Archive for January, 2011

Jan 26 2011

How to Save Mary Sues (Insufficiently Challenged Heroes)

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.

Some tips for fixing a Mary Sue, a protagonist that is insufficiently challenged by his or her story.

1. Give the character flaws, ideally one he’s accountable for. Most unchallenged characters have a bevy of strengths but few well-developed flaws.  One approach is to play up the character’s strengths so much they sometimes become liabilities.  For example, in Point of Impact, Nick Memphis is unfailingly loyal, even though it ruins his career.  Virtually any strength taken to an extreme could create obstacles for the character.  For example…

  • Being too smart could create social obstacles for the character (see Flowers for Algernon or House), impatience with less intelligent people, overconfidence, a willingness to jump to erroneous conclusions on too little information, etc.
  • Being too nice could lead to gullibility/naivete, a reluctance to confront someone even when a confrontation is necessary, or a handicap against tougher (and maybe more brutal) foes.
  • Being too honorable could result in situations where the character loses because he/she refuses to take the most effective course of action available.  At its most cliche, perhaps a superhero stops chasing a gang of villains so that he can defuse a bomb or free a hostage from a deathtrap.  But that only affects a scene.  More significantly, a villain can manipulate a hero’s sense of honor so that he/she does something that shapes the plot.  For example, Cassius draws Brutus into the assassination plot in Julius Caesar by exploiting Brutus’ honor.
  • Being too brave could result in reckless mistakes.  The character’s overconfidence might get him hurt, and possibly bystanders as well.  For example, if a superhero tries to rush a hostage-taker without any sort of plan, hostages will probably get shot.
  • Being too committed to one’s goals (even honorable goals) could result in obsession and/or a willingness to sacrifice friends, morals, bystanders, and anything else to achieve the goals.

2.  Have the character make some decisions the audience won’t approve of. If the character is so purely heroic that readers will probably approve of every decision he makes, he probably doesn’t have much moral complexity.  Usually, that’s not as believable or interesting as giving the characters some human edges.

3.  Have the character make difficult decisions. Difficult decisions distinguish the character.  If the character is just making banal decisions that 90%+ of the genre’s protagonists would make in the same situation, the plot probably isn’t giving the hero enough room to distinguish himself.  Let your hero show how different he/she is with some decisions that most other heroes wouldn’t make.  For example, the protagonist in Point of Impact, Bob Swagger, is on the run after he’s been framed for an assassination attempt on the President.  The people framing him planted incriminating evidence in his house, but they had to kill his dog to sneak inside. Almost every action protagonist in this situation would probably have started by trying to take down the conspiracy.  Swagger starts by breaking into the FBI-occupied morgue where the dog’s body is being held as evidence so that he can properly bury it.  It really helps develop his character: the dog is the closest thing he had to a friend and he feels honor-bound to return its loyalty.  It also gives the villains reason to panic and ratchets up the tension.  If this guy is suicidal enough that he’d risk a high-speed chase with the FBI over his dog, his dead dog at that, what’s he gonna do to them?

4. Challenge the character! Raise obstacles high enough that it will be interesting for the character to overcome them.  For example, if your character is the most powerful superbeing in your story, the potential for interesting straight-up action is probably pretty low because he’s more powerful than his opponents.  For example, The Watchmen couldn’t have done much with a straight-up duel between invulnerable hero Dr. Manhattan and semi-powered villain Ozymandias.  Instead, Ozymandias challenged the heroes with his stealth and subterfuge, buying time so that he could make his survival so valuable to the heroes that they wouldn’t dare to kill him.   Another approach would be to try challenging the character in a sphere where his superpowers aren’t very useful.  For example, in a superhero romance, a guy that’s used to solving his problems with violence would have to try a very different tack to wooing the girl of his dreams.

5. Have the character face some morally gray obstacles. I would really recommend against making everyone that opposes the hero a straight-up bad person. For example, maybe the character’s friends aren’t 100% supportive of everything he does, maybe his coworkers/bosses have reasonable disputes with the character, or maybe there’s an antagonist whose intentions are pretty pure, etc.  If there’s no approach for a character to disagree with the hero without coming off as a bad person, the hero is probably not morally complex enough to feel fully believable.  (Hey, even Gandhi and MLK took some flack over their pragmatism).

59 responses so far

Jan 26 2011

How to Write a Great First Line for Your Book

Published by under Introductions

When you’re writing the first line of your story, try to accomplish at least one of the following:

1. Show us something interesting about a major character (ideally the lead protagonist).  

  • If you were going to give a gold medal to the least delightful person on Earth, you would have to give that medal to a person named Carmelita Spats, and if you didn’t give it to her, Carmelita Spats was the sort of person who would snatch it from your hands anyway. (Austere Academy).
  • There was a boy called Eustace Clarence Scrubb, and he almost deserved it. (Voyage of the Dawn Treader).
  • I am a sick man… I am a spiteful man. (Notes from the Underground).
  • Samuel Spade’s jaw was long and bony, his chin a jutting ‘v’ under the more flexible ‘v’ of his mouth. (Maltese Falcon).


2. Set something unusual and interesting in motion. YES: A drug-fueled trip across the desert or an execution by firing squad. NO: Waking up and doing a mundane morning routine.

  • They’re out there. Black boys in white suits up before me to commit sex acts in the hall and get it mopped up before I can catch them. (One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest).
  • The telephone was ringing wildly, but without result, since there was nobody in the room but the corpse. (War in Heaven).
  • We were somewhere around Barstow on the edge of the desert when the drugs began to take hold. (Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas).
  • It was cold at 6:40 in the morning in Paris and seemed even colder when the man was executed by firing squad. (Day of the Jackal).


3. Establish the setting with a striking detail, ideally one that sets the mood.

  • Behavioral Science, the FBI section that deals with serial murder, is on the bottom floor of the Academy building at Quantico, half-buried in the earth. (Silence of the Lambs).
  • It was a queer, sultry summer, the summer they electrocuted the Rosenbergs, and I didn’t know what I was doing in New York. (The Bell Jar).
  • The sky above the port was the color of television, tuned to a dead channel. (Neuromancer).
  • You are not the kind of guy who would be at a place like this at this time of the morning. (Bright Lights, Big City).
  • It was a bright cold day in April, and the clocks were striking thirteen. (1984).


4. Introduce an unusual relationship for the main character (with other characters, himself, his surroundings, and/or the readers).

  • All this happened, more or less. (Slaughterhouse-five).
  • Mama died today. Or yesterday maybe, I don’t know. (The Stranger).
  • The human race, to which so many of my readers belong, has been playing at children’s games from the beginning, and will probably do it till the end, which is a nuisance for the few people who grow up. (The Napoleon of Notting Hill).
  • I am seated in an office, surrounded by heads and bodies. (Infinite Jest).


5. Introduce problems and/or conflicts.

  • A screaming comes across the sky. (Gravity’s Rainbow).
  • Of Herbert West, who was my friend in college and in after life, I can speak only with extreme terror. (Herbert West, Reanimator).
  • Justice? – You get justice in the next world, in this world you have the law. (A Frolic of His Own).
  • The terror, which would not end for another twenty-eight years–if it ever did end–began, so far as I can tell, with a boat made from a sheet of newspaper floating down a gutter swollen with rain.  (IT).


6. Subvert expectations and/or set up eye-catching contrasts, like exploding grandmothers.

  • High, high above the North Pole, on the first day of 1969, two professors of English Literature approached each other at a combined velocity of 1200 miles per hour. (Changing Places).
  • It was the day my grandmother exploded. (Crow Road).
  • Far out in the uncharted backwaters of the unfashionable end of the Western Spiral arm of the Galaxy lies a small unregarded yellow sun. (Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy).
  • One summer afternoon Mrs. Oedipa Maas came home from a Tupperware party whose hostess had put perhaps too much kirsch in the fondue to find that she, Oedipa, had been named executor, or she supposed executrix, of the estate of one Pierce Inverarity, a California real estate mogul who had once lost two million dollars in his spare time but still had assets numerous and tangled enough to make the job of sorting it all out more than honorary. (The Crying of Lot 49).


What are some of the best opening lines you’ve encountered?

232 responses so far

Jan 25 2011

Two more superhero anthologies are looking for submissions; a third is out!

Writers Wanted

Beta City Anthology is looking for stories of superheroes and/or supervillains staving off an alien invasion.  “The forces attacking from Gehenna are diverse and cosmopolitan, so any alien rabble you can dream up can be used.  Their methods are up to you — classic spacecraft assaults, subtle sorcerous schemes, and unspeakable horrors let loose in dark alleys are all fair game.  Whether your preference leans toward science fiction, fantasy, horror, or something else entirely, your story can find a home here.  Similarly, while we love well-written superpowered action, we don’t want to fill the book entirely with tales of hero vs. alien combat.” Deadline: January 31.

  • I submitted a horror story about the aliens and humans banding together against Canadians, but I haven’t heard back yet.  Too edgy?

Gods of Justice is another superhero anthology looking for submissions.  They’re looking for stories that “can be dramatic, exciting, action-packed, scary, funny, romantic or a combination.”  The protagonists must be superpowered heroes.  Preferred length: ~6500-8000 words.  Deadline: January 2.  [UPDATE: The deadline has passed–I hope you made it!]

If you’re interested in more publishers that print superhero short stories, please see my full list.

Readers Wanted

A Thousand Faces, a quarterly anthology of superhero stories, has its autumn edition out.  Enjoy!

Hat-tip: Matt Adams, whose short story In Memoriam made the Thousand Faces anthology.  Congrats, Matt!

Bartenders Wanted

For every Chicagoan that watched the last Bears game.  Good God, we nearly beat the Packers with a third-string quarterback.  The only person who deserves liquid amnesia more than we do is Brett Favre.  (Too soon?)

10 responses so far

Jan 25 2011

Geeky rap humor

Published by under Comedy

Continue Reading »

No responses yet

Jan 24 2011

How to Keep Your Story’s Superpowers and/or Magic Extraordinary

I think it really helps superhero and urban fantasy stories when the supernatural abilities come across as special.  Here are some ideas to help yours stand out.

1. Use them less often. The more scenes there are with superpowers, the more diluted their effect will probably be.  For example, you could use fewer filler fight scenes or resolve more action scenes without superpowers.  Perhaps the powers have limitations, such as their duration.  Or maybe outside circumstances force the hero to resolve his problems in other ways (maybe he can’t use his superpowers without risking his secret identity, or he needs to avoid friendly casualties, etc).

2. Increase the costs of the powers. If the decision to use the powers is notable, the powers will probably be more exceptional and interesting. Here are some examples of costs that might fit your story.

Continue Reading »

146 responses so far

Jan 24 2011

Publishers That Specialize in Superhero Short Stories

I’ve already done a list of general-interest publishers that occasionally handle superhero novels, but here’s a list of publishers that mention superheroes in their submission guidelines for short stories and/or flash fiction.   (If you’re interested in searching for different types of publishers, try Duotrope’s Digest).


Damnation Books wants realistic portrayals of metahumans and superpowers for its Corrupts Absolutely Anthology.  “Modern pop-culture is brimming over with stories of bright, polished heroes with indestructible moral codes, who throw themselves into a life of public service after being graced (or cursed) with cosmic powers. I call BS…. How about people with flaws? People with serious psychological issues? People that have been looking for a ticket out of their circumstances and finally lucked into it?… To some, this just screams ‘supervillain,’ or ‘antihero,’ and in many cases, you’d be right. But usually, these are stock characters without much substance. They’re the ‘bad guys.’ Real life isn’t that simple…”

  • Length: 3000-5000 words.
  • Deadline: December 1, 2011.  
  • Hey, ladies!  The editor mentions that he’s looking especially carefully for female authors and/or female leads.


Hyperpulp wants literary stories that “demonstrate a concern with writing, not only with plot or characters.”  It specifically mentions fantasy superhero and sci-fi superheroes on its Duotropes page.  “The idea is to harbor stories that exceed expectations, surprise the reader – also regarding the form – and are not afraid to subvert clichés and conduct experimentations… We’ll give preference to a prose more poetic and surprising.”

  • Length: Up to 10,000 words.
  • Hey, Brazilians!  Hyperpulp publishes in both English and Portuguese.
  • Hey, procrastinators!  No deadline.


Jersey Devil Press prefers “funny, weird, and, above all, entertaining” short stories.  “Here are a few things we wouldn’t mind seeing more of: strong female voices, a light-hearted view of the world and truly bat-**** insane fiction.  If you’re worried that what you just wrote is too ridiculous to be published, send it… We like dark, we like ridiculous.  We like funny and we like ‘what the **** was that?”  On its Duotropes page, it lists superhero fantasy and superhero sci-fi as subgenres of interest.  For submission details, please see this and this.

  • Length: Up to 4200 words.
  • Hey, procrastinators!  No deadline.


Title Goes Here wants “dark stories with some sort of an imaginative twist… we’re not as concerned about genre as about tone.”  Its Duotropes page specifically mentions superhero fantasy and superhero sci-fi, among others.  Please read the submission guidelines here.

  • Length: Up to 10,000 words.
  • Hey, poets!  Sorry, but they really don’t want you.


The WiFiles want “works that incorporate speculative fiction and imaginative elements not found in contemporary reality, which includes… superhero and paranormal.”  Please read the submission guidelines here.

  • Length: 1000-5000 words.
  • Hey, procrastinators!  No deadline.


A Thousand Faces prefers character-driven superhero short stories that rise above stereotypical BIFF-BAM-POW superhero stories that exist solely as a framework on which to hang a lengthy fight scene. We want strong, character driven pieces. The superhero element may be slight, but it must be present. If you’re not sure what this means, picture your story minus the superhuman element. Does it still work as a story? If so, we probably won’t want it…”

  • Length: Short stories of any length will be considered, but preference will be given to ones shorter than 5000 words.


Powers wants superhero stories of any genre.  “Seeking original stories of 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.
  • Length: 2500-8000 words.  (Query first before sending something longer).


Metahuman Press prefers superhero serials (ongoing stories).  “Metahuman Press wants to develop super-powered fiction to the next level online, and one way we want to do that is to show a variety of writer’s creative visions online. Therefore, we have placed an open call for serialized heroic fiction…. While one shot stories are occasionally accepted, we prefer serials. Yeah, you can submit your short stories to us, and if they’re really good, we will probably publish them, but what MP is all about is serial stories. Think of just about every comic series you’ve ever read, then transplant it in to prose form. We want to provide readers with continued stories of new characters. These take one of two forms: the limited series or the ongoing series. Each form has slightly different guidelines to what you should send.”


Matters Most Extraordinary prefers supernatural powers mixed in with historical events.Stories should be based on real history, and should feature historical characters and/or historical events. The outcome of these events cannot be changed… The reason for the supernatural powers is not to be definitively explained in your story, although characters may form their own opinions as to the source of their powers…”

  • Length: Preferably 1000-15,000 words.  Stories shorter or longer may be considered but are not preferable.


Beta City Anthology is looking for stories of superheroes and/or supervillains staving off an alien invasion. “The forces attacking from Gehenna are diverse and cosmopolitan, so any alien rabble you can dream up can be used. Their methods are up to you — classic spacecraft assaults, subtle sorcerous schemes, and unspeakable horrors let loose in dark alleys are all fair game. Whether your preference leans toward science fiction, fantasy, horror, or something else entirely, your story can find a home here. Similarly, while we love well-written superpowered action, we don’t want to fill the book entirely with tales of hero vs. alien combat.”


Gods of Justice is another superhero anthology looking for stories that “can be dramatic, exciting, action-packed, scary, funny, romantic or a combination.”  The protagonists must be superpowered heroes.

  • Length: Preferably 6500-8000 words.
  • Content Limits: Up to PG-13.


Sword and Saga Magazine prefers inventive and adventurous stories. “We’re looking for stories that take genre fiction to the next level of imagination. Time travel, steampunk, experimental, sword & sorcery, hard & soft SF, futurism, medievalism, …  super hero, supernatural, contemporary-SF, SF Western….  Stories that show diversity in location and research a plus. New writers are welcome….  Stories should be lively and adventurous, demonstrating creative inventiveness. ”

  • Length: Up to 7500 words.  Flash-fiction will be considered.
  • Hey, poets!  Poetry actually is considered.


Disappearing Island Magazine prefers character-driven stories with “crazy imagination.”   “We are quite partial to stories where the character and their struggles are the most integral part. However, this doesn’t mean you can slack off with that crazy imagination of yours, either. Give us suspense, strange new worlds, and the colorful life on them….  Some subgenres of scifi we love are: Near Future, Distopian, Cyberpunk, Science Fantasy, Science Fiction Horror, Slipstream, Space Opera, Steampunk, and Superhero.  Some subgenres of fantasy we love are: Contemporary, Dark Fantasy, Fabulism, Magic Realism, Paranormal, Superhero, Supernatural, Urban Fantasy, and even Vampire (but if they sparkle, God help us all).”

  • Content Limits: “Your material should be PG-13 or lower.”


Daikaijuzine prefers fun speculative fiction that challenges the reader.    “We seek diversity in content and storytelling. We publish primarily speculative fiction, from horror to hard science fiction to high fantasy to mysteries to magical realism to mainstream, but we have room for other types of fiction as well. If superheroes or zombies or giant monsters are your thing, that’s fine too. We want stories that are well told, with strong characters and storylines, demonstrate respect for the reader and the language, and which are fun to read. Challenge us. Stretch our horizons. Make us think. At the very least, give us a good laugh.”

  • Length: 1000-6000 words.


Tower of Light Fantasy prefers character-driven fantasy short stories. “I will publish almost any kind of fantasy – especially stories that blend genres, such as dark fantasy, science fantasy, and superhero fantasy. Sword and sorcery and traditional fantasy are fine as long as they have fairly original plots and – more importantly – deeply interesting characters.  I might also consider stories that are closer to science fiction as long as they have a mystical or spiritual element.”

  • Length: 500-4000 words. “This word count is firm.”


Anansesem is a Carribbean-centered publication accepting superhero stories for kids.  “Anansesem publishes fiction, nonfiction, poetry and art by aspiring and established children’s writers and illustrators, and children (ages 8 to 16.) We give priority to persons living in or originally from the Caribbean region, but we also welcome work from around the world… We will accept children’s fiction in the genres of realistic fiction, fantasy, historical fiction, science fiction, super hero fiction, mystery, humor, and traditional (traditional = original work that fits the folk tale, fairy tale, or myth/legend sub-genres).”

  • Length: Short stories up to 5000 words and flash-fiction will be considered.  Excerpts or chapters from unpublished books will also be considered if they can make sense on their own.


Freedom Fiction wants speculative fiction. “This consists of genres such as science fiction, fantasy fiction, horror fiction, supernatural fiction, superhero fiction, alternate history, and all their sub-genres. Additionally we are into detective fiction, crime, gangster, hardboiled, noir fiction and very much into pulp fiction…. If your fiction is unconformist and maybe even not fitting the mentioned genres, do query us and we will see if we can find your story a home at Freedom Fiction.”

  • Length: Please query before submitting stories over 3000 words.


Theory Train wants “edgy new speculative fiction.” “Speculative fiction is defined as anything that occurs in a world not our own. So we’re looking for well-written fantasy, sci-fi, steampunk, superheroes, and horror…” Submissions for the upcoming issue are due May 1.

  • Length: Up to 4500 words.


Hogglepot wants short stories with magic. “Hogglepot accepts fantasy of all sub-genres, including (but not limited to) dark fantasy, heroic fantasy, fairy tale, historical, gothic, light fantasy, magical realism, paranormal, science fantasy, superhero, supernatural, steampunk, sword and sorcery, urban fantasy, and such. Think anything from Lord of the Rings to Toy Story and everything in between…. The fantasy element must be present in the story, whether the characters be magical creatures such as vampires or dragons, or if the protagonist stumbles upon an ancient magical artifact, or if the characters mix magical potions, etc. There needs to be some sort of magical element within the story. We like magic.”

  • Length: Up to 5000 words.   


Happy hunting!  Do you know of any publishers looking for superhero stories?  Please leave a comment or contact me, especially if you work for the publisher in question.  Thanks!


This Mutant Life prefers stories about the everyday lives of superheroes.  “We publish work which has some link to the world of superheroes, whether they be torn from the pages of classic four-colour comics, or the result of more introspective or unconventional approaches.  Stories which deal with the everyday lives of people with unusual abilities or physical characteristics are ideal, and there will be a definite preference given to stories which present interesting and well defined characters and situations…”

  • Length: Up to 6000 words.

65 responses so far

Jan 24 2011

“An ape will die on every page!”

Published by under Book Covers,Comedy

Umm, okay.

7 responses so far

Jan 22 2011

Types of Story Strange Horizons Has Received Too Often

Published by under Fixing Cliches,Plotting

Strange Horizons has a list of stories it receives too often.  Here are some that I think are especially unpromising.

  • Person is (metaphorically) at point A and wants to be at point B. The character walks to point B, encountering no meaningful obstacles or difficulties. The end. (A.k.a. the linear plot.)
  • Weird things happen, but it turns out they’re not real.  (“It was a dream” or “It was insanity” are bad enough, but “It was a story the character was writing” is uniquely loathsome).
  • The main reason for the main female character to be in the story, and to be female, is so that she can be raped.  (Can I add “or so that she can fall in love with the protagonist?”)
  • People whose politics are different from the author’s are shown to be stupid, insane, or evil, usually through satire, sarcasm, stereotyping, and wild exaggeration.
  • Story is based in whole or part on a D&D game or world.  (Or any video games, unless you’ve been licensed to create a licensed work).

I’d like to sort of dispute Strange Horizons’ complaint about works that “[claim] that superhero stories never address the mundane problems that superheroes would run into in the real world.”    Yes, many superhero stories do handle such mundane, everyday situations, so such a claim is obviously incorrect.  But I don’t think it would be cliche, or otherwise problematic, to address everyday life in a superhero story.  Hell, at least one publisher (This Mutant Life) specifies in its submission guidelines that it’s looking for such submissions: “Stories which deal with the everyday lives of people with unusual abilities or physical characteristics are ideal [for us].”

No responses yet

Jan 20 2011

Superheroes and Princesses

Virginia Postrel of the Wall Street Journal offers an interesting comparison: “The princess archetype embodies a feminine version of the appeal… The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay ascribes to superheroes. They express the ‘lust for power and the gaudy sartorial taste of a race of powerless people with no leave to dress themselves.'”  What do you think? Are the two that comparable? Any other observations, arguments or baseless insults?

20 responses so far

Jan 16 2011

Discussion: Which novels have the best supernatural action?

I’m researching an article about how to write superpowered action scenes.  What are some of your favorite books that do supernatural action particularly well? Do any particular scenes stick out to you?  Some supernatural elements include:

  • Superpowers
  • Magic
  • Nonhuman capabilities (for vampires, aliens, dragons, lawyer-eating dinosaurs, etc).
  • Science fiction enhancements (like Starship Troopers’ powersuits)
  • Other paranormal abilities (such as psychic powers)

7 responses so far

Jan 13 2011

Mr. Crowley’s Second Review Forum

Published by under Review Forums

I’m writing a series I really need to pan out a bit, with characterization and the such. It’s a team of normal people (Challengers of the Unknown-esque) who go on very Silver Age-style stories of weird monsters and time travel. It’s more of a fun comic.  I’ve recently come to respect Silver Age weirdness and would like to write stories with a possible overarching plot, but with comic-to-comic plots that last 1 to 2 issues before resolution.

8 responses so far

Jan 06 2011

I’ve never read a crime novel this convoluted

I swear I’m not making this up.

  • A pizza deliveryman robs a bank with a bomb attached to his neck and a gun concealed in his cane.
  • The police catch up with him.  He claims that a bunch of black men accosted him and forced him into the bomb-collar.
  • The collar detonates, killing the pizza deliveryman.  (Body count: 1)
  • The police find a letter addressed to the “Bomb Hostage” in his car, directing him on a scavenger hunt so that he could give the bomber the money and get the collar off.

Continue Reading »

13 responses so far

Jan 06 2011

Criminal forensics resources for writers

In case your protagonists are investigating a crime scene, here are some basic angles to check out: 10 Most Incriminating Types of Evidence.  For more detailed tricks, I’d recommend the rest of The Writers’ Forensic Blog. Hat-tip: Marilynn Byerly.

No responses yet

Jan 06 2011

New Year’s Resolutions for 2011

Published by under Navel-Gazing

Continue Reading »

10 responses so far

Jan 05 2011

Reader Questions: Fonts, Mary Sues, and Intense Scenes

Published by under Writing Articles

How long should a superhero story be? Generally I would recommend submitting at a length comparable to other works the publisher has printed.  That’s usually around 80,000-100,000 words for an adult novel manuscript and ~24 pages for a comic book, but check your publishers.  If you’re writing for children or YA, please see these length suggestions.


How do I make my openings interesting? Please see Surviving to Page 2.  Also, I would highly recommend religiously reading Flogging the Quill’s series of first page critiques.

Which font do comic books use? Umm, a lot of them.  If you’re submitting a comic book, I think most of the fonts at Blambots (many of which are free) will suffice for your sample pages.  After you’ve gotten published, most companies can provide you a letterer pretty easily.  Rule of thumb: If a font came pre-installed on your computer, it probably isn’t well-suited for comic book lettering.

Am I supposed to capitalize my main character’s name the first time I use it in my manuscript? I’ve seen editors go both ways on this.  Unless the publisher specifies all-caps or standard-caps in its submission guidelines, either JOHN SMITH or John Smith is fine.

Comparing your novel to a movie in your query letter. I would recommend against this.  The best-case scenario is that you’re “telling” rather than “showing” what the manuscript is like.  Giving details about the story is usually more emotionally effective.  The worst case scenario is that you come off as a wannabe screenwriter writing a two-bit knockoff.  Additionally, you may make a poor first impression if the editor doesn’t like the movie you’re comparing it to.

What’s a character that can be described in a few words and doesn’t have a lot of traits? Probably an archetype or stock character but possibly an extra or throwaway character.

How to save a Mary Sue. Good question!  Usually the main problem is that the character is insufficiently challenged.  I gathered some possible solutions in this article.

How to write an intense scene.

  • Intense scenes usually have shorter, more fragmented sentences.  It helps accelerate the pace.
  • Put a lot at stake.  This could be the character’s physical safety (like in a chase scene or combat) but it could be anything the character values highly.
  • Confrontation usually contributes to intensity but isn’t necessary.


Lol gator hatchling

Is it okay to introduce a main character later on in the story? As long as you start with one main character, I think you’ve probably given readers a point of access into the story.  I would recommend against starting with a minor character unless you have a really good reason, though.
Superpowers that haven’t been used. I haven’t seen anyone that explodes when exposed to water.  Potassium Man, go!  Or… You might be able to get a fresh-feeling superpower by adding a crazy limitation, like the ability to go back in time but only a few minutes.
My boa constrictor isn’t eating and spends all day stretching.  What’s wrong? He’s either too cold or is preparing to eat you.  (No, really–call a vet or Animal Control immediately).
Best comic book quotes ever. My favorite is Abraham Lincoln telling Hitler “Bring it, boy. I’m gonna emancipate your teeth,” in Tales from the Bully Pulpit.

8 responses so far

Jan 02 2011

My Take on Rewrites

1.  Unless your plot has changed dramatically, I’d rather not review a rewritten chapter, especially before the manuscript’s first draft is completed.  Generally, it’s a lot more productive for an author to keep moving forward.  I’d love to review your next chapter!


2.  Unless you’re really, really stuck, I’d recommend holding off on any heavy rewriting before the manuscript’s first draft is complete.  You’ll have a much better idea of where the story is going once you have the first draft done and that will make your rewrites vastly more effective.  It will be much easier to organize the story and determine what is worth keeping or accentuating or removing after the first draft is complete.  Before that, trying to do a rewrite is like drawing up a map to somewhere you haven’t been yet.


3.  In most of the cases where I’ve reviewed early rewrites, the authors got demoralized because things weren’t improving as much as they had hoped.  But it wasn’t their fault or a reflection on their talent.  Before the first draft is completed, everything will suck, regardless of your talent level or how many times you rewrite a chapter.  The only way to break out of “first draft hell” is to finish the first draft.

9 responses so far

Jan 02 2011

A.T. Marie’s Review Forum

Published by under Review Forums

I’m writing a superhero memoir.

3 responses so far

Jan 02 2011

New contact form!

Published by under Superhero Nation

I can now be reached through my online contact form here.  (Thanks, P. Mac!)  If you’d like to send me a formatted e-mail (such as, say, a comic book script), I can still be reached at superheronation-at-gmail-dot-com.

3 responses so far