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.
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.
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).
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.
15.6 issues’ worth of labor on The Taxman Must Die (best guess: $200 per page)
25,000 copies of The Taxman Must Die (best guess: $4 per issue)
694.4 hours of therapy (for coping with mutant alligator partners) – $144/hour
20,040 jars of gator repellent (so that you don’t need the therapy) – $4.99 each
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.
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.
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.
From season 2 on, Heroes was a fetid cesspool of contrivances, idiot plots, plot holes, gratuitouslybadacting, 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.
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.
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.
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).
I’m still waiting on the background and I think I can redo the text when I return home a few weekends from now.
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.
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.”
For a story ostensibly about zombie football, Play Deadhas 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.
When mapping out any kind of superheroic narrative, a consideration has to be made that is not often an aspect of other types of stories, and by that I mean you have to determine power level, or maybe we should say Power Level, since so many superheroic concepts work better with capitals. This is […]
Short version: Dr. Short at the University of Oklahoma conducted a study which found that graphic novels helped students learn material more easily and were preferred by 80% of the students. You can enroll for free here to test whether they are more effective for you. Here’s an example of the study incorporating visual […]
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