective publishers. I think it’s even better for comic book teams: I posted a request for feedback on a group for comic book illustrators and received feedback that was very useful and informed.


PS: Based on the graphic novels I’ve seen recently, I think anywhere between 132-200 pages would be publisher-friendly. However! Each publisher has its own preferred length, so check out what they’ve been publishing lately. If your length is significantly outside of the range of what they’ve published in the past few years, I think that bodes poorly for your chances there.


One final note: As a measure of comparison, comic books are usually 20-26 pages of content (not including ads). As always, check out what the publishers put out, but Marvel and DC usually publish at the shorter side of that, compared to Dark Horse and Image.

5 responses so far

Apr 26 2010

Is Writing Under a Pen-Name Right for You?

1. In most cases, I think that it’s probably best to ask your editor about a pseudonym after getting the offer. For one thing, it’ll reduce the chance that you make a poor first impression with a goofy-sounding pseudonym. The only time that I think that a pseudonym may be necessary prior to getting published is if the author shares a name with a celebrity. (“Who’s this guy pretending to be Steven King?”)

2. If you do use a pseudonym, please write something like “[YOUR REAL NAME], WRITING AS RODDY BARBER” on your title page. For tax reasons, the publisher has to know your real name. (Otherwise, the IRS will get surly and then everybody is screwed).

Continue Reading »

24 responses so far

Apr 25 2010

How to Introduce an Interesting Character

1. Please establish the voice and personality early. One possibility is having the character and/or narrator make an unusual observation about something important to the story or giving some unusual personality trait about the character. For example, “It was a pleasure to burn” (Fahrenheit 451) or “You don’t know about me without you have read a book by the name of The Adventures of Tom Sawyer, but that ain’t no matter” (Huckleberry Finn).

2. Another option is having the character start with an action that is typical to him, but NOT typical to most other protagonists. This is why opening a book with the character waking up is usually ineffective. It rarely launches into the unique/interesting aspects of the character and the story quickly enough. You didn’t write a story about this character to show him waking up, so just skip to the part that we WILL care about.

Continue Reading »

8 responses so far

Apr 22 2010

Pet Peeve: Unprepared Characters That Should Know Better

I hate it when characters that are experienced and/or (supposedly) competent fail to plan ahead.

1.  Does the character try to plan for the superpowers and capabilities of their opponents? On Heroes, allegedly competent and well-equipped organizations routinely stumbled into slaughterfests because they used SWAT-style raids to try to overrun targets with crazy powers.  Let me lay this out right now: any plan that involves close-range combat with somebody that can outrun a fighter jet or stop time is idiotic!  As soon as the target sees anything, (s)he turns on his/her superpower and everybody else dies.  A better plan would be something like killing the target by long-range, perhaps by sniper rifle or bombing the house while the target is asleep.   Alternately, you could interfere with the character’s ability to use his powers.  (On Heroes, it is amazing how rarely the Company uses the power-nullifying Haitian).

Continue Reading »

11 responses so far

Apr 22 2010

Superhero Nation: The Documentary

Published by under SEO

An independent filmmaker is raising funds for a documentary about American comic book culture.  Superhero Nation: The Documentary is not affiliated with me or this website in any way, but if you’re interested in this sort of cultural work, please feel free to donate here.  ($2 gets you a shout-out on Twitter).

Also, one brief note on titles…  When you pick a title for your project, I’d recommend taking something that isn’t already being used as a URL. It’ll make it easier to place high on Google searches for variations on your name.

No responses yet

Apr 22 2010

If you want a good artist for your comic book script, paying on-spec is not realistic

I saw this today on a comic book forum: “searching 4 artists who want to draw my comics’ covers. its NOT be a paid Job, but ur name will be mentioned with the artwork, and yes, it will commence our long term professional relationship.”

Artist: “Umm, how about you commence our long-term professional relationship by paying me? Also, why would I want to work with a writer that writes worse than I do?”

Continue Reading »

2 responses so far

Apr 21 2010

Comic book movies without superheroes have struggled recently

I want to see The Losers when it comes out, although it’s probably awful, and was pleasantly surprised by Kick-Ass (which has a 77% rating on Rotten Tomatoes).  This got me thinking about financially successful comic book movies without superheroes.  After running some numbers, I found they’re really rare nowadays.

Continue Reading »

No responses yet

Apr 20 2010

Show, Don’t Tell

Published by under Writing Articles

1.  Whenever possible, give details instead of general statements. For example, a general statement would be “Tommy LaRouche is a brutal criminal.”  Generally it’s more effective to give the readers the evidence and let them reach their own conclusion.  For example, “Tommy ‘Powerdrill’ LaRouche is wanted for twelve kidnappings, eight counts of torture, five murders, and at least one kidnapping that resulted in murder by torture.  And don’t even think about how he got his nickname.”

2.  Put extra scrutiny into adjectives. Do they help establish a character or the plot?  Do they help the reader create a mental image?  Generally, I think adjectives create more interesting imagery when they describe a detail or action than when they describe something larger, like a character.  For example, saying “Batman is careful” is harder to visualize than an adverb phrase like “Batman carefully checked the door for wires and other signs of booby-traps.”

3.  “Showing” all the time is probably not possible. For one thing, it takes more space.  Calling somebody graceful is shorter than taking a sentence to describe something graceful he does.  However, if the trait is important to the scene, it probably deserves the extra space.

4.  In most cases, I’d recommend finding more specific alternatives for bland modifiers like “good,” “well” and “nice.” What kind of good are we talking about?  For example, if you say somebody is a good writer, it’s not clear whether you’re complimenting her sense of humor or attention to detail or superb wordplay or something else entirely.

Did this article help? Submit us to Stumble!

10 responses so far

Apr 18 2010

Ro’s Review Forum

Published by under Review Forums

Please see the comments below.  Thanks!

28 responses so far

Apr 15 2010

Celebrity comics, summarized in a single image

Published by under Comic Books,Parody

16 responses so far

Apr 14 2010

Query Call

Published by under Uncategorized

Here’s some of the Google queries I got yesterday…
  • what do good superhero stories have?  Usually, some combination of interesting characters, unusual-feeling plots, suspense, sharp dialog and/or intense action.  Main character(s) that are likable and relatable don’t hurt, either.
  • Memorable phrases for killtacular people. Off the top of my head, “he’s dropped more bodies than an epileptic pallbearer.”  The Wire used “he’s got more bodies on him than a Chinese cemetery.”
  • common questions when designing a superhero character.  Please see this.
  • Can I decapitate somebody in a YA novel? F*** no.
  • how to copy write a superhero charictor.  Good news: Your work is protected by US copyright laws as soon as it is written.  Bad news: No one will want to steal your writing until you’re good enough to figure out how to spell “character.”

Continue Reading »

3 responses so far

Apr 10 2010

J. Teer’s Review Forum

Published by under Review Forums

J. Teer says: This review forum is for an “action prose” series that I would like to see published, but where is the market for such writing? I guess it could be easily translated into a comic series, but I prefer prose, and I wouldn’t know where to start to translate it. I don’t know, so I’ll just post the stories here to get feedback.

The story is a spinoff of a novel I had published called Transcendence (available at Amazon).

The series protagonist is Raymond Cervantes, a wereterrier: a zoanthrope with the mystical ability to transform into a humanoid pitbull dubbed the Pit. It follows the exploits of his “day job” as a world-class mixed martial artist, and Pit’s battles against supernatural evil beings such as werewolves, vampires, sorcerers, zombies, etc…

All feedback is welcome, but I would particularly like feedback on the fight scenes.


15 responses so far

Apr 07 2010

Some Tips on Using Literary Symbols

1. I would recommend using your symbols in unexpected ways. For example, fire is most commonly used to symbolize destruction and/or Hell.  However, there are so many more options that are creative and fresh.  For example, fire represented ignorance (and possibly political correctness) in Fahrenheit 451 and civilization in the story of Prometheus. If the symbolic meaning you’re going for is the first one that comes to mind with that symbol, maybe you could be a bit more creative.

1A.  If you got your symbol from a list somewhere, it’s probably too obvious. For example, tree -> life, fire -> destruction/Hell, spring -> rebirth/life, apple -> loss of innocence, water -> atonement or cycles, etc.  Think on it some more and you’ll probably come up with something that fits your story better than these.  For example, the recurring symbol for destruction/doomsday in Watchmen is a ticking clock.  In The Godfather, death is usually preceded by an orange.  (!)

2. In a comic book script, make sure that you tell your artist how you want the symbol to appear. Otherwise, the artist may inadvertently mangle the meaning of the symbol. For example, if technology is supposed to be a sign of progress and civilization in your story, you’d probably want the cars to look shiny and new rather than grimy and decrepit. Unless you specify otherwise, it’s up to the artist’s judgment.

Continue Reading »

7 responses so far

Apr 06 2010

More Google queries

Published by under Superhero Nation

Here are some of the Google queries I got today.  Feel free to ask away!
  • literary agents for comic book writers. I’ve gone back and forth on this a few times.  I’ve heard good things about Bob Mecoy and he’s worked with a variety of comics publishers (including DC).  Besides that, I’d lean towards submitting a comic book without an agent.
  • top superhero novels. See this.
  • how to get a superhero stiry published. Step one: proofread.
  • comic on potassium. Uhh, good luck with that one.
  • alligator vs. werecanadian. Here.
  • slash fiction comic book. Not here.
  • “fire dragon” + “exploding” + “dictator.” I have no idea what you’re looking for, but suddenly I want to find it too.
  • schlieffen plan comic. Add an exploding dictator, and I’m game.
  • how to narrate an important choice or decision. First, you can show the character taking it seriously, maybe sweating or behaving nervously or otherwise worrying about getting it right.  Alternately, you can have him think through the consequences.
  • how can I become a superhero? Step 1: get a job at a nuclear power plant.  The more leaks, the better.
  • writing a paper about whether players should be held for accidentally hitting the umpire with a baseball. When I tell my publisher how many readers this site has, I’m going to subtract this guy.
  • average advance for first time fantasy novel. $6500.   However, the typical first-time advance is $5000.  (The average is skewed by a few superstars that make a bajillion dollars on their first go).   Also, don’t forget to secure an agent.
  • panels on the average american comic book page. I think it really depends on the situation.  In a page heavy on dialogue, I usually do 6-8 and Watchmen often did 9.  If the page has a lot of action or heavily involved settings, I would recommend doing fewer panels because you’ll usually need more space for a visually involved panel than you would for text.
  • surprising facts about alligators. When holding an alligator, make sure you hold its neck in place.   Otherwise, it can turn its head and possibly rip something off.   (Depending on the size of the alligator, common losses include fingers and arms).

No responses yet

Apr 06 2010

How Heroes Find Crime

Your superheroes will probably stop crimes at some point.  So how do they find it?  Here are a few options.


1. The most common option is just going on patrol. Most readers and editors will give you the benefit of the doubt that a modern city has so much crime going on that a hero can stumble upon armed robberies without too much trouble.  (Even though that’s probably not realistic–see #12 here for more details).


2. The hero may have access (authorized or otherwise) to what the police know. For example, maybe he has a police scanner, has hacked police radios, has a friend on the police force, or is otherwise contacted by the police on particular cases.


3. The hero might be contacted directly by a victim. For example, if a company has some reason to resolve a crime without getting the police involved, maybe it’ll contact a hero instead.  This would make sense particularly if the police in your story aren’t particularly competent or honest.  Or maybe the victim was somehow involved in some illegal activity (like a prostitute, an illegal immigrant, etc).


4. The hero may have access to what the criminals know. For example, maybe he has an informant, has bugged an important phone, interrogates a captured criminal, etc.  Any one of these could indicate where and when an impending crime will occur.


Continue Reading »

14 responses so far

Apr 05 2010

Mr. Crowley’s Review Forum

Published by under Review Forums

Please see the comments below.  Thanks!

123 responses so far

Apr 04 2010

Alex’s Review Forum

Published by under Review Forums

Please see the comments below.  Thanks!

20 responses so far

Apr 04 2010

I’ve seen some awful trailers, but this is the worst

Published by under Comedy,Movie Review


25 responses so far

Apr 04 2010

Brett’s Review Forum

Published by under Review Forums

Please see the comments below.  Thanks!

61 responses so far

Apr 02 2010

Mike Alexander’s Review Forum

Published by under Review Forums

My universe is one where there was a group of heroes who disbanded around the same time as the arrival of two friendly alien races. That was in the late 1980s, after the the Cold War ended with the United Nations becoming a benign world leader.

Now a new generation of heroes and villains is beginning to come out. This time around, these young people have powers on the level of gods, but fortunately some of the older folks are still around to teach them what to do.

The first story I have is about ColdStar, a college student who can control fire & ice. He learns that being a superhero is not something you can do alone. He quickly meets the black-budget government agency that manages people with Talents (powers).

Other characters include Novanna (a woman who explodes over Chicago), the Wolf Lords (fighting gangs in Southern California), Jade Shamaness (a magic user in the Southwest), and AfterImage (a teleporter in Miami).

Mostly, I want to write the stuff I would like to see in the genre. I do have a science background, so I am interested in a little realism, such as may be allowed in a genre where people fly and push planets around. If I can, I want to explore various ways to present my ideas. The Deconstruction of superheroes is over; I just want to put the pieces back together in different ways.

11 responses so far

Apr 02 2010

Write or Die!

Published by under Writer's Block

Write or Die is one of my favorite tools to beat writer’s block.  It’s a website that pushes you to write by trying to hold you to a word-goal within a certain amount of time. On the most forgiving setting, it gives you friendly pop-ups reminding you to keep writing if you wait too long.   On “Kamikaze Commando,” it will slowly delete your words if you stop typing for too long.

If you’re a writer that has trouble completing first drafts, I’d recommend checking it out.  So far, I’ve written at least 275 words every time I sat down for 15 minutes.  (If you’re interested, you can read 30 minutes’ worth here).  At that rate, I’d have a first draft of a novel manuscript within roughly 70 hours or a comic book script within 5.

As always, I recommend just getting the first draft down and saving any concerns about smoothness, style, conciseness, coherence or anything else for the rewriting process.  Having a draft complete will make it vastly easier to rewrite because you’ll have a much better idea when you’re going.

22 responses so far

Apr 01 2010

Kove’s Review Forum

Published by under Review Forums

Please see the comments below.  Thanks!

5 responses so far