Jun 14 2010

Would you like to suggest a writing article?

If you’d like to suggest any, I’d appreciate that. Here are some of the questions we’ve previously answered.

71 responses so far

71 Responses to “Would you like to suggest a writing article?”

  1. The ReTARDISed Whovianon 21 Feb 2009 at 1:14 am

    How to write undead/supernatural characters. Vampires, werewolves, witches/warlocks and zombies have always been difficult for me.

  2. Jay Alonzoon 21 Feb 2009 at 2:04 am

    Random ideas….

    -How to set up/craft a good ending. Lately it’s as though many young writers have a long and/or drawn out story, yet the ending doesn’t really bring closure to the main characters plot or “pop” so much as set up a sequel/series where the REAL ending is teased. I know it might sound difficult to try and guess what the readers of the blog may be writing about, but touching on some key bases at least would benefit them and the ideas they do have.

    -How to write love interests that are believable and aren’t completely shallow. Gossip Girl, Twilight, The IT Girl series, reality television in general, the concept and idea of romance is kind of simplified and one-dimensional these days and as a guy who’s had to do his own research on the subject on a scientific standpoint as well as what you can argue is “life experience” it’s so difficult for a teenage dude to try and write a relationship when he doesn’t necessarily know what one is. And also, if possible, how to distinguish relations in general between a protagonists initial sweetheart, to a fling, to “the one”. (I know, it’s asking a lot but it is a subject for contemporary superhero fiction that doesn’t get a lot of work- I mean look at Smallville. I’m by no means a romantic but Christ, high school romances aren’t always CW-Epics. And the other major power-couples seem to be childhood-romances that develop off-screen.)

    -You mentioned rejection in another post and from my own experiences I’d have to agree, it’s very selective and very tedious on both ends, but perhaps more important is the development of an authors’ filter. As I’ve mentioned from my own experiences previously, sometimes taking rejection as a cue to change your style isn’t always the best course of action. Perhaps a simple article on how to deal with criticism in general is in order, especially since many professors, literary veterans, officials, and websites will tell you one thing, yet the agent you’re vying for will lay the law of the land which is in their direct interests/standards and not always your own.

    -Goals vs. Motivations have always been fun to me. A character may have an external goal which is well-known or at least, but underlying internal motivations can make the character from a one dimensional boyscout to a deep-rooted man seeking redemption who occasionally exhibits symptoms of post-traumatic-stress-disorder or even a disassociatve-complex.

    (EX. Spider-man is a flamboyant superhero often referred to as ‘The Friendly Neighborhood Spider-man’ whose goal is to protect the innocent. His motivation however is to redeem himself after his Uncle Ben’s death which is inadvertantly caused by a mix of his arrogance and greed after he seeks to profit from his powers.)

    And that’s about it for now.

  3. Holliequon 21 Feb 2009 at 11:11 am

    I like Jay’s idea about good endings. I’ve never gotten to an ending yet, so I figure I’ll probably need advice. x)

  4. Mia.xoxoon 23 Feb 2009 at 7:45 am

    Perfecting inciting incidents; giving good reasons for why stories happen seems to be a difficult task many newbie authors.

  5. Ragged Boyon 23 Feb 2009 at 7:52 pm

    I don’t need a full article, but maybe something like a chart describing character levels of complexity. Complexity as in, what makes a dynamic character.

    For example, would this add depth to Adrian. Adrian doesn’t believe in love because his mother is a prostitute. He believes that there is no love in relationships because one person is only looking out for their own best interests. This is why he is reluctant to show affection to Michelle or Darlene.

  6. B. Macon 23 Feb 2009 at 11:51 pm

    What are some books with particularly good endings?

  7. B. Macon 24 Feb 2009 at 12:00 am

    I’ll think more about this later, but right now, I’d say that these are the main marks of a good ending.

    1. It resolves the main questions. In a single work, you pretty much have to answer basic factual questions, like whether the hero lives and whether he succeeds. However, you can be ambiguous when it comes to moral judgments, like whether it was worth it or whether he even was a hero.

    2. It makes us see the story in a different light. See Harry Potter for the best examples of these twist endings.

    3. Often, a great ending forces a hero to make one last choice. More on that later.

    4. It resolves the main conflict in an unexpected way. Note: this has to be on-camera. (Cough cough Soon I Will Be Invincible).

    Also, as a side-note, I’d recommend against writing series of novels as a first-timer. First-timers tend to leave too much hanging at the end of the first book, figuring they’ll handle it in the sequel(s). It’s usually better to write a single book that leaves a minor strand or two hanging. That way, if you want to pick it up for a sequel later, you can do so without leaving people feeling unsatisfied until then.

  8. The ReTARDISed Whovianon 24 Feb 2009 at 12:04 am

    I love to read, but even my very favourites have disappointed with the endings. The best I can think of is at the end of Maximum Ride: Saving the World and Other Extreme Sports. The final three lines are:

    “And finally, as we fly off into the sunset, so to speak, there’s only one more thing for me to add: Hopefully, we’ll be back. And if we are, it won’t be pretty.”

    That gets a 7/10 from my perspective.

    The Oblivion Society does pretty well, too. It ends with (spoiler) their car cresting the top of a hill, and it leaves it open to interpretation as to whether there is an intact city there (end spoiler).

  9. Ragged Boyon 24 Feb 2009 at 10:13 am

    I hate when stuff is left up to me. I always pick the lesser of the two options.

  10. Holliequon 24 Feb 2009 at 10:43 am

    I personally thought that “Of Mice and Men” had a great ending, albeit sad.

    I really liked the ending of “Battle Royale” for an ambiguous ending, but I don’t think you will have read that (it’s not a very widely-read novel . . . partly because the author is Japanese). Basically, it ends with the two main characters running from the law, heading for a new life in America. But there’s no way of knowing if the characters get there or not.

    Uh . . . I can’t actually think of any other endings that stand out at the moment. Oh, and the ending of HP7 was very disappointing (the final chapter, not the epilogue).

  11. Dforceon 24 Feb 2009 at 4:28 pm

    I have a suggestion for an article. How to make a concise one-shot pilot comic. Supposing it has to fit anywhere in between 1 to 4 issues (22 – 88 pages).

    I take it the story has to be very simplistic, but how much skin should you take off before it becomes a flat, uninteresting story? Or better yet, how do you make an interesting story within the page margins set?

    Or should it just be the first chapter from your alleged magnus opus? (Complete with a beginning and a conclusion).

  12. Ragged Boyon 24 Feb 2009 at 4:55 pm

    I don’t think it has to be simplistic. At least, I don’t think my story is all that simplistic, then again, my series is going to be 6+ issues. Four issues is pretty short. I’ve got an alien council, a myriad of alien races, a contest/experiment, a universal evil plot, and a series of battles, doesn’t seem that simplistic to me.

  13. Dforceon 24 Feb 2009 at 5:23 pm

    I meant for a pilot, RB. None of our stories (well, the ones I’ve skimmed so far) are simplistic. There’s a difference between actual stories that people here are working on and their pilots (comic book-wise that is; this doesn’t really apply to novels).

    My story has no real discernible end in sight, and quite a few planned arcs worth several issues. Of course, I do intend on giving it an ending… but that’ll come later.

    The companies I’m looking at are gonna want to test the waters with a one shot (open and close book) to see if you’d do well. If the one-shot is successful (that is, sells decently), then I’d imagine you’d have a “go-ahead” to debut your masterpiece.

  14. Ragged Boyon 24 Feb 2009 at 5:39 pm

    Oh, I’m still not exactly sure what a pilot is, at least not in comics.

    My alien story has a finite ending, so does that make it my one-shot pilot?

    So basically you’re saying you want to make your pilot series. That’s the foot in the door if you get published and are successful. And then the series your writing here will be your masterpiece to come afterward, right?

  15. Dforceon 24 Feb 2009 at 6:18 pm

    Right! In comics, it is suggested that you send in a print-ready miniseries or one-shot to actually publish and make a name for yourself (albeit not a very big one). It’s sorta like getting your feet wet before you jump in the ice-cold pool.

    One-shots are not very long, and that’s because they’re not supposed to be that epic in scale. Just a little story to get going, but with a finite ending.

    Ehh… RB, I don’t think your story (novel?) would count as a one-shot because you seem to have so much detail and people in it, and because you’re putting so much effort into it. To me, it looks like a full-fledged series. What’s your format, comic or novel?

  16. Ragged Boyon 24 Feb 2009 at 6:40 pm

    I’m writing a comic, look in my forum. I didn’t know I needed a one-shot. What companies are you planning on submitting to? I’m going for Dark Horse.

    I’m sure I can come up with a one-shot if I wanted to, they seem easy enough. I don’t think you need one for Dark Horse, I suspect I could submit Showtime. I’ll have to ask B. Mac.

  17. Dforceon 24 Feb 2009 at 7:18 pm

    Sweet. It’s nice to know a fellow comicker. I’m strongly veering for Antarctic Press, seeing as how they have publications that are manga-influenced.

    Right now, the one-shot is kicking my keister; ergo me asking for any tips from the big hats of the site.

  18. Ragged Boyon 24 Feb 2009 at 7:23 pm

    I’m not a big fan of mangas, I’m a comic boy, so I’m aiming for more American-styled art. I doubt I’ll need a one-shot. If I did they would probably mention something about it on the submissions page.

  19. Dforceon 24 Feb 2009 at 7:28 pm

    True. Here’s to success!

  20. The ReTARDISed Whovianon 24 Feb 2009 at 9:19 pm

    I like manga, but I haven’t read many. My favourite is DNAngel. I’ve only ever read one superhero comic, but I don’t remember what happened. All I know is it had Batman in it.

  21. B. Macon 24 Feb 2009 at 10:07 pm

    Haha. If you like superhero comic books, let me suggest the following ones that I liked a lot.

    –Ultimate Spiderman (available with a Marvel Online subscription. A month’s access can be bought for $10)
    –Secret War (2004-5, available with Marvel Online)
    –Spiderman Loves Mary Jane (available with Marvel Online)
    –The Invincible Ironman (available with MO)
    –The Killing Joke
    –Watchmen
    –Ultimate Fantastic Four (available with MO)
    –Transhuman. This is a dark homo superior story.
    –Odd Squad. This is a wacky comedic version of the X Files.
    –Hellboy?

    Yeah, I think that’s a pretty good introduction to the sort of comics I enjoy most.

    I’m not sure what the future of the publishing industry will look like, but I think it’s only a matter of time before the US comics industry goes entirely digital. It’s just too expensive to print physical copies of high-quality comics and leaves us too vulnerable to piracy. We’ll never be able to compete with pirates on cost, but I think the average college student can handle something like $10 a month. Even if most of the consumers do hit-and-runs where they pay for only three months out of every year, chances are that’s $30 we weren’t seeing before.

  22. Dforceon 24 Feb 2009 at 10:32 pm

    Online comics!? Color manga?! Is the world gone mad? XD… what happened to tradition…? Oh, well. I’ll probably fight against digitizing when I’m in charge (and whether I win or lose, only time will tell). But that’s just me having delusions of grandeur.

    I’ve heard that during the 80s or 90s the comics were supposed to go all digital and online, but… it would seem that didn’t quite happened… Along with the internet replacing libraries… which also seems to have somewhat strayed from the zeitgeist… lol

    It shouldn’t surprise anyone I’m a– not technophobe, that’s a little too harsh– but a techno-weary individual (heavy on the weary). Just felt like sharing.

    That’s quite a list. What is Watchmen about anyway? And have you seen their merchandise? lol

  23. Stefan the Invisible Manon 25 Feb 2009 at 4:51 am

    I like Watchmen. It doesn’t really have much of a plot for twelve issues. It’s sort of a glorified murder mystery in that way. But the characters are the main attraction. All of them, even the minor ones, are all really interesting. Like there are little scenes with a couple of guys at a newsstand, and the psychologist who examines Rorschach and slowly becomes obssessed with him. It’s easy to connect with the “normal” people in the story. And the superheroes themselves are deeply messed up.

    I wasn’t around in 1987 but I can see how it must have been groundbreaking at the time. It was the beginning of the dark age of comics, where everything was grim and gritty and comics were never the same. The funny thing is that Alan Moore who wrote Watchmen never intended for the book to have the effect it did, because people were treating it like a comic book to end all comic books, like the ultimate comic book. I frankly don’t blame him because the dark age of comics and the nineties in particular, gave birth to Rob Liefield, who drew that overmuscled Captain America picture that I’ve seen around the site.

    But I think Watchmen is a must-read for anyone interested in comics at all. For other, less serious comics my personal favourite is All-Star Superman, which really blew me away cause I hated the character of Superman before I picked up that comic. It’s really excellent stuff.

  24. Ragged Boyon 25 Feb 2009 at 8:59 am

    The Killing Joke was amazing, I love DC, despite some of the dissenters (cough cough B. Mac)

    I’m not sure how the movie will go for Watchmen, but I’m hoping for the best, I’ve never read the whole thing despite numerous opportunities.

  25. Wingson 10 Mar 2009 at 11:46 am

    What about an article on how to write good humor? I’m bad at that.

    – Wings the Humor-less

  26. Holliequon 10 Mar 2009 at 1:09 pm

    !!! You’ve seen Hot Fuzz! I am in awe!

    Haha, sorry, I don’t know many Americans who’ve seen that film and I love it. 🙂 I like Monty Python too, though I haven’t seen very much. I particularly recommend the “Spanish Inquisition” sketch.

  27. B. Macon 10 Mar 2009 at 1:16 pm

    Like Shaun of the Dead, Hot Fuzz was a genre parody. I included it (but not SOTD) because I felt it was more comically smooth and that the relation-based humor was more effective. Also, some of the running gags were hilarious, such as the gold-painted statue man.

  28. Holliequon 10 Mar 2009 at 1:25 pm

    Yeah, I agree. I’m not too familiar of cop films, but the parody of “British village life” I thought was incredibly funny, coming from a reasonably small town myself. I like Pegg and Frost working together (they did a comedy sitcom series called Spaced, which I also found funny).

  29. Johnon 06 Mar 2010 at 7:07 pm

    How do you use symbolism effectively?

  30. Asayaon 06 Mar 2010 at 8:01 pm

    How about tips on constructing an effective fictional setting, too?

  31. B. Macon 06 Mar 2010 at 8:05 pm

    Symbolism and creating settings… okay. I’ll get on those. In the meantime, Asaya, you might enjoy this article on setting.

  32. B. Macon 06 Mar 2010 at 8:31 pm

    Hello, John. Here are some tips on symbolism.

    1. I would recommend using the symbols in unexpected ways. For example, the most common uses of fire are to represent destruction and/or Hell. However, even something as straight-forward as fire represented ignorance (and possibly political correctness) in Fahrenheit 451 or civilization in the story of Prometheus. In The Watchmen, grandfather clocks are used to represent doomsday. 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.

    2. In a comic book script, make sure that you cue your artist about 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.

    3. Give us context clues to evaluate the symbol and its meaning. Possible examples include what sort of setting a symbol is surrounded by, what a character or characters think about or do with the symbol, etc. For example, in Lord of the Flies, it’s notable that the characters wage battle over a symbol of civilization (the glasses that can be used to make fire).

    4. If you do symbols, do so because it adds something to the story, not because you feel like you have to or because it’s smart or literary.

    5. Ambiguity in symbolism is alright, but make sure we at least know what the options are.

    Thanks for your question, John!

  33. A1Writeron 08 Mar 2010 at 8:02 pm

    Maybe a post on subplots? Story-arching? A blog named Fraggmented has done a lot of interesting writings on metastory–looking at examples like Dollhouse and Babylon 5. Structuring smaller stories inside smaller ones, when it works, when it doesn’t work. In the case of dollhouse he focuses on how audiences didn’t really go with the small stories because they saw it as stalling the larger story. Another pitfall is that metastory can lead to the incessant events going through Marvel comics.

    Decompression is a big topic in comics nowadays. Daredevil, Ultimate Spiderman are examples where it works. But it has raised many questions as to what it means for comics serialization since those kinds of stories often read best in trade. However, I think this site would take a more craft-minded approach, which I would greatly appreciate.

    Is there a basic craft review sheet? Like a rubric someone could use once a draft is done and heading into revisions. I have one from a teacher of a writer class that is always great to review every once awhile as a refresher and then use as a checklist when I’m revising.

    I’m an X-Men fan and I’m working on a superhero team. So one major thing is definitely balancing POV and the spotlight. Allowing some characters to step forward as leads then step back as secondary characters to allow others to step forward as leads but still making sure you are developing your secondary characters. The Dark Phoenix Saga is a good example. It’s primarily centered around Scott and Jean, but Wolverine steps up in a big way, and Xavier and Lilandra still get some nice character moments as well. Classic X-Men (even if a bit hyper) always had a great way of building the character development into the story. Nowadays, action movies and comic books are just one fight after another with so little story (generally speaking).

    Developing themes and worlds by building them into the story as opposed to getting too involved in chapters of exposition where you lose the characters or becoming to essayistic or preachy. I personally didn’t like the X-Men movies because I felt like the whole X-Men are like African Americans/Homosexuals angles was just too much in the forefront–Bryan Singer never stopped talking about it. X-Men doesn’t have to try so hard. Tell your story, develop your characters, let the themes emerge. Intellectually I got it, but without character development you don’t engage the emotions. Just my opinion.

    How to create convincing alien cultures. Sometimes they are too archetypical–the aggressive barbarian like society where they all look like lizards and bash heads in or the smart society that is really intellectual and they have big heads. How can this be deepened to really make the cultures seem real and not just like allegories? Just asking the question makes me ponder answers actually. Go fig. (I just remembered from high school social studies studies: PERSIA+GT–political, economics, social issues/life, intellectual life, artistic+geographic, technological)

    I’m actually three chapters away from done on my literary novel. I’m very happy with the draft and have gotten some positive feedback as far as publishability. So in the coming months, I’ll be revising and querying and what not. Soon, my superhero novel will be moved more to the forefront, so I’ll be going through this site more extensively. I hope some of the above gives you some ideas, and if you already addressed some topics in some past posts I look forward to finding them.

  34. Gerbil-Manon 17 Mar 2010 at 11:11 am

    Maybe an article on how to incorporate sidekicks well?

  35. B. Macon 17 Mar 2010 at 11:41 pm

    Hmm. Sidekicks would be an interesting topic. I will think more about that.

    However, I’m having some trouble coming up with sidekicks used in the past 20 or 30 years. Could you suggest any?

    Here are the few I came up with.
    –Robin
    –Gear, from Static Shock
    –Probably War Machine
    –Maybe John Myers from the first Hellboy movie (but not the comics, or the sequel for that matter). I guess somebody in Hollywood inserted him because he thought a whitebread FBI agent would be more relatable/likable than a red thing with Hell in his name (“eek, a demon!”).

  36. Gerbil-Manon 18 Mar 2010 at 7:11 pm

    Let’s see…

    Does Aqualad have his own shtick? (I haven’t really read very many comic books) I know Speedy is independent now, so he wouldn’t work. What about Batgirl?

  37. B. Macon 18 Mar 2010 at 8:37 pm

    Aqualad may have served as a sidekick fairly recently, but not as far as I’m aware of right now. I’ll look into that.

    When Speedy appeared on Justice League Unlimited (in Patriot Act, season 2 episode 7), he refers to himself as Green Arrow’s ex-partner. However, as far as I remember, he actually does serve as GA’s sidekick in the “Dawn of the Dead Man” episode of Batman: The Brave and the Bold. Also from Brave and the Bold, “Sidekicks Assemble!”

    Hmm, okay. I think that should be enough instances of sidekicks to come up with an article. Hopefully I’ll have something within a week.

  38. Lighting Manon 18 Mar 2010 at 9:46 pm

    There’s always the Wonder Twins, they are relatively unique in that they were sidekicks to the entirety of the Justice League / Super Friends, but they have been relatively restrained to that continuity. Aqualad is generally considered a side-kick to Aquaman as you guys have discussed. Kid Flash was a sidekick to The Flash. Mister Talky Tawny was an anthromorphic sidekick to Captain Marvel, recently. There’s been two Speedys that were sidekicks, one Mia and the original, Mia Dearden was more recently though. Captain Marvel also had Captain Marvel Jr. in recent times.

    That is really just all DC though, I can’t really think of a Marvel sidekick that lasted more than an issue / one-shot, an argument could be made for the Wolverine / Jubilee dynamic for a while, but that within a team situation so it’s a bit iffy. That’s all I can think of, hope some of this random deluge is helpful.

  39. B. Macon 19 Mar 2010 at 12:46 am

    Yeah, I had a lot more success coming up with DC examples than Marvel/Image/Dark Horse. That worried me a bit because it seems to me (at this preliminary stage) that sidekicks might be a stylistic convention that largely clicks with only a single significant comics publisher nowadays. When I put the article together, I’ll try to come up with ideas about how to do sidekicks that I think more comics publishers would be receptive to.

    One thing popping out to me at the moment is that non-DC sidekicks tend to be partners somewhat close in age and stature to their main character, rather than subordinates (say) 15+ years younger. Both of the non-DC examples above, Ironman’s War Machine and Hellboy’s John Myers, pair up an adult hero with an adult sidekick. Additionally, both non-DC examples give the sidekick a background badass enough to stand somewhat on par with the main character (Air Force and FBI). DC’s Static Shock follows a somewhat similar approach. Gear is the same age as Static Shock and (like Static) is a peculiarly intelligent student.

    I think that novel publishers would probably be more receptive to sidekicks that are dramatically younger than the hero. For one thing, novel publishers rely less on male readers aged ~18-30. I think that’s significant because I assume that a significantly younger sidekick would play best to younger audience members. Young readers/viewers matter more in movies, (especially) TV and probably novels than comic books.

  40. Tomon 19 Mar 2010 at 8:25 am

    Also note the difference between a sidekick and a partner. Is Cable Deadpool’s sidekick or partner? Did the Scarlet Spider work for Spider-Man or with him?

  41. B. Macon 19 Mar 2010 at 2:48 pm

    Hmm. Thanks for bringing up Cable. I think he’s more a partner than a sidekick. For one thing, Cable does a lot of things on his own in the series. In contrast, I think a sidekick usually wouldn’t get much screen time away from the main character. And he’s listed first in the series title 😉 .



    On the difference between sidekicks and partners. Thinking tentatively, I would venture that a sidekick risks losing the audience if he is seen as a distraction from a more competent character. It may help to give the sidekick some skills the main character doesn’t have. For example, maybe he’s better at medicine or sleuthing/forensics or magic/occult knowledge or mechanics or computers or people skills or driving or whatever. Maybe even combat, although that would be uncommon.

    Another element you can play around with is that the sidekick/partner brings different resources or options to the table. For example, outside of the realm of superheroes, the TV show Bones is about a forensic examiner (the title character) partnered with a more street-savvy FBI agent. The FBI guy has skills and legal options at his disposal that she doesn’t, and she has crazy science skills and the added advantage of being able to talk to people without giving off a cop vibe.

  42. B. Macon 19 Mar 2010 at 3:06 pm

    Gordito from Dr. McNinja!

  43. Tomon 19 Mar 2010 at 3:49 pm

    Ahh how could I forget that?!

  44. B. Macon 19 Mar 2010 at 6:58 pm

    Hey, I forgot about him, too. Probably because he doesn’t get much face-time.

  45. A1Writeron 20 Mar 2010 at 11:18 pm

    Sidekicks can be tough b/c it seems to diffuse the conflict. Sidekicks pick up some of the slack or rush in to save the hero at the last moment. The bat family seems to work well b/c it’s more like a crossing of heroes in the timeline. Batman, an experienced hero, meets young people amidst their own origins stories. Hence, he becomes a trainer of sorts. The young person causes more problems b/c of their inexperience in the beginning, but begins to learn, leading to more independence, and then the clashes become more ideological as the sidekick shapes their own opinion, then becomes their own hero.

    Best friends seem to work too. It’s a great in-story way of doing it. The question is–how do you keep the sidekick from seeming too much of a crutch or make them more than just comic relief? This story has been told so much, so I wonder how one would keep it fresh. Someone mentioned Static Shock which I remembered liking a lot when it came out. But the story seems so conventional as to be kind of cliche. There are way too many predictable ways to take that story. (Friend can’t really help and becomes crutch, hero gets mad at friend for not really understanding him and his conflict as a superhero, friend develops way–usually technological–to be a better sidekick, hero and friend are now normal fighting duo)

    The only Marvel sidekick I can think of is Bucky, b/c of all the story he’s been getting lately. He’s like Marvel’s Nightwing.

  46. Ragged Boyon 31 May 2010 at 9:08 am

    This probably isn’t broad enough to warrant an article, but I’m interested in writing one of those stylish spy stories in the vein of James Bond and Read Or Die (moreso R.O.D. with the superskills edge). I’m specifically looking for tips on:

    – Building an interesting agency(ies).

    – Developing a tight spy team (trio).

    – Suggested reads or watches for getting that style down.

    – Coming up with a plot that’s now over my head.

    I plan for this to be a novel so I guess practicve writing scenes is vital. Oh gosh, I haven’t tested my novel-writing skills extensively. These are about to be some funny drafts. If I do start writing this I’m planning on a dehumanized, cyberpunk setting. I have a premise down which I plan to expand on later, but for now general ideas would help greatly.

    Of course, I’m not giving up on Showtime (that’s my baby!), but as long as I’m sitting idle I see no reason why I can’t get some more stories a-chuggin’ or at least practice my writing with an genre I’m interested in.

  47. B. Macon 31 May 2010 at 3:14 pm

    I’d recommend giving the agency a personality. For example, most fictional portrayals of the CIA portray it as do-anything, neck-deep-in-blood. The NSA is usually portrayed as a combination of hitmen and master spies (which is not even remotely realistic, but I don’t think readers know/care). My OSI is wacky-and-violent, a place where a badassery-obsessed mutant alligator fits in better than an accountant and there’s a radio code for “murder victim stuffed in appliance.” The FBI ranges from professional-and-curt murder investigators (Bones) to neck-deep-in-paranormal-conspiracies (X-Files).

    I’d also recommend working in a bit of conflict into the workplace. Maybe the character isn’t a perfect fit in terms of personality and/or skills. For example, FBI agent Fox Mulder is notably less sane than most of his counterparts, especially his partner. In Ironman 2, Tony Stark is far more impulsive and reckless than Black Widow or War Machine, and probably the Avengers outfit as a whole. Chuck and my Gary are sort of nerdy guys that aren’t cut out for the top-secret, run-and-gun agencies they’ve been forced into. In some cases, a coworker (maybe a partner) has an adversarial relationship, sometimes covertly. For example, Bones knows that Boothe has been sent by the FBI to keep tabs on her forensics work, but Tony Stark doesn’t know that his hot new secretary is actually a superspy.

    For plot coherence, I’d recommend giving the agency (or at least the part of it that the protagonists work in) a focus. For example, Hellboy’s BPRD handles just magical/supernatural cases, the X-Files’ FBI and the Odd Squad do paranormal/sci-fi stuff, the X-Men mainly keep mutant-supremacists from going to war with human supremacists, etc. It doesn’t have to be super-specific (such as Bones or CSI handling virtually only cases that hinge on forensics), but I think having a focus helps prevent cringe-inducing situations like the sci-fi ending of Indiana Jones 4. (Apparently they didn’t get the memo that Indy does legendary artifacts, not Buck Rodgers stuff).

    Similarly, I think it’d feel out of place if James Bond’s MI6 sent him to do anything other than “discreetly resolve this situation,” by which they really mean “blow stuff up and get laid.” And, if they DON’T mean “blow stuff up and get laid,” they really should get around to firing him. 😉 (The two latest Bond movies place him in a more adversarial relationship with his boss about his methods, but I don’t expect they will change).

  48. Ragged Boyon 31 May 2010 at 5:01 pm

    Yeah, my agency is very important so it’s imperative that I give it a striking personality. Seeing as the main agency is actually evil (although the protaganist don’t this) I plan for them to be extremely cut-throat and no-nonsense. I plan for this to be balanced with the main team’s overall rebelious nature. The agency’s reason for not firing them is that they are some of the top operatives around and that getting rid of them would jeopardize their agenda.

  49. ekimmakon 01 Jun 2010 at 1:28 am

    Captain Cat and The Umbrella Kid. Skulduggery Pleasant. They would be an example of novels from the sidekick’s view, although the second one is more serious.

  50. Goaton 15 Jun 2010 at 11:23 am

    How people can get superpowers in a natural-ish way but not coming off cliche or like silver age comics where they explain them with science in the most ridiculous way possible…

  51. B. Macon 15 Jun 2010 at 11:54 am

    Hello, Goat. Have you seen “Which Origin Stories are Plausible?” yet?

    Personally, I think mechanical enhancement (like cybernetics, powersuits/exoskeletons) strikes me as the most plausible origin story. Indeed, military exoskeletons are not just conceptually possible but already pretty impressive. And, of course, because it’s a superhero story, I think readers will generally accept you pushing the bounds beyond what is currently possible. (So, for example, military exoskeletons can’t currently pull off Ironman-style flight or laser weaponry, but neither is so wildly implausible that it’s the stuff of fantasy).

    I don’t think chemical enhancement (like the super serums for Captain America and Green Goblin) will get as far in the next twenty years as mechanical enhancement will, but nonetheless I think readers will accept it readily. For example, in real life, athletes can significantly improve their reflexes and strength with steroids and other chemical enhancers. I think we could pretty easily accept that a scientist could come up with a serum that goes far beyond what current steroids can do, particularly if the scientist is freakishly gifted and/or sufficiently desperate/crazy.

    Genetic engineering also strikes me as pretty plausible. Scientists can genetically engineer one organism to have capabilities (“powers,” if you will) of another species, like corn that grows in the dark like a jellyfish. In real life, there are major physics and anatomical barriers that would probably rule out humans getting cheetah-like speed or elephant-like strength, but I think that readers could suspend their disbelief if you wanted cheetah speed and elephant strength. It’d only take a bit of sci-fi mumbo jumbo. (For example, “To make a human run as fast as a cheetah, we just need to modify his bone composition and muscle density”). Readers can totally buy that, even though it’s not realistic. As always, it helps if the scientist is brilliant and/or some combination of desperate and crazy. Remember, Tony Stark was able to build an Ironman suit in an Afghani cave. With, ahem, a box of scraps.

  52. bekson 19 Jun 2010 at 1:48 am

    I’d like to see more articles about cohesion between art and writing. Perhaps how to approach the best (artistic) style for your writing and how to go about picking a style that is refreshing and relevant to the super hero genre at the same time. Maybe an article about the most ineffective supers of all time and why they’re ineffective (including both villains and heroes).

  53. B. Macon 19 Jun 2010 at 7:23 am

    Hmm. One art/writing technique that I find really useful is removed narration, where the characters speaking or narrating are physically removed from the scene they’re describing. For example, in panel 1, Mary Jane might see Peter Parker, who looks sort of shaken up. She might ask something like “Rough night?” In panel 2, the art shows us what Peter did last night (probably roughing up supervillains or large bands of criminals) and then Peter says (off-panel) “The usual.”



    If women are an important part of your target audience, I would recommend looking into art styles prevalent in manga and anime. I think it helps cue prospective female readers that the book isn’t purely meant for guys. I’m not sure it makes a huge difference, but the two most prominent U.S. comic books/graphic novels aimed at women (Spiderman loves Mary Jane and Twilight) both have highly manga-influenced art styles. In my own review groups, I think that ladies tend to like the most artistically exaggerated panels, like Gary sprouting a monocle and gel-slicked hair in an imagined sequence.

  54. The Man on the Moonon 20 Jun 2010 at 3:26 pm

    how to write a good comic book script

  55. B. Macon 20 Jun 2010 at 6:02 pm

    You mean how to format it? If the publisher you’re submitting to has a specific formatting style in mind, it’s usually on their submissions page. If they don’t have a specific style in mind, Dark Horse formatting should work.

    More details here.

    If you mean how to write the story that goes into the script (rather than how to format the story), please see our list of superhero writing articles.

  56. alxrgrson 24 Jun 2010 at 8:24 am

    Flashbacks. I’m having difficulty in general with flashbacks. My story has a few vital flashbacks but I’m not sure how to approach it. Do I give it a different tone? Modify the style? Also, how often can I use flashbacks without it becoming too often?

  57. B. Macon 25 Jun 2010 at 10:29 am

    “My story has a few vital flashbacks but I’m not sure how to approach it. Do I give it a different tone? Modify the style?” If the situation calls for it, sure. For example, if a morose character is reflecting on some long-gone time when he was very happy, then it would make sense if the tone and style were dramatically different. For example, Bruce Wayne would probably sound rather different reflecting on his life before his parents were murdered than he would talking about the here-and-now.

    But sometimes you’ll flash back to a time where the characters are largely unchanged, like Magneto recounting how he and Xavier survived a Nazi death-camp. In that case, I could definitely see why the characters might sound largely like they do in the present. (However, you might alter the style to reflect unusual circumstances–a Nazi death-camp has a very, very different ambiance than the modern-day United States).

    “Also, how often can I use flashbacks without it becoming too often?” This is personal preference (both yours and of the editors reading the submission). Personally, I would lean towards doing it really sparingly.

    –“If your backstory is more interesting than your current era, you’re writing the wrong story.” Why not just write a story where the backstory is “the present” of the story?

    –Flashback sequences often stall the plot. A lot of times, authors go into them with the mindset “okay, now I can set up what’s going to happen later on.” Umm, okay, but readers didn’t pick up the book because they thought it was going to be setup. Is this really the most compelling way to present the story you’ve been presenting to readers so far? (Usually, there’s a more effective way to have the characters imply what happened in the past with actions or dialogue. Hell, even the narrator can save the day by giving a 1-2 sentence summary of what happened so that you don’t have to spend a scene on it).

    –Danger is usually less dramatic in a flash-back because we know the main characters can’t die.

    –Flashbacks, particularly between multiple eras, can make it hard to follow the narrative.

    –For the most part, if somebody wanted to read about a period piece set X years ago rather than a piece in the “present” of the story, they would have.

    Thanks for the questions!

  58. Cassandraon 24 Jul 2010 at 11:52 am

    How to make great dynamics in a superteam. (Furthermore, how to give a superteam a name that isn’t incredibly cheesy)

    You already have an article about writing great male characters, but what about writing great female characters?

    The balance between “showing” your story and writing ten pages about every tree in the forest.

    How many characters are too many characters for a story.

    Similarly, how many subplots are too many subplots for a story.

  59. B. Macon 24 Jul 2010 at 12:10 pm

    If you’re looking for advice on female characters, I’d recommend checking out the discussion about what separates awesome female characters from awful ones and why.

    I don’t think I know enough about female characters to write such an article, but I’d love to host an article from anyone that does. (If anybody would like to write such an article in exchange for a link and more readers, please let me know at superheronation-at-gmail-dot-com).

  60. B. Macon 24 Jul 2010 at 12:59 pm

    Thanks for the suggestions, Cassandra. “How many characters are too many characters for a story?” I’ll probably expand this more into a full-length post later, but here are some preliminary thoughts.

    1. A first-time author should not have more than 4-5 characters in a team of superheroes without a REALLY good reason. It’s hard enough to come up with a few very interesting characters, let alone 6. In addition, each additional character takes time and space away from the others, leading to character development problems. As a rule of thumb, a story about a few interesting characters will usually kick the ass of a story with many thinly-developed characters.

    BAD REASON: “I think readers will find this sixth character more interesting than some of the first five.” Better solution: fix the original characters and/or cut some to make room for the new one.

    HORRIBLE: “That’s how Justice League/X-Men/[insert major series] does it!” First, a new author’s characters are all unknown and have to be built up from scratch. In contrast, most of the recurring characters on JL and X-Men are well-known and require little introduction. Also, Marvel and DC have a good reason to have tons of characters: selling toys and spinoff series. What’s yours?

    ACCEPTABLE: The author is really skilled at characterization and relationship-building and has something in mind that requires more relationships than 5 characters can sustain. I think the Wild Cards series is a solid example of this.

    EXTENUATING CIRCUMSTANCES: For whatever reason, some of the characters might be largely invisible and require little development. For example, characters that get killed rather quickly probably doesn’t count against the “it’s hard to develop more than five characters” guideline. I think that characters that are just behind-the-scenes (rather than co-combatants) are also easier to excuse. They won’t lead to a bloated cast during fight scenes.

    2. In most cases, I think a clear hierarchy of villains (such as villain -> lieutenant -> henchman) makes stories more coherent and easy to follow. I would not recommend deviating from that (such as a team of villains that are more or less equal) unless you’re planning on doing something interesting with villain vs. villain conflict.

    3. If you’re doing a team of supervillains in a novel, I would recommend against having more than 6 heroes and villains total. When there are many characters, villains tend to devolve into two-dimensional (or even one-dimensional) punching bags. I think that’s especially true for a novel, though a comic book series may be able to avoid this problem by introducing a new arc-long villain every few months.

    4. As the cast of superheroes grows, it becomes progressively harder to introduce side-characters for each. If you have a solo hero like Spiderman, you could probably develop a boss and a coworker and a love interest (or two!) and a friend and a few family members, etc. If your novel or comic book arc introduces 5+ characters, it would be unrealistic to expect that each one of them will have even 2 associated side characters. One way to get around this is to develop side characters for the entire team, such as Splinter and April and Casey for all of the TMNT. That helps conserve space and avoid really limited characters that have a connection to one of the teammates but don’t really interact with any of the others in any interesting way. I think Alicia Masters (The Thing’s girlfriend) is an example of a character that’s too limited in scope.

  61. ShardReaperon 24 Jul 2010 at 2:42 pm

    Maybe something about designing a logo, if you haven’t already?

  62. B. Macon 24 Jul 2010 at 3:03 pm

    Good question, ShardReaper. I briefly touched on comic book logos in “How to Do Comic Book Covers Well,” but I think I can expand upon it.

    Here’s the short version:
    1) Use a style appropriate to your series. Ideally the title identifies something about the series even before the viewer reads the title.

    2) It needs to be BIG, legible at 10-15 feet. If that sounds difficult, look at some of the following logos after walking to the other end of the room. Even at these shrunken sizes (25-75% smaller than they would appear on a real cover), the good ones are legible.

    3) It should be easy to read at a glance. (Sometimes letters like B and R can be confused if the font and/or text effects are weird).

    4) Don’t use too many colors. I would recommend limiting the logo to two.

    5) Generally, I think the title text will stand out more if it’s lighter text on a darker background or outline/stroke. (Note: this is the ONLY time it is acceptable to use light text on a dark background!)

    Here are some DC covers I grabbed from Joe Acevado and some Marvel ones from Joe Klein.

    Justice League of America comic book logo
    This Justice League of America logo is awkwardly two-dimensional. The letters are too restrained by the badge outline. Also, the color selection needs work. (Red, white and blue makes for a thoroughly kickass flag but not a great textual display).

    Justice League of America comic book logo
    This also has a badge, but the letters are on a separate level from it. This creates an impression of depth and makes the letters stand out more. Also, the color selection is SIGNIFICANTLY better.

    Jaguar Issue Number One Impact Comics Cover
    This strikes me as tacky. The white stroke (outline) around the letters should probably be black. Also, I would just cut “THE” from the title. There are some times when “the” is necessary in a title, like Saddam Hussein and the Hippies from Space, but this probably isn’t one of them.

    Additionally, there’s too much going on here. There’s a light orange to dark orange gradient on the letters. There are black spots. A white stroke. The letters look jagged and their height is uneven.

    Preacher Comic Book Logo
    This Preacher logo strikes me as very elegant and legible. Moreover, it scales nicely, so if you had to shrink it down to fit on a promotional website’s header, it’d be legible then, too. However, I would prefer if the black at the very top of the letters was a bit thicker.

    Chronos comic book logo
    I like the symbolic clock here. It makes the time-travel element instantly obvious. The yellow-with-black-stroke was very readable.

    Green Lantern Silver Age logo
    I don’t think this one says enough about the series.

    Batman comic logo
    Again, yellow on black is eye-catching and readable. I loved the Batman symbol, too. I think it helped that the text ran wider than the Batman symbol did.

    Captain America logo
    Hideous color selection. Aside from that, I don’t understand why the lines are so hard. It fits the Batman series more than Captain America.

    The Ray comic book logo
    Although heavily stylized, I found this workable. Very readable.

    Robin comic book logo
    This is one of my favorites. (Have you noticed a yellow-on-black trend?) The letters are a bit stylized but easy to read and the word ROBIN is short enough that the unevenness between the letters is not a killer.

    Martian Manhunter comic book logo
    The font selection here would probably stand out on a shelf, but I think it’s easy to read. However, the black-on-yellow seems off to me. I personally prefer light titles on dark backgrounds rather than vice versa.

    Incredible Hulk 55 cover
    Disastrous. Incredibly hard to read, especially “THE INCREDIBLE.” Garish color selection. Needless textual effects. This is one of the worst logos I have ever seen and I am ashamed to have it on my website.

  63. Ragged Boyon 24 Jul 2010 at 5:43 pm

    I thought The Jaguar was a pretty cool one. And I like The Ray, too. I like stylized things.

  64. B. Macon 24 Jul 2010 at 6:36 pm

    I really like the font used by The Jaguar. I would have gotten rid of the spots and the white stroke, though.

  65. Anonymouson 24 Jul 2010 at 7:41 pm

    Maybe an article about the organizations? I know you mostly deal with superheros, so I figure something about how to create the society behind the hero wouldn’t be too far off base. I often have trouble figuring out how to make an organization around the story I am writing about, good or evil.

  66. ShardReaperon 25 Jul 2010 at 9:09 am

    With logos, is it okay to incorporate parts of the character(s) into the lettering, like with Harry Potter’s lightning bolt?

  67. B. Macon 25 Jul 2010 at 1:31 pm

    Hmm. Which parts of the characters did you have in mind, ShardReaper? I think HP’s lightning bolt or a silhouette of a character might be effective, but in most cases I think it’d be strange to use, say, a limb. Unless the limb is so unusual and/or plot-significant that it stands out on its own. For example, in Red 5’s “We Kill Monsters” series, it uses the skull of the first monster encountered because it launches the characters (two auto mechanics) into a demon-hunting adventure. Alternately, I think it would make sense if the series used the freakishly-looking demon claw-arm thing that one of the main characters grows as a result of exposure to the first demon.

  68. ShardReaperon 25 Jul 2010 at 1:49 pm

    A gun (Karnak and Alan) for the ‘P’, a lightning bolt (Jake) for the ‘T’ or ‘H’, and a little glow around the ‘O” (to symbolize energy).

  69. B. Macon 25 Jul 2010 at 2:47 pm

    If you’re doing a comic book, could I recommend limiting it to one symbol in the logo to avoid visual clutter? I think you could work the gun and the energy-glow into the cover art.

    I originally had a plan to do a SUPERHERO NATION logo with various letters replaced by various symbols (such as the S being a $, the T being an upside-down Uncle Sam hat, the I being the Washington Monument or a nuclear missile, the O being a rifle’s crosshairs with Gary in the middle, etc), but it got badly cluttered and didn’t turn out well at a distance.



    In most cases, I don’t think novel-publishers give the authors any creative control over the cover besides coming up with the title. You could suggest an idea for the cover through your agent, but the publisher has its own artistic staff and they’d be in charge of pretty much everything on the cover. I wouldn’t expect more input than being shown a working copy and getting asked “Is there any way in which this has MAJORLY misrepresented the book?”

    But even that isn’t guaranteed. If Justine Larbalestier had seen the cover for Liar before it was printed, she would have pointed out that the protagonist depicted on the cover needed to be African-American because her race was crucial to the plot. (The first edition printed with a Caucasian, but Bloomsbury bowed to industry criticism and eventually redid the cover).

    Liar Covers: Before (Caucasian) and After (African-American)
    So, umm, yeah. As a rule, I have low expectations for novel cover art. It would take too much time to have the cover-artists read every book they illustrate.

  70. Cassandraon 25 Jul 2010 at 7:57 pm

    Thanks for the advice about characters. I’m afraid my first book may have a few too many characters in it, so I’m working on downsizing it because even more characters are introduced in the second book.

    Cassandra

  71. B. Macon 25 Jul 2010 at 9:00 pm

    “Maybe an article about the organizations? I know you mostly deal with superheros, so I figure something about how to create the society behind the hero wouldn’t be too far off base. I often have trouble figuring out how to make an organization around the story I am writing about, good or evil.”

    I’m not quite sure I understand. When you say organizations, do you mean like superhero teams and/or groups of supervillains? Or do you mean the society at large? (IE: New York City to Spiderman).

    I think society-building falls under worldbuilding, which I haven’t addressed here probably as much as I should. (For one thing, superhero stories tend to be set on modern Earth, so worldbuilding rarely plays as prominently as it does in fantasy, futuristic sci-fi and historical fiction).

    Here are some preliminary thoughts on superhero worldbuilding.
    –Even if your story is set in a prominent, real-world city, assume that your readers have never been there and don’t know anything about it. Build it up from scratch rather than assuming the readers already have it built up in their mind. For example, if you’re an American writing for Americans, only 3% of your potential readers are from New York City. (The number drops even lower when Canadian/UK/Australian readers are included). For more details, I’d recommend “How to Do Settings and Scenery Well.”

    –Focus on what is thematically important to your story. For example, the most important things we need to know about the Watchmen’s New York City is that crime and degeneracy are rampant, superheroes are almost all outlawed, and there are some disturbing indicators in the background that the U.S. and USSR are inching towards nuclear war. The most prominent New York location in Watchmen is probably Times Square, or at least what’s left of it at the end.

    In the New York City of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, the dominant trait of New Yorkers is xenophobia and the most prominent location is the sewers. (The characters are very, very much outsiders).

    In Spiderman, I think one of the dominant themes is an ordinary guy doing extraordinary things. On the ordinary side, the main NYC locations are his home and school, and on the extraordinary side we see a LOT of skyscrapers, high-tech labs, etc. Spiderman’s journey is a bittersweet one–he gives up a lot to be a superhero and tries hard but isn’t always well-received. In particular, the media and police are usually against him, whereas the people on the street are not. I think that helps reinforce his humble background.

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