Archive for November, 2011

Nov 30 2011

An insightful contrast between Kingdom Hearts and Resident Evil

Published by under Comedy,Video Game 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.

This is old, but classic.  However, because of profanity, it probably isn’t safe for work.  Unless, of course, your workplace is awesome.

 

2 responses so far

Nov 30 2011

A Writer’s Review of Priscilla the Great

7th grader Priscilla Sumner lives a small town with her annoying siblings, a brainy best friend—and the most overly protective dad in the world. No yearbook photos, no news coverage, nada. Combined with the fact that her mom is always away on business trips, it’s no wonder Priscilla is a bit grumpy.

 

And then that time of month rolls by and she gains the powers of conjuring flames, super-hearing, and super-strength, among others. She freaks out, her best friend slowly drifts
away, more than one love triangle goes awry…Oh, and she gets kidnapped after her face appears on the local news.

 

Priscilla discovers her mom is a genetically-modified superhuman, her dad is a guard who liberated her from the nefarious Selliwood Institute, which wants their family, and those “business trips” are actually rescue mission for the rest of the children of the institution.

 

That’s only the first half of the book.

 

Priscilla the Great is a Middle Grade/Young Adult book with superhero elements. Everything about it was designed to have a bit of wit. Graphic novel-esque cover? Check. Witty first person narrator? Check. Sci-fi elements running on kid-flick coolness? Check.

 

Yet, it avoids the cheesiness and cleanliness of works like Spy Kids while retaining the fun.

 

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4 responses so far

Nov 28 2011

Writing a Realistic Superhero Story

Published by under Realism,Writing Articles

1. As always, realism is a stylistic preference.  Feel free to disregard any/all aspects of realism.  Generally, the fans of superhero stories are more likely to cut you slack on realism than, say, the readers of military fiction, so incorporate realism if you want to and not because you feel you need to.

 

2.  Superpower selection.  If realism is a major concern, I would recommend shying away from powers that insulate the character from vaguely realistic consequences to actions.  For example, an invulnerable superhero can just wade into gunfire, whereas a character like Batman needs to put more thought into it.  Batman’s restrictions are more human-like in that regard, so his actions will probably feel more realistic.  Alternately, if you have a character like Superman, you can try using a variety of situations where the character has to act very carefully rather than just bumrush an enemy.  (For example, rescuing hostages, dealing with an enemy like The Riddler that isn’t actually present, a “scavenger hunt” situation like finding and defusing several bombs, an enemy like Professor Moriarty that works a lot through proxies that don’t know enough to easily incriminate their boss, etc).

  • I’d recommend incorporating as many of the superpowers into the premise rather than having characters develop some superpowers later.  I think it was fairly effective and acceptable that Heroes had a time-traveling character, but just wildly crazy that Superman went back in time in Superman I by flying around the world counterclockwise.  Heroes introduced the time-travel angle fairly quickly, but in the Superman movie, it was a deus ex machina that came out of nowhere.  (Likewise, erasing Lois’ memories with a kiss was not only a deus ex machina, but also an act of raw jackassery).
  • If uncertainty, doubt and/or paranoia are major elements of the story, I’d recommend cutting or severely limiting mind-reading and lie-detection.  For example, if mind-reading is a very intrusive act tantamount to frisking somebody, then it’ll be easier to write a situation where the character is vulnerable to uncertainty than if the character is free to read everybody’s minds without anybody else knowing.  Drama comes from vulnerability, so don’t use superpowers that will make it too hard to find vulnerabilities for the character.
  • Especially if the story is gritty, I’d recommend reconsidering incredible regeneration powers.  The stakes will probably be higher if the character’s actions have consequences, and one very noticeable consequence is the risk of injury.  For dramatic reasons,  you might want to make the character regenerate faster and/or take less damage than normal*, but I just wouldn’t  recommend overdoing it so much that you couldn’t raise the stakes with an injury at a terribly inconvenient time if you wanted to.

*Pretty much every superhero, even ones whose powers are mainly mental, are physically resilient enough to shrug off some hits that would put the average person in a hospital for weeks.  Having heroes get hospitalized for weeks after every fight probably wouldn’t be very interesting.

 

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35 responses so far

Nov 24 2011

Writing a Marketable Superhero Novel

One major obstacle to getting a superhero novel published is marketability–can your novel convince publishing professionals that it is likely to sell many thousands of copies?  This might be a bit counterintuitive.  Even though superhero stories have sold billions of dollars worth of movie tickets and dominate one branch of the publishing industry (comic books), superhero novels are not known for strong sales.  Here are some tips based on the superhero novels that have been most successful.

 

1. Please make your novel at least reasonably intelligent.  A superhero comic book or movie might conceivably become a bestseller despite being pretty idiotic.  (Batman and Robin sold ~$240 million worth of tickets, for example).  Comic books and movies have other things to fall back on besides the quality of the writing.  Novels, not so much.  For one thing, the target audience for novels is people that actually willingly buy novels, who tend to be more literate than the population as a whole.  Consequently, the most successful superhero novels (notably The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay and the Wild Cards series) tend to be more complex than just action. For example, Amazing Adventures and the first few* Wild Cards books  were historical chronicles and AA had more action for an artist escaping Nazi-occupied territory than it did for any superheroes.

  • Imagination.  Does your story have elements we haven’t seen before?  If we have seen plot elements before, are you executing them differently and/or more interestingly?  For example, Amazing Adventures deftly handled a stranger-in-a-strange-land with a great ear for the artist’s unusual-sounding voice and some interesting use of his cultural background.  In contrast, the Superman series bends over backwards to make Superman’s transition to Earth as seamless and undramatic as possible.  (Superman looks exactly like a stereotypically attractive human, his English is utterly nondescript, his superpowers don’t create enough problems for him, there are few if any cultural differences in play, etc).
  • The ability to make connections and offer themes that are not necessarily obvious.    For example, The Incredibles has a few scenes where superheroics get mistaken for adultery/inappropriate love.

*Thanks to John for the correction there.

 

2. It might help to consider a setting besides “pretty much any modern First World city.”  I think it’s more acceptable for superhero comic books to use a more or less generic city as the setting.  (Besides the names of the villains, is there anything that could happen in Superman’s Metropolis that couldn’t happen in Spider-Man’s New York or Green Lantern’s Coast City or vice versa?).  If you’re doing a novel, I’d recommend looking harder at more flavorful, distinct examples (inside and outside of the superhero niche) like Batman’s Gotham, Terry Pratchett’s Unseen University (and probably Ankh-Morpork generally), Watchmen’s New York, Transmetropolitan’s The City*, Harry Potter’s Hogwarts, maybe Dresden Files’ Chicago and Making the Corps’ Parris Island.  Also, whereas most superhero comic books and movies are set mostly on modern Earth, quite a few successful superhero novels have experimented with historical settings (e.g. Amazing Adventures and Bitter Seeds are mostly about WWII and the buildup to WWII and the first few Wild Cards books cover the period from WWII to the present).

*Vastly more interesting than it sounds.

 

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21 responses so far

Nov 24 2011

Building Up Romance (Danielle Kazemi)

Published by under Guest Articles,Romance

One problem when writing romance in books is how to show it. Everyone knows of the basic ways: hugs, kisses, and obviously getting into bed. There are dozens of different ways to show it. You don’t need to rely just on the basics.

 

Shyness: Even a hardened, tough as nails character might have difficulty putting their feelings into words. In real life, sometimes even a suave jock has trouble asking out a girl. This can be manifested through stuttering as well. In the character’s mind, the stakes might be considerably higher than simply taking out the bad guy. Sure, defending the city is important but not nearly as important as fulfilling his or her dream of getting the object of affection.

 

Holding hands: This helps connect the two people for the first time (usually). You are connected to someone and in a sense it helps you know the other person is always there. It can also be seen when teams do the hand circle and touch one another. It helps everyone feel connected. In romance, this is no different. However, you can add in running fingers over the other person’s hand. Try that in a team and see the looks you get.

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6 responses so far

Nov 22 2011

Other People’s Heroes: A Writer’s Review

Other People’s Heroes is easily the best superhero novel I’ve read this year (at least in comparison to the other two, Perry Moore’s Hero and Playing for Keeps). It’s not perfect by any means, but it was fun and definitely helpful for other superhero novelists looking for inspiration.

 

After a nice-guy journalist with a fervent admiration for superheroes develops powers of his own, he immediately opts to join the community he’s respected for so long, only to find that Siegel City’s heroes and villains are about as genuine as professional wrestlers, from hero merchandising to staged brawls. Though he initially stays in order to expose “the biggest con game this city has ever seen,” he eventually realizes that there’s something even more sinister beneath the system’s surface.

 

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4 responses so far

Nov 19 2011

“What Have You Learned in This Class?”

Published by under Education/Schools

My boss mentioned an interesting final exam he once had.  The professor met each student individually and the final exam was speaking for 12 minutes straight to answer the question “What have you learned in this class?”  The student gets two pauses and the professor says nothing except “Off-topic” or “Change subjects” if he feels the student is wasting time.  How many classes have you taken that have taught you enough to speak semi-coherently for 10+ minutes about what you’ve learned? What separates those teachers/professors from the other teachers/professors you’ve had?

20 responses so far

Nov 16 2011

Week-long Haitus

Published by under Superhero Nation

I’m moving tomorrow and it’ll take me a week or maybe two to replace my computer.  Unless a library is serendipitously close, I don’t anticipate doing much online during that time.

15 responses so far

Nov 14 2011

Cypress’ Review Forum

Published by under Review Forums

I’m currently working on a novel for the first time. I’m not looking to get published anytime soon, but I’ll take anything you can throw at me to improve my writing.

 

My story plot is a little vague right now since I’m still trying to figure out where I want the story to go so…

 

My novel’s focus is on Christena, she is about 25 years old and works as a secretary for the boss of a small mafia. She’s having issues coping with her life in the mafia after spending most of her time in a vigilante group that went after criminals who escaped justice. The story starts a year and a half after the death of the three other girls in her group that were like her sisters. Christena is both physically and mentally scarred from the bombing that kill her sisters, and is also forced to deal with an obsessed psychopath that she works for.

 

The story is currently being told in the POVs of Christena and her boss with a prologue that is two years before the story starts.

4 responses so far

Nov 06 2011

Ideas About How to Name a Superhero

First, I’d like to reiterate that superhero names generally don’t matter very much and probably won’t mean the difference between getting published and getting rejected. That said, if you can’t come up with a superhero name or a team name, here are some possible sources of inspiration.

 

1. Something thematically and/or symbolically appropriate. For example, “Captain America” is more interesting than “Shield Throwing Man,” because the America and military angles matter more to his story than the details of his superpowers. Alternately, Oracle can’t actually predict the future, but her name sort of makes sense because her main role is providing information and assistance. There are also a bevy of characters named after mythological or literary references (e.g. Ozymandias is acutely aware of human limitations/mortality, which also happens to be the main theme of the poem Ozymandias). Please note that you can either gloss over the symbolism or skip over it — e.g. Watchmen and Breaking Bad spent less than a minute discussing where “Ozymandias” and “Heisenberg” came from.

2. An emotional impression. Some characters have names that evoke the right emotions, but aren’t related to the characters’ powers. Some heroic examples include Wonder Woman and the Martian Manhunter, as opposed to villainous examples like Venom and Carnage.

 

3. Something in the character’s origin story. For example, Green Lantern is named after the source of his powers (and his organization). Batman is named after a bat even though his powers aren’t actually bat-related. (Unless bats are secretly master ninja-scientist-detectives. That’d go a long way to explaining how the bats trapped in my attic have survived this long, actually).

 

4. The character’s goal. This is more common in team names (e.g. the Avengers or any name with Guardians in it), but names like The Punisher or The Question make it pretty clear what the characters want to accomplish.   Continue Reading »

751 responses so far

Nov 05 2011

How to Write a Cover Letter That Is Both Modest and Confident

Earlier I linked a cover letter that was both modest and confident.   How can a cover letter be both?

1. Any claim that you can back up is not immodest.  For example, J.K. Rowling can modestly and honestly say that she has been the most successful fantasy author in the world over the past decade or so.  Granted, you’re probably not as accomplished in your field as she is in hers, but you almost certainly can back up some claims about your qualifications for a particular position, based on your work history, letters of reference and (as a last resort) your educational experience.  (If you can’t come up with some evidence of your qualifications, why are you applying for the position?)

 

2.  If you must make an opinionated claim in your cover letter, at least have someone relevant back up the opinion.  For example, “I’m the best writer at my company” is much less persuasive than “In my last performance evaluation, my supervisor wrote I was ‘the best writer in the company.'”  If you just give the reader your opinion without any reason to believe that your opinion is actually correct, it will probably sound like empty bragging.  Alternately, you can give evidence to back up your claim.  For example, instead of saying you’re an awesome writer, you might say “I’ve been published in The Onion, Martha Stewart Magazine and Heavy Weaponry“* or have received awards A and B, successfully performed crucial job responsibilities C and D at a previous job and/or accomplished goals E or F.  It’s probably not that hard to find and/or do something remotely impressive. For example, if you write a blog that’s had even 20,000 readers, that’s a start. (As a point of comparison, I reached 20,000 readers after about six months of decidedly clueless high school blogging.  If you wanted to, you could probably do it significantly faster).

*If Martha Stewart Magazine had more articles by authors published in Heavy Weaponry, I might actually read it.

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3 responses so far

Nov 04 2011

Miscellaneous Links

  • Stars and Stripes has an article about how Hollywood (mistakenly) depicts military uniforms.  If you’re very into realism and didn’t know that Marines can’t wear hats indoors unless they’re armed, I’d definitely give it a look.  Some of these are just common sense, such as giving soldiers eye protection in the desert.  (Patrolling Iraq without sunglasses is crazy–sunglasses are the fount from which all badassery gushes. Iraq’s also pretty sunny, I hear).
  • Janet Reid has some thoughts on a query that tries covering too many characters.  If at all possible, I would not recommend mentioning another character in your query until you’ve covered something interesting and/or plot-critical for the previous character.  (My rule of thumb is that it’s probably best to mention only the characters that are individually vital to understanding the story–for example, if your main character joins a group of 4+ superheroes, you probably don’t need to introduce all of his teammates individually).  Reid liked this approach to an ensemble cast better.
  • I’m reading Stephen Henning’s A Class Apart today.  Some of it is rough around the edges.  For example, the plot is a bit hard to understand and the female main character is obviously written by a guy (see #1, #2 and #4.1 here). However, if you’re writing a book with superpowered action, I’d recommend checking out the scene where the bomb explodes.  I like his use of sensory detail there.
  • Especially if you’re an experienced job-seeker, I’d recommend checking out this legendary cover letter by an applicant to the OSS (the WWII-era CIA predecessor).  Notice how fluidly he shifts from the needs of the organization to how he is qualified to fit those needs.  He comes across as both modest and confident.  If you’re not an experienced applicant, I’d recommend focusing instead on how you meet the posted job requirements rather than proposing a new course of action in the cover letter.

6 responses so far

Nov 02 2011

Writing and Editing Skills Critical for Entry-Level Writers

Published by under Publishing Jobs

Scarily enough, I might be interviewing prospective marketing interns this year.  Here are some writing skills I’d really like to see.

 

1.  Basic proofreading skills.  Poor proofreading skills raise all sorts of red flags about a prospective writer (such as diligence, attention to detail and sometimes intelligence).  In contrast, good proofreading skills suggest the writer will be easier to work with, will require less hand-holding and can be trusted with proofreading assignments.  In particular, editors have more important things to do than double-checking everything written by publisher’s assistants or interns.  In an especially competitive field, like the publishing industry, a candidate with many typos in his/her resume or cover letter has virtually no chance of getting hired.

 

2. Conciseness.  Almost all corporate writing is shorter than 1000 words and longer writing probably isn’t entry-level (e.g. legal contracts or Gallup survey results or long-form journalism).  Besides proofreading, the ability to convey information quickly and clearly has probably been the most important writing skill in my brief professional experience.

 

3. The ability to vary writing style based on target audience and purpose.  For example, Notre Dame’s marketing materials will sound different and will probably focus on different themes than marketing materials for West Point or the University of Chicago.  Promotional copy for Grand Theft Auto will probably sound different than copy for Nintendogs, unless Rock Star and Nintendo are working on a very unorthodox crossover.

Grand Theft Auto Meets Nintendogs?
(Before you laugh, there actually was a Punisher/Archie crossover.  We can only pray that they aren’t already working on Grand Theft Ausky).

 

3.1. A basic understanding of motivations and thought processes.  For example, if you’re trying to convince teens not to smoke, I would definitely recommend NOT leading with long-term health consequences like cancer because most of your target audience isn’t thinking that far ahead.  (And any teen that is thinking 20+ years ahead almost assuredly does not smoke, regardless of your writing).  Instead, I’d recommend focusing on mundane, immediate concerns like bad breath/godawful kissing, stained teeth, a shortness of breath/athletic handicap, the financial costs, etc.  (For example, smoking one cigarette a day over the course of high school works out to something like $700, which is enough for maybe 25 high school dates or 10 pairs of Abercrombie pants or 50 meals out or 20 used copies of Grand Theft Ausky or whatever else teens like to spend money on).

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9 responses so far

Nov 01 2011

American Quirks for Authors

Published by under Americana,Comedy

This is an interesting compilation of things that foreigners found notable and/or quirky about life in the United States.  It could be useful if you’re writing about a foreigner visiting the United States or an American traveling abroad.

  • “Some places you can turn right on red — wait what YOU CAN DRIVE THROUGH A RED LIGHT if you’re turning WHAT THE HELL PEOPLE”
  • “Every employed person rates themselves middle class.”
  • “From the UK: much greater tendency to use text on signs – in Europe we tend either to use graphics or not to bother with a sign at all.”
  • “One language – I noticed in Europe most people speak more than one language and usually even 3 or more.”  (I suspect that linguistic heterogeneity makes it harder to use words on signs).
  • “Seconding flags, but particularly flags in non-civic settings. A French visitor, for instance, wouldn’t be surprised to see flags on city halls, but on car dealerships?”  February 1798 marked the Volvo Plot, a massive conspiracy of Swedish car dealers against the Republic and freedom in general.  Today, it is customary for car dealerships to fly the flag to remind their customers that they are not trampling the sweet cause of liberty by shopping there.  That’s also why BMW and Toyota ads emphasize how superlatively American their cars are.
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14 responses so far