Archive for July, 2011

Jul 28 2011

Why So Serious, Alphas? A Preliminary Writers’ Review

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.

Alphas is a TV show about a team of superheroes people with unusual talents working to solve apparently uncrackable cases.  Overall, it’s a decent timewaster, but I wouldn’t go out of my way to watch it.   So far, it’s condescending towards previous superhero works (and superhero fans) and isn’t fun or stylish enough.


What Worked:

  • How the powers are depicted, especially mind control.  Seeing and hearing the controller’s objective everywhere around you was vastly more interesting than a voice in the head.  In particular, the way it distorted the character’s perspective was memorable, like the way a little old lady in a grocery store asks the protagonist where the ice cream is and then says in the most cheerful voice possible, “It’s time to kill.”   (Superhero writers, even a stock power can get a lot more interesting if you play around with how it manifests and works.)
  • I know some people with autism, and I felt that Ryan Cartwright acted well enough that he was believable as an autistic technopath.  From his slightly awkward speech pattern to the repetitive gestures, he was on the mark.
  • A few of the characters are interesting. In addition to the autistic technopath, the superstrong guy had a really solid scene with his wife.


What Could Have Been More Effective:

  • The characters were bland.  They are introduced with their names and powers on screen, which is the only way I can keep most of them apart.  For the love of any deity you believe in (and/or the Flying Spaghetti Monster), please make us actually care about your characters.  Also, Alphas’ Rachel (Azita Ghanizada) bears an uncanny resemblance to Glee’s Rachel (Lea Michele).
  • The stock plot could have been more lively.  There’s a mysterious murder, one of the heroes is the prime suspect and the real perpetrator gets away.  There’s not much more than that, certainly not any humor or feeling.  Even if your story is the grimmest of grim, you can still use dead baby comedy.  Just because it’s “edgy” doesn’t mean it has to be emotionless.
  • The plot twists are predictable.  (It’s too obvious that the mind-controlling villain zapped the bellhop into acting as a decoy, for example). This was also a problem with Playing for Keeps.
  • It talks down to the audience.  I know that it’s probably unintentional and they’re trying to pitch the show to a wider audience, but going to any lengths to keep the show from being *shudder* a superhero show and what the fans expect it will be? Either way, I still don’t like it. (Writers, don’t hate on your genre for no good reason. Audience members that are fans of the genre may feel patronized).
  • It wants to be more realistic than other superhero stories, which is fine, but it didn’t even get the research right.  (For example, synesthesia? Yeah, it doesn’t work that way).

10 responses so far

Jul 26 2011

17 Stock Plots

By themselves, these ideas are not terribly inspired.  They’re “stock” plots because they’re generic enough to work in a variety of series.  If you use a stock plot, please spin it so that it feels distinct to your series rather than just a forgettable filler issue.


1. The most basic superhero story structure is that a supervillain needs to steal a few related MacGuffins to enact his evil plot.  This gives the superheroes several chances to try to stop the villain, building up the stakes for a climactic struggle with everything on the line.

1.1 Alternately, perhaps the supervillain is trying to kill several people with a common connection, like the heroes, cops/prosecutors, judges, jurors, witnesses and/or scorned caddies that put him away last time or somebody else he has a grudge against.


2.  The villain has some sort of fitting thematic connection to the hero.  For example, if your hero’s main flaw is his trust issues, maybe the villain is an Iago that plays on his mistrust/paranoia.


3.  A character receives a mysterious and potentially dangerous gift, like an artifact or an encoded message or a key or a free ticket to Detroit.


4.  Something or someone from the heroes’ past comes back to haunt them.  For example, Batman: The Animated Series had an episode based around Alfred’s commando experience long, long ago.  Alternately, perhaps it’s something from the villain’s past.


5.  Someone the heroes really look up to and/or respect is in trouble.  For some reason, superhero TV shows often cast this person as Adam West, the lead actor in the horrible 1960s Batman show.  (Who the hell looks up to Adam West?)  More soberly, Dark Knight endangered Harvey Dent.


6.  A major villain is introduced.  A villain’s origin usually lays out his motivation for becoming a villain and establishes an initial conflict with the heroes.  It may also explain where his superpowers and/or supernatural abilities came from, if applicable.


7.  Someone that’s not quite a villain just developed superpowers, and it’s up to the heroes to keep these new and difficult-to-control powers from ravaging the town.  There may also be a personality shift involved: “Have you tried not being a rampaging monster, Dr. Jekyll?”


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12 responses so far

Jul 25 2011

Captain America was very fun

I’d give Captain America 3 out of 4 stars.  If you’re into superhero action, I’d highly recommend it.

  • The writing was consistently clever and entertaining.  I’m not sure how much of it I will remember a few weeks from now–most of it wasn’t brilliant–but it was a very fun time.
  • The movie played with a few superhero tropes.  For example, there’s the obligatory chase scene where a villain tries to escape by throwing a civilian into danger.  A villain throws a boy into a river and runs off.  The Captain glances at the boy, who says something like, “I can swim.  Go get him!”  However, I think they could have more smoothly handled the trope that the super-serum could not be replicated.  Spoiler: The project falls apart because one scientist gets killed and he didn’t have any notes or additional doses of the serum anywhere?  Didn’t he have any lab assistants?  (I don’t think it would’ve been hard to plug this hole.  Maybe he was worried that the Nazis would steal his notes, so he did as much from memory as possible and/or he used a code that only he could understand).
  • I liked that Steve Rogers proved himself, whereas many other superheroes are just passively chosen for greatness (e.g. they’re born with superpowers or happen to be in the right place at the right time for a genetically-modified spider bite).   Rogers is selected as the test subject for the serum because he shows uncommon character, cunning and bravery.  The bravery struck me as a bit banal (he leaps on a hand-grenade without knowing it was a dummy).  The cunning was much more memorable. That flagpole scene was pretty kickass.
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18 responses so far

Jul 23 2011

Tempo’s Review Forum

Published by under Review Forums

Tempo is writing a novel about two unlikely heroes who team up to defeat the creations of a mad scientist.

5 responses so far

Jul 21 2011

10 Common but Totally Unrealistic Romance Storylines

Published by under Realism,Romance

I liked this list of common but unrealistic romance storylines.


I was not personally familiar with the Angry Kiss, but if anybody tried those shenanigans in real life, he’d probably be registered as a sex offender, fired, and subjected to a restraining order.  As for the Wealthy, Good-Looking Stranger, let’s be honest.  If somebody is wealthy, hot and “single,” he/she is probably a mental case and/or not actually single.  Case in point: Me.  I’m hot*, single and frequently sane, so obviously I’m unwealthy.  What can I say? Writing really is less lucrative than vagrancy.


*On the internet, nobody knows you’re a dog.

32 responses so far

Jul 21 2011

The Worst Reasons to Become a Novelist

1. Because you need the money.  It usually takes around 10 years to get published and the typical advance for a first novel is usually around $5000 (assuming it gets published), which is scandalously low for a project that will probably take thousands of hours and might not ever get published.  If you need money, get a day job.  If your main consideration is financial, other types of writing that typically pay better (and more reliably) include copywriting/advertising, corporate communications, journalism, nonfiction books and unemployment forms. Writing comic books also pays better than writing novels, but you’d still be dealing with some of the same risks/uncertainties and reliability issues.  Outside of writing, virtually every full-time job pays more reliably and more by the hour.  It is depressingly rare for a novelist to beat minimum wage, so you’d probably make more working at McDonald’s.


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21 responses so far

Jul 20 2011

Question Roundup (starting a superhero story, the biggest superhero flop ever and more)

Published by under Reader Questions

How do most superhero stories start?  Usually shortly before a major event shakes up the main character’s life.  Some common examples:

  • The main character(s) get superpowers and decide to become superheroes.
  • Alternately, perhaps the main character has had superpowers for some time, but the major event in the introduction is that he/she joins a team of superheroes.
  • Perhaps the beginning focuses on how the main characters met each other and/or formed a team of superheroes.
  • If the team is already well-established when the story starts, perhaps the story opens with an exciting new case, preferably one different and more serious than the ones the characters are used to.

Please note: Just because these are the most common ways to start a superhero story does not mean they are necessarily the best!  Feel free to experiment with whatever works for your story.


How much did Green Lantern flop?  It was arguably the biggest box-office flop ever. Worldwide, it grossed only $145 million after five weeks against a total budget of $300 million (production and marketing).  Currently, that gap of $155 million is the biggest in box office history.  Before Green Lantern, the worst disasters were The Alamo, Sahara and Pluto Nash, which came in around $110-120 million short.  When you factor in that the studios split about half of the ticket sales with the theatres, Warner Bros. might end up losing more than $200 million on GL unless it does surprisingly well in DVD sales and other incidental revenues.


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12 responses so far

Jul 19 2011

Review for Cyber: The Adventures of Kaz Medina

Published by under Review Forums

Areeq is looking for reviews of his first novel, a teen-superhero meets Alex Rider meets The Matrix sort of book. Please read it and let him know what you think.  Here’s Areeq’s pitch:

Kaz Medina is thrust from his normal seventeen year old life in Manchester, into a world of danger, excitement, and the supernormal.


This is an original young adult novel relevant to this new millennium about a seventeen year old boy, called Kaz Medina, with an internet-based superpower. Kaz is a seemingly, normal adolescent living in the suburbs of Manchester, England, studying for his A Levels when one evening he discovers that he has absorbed a Wikipedia page into his mind.


With the help of his best friend Jade, he discovers and develops the extent of his power. Through the use of websites such as Facebook, Google, Wikipedia, and eBay, he is able to assimilate identities, teleport throughout the world, learn how to do almost anything, and gain access to almost everything.


Soon after, two men in black suits turn up at his house and Kaz’s life is turned upside down. Kaz becomes a weapon for the UK Government and embarks on his journey to becoming the most powerful teenager in the world.

7 responses so far

Jul 18 2011

Rapid City interviewed me…

Published by under Interview,Navel-Gazing

I talked a little bit about my writing advice, amusing personal tidbits and The Taxman Must Die with the author of Rapid City, a superhero comic blog.  Among other dark secrets, you will learn which one of the following is not true:

  1. I once worked for the least badass police agency in the world.
  2. I was probably the beneficiary of my high school’s senior prank.   Either that, or everybody in my high school was ****ing blind.
  3. It’s harder for me to deal with comments like “This is really good–when’s it coming out?” than “This is awful–go die in a fire.”
  4. I think the most common problem with superhero scripts is that most authors don’t spend enough enough time developing interesting superpowers.
(#4, by the way).

22 responses so far

Jul 18 2011

How to Write a Prologue Which Won’t Torpedo Your Manuscript

1. Please don’t just write an infodump of background setup.  If your prologue reads like an atlas entry or history report, you’d probably be better off just cutting to chapter 1 and weaving the background information into the story itself.  Readers will have an easier time learning background information (and will be more motivated to do so) if they see how it relates to the main characters doing interesting things.


2. Please make sure the information is interesting.  For example, please don’t start with a prologue about how the worlds were created and/or epic wars that happened thousands of years ago without really making the information distinct and/or fresh. Faceless Evil Hordes getting (temporarily) thwarted by Faceless Good Armies with Elven Allies?  Probably not so interesting.  Unless there’s something so unique to this history that it really sets the tone for the work, I’d recommend just cutting to the story or somehow making it more lively.  For example, if the universe was created by gods on a drunken dare, that will probably intrigue readers more than hundreds of words about how the evil gods created the orcs and how the good gods created the elves.


3. Keep the main character(s) as involved as possible.  In almost every case, the main character is a better hook into the story than the setting/backstory.  To the extent that the backstory/setting is a hook, you can cover that in the backcover blurb (“In a city where even the pizza boys have superpowers and the Canadian Mafia sells cocaine-laced mayonnaise on every corner, a schizophrenic bartender and his possibly-sentient goldfish must…”). In your story, please show interesting characters doing interesting things (e.g. trying to accomplish urgent goals) as quickly as possible. If main goals are not immediately available, you can use intermediate goals–for example, before Luke Skywalker fights against the Empire, he fights with his uncle about becoming a pilot, which develops his personality and his urgent goal to pursue adventure. If the main character(s) is not present in your prologue, I would highly recommend keeping the prologue as short as possible or eliminating it.  


4. If the prologue functions as a chapter, I’d recommend making it Chapter One.  Mark Evans suggests that some readers are so put off by prologues that they just skip past them entirely.  A commenter below adds that readers might skip over prologues because “if the information was actually important, then it would be included in the main book itself.” I don’t know how common that is, but personally I am so used to prologues being boring that I’m filled with dread, ennui, and an intense desire to flee to Somalia whenever I see one. I have read only 1-2 prologues which have actually contributed to the work.

27 responses so far

Jul 18 2011

Why Do Good Novel Manuscripts Get Rejected?

1. It was good, but not good enough.  At major publishers, publisher’s assistants reject ~995 out of every 1000 unsolicited submissions and pass on the remaining 5 to their bosses for further consideration.  Of those five, maybe 1-3 will be offered contracts.  If you had to reject 995 out of 1000 prospective works, you’d almost certainly have to eliminate many good manuscripts and some very good ones in favor of great and/or highly-marketable manuscripts.  Publishers don’t have enough money to publish all (or even most) of their good submissions.


2. It didn’t make enough of an impact on readers.  Publishing is a high-risk industry.  You need to convince publishing professionals to put themselves on the line for you.  An editor that was truly impressed is much more likely to speak up on your behalf than one that felt it was merely pretty good.  Write a book so good that editors would regret letting it slip away to another publisher.


3. It’s not what the publisher is looking for right now.  For example, editors might pass on an otherwise publishable work if it’s too similar to something they’ve recently published.


4. There were elements that worked, but it’d need more rewriting before it was ready.  Depending on how well the strong elements worked, you might garner a revise-and-resubmit letter here.  “The characterization was really strong, but I found the plot hard to follow for reasons X and Y.  Could you work on that and send it back to me?”  Besides a publishing offer, a revise-and-resubmit letter is the clearest sign you’re deep along the path to publication.  Alternately, any sort of personalized rejection letter (even one that doesn’t ask you to resubmit) is somewhat encouraging.  There’s not enough time to write thousands of personalized rejection letters, so editors will only put in that extra time if they think something is working.  (Unless it’s “Plagiarizing my book and submitting it to my publisher is not the soundest career move”).

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One response so far

Jul 17 2011

Building Coherent Scene Transitions

Generally, I think most scenes should build on their preceding scenes.  Here are some transitions that  might help.

1. A character gets a text/call or otherwise learns something that relates to the next scene.  For example, pretty much every Law and Order case gets saved by a phone call notifying the detectives that the harbor unit just found the body in the river.  Whatever the detectives were talking about before the phone call, this is a really easy way to pivot the story towards the next scene (investigating the body).

2.  A character does something in the first scene that leads into the second.  

  • BAD: John talks with his romantic interest in scene 1 and fights with his boss in scene 2.  This will probably feel awkward because the two scenes don’t appear to be connected in any way.
  • BETTER: John has a spat with his girlfriend in scene 1 because she thinks he’s not making enough money.  The fight makes him late to work (scene 2).  At work, John’s boss gets upset that his personal issues are affecting his work and informs him that he won’t be getting a promotion/raise.  This is more coherent because we can see much more clearly how the two scenes are related.

3.  The first scene somehow foreshadows the next one.  For example, if Spiderman finds some OsCorp gear at a crime scene (like a Power Rangers mask or something), it’d make sense if the next scene had Spiderman trying to figure out how Norman Osborne (the Green Goblin) was connected to the crime.  If you’re not ready to have him leap into that part of the case yet, maybe it’s just a side-element of the second scene.  For example, maybe Peter Parker goes to school the next morning and thinks more about the case in the background, while the focus of the second scene is him doing something else like talking to Mary Jane.  Maybe his conversation with Mary Jane somehow leads him to realize something about the crime he’s looking at and/or is somehow otherwise thematically appropriate for some issue he’s dealing with as a superhero.

4. I would generally recommend keeping your plot arcs more related than not.  For example, if the book is about John, his romantic side-arc shouldn’t feel like a completely different story than his job struggles.  One way to fit them together into a single story is to do scenes where they both come into play.  For example, in the above example, John’s late to work because he got in a fight with his girlfriend, so we can see how the problems from one arc bleed over into the other.  The solutions can also bleed over.

5. The trickiest sort of scene-transition is probably between different point-of-view characters that have not met and aren’t obviously connected yet.  Let’s say you’re writing a novel where the two point-of-views are a superhero and supervillain that haven’t interacted yet.  Even though they haven’t met, you could still probably make the separate narratives feel coherent by having them deal with some common issues.

  • Common themes: For example, maybe both characters are dealing with being really special and/or having more power than the average person could dream of.
  • Common events: For example, maybe both characters have been influenced by the same event (or very similar events).  If the origin story features the villain’s father dying to save the future hero, the villain might grow up bitterly thinking of the father he never had and the hero might regard his sacrifice as a noble example to try to live up to.
  • Foreshadowed relationship: Well, it’s pretty obvious in this case that a superhero and a villain will clash, but foreshadowing the relationship might be helpful if it’s not patently obvious to readers. (For example, if the second character only gradually becomes villainous, readers might get bored with him if they don’t get some impression of why he matters).

5 responses so far

Jul 16 2011

I’m on pace to beat my 2011 resolutions…

Published by under Resolutions

This year, my main goals were to build my audience by 25% and post 100 writing articles.

  • Last year, I averaged about 13,000 visits and 32,000 page-views per month.  So far this year, I’m averaging 20,000 visits and 43,000 page-views per month.  So far, that’s roughly a 50% increase in monthly visits and a 35% increase in monthly page-views.  However, a lot of the new traffic was driven by superhero movie launches, and I can’t count on that year-round.  (For the most part, superhero movies only come out from May-August).
  • My goal was 100 writing articles.  So far, I’m on pace for 106.
  • My final goal was to get published.  I haven’t put in enough work on that front.

One response so far

Jul 15 2011

Minor medical setback…

Published by under Uncategorized

I probably won’t be doing much work for the next 2-3 days, sorry.

9 responses so far

Jul 15 2011

Harry Potter was good…

Published by under Movie Review

The opening night audience was somewhere between overjoyed and ecstatic.  If you liked the previous Harry Potter movies, you’ll probably love this one. I liked it, but it never felt like a great movie. Currently, it’s scoring a stratospherically high 97% on Rotten Tomatoes, but I don’t think it’s close to the same level as classics like Up, The Godfather, Casablanca, Terminator 2, District 9, The Matrix or the like.  

Most awesome moment: McGonagall quipping “I’ve always wanted to cast that spell.”   Also, there was a cool scene with a basilisk made out of fire.

Most ridiculous moment: 19 years in the future, everybody has more hair than Charlie Sheen. I bet Ron’s parents would have killed for some of that magical Rogaine.

12 responses so far

Jul 14 2011

Green Lantern Was Good for Something (Learning How Not to Write)

Published by under Green Lantern,Plotting

Novelist Jami Gold has two articles about learning from the Green Lantern movie: How Not to Write Characters and How Not to Plot a Story.
I’d also use Green Lantern to show why scenes should usually have some transition explaining why a character goes from doing A to doing B.  One of the transitions between a scene of GL talking with his geek friend and a scene of GL talking with his love interest is the geek randomly asking “Hey, doesn’t a superhero always get the girl?”  First, the line comes out of nowhere–they hadn’t been talking about romance or the lady until the geek tossed that line out.   Second, the line probably doesn’t work well as a transition because it doesn’t create a good reason why GL would want to go talk with his love interest.
There are so many easy ways to switch a scene without anybody noticing the seams.  For example, the protagonist-geek conversation could have been interrupted by a phone call or a text from the love interest.  Then it would have made sense for the geek to start talking about romance and it would have given GL a good reason to talk with his love interest.  Additionally, depending on what she said in the call/text, it could have added some urgency to the impending protagonist-love interest scene.

4 responses so far

Jul 13 2011

List of Instant Rejections

Here’s a list of submission mistakes that may be instantly fatal to your query or submission letter.

1.  You’ve submitted something in a genre or medium the publisher doesn’t handle.  If you submitted a novel without a major romantic component to Harlequin or a comic book to a novel publisher, you’re dead on arrival.

2.  You’ve submitted a story that isn’t yours.  For example, if your story bears a startling resemblance to something that’s already been published, is fan-fiction, and/or is fan-fiction with the names changed, you’re probably dead on arrival.  Note: Most publishers do not accept unsolicited submissions for preexisting series or licensed works.  When DC Comics needs a writer for Batman or Dark Horse needs somebody for Star Wars, they’ll call authors that have already published notable works.

3.  Your submission was missing something listed in the submission guidelines.  For example, if the publisher asked for illustrated comic book pages but you forgot to include them, you’re dead on arrival.

4.  You submitted a query for an incomplete novel but are an unpublished author.  Finish the novel and try again.  I have not yet encountered a publisher interested in novel submissions from unpublished authors because nobody knows how long it will take the author to finish the novel or even whether the author is capable of finishing the novel.  The publisher can wait.

4.1. You tried submitting an “idea” or a “concept.”  Sorry, but novel publishers only consider completed novels from unpublished authors*.  On the other hand, some comic book publishers will consider partially-completed series (but usually want to see at least one issue scripted).  If you’ve been professionally published, you might be able to query a proposal for a book you haven’t started yet, but even then you’d have to finish it yourself.

*Unless you’re a major celebrity, like a film star or head of state.  In that case, a publisher might be willing to ghostwrite a book for you.

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7 responses so far

Jul 13 2011

I have defeated the SN captcha!

Published by under Superhero Nation

You will no longer have to type in crazy things like “Ukraine flibbertigibbet” to do comments.

15 responses so far

Jul 10 2011

22 Ways Fiction is Usually Different than Reality

Published by under Realism,Romance

Two psychologists independently argue that romance novels are unrealistic and set their readers up for unhealthy relationships. Take Twilight, for instance.   Bella falls for Edward because he’s preposterously good-looking (as she reminds us incessantly), tough (abusively so) and more exciting/unpredictable than the nice guys she knows.  If Bella were your friend in real life, you’d probably beg her to stay away from this unhealthy relationship even if Edward weren’t 50+ years older.  Do you think she’ll have the guts to walk away when Edward starts (keeps) abusing her? Hell no–she wasn’t even tough enough to walk away when he told her to.


I think that fiction authors of every sort frequently bend reality to make their stories more entertaining.  Here are some other common examples.


1.  Fictional dialogue is generally wittier and more concise than in real life.  Most real-life conversations have a lot of idle chatter, but there’s less time to waste in a novel (usually ~80-90,000 words) or comic book (~22 pages).


2.  Across the board, when a character lies, somebody will almost always find out.  A perfectly-maintained lie is not as dramatic as dealing with the consequences of being found out.


3.  By the end of the story, the main character will almost always know everything important.  It’s very rare for, say, a detective to fail to solve the case even though it happens quite often in real life.  (Half of U.S. murders go unsolved).


4.  The story tends to revolve around the main characters and everybody else gets sidelined.  For example, Harry Potter goes off on adventures and saves the world because nobody actually running Hogwarts seems to have any idea about the nefarious plots unfolding there each year.  (Don’t even get me started on the Ministry of Magic).  In contrast, I really liked how the TV show Dexter handled this–Dexter is a serial killer with a day job as a police lab tech.  Instead of passively benefiting from incompetent authorities, his coworkers are competent enough to pose an obstacle, so he sabotages them to keep himself safe. For example, he frequently delays investigations by planting evidence to implicate plausible suspects.

4.1.  Authority figures are useless, unless they’re the main characters.  It wouldn’t be a very satisfying horror story if the victims could just call the police, right?  So authority figures (like the police in any kind of story, parents and teachers in young adult fiction, the army in alien invasion stories, etc) will almost always be useless, antagonistic or unreachable.  Outside of a police story, when was the last time the police actually solved a case on their own?


5.  Cellphones fail surprisingly often, especially when it would short-circuit the plot.  Count on the batteries to run out, the phone to get misplaced or stolen or damaged, the reception to fail, and/or something exotic like electronic jamming or magical interference.  Alternately, perhaps the character never had a cellphone for financial or criminal reasons or the character has a working phone but does not call the police because he/she would also be implicated in illegal activity.


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16 responses so far

Jul 08 2011

NicKenny’s Second Review Forum

Published by under Review Forums

The protagonist of this novel is David Lawless, whose ability is reactive evolution. He gains a new ability whenever he believes that he is about to die, in order to prevent his death. He’s joined by John, a telepath, Alice, who can turn invisible and Adam, who scares people. Because he kills people.

They all attend a school set up to teach mutants how to control and improve their abilities run by the mysterious organisation the Mentors. It’s based in the military facility Fort Drum in New York state, with the co-operation and funding from various governments and secret services. At first it seems to good to be true, but David begins to learn the dark secret at the heart of the school.

11 responses so far

Jul 06 2011

If you’re into powersuits, check out this military exoskeleton

Published by under Powersuits

The U.S. Army is testing a new exoskeleton that can hopefully increase physical endurance of soldiers so that they can carry an unusually large pack of equipment through wildly rugged terrain for extended distances.  Currently, the exoskeleton allows a soldier to do 12 miles (half a marathon) while lugging 200 lbs.  We’re not quite at the level of Iron-Man (yet!) but this is a promising development.  Off the battlefield, it might also allow the paralyzed to walk again.  Very exciting…

12 responses so far

Jul 05 2011

How to Introduce Major Characters

1.  If at all possible, give the new character something interesting to do that ties into a plot element that has been major.  For example, maybe the new character has some obvious connection to a major goal or obstacle for the main character.  For example, maybe a wizard or superhero can only graduate from her academy if she passes telepathy, but there’s only one telepathic teacher’s assistant and he has a reputation for singing about himself in the third person while scrawling lewd graffiti in the cafeteria.  (Sigh, telepaths).  The more you connect the new characters to things we already care about, the easier it will be for us to care about them.


2.  Please use only interesting visuals that help develop the character.  Red flag: The story spends more time on the colors of the character’s eyes, hair, skin and sometimes clothes than on visual details that would help develop interesting and/or important information about the character and/or his role in the plot.


  • UNACCEPTABLE: “Damon the necromancer was wearing black robes that clashed with his smoky blue eyes.”
  • BETTER:  “Good God, Damon, is that rabbit’s blood on you?  You’re soaked in it!”  Damon sipped his coffee.  “It was him or me, ma’am.”

Continue Reading »

92 responses so far

Jul 05 2011

Which love interests have been most effective/memorable? Discuss!

Feel free to discuss anything related to love interests.  For example, which love interests have you found most interesting?  What do you think distinguishes interesting love interests from forgettable ones?  If you’re familiar with a few superhero stories, how do you think their romantic love interests stack up against love interests in other types of stories? 

26 responses so far

Jul 05 2011

Financial Advice for High School Writers: How to Minimize College Debt

I know some graduates that have $100,000-$150,000 of student debt and it will probably take them 10-20 years to pay it off.  Here are some tips about how to graduate from college with as little debt as possible.

1. If you’re still in high school, I highly recommend taking as many Advanced Placement or International Baccalaureate courses as possible. Several of my classmates entered college as juniors because they had enough AP credit. That will give you the option of graduating 1-2 years early, which would save you tens of thousands of dollars. Alternately, if you’re really committed to spending four years in college, you could spend two years doing an undergraduate degree and then two years getting a master’s degree.

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Jul 03 2011

How to Make Interesting Headquarters and Bases for Superheroes and Villains

1.  Please make the base distinct to your superheroes or supervillains. For example, you can put in unusual touches that help develop the character(s) or team.  For example, one of the secret doors into the Batcave is opened by setting a clock to the minute when Bruce Wayne’s parents were murdered.  Superman’s Fortress of Solitude incorporates the hero’s dead parents in a much different way (he keeps his family recordings and other mementos of Krypton there).

2.  Please use the architecture and scenery to set the tone. It’s hard to get grittier and more bleak than a cave built into an almost-unpopulated Gothic mansion.  In contrast, the Fortress of Solitude is much brighter and generally looks more hopeful and futuristic.

3.  I’d generally recommend a headquarters appropriate to the circumstances and needs of the owner. For example, if your team will be arrested on sight, it’d make more sense to do a low-key safehouse or something else discreet rather than a downtown skyscraper.

4.  It might be interesting to describe how the characters came by this particular facility, particularly if they’re not very wealthy. You can use it to establish traits of the characters.  For example, in The Taxman Must Die, one of the supervillains is undercover as a crime scene investigator for a police superagency.  He needs a base he can easily sneak off to without arousing much attention.  Buying a building would leave a paper-trail (paper-trail + taxman = location for airstrike).  This police agency maintains life-size models of several critical buildings on its training grounds.  (Like the Secret Service and FBI do in real life).  So, for example, agents will do a lot of counterterrorist training at models of the White House, the Capitol Building and the Sears Tower in case terrorists ever do attack these buildings.  The only model building that is not used for training anymore is the World Trade Center, since the real building has since been destroyed.  So the villain sets up at the model World Trade Center because it’s unused, large and not linked to him by any documentation.  I think this helps establish that the villain is dangerously clever and disturbingly utilitarian.

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Jul 02 2011

Please donate $10 to the Save the B. Mac Fund!

I’ve passed my teaching interview and will be teaching high school assuming I pass my background check. But they’ll only start paying me three weeks after starting, so I need savings to cover those first three weeks.  I’d really appreciate if you would donate to help defray my costs, especially if you’ve benefited from my reviews and/or articles and/or would like to be a Benefactor of Badassery.

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