Archive for May, 2010

May 29 2010

P.S.: When someone asks “Who do you think you are?”, the best answer is always Batman

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 came across this in the Wikipedia article of Kevin Conroy, the long-time voice actor for Batman.

After the September 11, 2001 attacks, Conroy helped out in the relief efforts by volunteering to do cooking duties for officers and firefighters.  On the Batman: Gotham Knight DVD’s commentary, he said that another cook found out he was the voice of Batman. The cook asked if he could tell everyone, and Conroy agreed, though he thought no one would even know who he was. At the other cook’s urging, Conroy yelled in the voice of Batman, “I am vengeance! I am the night! I… am… Batman!” (a line he delivered in Batman: The Animated Series), eliciting cheers from the first responders eating at the relief center. They began telling him what their favorite episodes were, and how they had watched the show with their kids. He said it was the first time he had seen any of them smile or laugh since the attacks a week earlier.

Batman never ceases to amaze me.  Err, unless Joel “Batman and Robin” Schumacher is involved.  I should amend that to “Batman never ceases to astound me.”  Good God, movie audiences haven’t been that astounded since Sean Connery killed a bunch of henchmen in bear suits or a bear-suited Nicholas Cage punched a woman in Wicker Man.

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May 29 2010

How Long Does it Take to Get a Novel Published?

Jim Hines did a survey on how novelists break into the industry.  His ~250 respondents are skewed towards fantasy, romance and sci-fi, but I suspect that it’s not wildly different if you’re writing superhero action or historical or historical zombie, etc. Here are several main points I took away from his survey.

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15 responses so far

May 28 2010

What Makes a Superhero Story?

Here are some common characteristics of superhero stories that come to mind.

1.  In most cases, a superhero has an origin story that explains 1) how he goes from ordinary to extraordinary and 2) why he chooses to fight for others. I’ll focus on #1 here.  Most superheroes start in a place where they don’t stick out and only stick out later. For example, Superman and the Martian Manhunter become extraordinary by coming to Earth, where they are aliens.  Peter Parker, Virgil Hawkins and the like are regular people that gain superpowers in various accidents. Superheroes are rarely born extraordinary. In X-Men, most mutations manifest during adolescence rather than at birth. In contrast, Harry Dresden is probably more of an urban fantasy character than a superhero in part because he has always been extraordinary (magical).

 

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30 responses so far

May 25 2010

Other conversations I don’t want to be a part of…

Published by under Comedy,Quote of the Day

Overheard yesterday: “It was like a romance co-authored by Caligula and H.P. Lovecraft.  Thank God I escaped!”

16 responses so far

May 22 2010

Seriously?

I tried working on The Taxman Must Die today but got distracted by an NBA idiot getting fined $100,000 for speculating about whether a player would leave his team and join the idiot’s.  Here are some other things (related to taxmen and the untimely demises thereof) you can get for $100,000.

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May 20 2010

NINJAS

BBC: “The thieves were assaulting a German medical exchange student in Sydney, but the alleyway where they struck was next to a school for ninja warriors.”  Guys, when you make sure there are no witnesses or security cameras nearby, you might want to take note of the ninja school next time.

14 responses so far

May 20 2010

Superhero types and how to differentiate yours (Part 1)

Students

  • The student/superhero usually goes to A School Just Like Yours for maximum relatability, but sometimes the school is more unusual (for example, superhero academies like the Xavier Institute for mutants or Sky High or the school for supergeniuses that Tony Stark attends in Ultimate Ironman).
  • Whether you go with a typical school or something more extraordinary, I’d definitely recommend differentiating the school if you set any scenes there.  For example, instead of doing just another school, maybe it’s an inner-city school.  Or a school in an area so preposterously wealthy that the kids have plastic surgeons on speed-dial.  Or maybe the petty rivalries between students are notably fierce.  Or maybe the kids are training to lead humanity against the Bug hordes.  Just do SOMETHING with it besides being a default school–otherwise, it probably won’t have very much personality.
  • Similar to the previous point, how do you differentiate your leads from Peter Parker?  What are some conflicts your student characters might have that a character like Peter Parker wouldn’t?
  • In terms of conflicts at school, can you do something fresher than using jocks vs. dorks?  Thanks.  There are so many ways kids split into cliques  and screw each other–surely you can come up with something!  (For example, see Mean Girls or the house system in Harry Potter or mutants vs. humans in X-Men).
  • Student superheroes are probably more prevalent in cartoons (which are usually aimed at something like an 8-13 audience) than superhero comic books (which almost always rely on men aged ~18-30).  If you’re doing a comic book about a student superhero, many (most?) of your prospective readers are probably significantly older than a high school or junior high student.  So just doing a straight-up story about the character getting through high school or maybe even college probably wouldn’t work very effectively for enough people that actually go to comic book stores.  In the world of novels, Ender’s Game and Lord of the Flies successfully retained older readers with stakes that are considerably higher than, say, making the cheerleading squad.

Noble Strangers

  • This is a character whose differentness is a major part of his origin story.  They are often alien or foreign to most of the other characters around them.  For example, Superman and Martian Manhunter are aliens, and Wonder Woman and Black Panther and Aquaman hail from magical Mary Suetopias.
  • The character will usually have either no flaws or subdued flaws.  Are we really supposed to hold it against Superman and Wonder Woman that they are too nonlethal?   Additionally, the character’s native society will usually be utopian.  One alternative would be that he is a refugee (or official/tourist/emissary/field researcher/used ray gun salesman/whatever) from a place that has a lot of shadiness going on, like the imperialist Krypton analogue in Invincible. Adding depth to the society usually makes the stranger more interesting.  Another choice to consider is whether the character is a child or an adult when he leaves his homeland.  I find that it usually says more about the character and his decision to leave if he departs as an adult, but do what fits your story best.  (For example, Superman’s all-American childhood helps give him relatability and ties into his moral decision to become a superhero).
  • Conflict between the noble stranger and the locals (or their values or customs or laws) usually plays a significant part of the plot.  The most cliche way to do this would probably be “KILL THE FOR’NERS!”, but it could be as simple as the locals curtly enforcing a “no shirt, no service” policy.  I’M LOOKING AT YOU, NAMOR.  (AND TRYING NOT TO).
  • On a superhero team, the stranger(s) might conflict with the locals in values or methods.   For example, Superman vs. Batman.
  • Noble strangers don’t usually have much relatability.  One unusual possibility: what if we’re meant to relate more to the stranger than the locals?  Peter Parker is arguably a noble stranger when he’s on the Avengers by virtue of being the only normal guy there.  For more examples of normal characters thrust into strange worlds, please see Avatar, District 9, Dancing with Wolves, Pocahontas, The Taxman Must Die, Escaflowne, Bleach, Inuyasha, etc.

Part 2 here.

10 responses so far

May 18 2010

On the plus side, my preternaturally young-looking face will be an asset in 50 years

Published by under Comedy,Notre Dame

NOTRE DAME SECURITY GUARD, to a wandering B. Mac: Hey, you, stay with the tour group.

B. MAC:  These seventh-graders?  Umm, I’m twice as old as them.

[The security guard grunts skeptically]

SEVENTH GRADER, to security guard: R u srs?

EIGHTH GRADER: Hes oldr thn mah grndma.  Eww.

[B. Mac shows the guard his staff ID].

SECURITY GUARD:  Damn.  You’re short.

B. MAC:  I’m wearing penny loafers.  Penny loafers!

SEVENTH GRADER:  Pwnd.

EIGHTH GRADER:  Lulz!

Umm, yeah.  I was carded for PG-13 movies as a college student.

8 responses so far

May 15 2010

Heroes and Law & Order cancelled

NBC finally axed two excellent shows that kept going long after the stagecoach reverted into a pumpkin.

From season 2 on, Heroes was a fetid cesspool of contrivances, idiot plots, plot holes, gratuitously bad acting, wildly inconsistent characterization, no compelling villains besides Sylar and a cast that was probably twice as large as it needed to be and definitely twice as large as the writers could handle.  But unquestionably the biggest disappointment was how much the later seasons paled in comparison to season 1. It may be better to have loved and lost than to never have loved at all, but you have a much better idea of what you’re missing.

Hopefully NBC’s next superhero program, The Cape, will do better.  An honest cop is framed for murder and becomes a superhero to get revenge.  (I suspect that he won’t actually have superpowers, though–among other things, NBC was concerned about Heroes’ large special budget).   The concept sounds forgettable, but I’m (irrationally) hopeful.  I’m excited that the protagonist is trained by a circus gang of bank-robbers.

As for Law and Order, I’m glad it got canceled.  The closest it got to long-term plot development was cast changes.  While that makes it easy to rerun old episodes (because it doesn’t matter whether viewers see the episodes in order), I think that serialized television allows for better character development and the excitement of cliffhangers from one episode to the next.  I think The Wire is an excellent example of that: the show is ridiculously addictive, but you pretty much have to see the episodes in order or you are screwed.

7 responses so far

May 11 2010

How Long Should a Book for Children or YA be?

I already have a post about how long adult novels should be, but what if you’re writing for children or young adults? Mary Kole, a literary agent and young adult/middle grade author, suggests the following guidelines:

  • Board Book — 100 words max
  • Early Picturebook — 500 words max
  • Picturebook — 1,000 words max (Seriously. Max.)
  • Nonfiction Picturebook — 2,000 words max
  • Early Reader — This varies widely, depending on grade level. I’d say 3,500 words is an absolute max.
  • Chapterbook — 10,000 words max
  • Middle Grade — 35,000 words max for contemporary, mystery, humor, 45,000 max for fantasy/sci-fi, adventure and historical
  • YA — 70,000 words max for contemporary, humor, mystery, historical, romance, etc. 90,000 words max for fantasy, sci-fi, paranormal, etc.

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May 07 2010

Notable queries this week

Published by under Uncategorized

  • how to submit a comic book script.  Each publisher has its own submission guidelines.  Here’s a list of publishers accepting unsolicited submissions.  I’d recommend submitting your work to a few publishers that work with stories similar to yours.
  • how to write like star wars books.  Suck.
  • “agent orange”, lizard, sunglasses.  Please see the Agent Orange category.
  • 25 genetic facts about the superhero spawn.  WTF?
  • Superhero police procedurals.  I liked DC’s Gotham Central and Marvel’s District X.  I’m not aware of any others and those two didn’t sell particularly well.  The people that like police procedurals generally don’t read comics, and vice versa.  Also, the comic book medium doesn’t lend itself well to procedurals, I feel.  Police investigations are generally quite complicated  (which usually takes more space to convey than a comic book series has) and might suffer from a lack of epic visuals.
  • do comic writers need literary agents? No.  There are a few agents that represent comic book writers, but it’s definitely not as prevalent as in novels.  (Nowadays, something like 70% of first-time novelists break into the industry with an agent).
  • what are some good weapons for superheroes? It depends on your target audience and medium, I think–it’s easier to get away with blood-shedding weapons like swords and guns if you’re writing a comic book for adults or a novel.  Besides that, I’d recommend looking at weapons that don’t draw blood (such as bludgeoning/blunt or lassos/whips/belts-used-as-whips).  Alternately, I think you can usually make weapons seem less nasty by setting the character against non-human opponents (such as machines or uncuddly animals).
  • what did the Fahrenheit 451 book have that the movie lacked? Fluent English, among other things.  The movie was written by Jean-Louis Ricard and Francois Truffaut and something got mangled in the translation.

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May 04 2010

What do you think about this header draft?

Published by under Header Art

I’m getting ready to launch a separate website for my fiction work. Here’s a rough draft of the header for The Taxman Must Die. What do you think? (Note: it’ll probably be cut off because it’s wider than the viewing area. If so, you can click on it to see all of it).

Agent Orange, a Reptile with Sunglasses and Bulletproof Vest

I’m still waiting on the background and I think I can redo the text when I return home a few weekends from now.

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30 responses so far

May 04 2010

End Your Chapters or Issues with a Bang

Published by under Plotting

Especially early on, end your chapters or comic book issues with a cliffhanger to keep readers hanging on.  That doesn’t mean that you have to place a character in grave physical danger.  Here are some other options to convince readers that something interesting is just around the corner.

  • A new character makes an exciting entrance.  Somebody that enters a scene doing something unusual will probably pique our attention more than somebody that just sort of ambles on stage.  For example, if Amy is working for a debt collection agency, it probably wouldn’t be very interesting if her new partner just walked up and introduced himself like anybody else would.  But if the partner walked into her office wearing a bulletproof vest or SWAT gear, then we’d wonder what Amy had gotten herself into.
  • The reader and/or character(s) learn or find something shocking or fascinating. For example, you can reveal the tip of a new iceberg.  “Detective Smith had been so sure the butler was the killer, but he had to reexamine that hypothesis after discovering the butler’s decapitated body stuffed under the kitchen sink.”  What we learn for sure (that the butler is dead) is not quite as interesting as the questions it raises: If he’s not the killer, then who?  What else did we get wrong about the case?  Why kill the red herring?  Seriously, who stashes a body under a sink?  It’s what we don’t know that will make us want to keep reading.
  • Foreshadowing danger. Detective Smith finds another decapitated body, but this time the killer has painted a message on the wall with the victim’s blood.  YOU’RE NEXT, JIM.  Who’s Jim?  Why does the killer want him dead?  Can the detective save Jim in time?  Why would the killer leave a message?  Please note that this danger does not have to be physical–it just needs to threaten something really important to the character.   For example, if the protagonist is the new girl at school, you might end a chapter with her inadvertently causing some grave slight to the head cheerleader.  We’ll worry about how the cheerleading squad will get back at her.
  • A character is placed in immediate danger. In silent films, this meant tying up the damsel to the train tracks, but it doesn’t have to be physical or involve an antagonist.  For example, if Ironman’s flying around and suddenly his jets cut out.  Or if a recovering alcoholic (like, ahem, Ironman) reaches for a beer.
  • Something interesting is about to happen or starts to happen.
  • The characters are on the verge of doing something interesting. After Caesar crosses the Rubicon, heads are gonna roll.  The only question is whose.
  • The characters are introduced to an exciting (often mysterious) new location. Something that makes us wonder “what’s gonna happen here?”  For example, if the characters discover a secret room in somebody’s house, what will the characters find there?  Why was it being hidden?  What else is the character hiding?  How far would the hider go to keep it hidden?

Cliffhangers are even more important for comic books, I think.  A comic book writer needs to push readers to find and buy the next issue, which takes more effort than flipping to the next chapter of a novel.

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May 02 2010

A brief note on anyone vs. any one

The difference between “anyone” and “any one” is simple but frequently missed. “Anyone” is a synonym to “anybody,” so use “anyone” in a situation where “anybody” would also work. If anybody does not fit, use “any one.”

  • Any one of Jim’s girlfriends would murder him if she found out.
  • Anyone could have told Jim that having four girlfriends was probably an unwise move in terms of not getting murdered.

Also, please keep in mind that both are singular. “Jim’s girlfriends would murder him if they found out” vs. “Any one of Jim’s girlfriends would murder him if she found out.”

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May 01 2010

Zombie football: sign me up!

Published by under Book Review

For a story ostensibly about zombie football, Play Dead has hardly any football and the zombies first appear in chapter 15. Also, unlike most other zombie stories, it’s not an us-vs.-them fight for survival.  These zombies have to win a football game to save their souls.

There are 15 chapters of setup to the zombies, but only twenty pages of football (a single game). Those chapters mainly establish the two main characters (a smartass quarterback and a student journalist desperately in search of a story) and their relationship. The characters were well fleshed-out (besides the antagonists) and the plot was very easy to follow, even if you know nothing about football. I finished the book in one sitting, so I’d say it’s very easy to read.

That said, I had some issues with it…

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