Archive for September, 2010

Sep 29 2010

Cthulhuian Humor: Shoggoth, Shoggoth, Shoggoth

Published by under Call of Cthulhu,Comedy

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.

This is pretty funny, especially if you’re familiar with I Have a Little Dreidel (Dreidel, Dreidel, Dreidel).

5 responses so far

Sep 27 2010

A brief note on disabled superheroes…

While planning out a disabled superhero, Liquid Comics asked a group of disabled Syrian and U.S. kids which superpower they would most want to have.

“I’ve asked that question in many different groups before and the typical answers are always the ones you’d expect — flying, reading minds, or being super strong,” [the CEO] said.

“The fascinating thing about this group was that I don’t think I heard any one of those three,” he said….

[The CEO] said it was noteworthy that none of the young people wanted the hero’s power to be something that cured their disability.

Amen to that. If you’re going to have a disabled hero, I think it sort of defeats the purpose (and makes the character more bland) if the superpower essentially removes the disability. For example, Matt Murdoch/Daredevil is technically blind, but pretty much the only indication of that is that he wears sunglasses all the time. His radar senses are so ridiculously fine-tuned that his blindness is rarely, if ever, actually an obstacle.  (Indeed, I think his superpowered senses present more of a challenge for him than his vision.  He sometimes sleeps with the music turned up to drown out the sounds of Hell’s Kitchen).

This reminds me of the song Save the Last Dance for Me. The guy who wrote the song, Doc Pomus, was disabled by polio and could not dance with his wife (a professional dancer) at their wedding. Instead, he had to watch his brother dance on his behalf. He wrote the lyrics to Last Dance on the back of one of his wedding invitations. (Oof).  I think that’s the sort of dramatic opportunity an author forgoes by using superpowers to essentially cure the character. How does a character deal with being unable to participate in a really special moment?  (Or, at least, unable to participate like most other people do).

8 responses so far

Sep 24 2010

Plot discrepancies in comic books

FilmFodder wrote a comic book review, How Not to Write a Comic Book. Most of it is helpful–I agree that having too many team meetings or random fights can drive the plot to a screeching halt, as if the writer is trying to burn up time while he figures out where the plot is headed.

However, I’d like to offer a qualification for the following statement: “Here’s a hint to the writer and artist: if the writer has a person saying one thing, don’t show her doing the exact opposite.” Okay, it could be a problem if readers don’t understand why there would be a discrepancy. (I haven’t read the issue, but based on the review it sounds like there isn’t a good reason for the character to explain why she’s refusing to train as she is training). However, under some circumstances, having a character say one thing while doing another might be dramatically effective.

  • The character is being hypocritical. For example, a character talking about the need for sacrifice at the same time he’s eating a lavish dinner.  In most cases, a hypocritical character won’t be aware of the hypocrisy, but perhaps he does know and just doesn’t care what the other characters in the scene think of him.
  • The character’s perspective of the situation is off. For example, if a really angry guy gets asked to calm down, he might scream something like “I’m being perfectly calm.  Don’t ****ing tell me to calm down!”
  • The character is lying from off-panel. For example, John might give Mark’s widow a sob story about the horrible “accident” that killed Mark, but as he says that the camera flashes back to John shooting Mark in the back.
  • The character is using misleading language or a double-entendre. For example, if Mark’s widow thanked him for being there with him until the very end, he could say something like “I always had his back.”

If readers don’t understand why there is a discrepancy between what a character says and what you’re showing the readers, readers will probably get confused.

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Sep 24 2010

Take THAT, M. Night Shyamalan

Published by under Comedy

10 responses so far

Sep 24 2010

An unexpected similarity between Toy Story 3 and Nightmare on Elm Street

Published by under Uncategorized

I watched Toy Story 3 and the original Nightmare on Elm Street today.  The Toy Story films and the original Nightmare on Elm Street are the only suburban-set movies I’ve encountered that avoid overused themes about conformity and/or hypocrisy (unlike American Beauty, Stepford Wives, Little Children, etc).   I found it refreshing that neither Toy Story nor Nightmare had a desperate love affair by a repressed housewife or a completely dysfunctional family trying to keep up appearances or other such suburban cliches.

Suburban (and rural) settings don’t come up all that often in superhero stories. I think urban settings make for easier action because there are more high-profile targets, more criminals, more people to save, etc. However, unless your story is all action all the time, that might not be a huge problem. For example, much of The Incredibles used a suburban setting, which was pretty effective in a story where one of the central decisions was whether to accept a safe, mundane existence or to be extraordinary. (It’s hardly the first story to take a somewhat condescending attitude to suburbia, but I thought the “we urbanites are more enlightened than you” implication was much softer than in, say, American Beauty).

7 responses so far

Sep 18 2010

Please Don’t Flood Readers with Mundane Visual Details

1. Everything in your story should advance the plot and/or develop something important about a character. Please don’t stall the story with irrelevant details.


2. 99% of the time, it doesn’t really matter whether a character’s eyes are blue or green or whether her hair is brown or blonde. However, such details could be used to create an impression that does affect the plot and/or characterization. For example, if you wanted to suggest that a character looked mysterious and perhaps a bit dangerous, maybe you’d say that her eyes were a smoky blue, whereas the villain’s eyes might be a sickly or poisonous green. Or you could use some aspect of a character’s appearance to create a mood for a particular scene.  In such cases, I would recommend introducing these details only as soon as they contribute something and not because you think readers are wondering what color the character’s eyes are. (Trust me, they aren’t*).

*Of all the hundreds or thousands of characters you’ve ever read about, how many have eye colors you can remember? Any?

Continue Reading »

41 responses so far

Sep 15 2010

Please Don’t Use “Guardian” as a Name for a Character, Rank, Group or Series

When your hero joins an organization, I would highly recommend naming the organization something besides the Guardians, and making his rank something other than a Guardian, and above all naming the series and/or book something better than something like “The Guardian.”


1. It’s generic and forgettable.  “Guardian” can apply to pretty much every superhero, every Jedi-like character, every law enforcement character, every pseudo-governmental character like Harry Potter’s Aurors, most urban fantasy protagonists, a ton of fantasy protagonists (particularly in epic fantasy), and many anime/manga characters.  Using a word that is so poorly-tailored to your particular story will probably make your characters and plots feel pretty bland.  It is generally more effective to use a more descriptive name that provides more specific information about what the organization/position does or what the series is about, the threat they’re guarding against, who’s doing the guarding, what the mood of the story is like, what their modus operandi is like, etc. Here are some examples of names that are more informative and interesting than “the Guardians.”

Continue Reading »

39 responses so far

Sep 09 2010

Please Don’t Use “Is That a Threat?”

Published by under Dialogue,Fixing Cliches

I roll my eyes whenever a character asks another “Is that a threat?“*  The question is almost always a setup for a third-rate one-liner. Here are some responses that are usually poor.

  • “No. It’s a promise!” This is ludicrously cliche. If you’re hooked on that line, I’d recommend coming up with a different contrast. Maybe “It’s an opportunity” or “It’s a lesson” or whatever fits the situation.
  • “Yes,” “Absolutely” or any other generic yes answer. Generally, when a character has made a threat, the threat is so patently obvious that the question is completely unnecessary.  Unless the threat is unclear, “Is that a threat?”/”Yes” will only waste two sentences and make the first character come off as mentally slow.
  • “Take it any way you like.” This is pretty bland and cliche. I think this is usually a missed opportunity to come up with a dodge more uniquely tailored to the character and circumstances.  For example, if a distant father implies that his son will get cut off from the trust fund unless his grades improve, the father might respond to “Is that a threat?” with an action or line that suggests how unconcerned he is about what his son thinks.  Maybe he lights up a cigarette or dismissively changes the subject with something like “Chardonnay?”
  • No, it’s a fact.” Also cliche.

*”Is that blackmail?” raises similar problems.

Writing exercise: Write a scene that effectively uses “Is that a threat?”

73 responses so far

Sep 08 2010

You’ll never look at Beauty and the Beast the same way again

Published by under Comedy

No responses yet

Sep 07 2010

This is probably the sharpest writing I’ve ever seen on ESPN

Published by under Comedy,Football

One response so far

Sep 05 2010

Tor Books is looking for two paid editorial interns in NYC

If you’re interested in publishing and will be in New York City this semester, check out this paid internship at Tor Books.

The job responsibilities include:

  • Proofreading
  • Evaluating manuscripts and writing reader reports
  • Various administrative tasks (such as photocopying and filing)

Hat-tip to CR.

No responses yet