Archive for August, 2011

Aug 31 2011

Writing Distinct Character Voices

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.

In real life, everyone talks in different ways. Their tone, timbre, rhythm and vocabulary are often influenced by region, race, class, profession, and so on. If your hobos sound like your professors, that’s usually a problem.  Giving all the characters in a story a similar voice is usually unrealistic and uncanny.


Some writers have problems with giving their characters distinct voices. By keeping several factors in mind, character voices can be diversified.


Word Choice

What is the character’s vocabulary like? It’d probably feel out of place for a hobo to start spouting words like “erudite” or “superfluous,” or for a professor to say “gigolo” or for a politician to say “sorry.”  This varies by situation (see below), but generally characters should use terms more believable for their level of education, intelligence and/or lack of any discernible moral code.


How does the character use those words?  Do they talk in full, long sentences, or in fragments? Do they use contractions, curse words, or made up words? Dialogue doesn’t have to be as perfect as the narrative text. On the other hand, if they go all the way towards following grammar rules that most people don’t even know about, they might establish themselves as pedantic/snobby.


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43 responses so far

Aug 31 2011

Audience Survey

I was in a discussion earlier today about writing websites and their audiences. If you haven’t already done so, could you do me a favor and fill out an audience survey? It has seven six questions, all of which could fairly be described as hilarious and exciting*.


*If you’re sufficiently inebriated.

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13 responses so far

Aug 30 2011

How Do Superpowers Affect Your Characters’ Perspectives?

One aspect about Alphas that seemed really believable and well-written to me was that a villain that could control physical events and influence probabilities became paranoid, reading malevolent intent into the failures of others.  He had trouble understanding that most people don’t have that level of control.


Here are some other possibilities that come to mind.


1. Psychics might be very cynical or very optimistic about human nature depending on whose minds they have read.  In a situation where their ability to read minds does not work (such as using email or talking over a phone), they may or may not be wildly distrustful because they don’t have the ability to know whether they’re being lied to.


1.1. A psychic might have privacy issues.  Courtesies that might seem commonplace to most regular people, like reading a suspect his Miranda rights or not listening in on a private conversation, might not make any sense to a psychic.  If the character grew up with other people that also had psychic powers (like an alien civilization), this would probably have a major impact on how he interacts with other people.  For example, if you grew up among psychics, you’d probably be used to everybody in a conversation knowing everything important already.  In a conversation with normal humans A and B, you might unwisely reveal something to B that A wants to keep secret.


1.2. A psychic might have major identity issues, particularly if he/she doesn’t much control over the psychic powers.  For example, the psychic might have trouble distinguishing between his/her own thoughts and the thoughts of people nearby.  In The Taxman Must Die, one decidedly scrawny psychic can’t quite remember whether that memory about rampaging through a bank vault is his or somebody else’s. This is one of the limitations I use to keep the psychic’s powers from short-circuiting the mystery angle.  He remembers somebody committing a crime, but that memory has given him only a few vague clues to pursue.


2. A character with incredible speed and/or reflexes might perceive time as passing very slowly.  If he does so all the time, he might get impatient with people that move/talk/think much slower (i.e. everybody).  For a character with incredible reflexes, time might only seem to slow down at particular moments, like stressful events or danger.


3. Somebody with the ability to control and/or influence a particular element or phenomenon might be really sensitive to it. 

  • Somebody with the ability to control heat/fire or ice might be more sensitive to temperature changes, like somebody getting chills when they feel scared.
  • Somebody with magnetic abilities might feel metal objects moving and might get bothered by rush hour.  Maybe your Magneto can feel Wolverine approaching because Wolverine’s skeleton is mostly metal.
  • Somebody with the ability to influence/control plants and/or animals might pick up environmental cues other people miss.  For example, maybe your plant-controller is more likely to notice snapped twigs, a slight indentation in a patch of grass and/or leafs knocked from the top of a bush and conclude that somebody came through here in a hurry.  The ability to empathize with plants and/or humans might affect the character’s mindset, as well.  For example, Poison Ivy hates on humans (those plant-killing fiends!) and Beast Boy is a vegetarian.  Incidentally, I think the best reason to be a vegetarian is not because you really like animals, but because you really hate plants.


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39 responses so far

Aug 27 2011

Red Flags for Female Characters Written By Men

1. If something would be boring and/or undramatic for a male character, it would probably be boring and/or undramatic for a female character.  If you’re writing a female character (particularly in a major role), I’d recommend thinking about whether you’d want to read about a male character in that situation or with that trait.  If not, then you’re probably boring your readers.


2. The character is useless.  Have you made a main character more or less helpless for most of the story? Does she watch as the story happens around her?  Does she get repeatedly saved by other characters when the going gets rough? Please think back to #1.  You’d probably be bored reading about a more or less helpless guy, right?  Your readers will be just as bored by a helpless female.


3. The character’s only defining trait is being hyper-smart or (more rarely) a total ditz.  That’s fine for one character among several, but if she’s your only significant female character, it’ll raise questions about your ability to handle female characters at a more relatable level of intelligence.  If you’re having trouble with more relatable female characters, I’d recommend checking out some Meg Cabot books, Mean Girls and/or Pride and Prejudice.


3.1. The character is totally pure.  A character that always does the right thing and has no motivations besides being friendly/agreeable/nice is probably pretty boring.  100% pure characters strain the suspension of disbelief, are less relatable and usually less dramatic.  For whatever reason, these types of boring characters are almost always women.


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143 responses so far

Aug 27 2011

Ladies, What Would Hint a Female Character Is Written By a Male?

Published by under Character Development

What are some giveaways that would suggest to you that a female character is written by a male author?  I’m writing an article on female characters for male authors and would really appreciate your help here.

10 responses so far

Aug 26 2011

Publishing Cliches Decoded!

I found this Devil’s Dictionary of publishing terms dangerously amusing.  (Hat-tip: Kelley at Sterling Editing).   Here are some examples.

  • “brilliantly defies categorization” –>”not even the author has an idea what he’s written.”
  • “continues in the proud tradition of J.R.R. Tolkien” –>”this book has a dwarf in it.”
  • “edgy” –> “contains no adult voices of reason.”
  • “wildly imaginative” –> “author was high on mescaline.”
  • “ripped from the headlines” –> “no original plot content.”

8 responses so far

Aug 25 2011

More Google Queries

Published by under Reader Questions

How are superheroes created? Write a comic book, short story, novel or graphic novel and submit it to publishers.


Writing Secret Service characters – You’re probably already familiar with the physical stereotypes (beefy, imposing).  But I’d like to recommend checking out this article for some mental characteristics in SS agents, like incredibly strong situational awareness, restraint (as the situation dictates), quick reflexes, pattern recognition, a basic grasp of first aid and an ability to override basic human instincts. (If somebody drops dead of a heart attack, the Service’s only concern is ruling out biological and chemical weapons).  Also, I haven’t read many novels where SS agents have searched dumpsters for explosives or taken Class 3 offenders to the movies while the President’s in town.  😉


Target audience for superheroes and villains—I think it depends on the medium.  Most superhero comic books are aimed at guys 18-30.  (“The number of girls who read superheroes is extremely minimal,” according to comic book writer Trina Robbins).  Most superhero cartoon shows are aimed at boys younger than 13 (although some develop a peripheral following among older viewers).  Comic book movies are usually aimed more at guys than ladies, but I think it’s much closer.  According to one report, 48% of the opening night audience for Dark Knight was women.   Age-wise, I think most superhero movies try to appeal to viewers from 13+.  I think the level of gore is usually lower than in most other kinds of action movies (e.g. war movies and shoot-em-ups).


 Say it loud!  I’m Mac and I’m proud?


Best superhero comic books for girls.  Obviously, it depends on the girl’s tastes.  I think I’d start by considering Invincible, Ultimate Spider-Man and Spider-Man Loves Mary Jane.


What’s a TPB?  A trade paperback, a reprinted collection of comic books bound together as one volume.  Traditional bookstores and libraries are usually more amenable to trade paperbacks than comic books.  For more, please see Dark Horse’s FAQ.


Best theme song ever.  “Lemmetellyasomethin’. Bustin’ makes me feel good.”  Honorable mentions: Jurassic Park and Star Wars.


pokemon parody murder lizard.  I’ll keep my eyes open.


kid bruce wayne as a student in hogwarts fanfic.  “MY PARENTS ARE DEAD!!!”  “MINE TOO!!”


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3 responses so far

Aug 25 2011

How to Deal with Unconstructive Criticism


1.  Not all impolite criticism is unconstructive.   There are some people that would like to help you but are not naturally diplomatic or polite.  “Your spelling needs work!” is a bit rougher than I’m used to, but I’d give those reviewers latitude because they’re trying to help.  Also, some editors are pretty blunt and learning to work with different sorts of people is an important professional (and life) skill.


2. Genuinely unconstructive reviews tend to be insulting and/or completely miss the point of what you’re trying to do.   If you feel like the reviewer’s main goal is proving that he/she is a better writer than you rather than helping you improve your writing, the only two people in the world that have any reason to care about the review are the reviewer and the reviewer’s therapist.  I would recommend disregarding these reviews as soon as possible because they won’t help you grow as a writer and aren’t meant to.


3. If you’re not sure whether a review is abusive or not, here are some red flags.  

  • It uses words/phrases like “awful,” “really bad,” “terrible,” profanity and/or “sucks” with reckless abandon.  I could (maybe) forgive one use, but anything more than that suggests that the reviewer is not trying to help you.
  • The reviewer states everything as facts and commands.  However, unless a review focuses on obvious mechanical errors (like “tehn” -> “then”), virtually everything in it will be some sort of opinion.  A reviewer that uses personal qualifiers like “I think” and “I feel” and suggestions probably cares more about trying to help than about establishing dominance.
  • The review gets too personal and/or reaches negative conclusions about the author based on the quality of the writing. For example, I think it’d be really dubious to imply or state that the author is an idiot because he/she doesn’t understand writing mechanics yet.  One reviewer got in a pissing contest with an author that turned out to be a grade-schooler.  Smooth move, champ.  (Another possibility: English isn’t the author’s first language, but he’s writing in English because it has a larger online audience).


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10 responses so far

Aug 24 2011

How to Critique or Beta-Review Works That You Find Awful

1. As with any critique, be polite and focus on potential improvements rather than insults.  For example, “I’d like to see deeper characters–it would probably help to flesh out their personalities and let them make unusual decisions compared to other characters in their genre”  is vastly more useful than “Your characters sucked.”  If the author is ever convinced that you’re not trying to help, you have virtually no chance of helping.  And, if you’re not trying to help, don’t waste your time or the author’s.


2. Don’t be dishonest, but do let them know what you liked.   It’d be very, very rare for somebody to write thousands of words without somehow doing something remotely effective.  For example, if an author had major issues with spelling but had really solid punctuation, it might be helpful to say something like “The punctuation was much cleaner than the spelling.”  It’s a bit softer than something like “The spelling needs a lot of work” and helps remind the author that you’re trying to help.  The positive encouragement will help the writer put in the time and work necessary to make any fixes and, let’s face it, if a novel manuscript really is awful it’s going to take hundreds or thousands of hours to rewrite it to a professional standard.


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15 responses so far

Aug 22 2011

List of Superhero Movie Rotten Tomatoes Scores

If you’ve ever wanted to know which is the best superhero movie or the worst superhero movie ever, I’ve compiled Rotten Tomatoes’ ratings below.  If you’re interested in a comparison of how DC’s movies stack up against Marvel’s, please see this article.

Excel file downloadable here with additional data included. Current as of April 2016.

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5 responses so far

Aug 22 2011

Ekimmak’s Review Forum

Published by under Review Forums

Please see the comments below.

38 responses so far

Aug 21 2011

Editing Errors in Twilight

I saw that quite a few Twilight reviews mentioned the poor editing, so I spent 20 minutes double-checking whether the alleged editing mistakes were disputable and/or justifiable by artistic license.  So far, I’m up to eight errors that I consider indisputable and another that might be merely awkward.  I can’t remember reading any other professionally published novels with more than one typo.


Incorrect Word Choices and Tenses

1. Eclipse mixes up “whose” and “who’s.”

Twilight mixes up whose and who's


2. Twilight mixes up “moats” and “motes.”

Twilight confuses moats with dust motes

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92 responses so far

Aug 20 2011

Hostage Situations from the Police Negotiator’s Perspective

1. The first police officers on the scene will not be specialists.  These police officers still play an important role (containing the situation, maintaining a perimeter, clearing out civilians, etc).  Circumstances may force them to initiate some sort of negotiation, but as soon as it looks like the situation will not be promptly resolved, the line officers should immediately terminate negotiations and call in specialists.  (Metropolitan police departments, some state police departments and the FBI have officers who have been carefully selected and trained to deal with these critical incidents).  The specialists’ job will be harder if a line officer antagonized the subject.

1.1. Across the board, negotiators tend to have excellent self-control, calm under stress, communication skills, a calm and confident demeanor, strong listening and interviewing skills and the ability to work effectively on a team.  They’ll have at least 40 hours of training on techniques, abnormal psychology, active listening skills, case studies and drills.


2. The main goal of negotiation is to convince the subject(s) to surrender.  If that is not possible, the secondary goal is to give the SWAT team the best opportunity to rescue the captives with a minimal loss of life.  To accomplish these goals, the negotiators want to:

  • Stall for time.  First, time allows emotions to cool down, which reduces the likelihood of hostages getting killed.  Second, it may take hours (rarely, even days) for the subjects to realize how hopeless their situation is.  Lastly, if it does come down to a shootout, the operation will be more successful and less dangerous if the SWAT team has had time to prepare.
  • Establish communication and develop rapport.  For example, the subject might be thinking about giving himself up, but he isn’t sure whether the 20+ armed cops outside will shoot him if he comes out.  A negotiator could work something out fairly easily.  For example, “if you’re ready to come out, the police will lower their weapons.”  (By the way, if the police are willing to lower their weapons, they probably have sharpshooters ready to fire if the subject reaches for his gun).
  • Gather intelligence.  A secondary negotiator should check the subjects’ criminal, civil, medical and psychological records and conduct interviews with friends/family/coworkers.  Is the criminal actually likely to kill his captives?  What might cause an escalation? What actions could the police take now and after the crisis to make sure that there’s a long-term solution here?


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7 responses so far

Aug 20 2011

Writing Links

  • Six Questions Authors Hate to Be Asked strikes me as mostly spot-on, but “What are you writing?” definitely should not make authors feel uncomfortable.  I would highly recommend rehearsing a 1-2 sentence answer.  “I’m writing The Taxman Must Die.  It’s a national security comedy about an IRS accountant and a mutant alligator whose detective skills make Scooby Doo look like Batman.”  If you have a two-sentence synopsis, this is a great time to bust it out.  If it looks like the listener is interested in your story, please give him/her a business card with a link to your writing website, if you have one.
  • P.W. Creighton wrote Cliched Plot Contrivances.  I found the section on walking encyclopedias especially helpful.  Hat-tip: Nancy at Author Chronicles.
  • Romance author Roni Loren wrote Six Important Components to an Author Bio, a sharp set of ideas about how to introduce yourself effectively to readers.  I’m not sure about relatability, though.  Which would interest you more: an author with a dog named Max or an author with an alligator named Chompy?
  • Author Paul Dorset wrote a guide to self-publishing e-books (novels, not comics).  If you’re going down that path, it looks helpful.

2 responses so far

Aug 20 2011

More Publishers Looking For Superhero Short Stories

I’ve added the following publishers to my list of publishing houses that mention superhero stories in their submission guidelines.


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 men and women 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.


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10 responses so far

Aug 18 2011

Tips on Self-Destructive Protagonists

Self-destructive protagonists have become well-known and easily recognizable stock characters, particularly in noir fiction. While this isn’t a problem on its own, the amount of characters that fit this basic archetype have cluttered the field and made it a challenge to create unique ones.


If you’re writing a similar character, to keep your story interesting and hard to predict, you should treat your character with care and a particularly open mindset.


What Is Afflicting Your Character?

Don’t just make your character a shadow of another character that uses the same device. That doesn’t mean you can’t use afflictions that have already been used, like drugs or alcohol, it just means you need to be sure that the affliction you are using is the best fit for your story.


First, did your character acquire the affliction voluntarily?  Drugs, alcohol and gambling debts are voluntary. But Alzheimer’s—which I consider to be an affliction that can lead to self-destructive characters—is not. For example, Joshua Hale Fialkov used a brain tumor in the aptly-named graphic novel Tumor.


The next part of creating interesting self-destructive characters is to have an open mind while indulging in the creative process. All stories and characters are prone to change, and in analyzing your character’s affliction you should question whether or not the affliction you have chosen is the best one for your character and/or story. Please use the most suitable device rather than just the first one that comes to mind.

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2 responses so far

Aug 18 2011

An Allegory About the Importance of Proofreading

Published by under Getting Published

An aspiring airplane designer is discussing one of his test-models with a prospective buyer at United Airlines.  Suddenly the test-model bursts into a fireball on the runway.


The designer sips his coffee.  “And I’ve also achieved enviable fuel economy and a sleek but stylish frame.”


Your plane just exploded.”


“But what about the paint job?”




If your writing isn’t getting as many responses as you want (from prospective reviewers, publishers or agents), I’d recommend considering whether you’re sending them an exploding plane.  Please check hard for mechanical errors* before submitting your stories to other people.  Few things convince readers that a story is not worth their time as quickly as proofreading errors.  (Also, even the most altruistic reviewers hate getting used as a punctuation-checker).


*It’s okay to groan here. I did.

3 responses so far

Aug 18 2011

How to Make a Serious Character Likable

From my email: “What Makes a Character Likable? was helpful, but what if the character is serious and a bit of a hardass?”  Here are some ideas that come to mind.


1. The character has a sympathetic goal that calls for seriousness. For example, the protagonist in Silence of the Lambs is an FBI agent pursuing an unusually vicious serial killer and nobody else knows what’s going on besides a serial cannibal. Under these circumstances, it would probably be hard to like the FBI agent if she weren’t serious.


1.1. The character is hard, but has a good reason to be. If a surgeon snaps at a nurse for getting something 95% right, I think readers could probably be persuaded to sympathize with the surgeon because a 95% competent nurse might get somebody killed. It’d be harder to sympathize with a teacher snapping at a student that got a problem 95% right–unless he’s teaching Bomb Defusal 101. I think bigger stakes and stressful situations make it easier to like a hardass.


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5 responses so far

Aug 18 2011

Name That Quote: Batman or Shakespeare?

Published by under Badassery,Batman

I found this Sporcle game’s mix of Shakespeare and Batman so dangerously amusing that I wanted to punch an English teacher in the face and throw him two or three stories onto the street.  Then I realized that the closest English teacher was me and I thought better of it.


PS: If you’re a long-time fan of Batman, you might remember that Adam West hid the remote control for the entrance to the Batcave inside a bust of Shakespeare.

2 responses so far

Aug 16 2011

Discussion: Why Aren’t More Graphic Novels Assigned for English Classes?

Guest answer from English professor and superhero scholar Chris Gavaler:

“I would say there is a slow building of graphic novels in classrooms. My daughter, for instance, read Maus in 8th grade English last year. But I emphasize the word “slow.” It took the NYTimes weeks to notice that Maus was a memoir (even though it had talking animals) and move it to the appropriate best-seller column.  I would say the graphic memoir has reached a level of cultural legitimacy (again, look at the NYTimes Book Review for evidence), but comic books as a genre are still weighed down by their past and, frankly, their present. Only an “innovative” teacher is going to introduce a comic to a syllabus, and then probably only a memoir because it balances the stigma of the form with the aura of fact. It’s those guys flying around with capes that drag the genre down. Though there are several superhero graphic novels deserving classroom study, the vast majority do not, and those that do are worthwhile because they subvert their pulp genre so interestingly.”


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16 responses so far

Aug 16 2011

Publishing Sales Are Rebounding

The New York Times reports:

  • Revenues from adult novel sales grew 8.8% from 2008-10.
  • Juvenile fiction revenues grew 6.6%.
  • In total, book-publishing revenues are up 5.6% and total sales are up 4.1%.
  • From 2008 to 2010, e-books grew from .6% to 6.4% of the total market for books.
  • Adult hardcover and paperback books grew only 1% and mass-market paperbacks declined 16%.  (Ouch).

Hat-tip: This Week in Writing, by Mark Evans.


4 responses so far

Aug 16 2011

Words Which Should Not Be Capitalized in a Title

Everything but articles, coordinating conjunctions and prepositions should be capitalized in titles.


Which words should not be capitalized in a title?

  • Articles: a, an, & the.
  • Coordinate conjunctions: for, and, nor, but, or, yet & so (FANBOYS).
  • Prepositions, such as at, around, by, after, along, for, from, of, on, to, with & without. (According to the Chicago Manual of Style, all prepositions should be uncapitalized in a title.  NIVA and I recommend capitalizing prepositions 5+ letters long).


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58 responses so far

Aug 15 2011

Selecting Effective Superpowers

First, a caveat.  Generally, good superpowers will not save an otherwise poor story and poorly-chosen superpowers probably won’t doom an otherwise good story.  If the characters are a bore and the conflict fizzles, it doesn’t really matter which superpowers they have.


1. I would recommend going with versatile abilities/powers rather than more particular ones.  It’s a lot more creative, memorable and often visually interesting to see a character use his powers in a way that the user’s manual never intended. In contrast, if Superman tries to fly, it’s generally a perfectly smooth operation and his success is never in doubt because he has a power that is good for nothing else but flying.  In contrast, if Yomiko (from Read or Die) tries to fly by using her paper-control abilities to rig together a giant paper airplane, that takes real daring and cunning.  “Do you know how to fly that thing?”  “Uhh, what about the rain?”  “Can your plane withstand gunfire?”  The uncertainty helps make the improvised solution more interesting.


1.1.  I’d like to see the characters in some situations where their powers are not obviously useful.  I think the biggest reason some writers give their characters huge amounts of superpowers (5 or more, let’s say) is that they’re scared that their characters might be caught in a situation that can’t be immediately solved with a superpower. First, it’s more interesting/creative if a character can’t just solve a problem by turning his powers on.  (See Superman vs. Yomiko above). Second, superpowers are only one part of the characters’ capabilities, right?*  It’s okay if they have some problems/situations that have to be resolved by other means.  (When was the last time you read about a wizard that solved all of his problems with magic?)  If the superpowers are the only capability that the superhero uses, I would recommend reconsidering whether you’re neglecting the person behind the mask.


*For example, your characters hopefully have skills, practical life experience (from a job or elsewhere), talents besides superpowers, education, personal strengths, resources/assets, etc. Characters may also be able to leverage their reputation, authority and/or standing among different groups (like the police, criminal groups, the public, etc) in certain situations. For example, if your hero’s been framed as a criminal and her bank account’s been frozen, maybe she can march up to Fast Eddie on the corner and demand the perpetrator’s name and a flamethrower on credit.  It would take one hell of a personality and/or reputation to convince a hardened criminal to cough up a flamethrower with threats.  And she might also need to convince him that she’s likely enough to defeat the perpetrator that the perpetrator won’t come back and kill Fast Eddie for snitching.


2.  An overly complex superpower may detract from the development of the rest of the story.  My rule of thumb is that if a character’s superpowers take more than 1-2 sentences to explain, there’s probably too much going on.  For the most part, time spent explaining superpowers is usually not spent on characterization, transitions/coherence, conflict development, motivations, major choices and other elements that publishers actually care about.  (For example, I’ve seen quite a few publishers specify that they’re looking for believable, consistent and interesting characters–like Dark Horse Comics–but I’ve never seen anybody mention superpowers in the submission guidelines.  They’re just a means to an end–an interesting story–not the end itself).  Alternately, if you want to really delve into the superpowers and you feel like they’re such an interesting component of the story that they warrant that space, you could at least incorporate it into characterization, major choices and the like.  For example, in Bitter Seeds, one protagonist’s powers are bestowed by malevolent spirits that demand gruesome sacrifices.  Understandably, some characters do not take well to this, so the cost of the powers creates an obstacle to team cohesion and friendships/partnerships.


3.  I’d recommend using capabilities appropriate to the story’s tone, style and target audience.  If you’re doing an upbeat kid’s story, you might want to leave the machine guns at home.  (We weep for you, children’s writers).  Personally, I’m using mostly agility-based powers for The Taxman Must Die, an action-comedy that I’d like to keep a pretty soft PG-13.


4.  Can the character be challenged?  For more details on this, I’d recommend checking out How to Save Insufficiently Challenged Heroes (especially #4).


24 responses so far

Aug 15 2011

Redefining Setting

Setting is indisputably an integral part of any story. To a large extent, setting defines your story by shaping the character’s experiences.  Even more so than character, setting tends to be the most memorable and instantly recallable aspect of a story.


Some writers treat settings merely as a backdrop.  This is a damaging, borderline murderous view that inhibits the setting’s ability to captivate and engross readers.   A backdrop, no matter how beautiful or intricate, is only a backdrop. Just a necessary aspect of creative works of art that is taken for granted.  A setting can do so much more for your story.


The key to making your setting exceptional is to treat it as it deserves to be treated, like a character.

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13 responses so far

Aug 14 2011

10 Uses for Forcefields

1.  Two forcefields could be smashed together to smash something in-between.  Alternately, you could use one force-field and any hard surface for a similar effect.


2.  Maybe a forcefield could be used as a cushion for safe landings.  Perhaps the character can alter the hardness/springiness of his forcefields so that he can make them into something like a trampoline.  (The more it can stretch, the less the force of impact will be. Like a seat-belt, but one that can also be used to smash something to pieces).


3.  A spherical forcefield could be used to trap in a limited air supply.  That would help a character traveling underwater, through space or through a locker room.

3.1.  A spherical forcefield could also be used to restrict air intake.  For example, a hero might be able to knock someone unconscious by cutting off outside air.  Alternately, if an enemy is using poisonous gas or fire-based attacks (which will readily exhaust available oxygen), the forcefield could lead to the enemy knocking himself unconscious and/or poisoning his air-supply so much that even he can’t handle it.


4.  Forcefields could really wreck a super-fast character’s day.  They could be used to limit space (to take away mobility).  Also, if you’re moving at 500+ miles per hour and suddenly hit a wall that wasn’t there a moment ago, it would really hurt.  Even a regular-speed character that was jumping at an enemy would have a lot of momentum.  As in #1, you might also be able to use forcefields to pin a combatant so that he can’t move as effectively.
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16 responses so far

Aug 14 2011

Hostage Situations from a Criminal’s Perspective

1. Taking hostages is so dangerous that it usually isn’t premeditated in the United States.  A criminal’s main means of survival is mobility.  If he’s taken many hostages, he doesn’t have any.  Even if he’s taken only one hostage for ransom money, the police will know where the criminal will be at the designated pick-up time and may even be able to locate the victim with evidence left at the scene of the kidnapping.  There are two main types of hostage-taker (HT) and one type of victim taker.

  • Someone caught in a botched crime.  For example, maybe the criminal is trying to rob a bank, but the police respond unexpectedly quickly.  In the heat of the moment, an utterly trapped criminal might take hostages out of desperation.  In his stress-addled mind, he might think that taking hostages is the only way to somehow effect an escape and avoid a 15+ year sentence.  (He might even have dreams of demanding a helicopter, but that’s a Hollywood fantasy).
  • Someone that cannot outrun the police.  For example, if the police come to serve an arrest warrant, an unwilling suspect might take a hostage (usually a family member) to buy time and space for an escape.  Alternately, rioting prisoners may take guards as hostages to deter police reinforcements from retaking the prison by force.
  • Somebody in an emotional crisis without a clear set of negotiable demands.  For example, a laid-off worker might seize his former boss or a disturbed lover might seize his/her significant other after being rejected.  These criminals are not looking to bargain.  Technically, in police parlance, these criminals are not considered “hostage-takers” because “hostage” implies tangible demands.  People captured without demands are “victims.”  Victims are in much graver danger because the criminal may have murder-suicide in mind.  In contrast, a “hostage-taker” does not have a personal incentive to murder the hostages.  (If you murder a hostage, you lose your bargaining leverage).


2. Hostages are fairly high-maintenance, particularly in long-term standoffs (which are very rare).  In the short-term, the criminals have to worry about food/water, toilets, the potential for medical emergencies and the difficult task of controlling the hostages.  In the long-term, the criminals also have to worry about hygiene, medicine and recreation/hostage morale.  (The HTs probably do not have any humanitarian concern for the hostages, but they have selfish reasons to care.  Happy/healthy hostages are easier to control, less likely to infect criminals and less likely to result in a murder conviction.  Also, killing a hostage that happens to be a prison guard could be very hazardous to an HT’s health when he is returned to police custody).


2.1. Keeping a handful of hostages is much easier than keeping many, especially if the HTs don’t have the manpower to control many hostages.  But the police will still give criminals a lot of latitude even if they have a relatively small number of hostages. The police will offer the criminals incentives to release some hostages and make other seemingly meaningless concessions (like giving up any extra firearms).


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6 responses so far

Aug 13 2011

Snow’s Review Forum

Published by under Review Forums

Please see the comments below.

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Aug 12 2011

Salazaris’ Review Forum

Published by under Review Forums

Salazaris is working on The Deeping Space.  When the son of a world-famous ecologist gets lost in the forbidding jungle, he finds himself on the rim of a civilization that has existed in subterranean silence for nearly a thousand years. His arrival signals the beginning of an imminent war against the oppressive government whose iron grip has held the citizens bound within the confines of a staged psychological experiment. Risking everything for a people who believe him to be a traitor, he must win a war that will save the citizens, and himself, from eternal subjugation.

10 responses so far

Aug 12 2011

Ebooks Assemble! How Not to Screw Up Electronic Publishing

If you’ve been following the publishing industry at all lately, you know it’s not all wine and roses. It’s far, far from it. Borders is done, mid-list writers are being shown the door, and many agents are reluctant to take on new clients. It means your local bookstore (if there are any left standing) will be chock-full of books from James Patterson, Nora Roberts, Dan Brown, and Patricia Cornwell. You know, familiar authors who generate sales.


Where does that leave you? You’re probably a little like me. I’m barely an author. I’ve had my novel soundly rejected by several agents. I’ve had a few short stories published in admittedly obscure places. I have a modest blog and about a hundred Twitter followers. I’m fairly certain 60 of them are Ukrainian spambots. The others are my brother’s various, web-based alter-egos.


So what about ebooks?


You know…those things you can buy and read on a Kindle or Nook or iPad. The royalties are pretty good…authors get 70% for each sale from the Kindle store (as long as you price your book between $2.99 and $9.99). Maybe you think it’s time to explore the Nook Store or Smashwords. Maybe you want to experiment a little.


But is the timing right? What about the stigma of self-publishing?  You do know self-published works are of inferior quality, right? After all, books from the big publishing houses go through several rounds of edits. If you were to put one of your books up for sale, you’d be the only de facto editor. The possibility remains that you’ll misspell a word or fail to see some giant logic gaffe that kills the entire story.


Fortunately, that stigma is disappearing. Self-publishing is now a viable career path, although it’s not going to print money. Consider becoming a forward-thinking author/entrepreneur unshackled by the bonds of major publishing houses. After all, no one ever gets to read something perpetually stuck on your hard drive.


If you have any inkling of diving into the choppy self-publishing waters, heed the following advice.


Get beta readers. These are people of varied expertise whose insights would prove invaluable in refining you work. You’ll need some adept at grammar, others attuned to plot structure, some good at both, and a few unafraid to rip the work the shreds propose hundreds of potential improvements.


Even better, get an editor. The biggest downside to self-publishing, in my opinion, is the lack of editorial oversight. Writers fall in love with their own stories and can’t see their flaws. If you’re REALLY going to do it, let a freelance editor go at it. Sure, you have to pay for the editor’s time, but it will be worth it in the end because you’ll have a finished, polished product that can stack up against any professional work.


Don’t rush it. Last year, I got a full manuscript request from an agent. Obviously, I was very excited. I ended up rushing a book edit in hopes of giving my book a quick coat of polish. Instead, I mangled my manuscript by making the kinds of mistakes you’d find in a seventh-grade term paper. As you can imagine, the agent rejected my book. After re-reading my efforts to “improve” the work, I can see why. Take your time. Otherwise, you’ll scare off your readers—whether they’re agents or customers.


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18 responses so far

Aug 11 2011

Building a Magical System: A Questionnaire

This questionnaire will help you design a solid magic system which won’t have your readers asking questions of their own.


1. What can magic users do?

  • Do they use tools, their body and/or sheer willpower?
  • Are there subtypes or specialties?
  • Is magic a born talent, a learned skill or both?
  • If there are races, which ones are most adept at magic and why?
  • Are there certain areas with high concentrations of magic?  What happens in those areas, and how are people who inhabit those areas affected?


2. What costs and limits affect the use of magic? 

  • Are there personal costs like running out of energy or the possibility of physical/mental damage?
  • Are there societal restrictions like actual laws affecting magic use?  What is the main goal of these laws?  What are some of the consequences like for disobeying these laws?


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