Archive for August, 2010

Aug 29 2010

Twenty Questions to Ask Before Submitting Your Story

Published by under Getting Published

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.

Novelist Paulo Campos has a list of questions to help you determine whether your story is ready to submit. I found #1-9 especially helpful. One of my own: during your last rewrite, how much of the story changed? If less than 10% changed, you’re probably ready to submit.

2 responses so far

Aug 27 2010

Best Free Comic Book Fonts: All-Caps Body

Most comic books and graphic novels letter the body text (dialogue and narration) in all-caps.  Here are some of the best all-caps free fonts. If you’d like to download any of the fonts, please see the links below.


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9 responses so far

Aug 25 2010

How could a Twilight parody be that bad?

Published by under Comedy,Twilight

Vampires Suck is startlingly bad.  How could try something so easy–finding something hilariously awful about Twilight–and fail so badly?  It’s like going to Alaska and failing to find snow.  If you’re in the mood for a good Twilight parody, I recommend this fake screenplay. Here’s an excerpt:

SCENE 2

BELLA: It’s tough being the new kid in school! Especially when everyone is so friendly and helpful and interested in me. Why can’t they just leave me alone so I can sit in the corner and cut myself?
CLASSMATE: You’re awesome, Bella!
BELLA: See what I have to put up with? Hey — who are those hot people over there?
CLASSMATE: Those are the Cullens. They avoid direct sunlight, they don’t eat food, they sleep in coffins in a graveyard, and holy water burns them. I think they’re Canadians.*
BELLA: They sure are spectacularly gorgeous.
CLASSMATE: Yes, they are.
BELLA: I mean seriously, those people are BEAUTIFUL. Especially the one who keeps looking at me. Man alive, that guy is stunning. I mean, wow. He is hot buttered seduction on a stick. I’m not interested in him sexually, of course, because sex is dirty, but wow — LOOK AT HIM! Yee-ikes! Hubba hubba! If you don’t mind, I’d like to spend the next 75 pages talking exclusively about how attractive he is, and then bring it up again every paragraph or so for the remaining 400 pages.
CLASSMATE: Knock yourself out.

*The makers of Vampires Suck stole this joke.

16 responses so far

Aug 22 2010

Superhero anthology looking for submissions

Jay Faulkner is looking for superhero story submissions between 2500-8000 words long.  (For longer submissions, query first).

  • Genre: anything with superheroes.  “This can be pure comic-book style heroes, sci-fi, fantasy, horror, etc but the central theme / characters in the story MUST involve superheroes.”
  • Deadline: October 31, 2010.
  • Pay: none.

Submission details here.  Thanks for pointing this out, Matt.

23 responses so far

Aug 22 2010

Organizing Your Story With Cause and Effect

If you’re worried that your manuscript isn’t as coherent as it could be, mapping your plot can be extremely helpful. To do so:

  1. List the 25-50 most important events in the plot.
  2. Place one event each on a post-it note.
  3. Organize as many of the post-it notes into a cause-and-effect chain as you can.

For example, here’s a political thriller with two main plot threads. (I wouldn’t recommend more than 3 plot threads).

For more information on how to use your map to tighten up your plot, see below.

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9 responses so far

Aug 21 2010

Italian Spiderman

Published by under Comedy

Thank God this is a parody.

3 responses so far

Aug 19 2010

Job Advice for Publishing Applicants

1.  Proofread everything you send out for a publishing job ridiculously hard.  Almost every publishing job requires immaculate writing skills, and professionals don’t have enough time to exhaustively proofread everything written by interns.   So you need to demonstrate that you write well enough to impress a publisher that lives or dies based on the quality of its writing.  (Pretty much every company takes its writing seriously, but especially publishers).

2.  Make it clear that you can reliably complete tasks without constant oversight. For example, use your cover letter and/or resume to describe a significant professional project you completed to your supervisor’s specifications without much prompting or direct supervision.  An intern that can’t remember to complete responsibilities without constant reminders is probably a net liability.

3.  Self-starters are always more desirable. Since every internship has downtime, companies value interns that will use the downtime productively.  For example, a proactive intern might ask co-workers if they need any help with projects and/or errands or try learning new job skills, etc. (I learned search engine optimization by borrowing reference manuals from our SEO guru).

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One response so far

Aug 18 2010

Tips for Getting ‘A’ Grades on School Papers

Published by under School Papers

This is mainly aimed at high school and college English courses, but you might find this advice helpful in other subjects as well.

1. The first paragraph should introduce what you will be arguing and what sort of evidence you’ll be using to back up your assertion. In an English class, you’re not talking about every aspect of a book, so identify your focus. Do NOT merely provide a fact (“The Great Gatsby is a 20th century American novel set in West Egg, New York”). Focus on what you’ll need to make your argument. For example, “West Egg symbolizes the American dream” and then talk about what happens there and how that demonstrates what the author is suggesting about Gatsby’s attempts to break into the upper class.

2. Summarizing the book is usually besides the point. The teacher has already read the book, so the summary probably isn’t necessary. Do talk about plot events that advance your argument, though.

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3 responses so far

Aug 17 2010

Tyler Perry auditions

Published by under Comedy

I especially liked Corporate White Boss.

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Aug 17 2010

At first glance, this superhero “research” looks shamelessly incompetent

In a ScienceDaily article:

Watching superheroes beat up villains may not be the best image for boys to see if society wants to promote kinder, less stereotypical male behaviors, according to psychologists…

“There is a big difference in the movie superhero of today and the comic book superhero of yesterday,” said psychologist Sharon Lamb, PhD, distinguished professor of mental health at University of Massachusetts-Boston. “Today’s superhero is too much like an action hero who participates in non-stop violence; he’s aggressive, sarcastic and rarely speaks to the virtue of doing good for humanity. When not in superhero costume, these men, like Ironman, exploit women, flaunt bling and convey their manhood with high-powered guns.”

The comic book heroes of the past did fight criminals, she said, “but these were heroes boys could look up to and learn from because outside of their costumes, they were real people with real problems and many vulnerabilities,” she said.

My initial impression is that this is so luridly off-base I don’t know where to begin.

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17 responses so far

Aug 17 2010

15 Interesting Motivations for Villains and Heroes

1. Romance. Villains frequently have ulterior motives (like marrying Aunt May to steal the nuclear power plant she inherited?) and improper means (such as sabotaging rivals). True romances are rare for villains and can make them deeper and more interesting. Mr. Freeze’s romance with his wife Nora in Heart of Ice turned him from a corny ice-themed punchline into an Emmy winner. (He later devolved into a corny ice-themed punchline after being played by Arnold Schwarzenegger, but some things can’t be helped).

 

2. Revenge. This might be heroic if the crime is particularly heinous and/or the regular authorities are not willing or able to resolve the situation. It might be villainous if the character is overreacting or not being careful enough about hitting only the people responsible.  When working with revenge plots, I think it’s usually more interesting if the revenge develops into something more than just killing/stopping people A, B and C.  For example, in Scott Pilgrim Vs. the World, the villain is getting back at the love interest that rejected him, which introduces relationship issues that present their own challenges to a protagonist trying to get over a long-dead relationship of his own.

 

3. To distinguish oneself. It depends on why the character wants to distinguish himself. A hero whose main goal is fame/status will probably gain a more substantial goal over the course of the story. (For example, Booster Gold). I think it’s seen as a superficial, temporary goal. In contrast, “be true to yourself” is more purely heroic… Unless being true to yourself involves psychically decapitating people and sucking out their brains.

 

4. To fit in/gain acceptance. A lot of heroes seek to gain the respect of their peers (see any story about “the new guy,” particularly students). However, gaining acceptance might be more sinister based on who the protagonist wants to impress and/or what will impress them. For example, 1984 ends with Winston Smith rather unhappily gaining acceptance by betraying his innocent girlfriend: “…he had won the victory over himself. He loved Big Brother.”

 

5. Justice. This is like revenge, but usually less lethal and targeted more carefully against the perpetrators. Nonetheless, justice can sometimes be villainous. For example, the main goal of the robot antagonists in the I, Robot movie is to prevent humans from getting hurt, and they think that putting human under house arrest is the most logical way to do so.

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107 responses so far

Aug 14 2010

What Authors Should Know About Copyright (and Defeating Plagiarists)

1.  What do I need to do to copyright my work?
Nothing, if you’re an American, Australian, BrazilianBritish, Canadian or Irish author. Your work is automatically protected by copyright as soon as you write it. You don’t need to register your work or do anything else to copyright it.

 

However, if you wish to sue somebody for copyright infringement, you’ll probably need to pay a small fee to register your copyright with your national copyright office first ($35 in the United States).  I’d recommend leaving that to your publisher, because suing somebody is almost always impractical before you get published.  There are more cost-effective ways of defending your work and/or dealing with plagiarism than spending thousands of dollars on a lawyer.

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5 responses so far

Aug 14 2010

Scott Pilgrim Vs. the World was both awesomely absurd and absurdly awesome

Published by under Comic Book Movies

Scott Pilgrim’s rating on Rotten Tomatoes is 80%.  It was so neck-deep in every sort of geeky awesomeness that it totally made sense when the hero used a 1-Up as a “get out of death free” card.  The highlight of the movie was definitely the superpowered kung fu. The romantic comedy was reasonably effective, better than suggested in the trailer. The first 33 seconds of the trailer are forgettable, but the movie is substantially better, particularly if you’re into people getting drop-kicked in the face by vegan supervillains.

12 responses so far

Aug 13 2010

Blood-Red Pencil’s Tips on How to Write a Strong Opening: Act First, Explain Later

This advice about how to write a strong introduction strikes me as mostly effective.

1.  Don’t begin with a long description of the setting or background information.  Do begin with dialogue and action. Agreed.  However, explain enough so that we know what’s going on.  I put down a book on page 2 yesterday because it spent all that time beautifully describing the weather and a man jumping out of a helicopter without explaining anything about why the guy came out of the helicopter.  At first, it wasn’t even clear whether the person fell out accidentally or jumped.

2.  Don’t start with a character other than your protagonist. You may wish to consider starting with the antagonist, but generally I agree with this.  If your side-characters are the most effective hook to your story, you’re writing the wrong story!

3.  Don’t start with a description of past events.  DO jump right in with what the main character is involved in right now, and introduce some tension or conflict as soon as possible. In some cases, the inciting event of the book may have happened before the book starts.  I don’t think that’s necessarily a problem.  For example, a novel might start with a superhero or homicide detective investigating a crime that has already happened.  As long as you keep the focus on what is happening now (the investigation, for example), covering an event that already happened shouldn’t bog down your plot.  

4.  Don’t start in a viewpoint other than the main character’s. Agreed!  I’d reject pretty much anything that starts with a side-character that shows up once and then disappears.  (Switching between main characters is okay, but a one-and-done narrator is NOT.  Don’t waste our time on a character that isn’t central to the plot).

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12 responses so far

Aug 13 2010

Pet Peeve: Queries that Name Superpowers with Obscure Prefixes

When you write a proposal/query (or anything else written purely for editors) for your superhero story, you’ll probably write a bit about the main characters’ superpowers.  (1-2 sentences, please).  I highly recommend against looking up a Latin or Greek prefix to name a superpower.  If you had to look up the prefix, chances are the editor doesn’t know it, either.

 

PLEASE REWRITE: “John is a somnikinetic.”
BETTER:  “John can manipulate dreams” or “John can control dreams.”

 

Descriptions with simple English terms are usually more effective than Greek/Latin names because:

  • English words are easier to understand and remember.
  • Most editors haven’t memorized lists of Greek or Latin prefixes/suffixes.
  • Editors should not have to open a dictionary or do a Google search to understand what you’ve written. You’ve got two minutes. Wasting them does not help you.
  • Names based on prefixes can be easily confused with similar prefixes.  For example, a reader might confuse somni- (dreams) with somn- (sleep) or son- (sound). Also, false cognates like “meteoro” (weather, not meteors).
  • It may not be clear how you expect us to translate the word. For example, I’ve seen “kinesis” used as a suffix for “control,” “influence,” “manipulation,” “generation,” as well as its standard meaning, “movement” (for example, telekinesis means “remote movement”).  Will we know which definition you’re going for?
  • In many cases, it is pretentious. (If you had to look it up and/or expect the editor to look up the prefix, it probably is).

 

Depending on the story and character, using prefixes and other jargon in-story may be helpful (e.g. maybe for a more scientific/realistic feel). But that probably isn’t necessary in the query/submission letter or synopsis.  For one thing, the query/submission letter are an introduction aimed at editors that have absolutely no context for your story.  In contrast, by the time your story uses terms like “terrakinetic” or “ocular death-rays,” we’ve probably already seen the character’s powers in action.

 

What do you think?  Do you share this peeve?

6 responses so far

Aug 12 2010

Twilight Demotivational Poster

The New York Times uncovered evidence of serious detainee abuse at Guantanamo Bay:

Guantanamo-Bay-Funny-Picture

How do you break a suicidal terrorist? Find something worse than death.

3 responses so far

Aug 12 2010

B. Mac, 1–Bee, 0

Published by under Eccentric Tangent

After a sting to the head and a precautionary shot of Epinephrine, we can conclusively say that I am alive and the bee is not.  In your face, Mother Nature!

4 responses so far

Aug 11 2010

Captain Freedom: A Writer’s Review

Synopsis: Captain Freedom was rough around the edges, but it was clever and funny.  The plot was pretty much an incoherent wreck.  If you liked Soon I Will Be Invincible, I highly recommend Captain Freedom, which put more thought into character-development and world-building.

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Aug 09 2010

Unless I’m missing something, this sounds bogus

According to the New York Times, one author got an extraordinarily fast response from agents after starting a blog.  “Within two posts on her blog, which now attracts 30,000 visitors a month, Ms. Dolgoff said, five agents got in touch, and a book idea was born.”  I find that hard to believe.  Interesting even one unsolicited agent is extraordinarily hard.  Five? With two posts?  Unless I’m missing something, that sounds wildly implausible.  For example, author Theodore Beale receives ~200,000 readers per month and has never had an agent solicitation.

I think the NYT should have dug harder here. For example…

  • Who are these agents?
  • Why were none of them interviewed in the article? If they’re real, their perspective on this apparent success story would be pretty interesting.
  • What impressed them about the first two blog posts enough to contact her?
  • Did the agents know her before she started blogging?
  • Did the agents find the website themselves?  If not, who pointed them to it?
  • I have not been able to find any indication that there was a publishers’ auction over her book, nor does the article mention an auction.  If there were five agents potentially interested in representing her after two blog posts, don’t you think it’s a bit strange that the book wouldn’t go to auction?  (Note: I’m assuming “five agents got in touch” means that there were five agents interested in representing her, although an agent could contact an author just to offer friendly advice or chat).

9 responses so far

Aug 08 2010

Answering This Week’s Questions from Google

Here are some queries that brought Google users to Superhero Nation this week.

  • How do I find out if my superhero story has already been told? Keep reading superhero stories, particularly in your medium (novels, comic books/graphic novels, etc).  Authors that have only read one or two series tend to write original work that reads like fan-fiction for those series.
  • Unused superhero names? When you use a name you found on the Internet, there really isn’t any guarantee it hasn’t been used.  If it’s good enough, someone will use it.  The closest thing you have to a guarantee of originality is doing it yourself.  The second-closest is asking a friend to brainstorm ideas without posting them online.
  • How do I sell a comic I wrote?  I assume you’re trying to get professionally published, rather than self-published.  Check out Nine Surprising Facts about Writing Comic Books.  Also, when you submit to a publisher, you’ll probably include  a page-long submission letter introducing your work and why they should publish it.  When it comes time to write that, I’d recommend reading as many of the articles in the Query Letter category as possible.  How to Communicate with Editors is a good place to start.

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Aug 08 2010

What You Should Know About Comic Book Lettering Before You Write Your Script

Blambot has an awesome article about formatting comic book balloons.  It’s aimed at comic book letterers, but I think there are some key points also useful for comic book writers doing a script.  For example, do you know how to handle translated dialogue or when to use quotation marks?

  • Only use quotation marks when somebody is speaking off-panel.  If the speaker is on-panel, readers don’t need quotation marks to know it’s dialogue.
  • If you ever end a shouted question with a question mark and an exclamation point, put the question mark first. Readers will have many context clues that the line is being shouted, such as body language and the bolded/italicized text, but the question mark is pretty much the only indication that a question is involved.
  • Each period should be followed by one space, not two. Double spaces take too much space and look awkward.  (If you habitually use double-spaces, it may help to use your text processor’s Find/Replace feature to replace all periods followed by two spaces with periods followed by single spaces).
  • How to handle text translated from a language besides English. See below.  Note: Generally, the “*Translated from [Language]” caption is necessary just once per scene.  After that, readers can figure out what language the characters are speaking when you use the <greater than/less than signs>.

http://www.blambot.com/grammar.shtml

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Aug 06 2010

Robert Mason’s Idea Bank

Robert Mason is collecting plot ideas in a publically available Idea Bank.  Here’s my contribution: The hero has to stop a plan set in motion by a villain that has already died. How will a flying brick save the day if it’s not clear who needs to be smashed? What good will a psychic be if the main “henchmen” are actually innocent delivery boys that have no idea what they’re delivering?  How can somebody like Jack Bauer stop a villainous plot if there’s nobody left to torture?

No responses yet

Aug 05 2010

16 Reasons Your Manuscript Got Rejected Before Page 1

Publishers and literary agents reject quite a few manuscripts on page 1.  However, if the query letter is bad, the editor will probably reject you without even looking at page 1.  Here are some common problems and how to avoid them.

1.  “This is just like Harry Potter meets Dirty Harry.” Comparing your work to another will probably make your work sound like an uninspired ripoff.  Also, you can’t assume that the editor likes Harry Potter, or Twilight, or Spiderman, or whatever else you might think is the most awesome work ever.  Instead of trying to hitch a ride on somebody else’s bandwagon, talk about your work.  If editors think “this will totally work with Harry Potter fans,” great, but let them make that determination on their own.

 

2.  The description of the plot/characters lacked details. “Gary must work with his partner to stop the villain and save the day.”  What are Gary and the partner like?  What’s the villain like? What’s the villain’s goal? Why should we care if they stop him?  A more detailed description is usually more interesting.  If I had to describe The Taxman Must Die in a single sentence, I’d prefer something like “Two unlikely Homeland Security super-agents, an accountant and a fun-loving mutant alligator, must band together to prevent a deranged cosmeticist from destroying humanity.”  See more details on how to write an interesting and exciting pitch for your story here.

2.1  You forgot to mention the main goal(s) of the characters and major obstacles.  That’s sort of the point of the book!  Don’t miss it.

 

3.  You addressed the letter “To Whom It May Concern,” “Dear Editor” or “Dear Agent.” If at all possible, get a name–it’s more personal.  Most literary agencies have bios and specialties listed for each agent online, so address it to an agent that specializes in your genre(s).  If you’re submitting to a publisher, try using Google and addressing it to an editor that handles submissions.  Even though your manuscript may well be evaluated by somebody else, that will show that you have put some thought into this company specifically.  If the publisher has made no information available, then I think Dear Editor is the least awful alternative.  (I would recommend against calling the publisher and asking for the name of somebody to address it to–I think that’s generally seen as a breach of etiquette).

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22 responses so far

Aug 04 2010

Foreshadowing a Villain Without Giving It Away

What if the villain isn’t supposed to obviously be the villain the first time he shows up?

1. Give the villain an innocuous explanation for the villainous/unseemly behavior we see, especially early on. If I offered you $50 for something valuable, it might not be that I’m trying to rip you off: Maybe I don’t know what it’s actually worth or am too desperate to offer you the going rate.  Or let’s say that criminals are threatening to brutally murder a captured character.  A hero that calls for an immediate attack might be genuinely convinced that’s the best way to rescue the hostage.  Or maybe he’s actually hoping the hostage will get killed in the crossfire. (Maybe the hostage knows too much or otherwise poses some sort of problem–that might explain why he was captured in the first place).

2. The circumstances surrounding the objectionable behaviors are ambiguous and/or encourage us to sympathize or relate with him. For example, let’s say that the readers know (or have some reason to suspect) that your Ozymandias just killed the Comedian.  You could present it as a public service and/or retribution for something unseemly the victim was involved in (such as murdering a pregnant woman).  We don’t need to know right away that the villain actually killed the victim to cover his tracks or for any other nefarious reason.  If you’re trying to keep it a secret that the character is a villain (and not just an unsavory side-character) but the readers can predict it anyway, you probably haven’t given him enough extenuating circumstances.

3. The eventual villain’s nonheroic traits might actually make him seem more valuable as a protagonist. For example, if you have a group of heroes that actually includes the eventual villain, the heroes might respect the eventual villain as a Batman (a mostly sensible but occasionally brutal problem-solver).  Maybe his rough style makes him more competent. Maybe the protagonists are generally gullible and naïve, but he is suspicious and cunning.

4.  The heroes are also morally gray. If all of the other heroes are 100% protagonistic, the one that isn’t will stand out in a bad way.  If your goal is to keep the villain’s identity something of a secret, that’s probably counterproductive.

5. You have a more obvious antagonist as a red herring. If readers think they know who the main villain is, they won’t think as hard about undercover villains.  For example, in the Watchmen, the Soviet Union probably served as a red herring because it had a plausible reason to kill the Comedian (something of a CIA operative) and it played a prominent role as part of the nuclear standoff.

2 responses so far

Aug 04 2010

Demotivational Poster: Pink Batman

Batman Demotivational Poster: Pink Batsuit

As if the nipples on the Batsuit weren’t bad enough.  To be fair, though, it was the 1950s (Detective Comics #241).

4 responses so far

Aug 04 2010

Fake Superhero Stories on the Kindle

When I typed “superhero” in the Kindle searcher, there were a LOT of books masquerading as superhero fiction.  Publishing pro tip: if you’re republishing a book like Aesop’s Fables, The Divine Comedy, The Arabian Nights, Tarzan, Best Russian Short Stories, or Hannibal the Conqueror*,  I would highly recommend against selling such books as something they’re not.  Mismarketed sales are far more likely to result in disgruntled customers and awful reviews.

*Unless the elephants know something we don’t.

4 responses so far

Aug 02 2010

NicKenny’s Review Forum

Published by under Review Forums

See the comments below.

67 responses so far

Aug 01 2010

How to Design a Logo for a Comic Book or Graphic Novel

1. Use a style appropriate to your series. Ideally the title identifies something about the series even before the viewer reads the title.

DISTINCTIVE:

TOO BLAND:

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