Archive for December, 2011

Dec 30 2011

How to Build an Audience for Your Writing Website

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.

I’ve already done an article on how to promote fiction with a nonfiction platform (such as a website mainly devoted to writing advice), but here are some tips for novelists that want to build an audience for a fiction website.

 

1.  Pick a niche small enough that you can compete in, but big enough that there are enough readers to sustain you.  Your genre and/or subgenre are usually good places to start.  For example, if you were doing superhero stories, Google estimates that there are at least 50,000 searches related to superhero fiction every month (for superhero book, superhero story, superhero fiction, superhero writing, etc).

 

2.  After you’ve picked a niche, figure out key search terms/phrases to target.  I brainstormed about 10 possible searches related to superhero fiction, but superhero book(s) and superhero story/stories accounted for 86% of the traffic.

 

3.  When you’re picking out a site name and URL, I’d generally recommend including at least one of your critical search terms.  When search engines are figuring out which sites are the best match for a particular query, they love to see the search term(s) in the title.  (Case in point: Superhero Nation is currently beating Marvel and DC Comics on Google searches for superhero stories, and it’s not because I have more superhero stories than they do).

 

3.1. If you’d like to include critical search terms into your title, one possibility is including a colon phrase or dash phrase if you haven’t already.  For example, in my case, I did Superhero Nation: how to write superhero novels, comic books and graphic novels.  I’d generally recommend keeping the total title to 65-70 characters so that Google doesn’t cut you off.  (I do get cut off a bit).  There are two main advantages to including a colon or dash phrase: first, it gets more critical search terms into your title, which helps your site perform better on related searches.  Second, it helps identify your website’s purpose to prospective readers glancing through Google results.  “Superhero Nation” doesn’t say all that much about what I offer, but “how to write superhero novels…” does.  If prospective readers do not understand what you offer and how they will benefit, they will probably pass over your website. 

 

3.2. Your website’s title and URL are critical resources, so don’t waste them on your name.  First, unless you’re a well-known author, people aren’t searching you out by your name yet.  Second, even if people were searching for you by your name, they’ll find you whether or not your name is in your title/URL.  I would highly recommend focusing instead on keywords, or at least on a descriptive phrase that conveys your genre/subgenre or what you offer.  For example, JohnMDoe.com doesn’t really say anything about what you offer, but “Crime Scene: Murder Mysteries and Detective Novels from John Doe” is a much better alternative if you’re dead-set on having your name in your title.  It also does a better job competing on popular search terms like murder mysteries and detective novels. 

 

4.  When you have quality content on your website, find people that would be interested in your genre and style of writing and email them a 2 sentence synopsis of the story with a link.  For example, a Google search for something like superhero blogs will probably turn up a lot of people that are interested in superhero stories.  If your niche has substantial search traffic, there are probably people blogging about it already.

 

4.1. As much as possible, I would recommend doing this communication gradually and personally.  Take your time with it.  A form letter obviously written to 50+ people probably won’t go very far.  I think a personal touch (like addressing the recipient by name) goes a long way.  Personally, I almost always read emails addressed to B. McKenzie or B. Mac because it suggests that they’re at least vaguely aware of what I do.  In contrast, “Dear Webmaster” emails are almost always machine-generated spam.  (If there’s a human out there that can’t find a name that’s on 99% of SN articles and the About Page, I am so sorry for him/her).  Another advantage of doing this gradually is that you’ll get better at introducing yourself, introducing your content and writing content with practice, so don’t use up too many opportunities before you’ve given yourself a chance to improve.

 

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6 responses so far

Dec 27 2011

10 Reasons to Reboot a Superhero Movie Franchise

Published by under Comic Book Movies

My guest article about when it’s a good time to reboot a franchise just got posted at comicbooks.com.  The editorial assistance was surprisingly good.  The edited article has a slightly more casual voice than most of my content on SN, but I hope you’ll enjoy it anyway.

 

If you’d be interested in hosting one of my guest articles, please let me know at superheronation-at-gmail-dot-com.  I’d really appreciate if you would suggest an article topic (e.g. How to Write an Interesting Sidekick) or some general genre of articles (e.g. anything about characterization) you find interesting, but it’s not necessary.

3 responses so far

Dec 23 2011

Legolas Arrow’s Review Forum

Published by under Review Forums

Legolas Arrow: “I’m working on a story about superheroes fighting a variety of villains trying to take over the world.  Among the villains, there are factions that plan to take out other factions when they take over the world, and then the last faction divides into factions, until it’s the ultimate power struggle between two supreme villains. In other words, if they manage to take control, it’s like The Hunger Games; alliances can only be temporary. The story might also have various side-plots, such as the story of Shadow Assassin or what happens when half the superheroes become convinced the other half is evil.  (That idea is pending).”

19 responses so far

Dec 20 2011

Don’t Let Information Take a Dump On Your Dialogue

Prologues should be hunted for sport.  They should be in season all year round, and whenever someone brings one down they should take pictures of themselves grinning like idiots over its fallen and bloodied body.  I’m sure many authors would agree with me.  In fact, there are probably several who jumped up from their computers after reading those first few sentences and started chasing their manuscripts through the house with a rifle.

 

When I read a piece of fiction, I’m trying to be transported into another world through the power of imagination.  I want characters, situations, and dialogue.  Tell me a joke, make me laugh, or let me see a glimpse of something that piques my curiosity as to what may happen next.  I don’t want a history lesson.  If your story doesn’t start at the beginning, that’s fine.  Let the people who have been brought to life through your words explain the beginning to me.  Wait!  Don’t get ahead of yourself.  I don’t want characters sitting me down and reciting a history lecture either.  If you can copy/paste your prologue into the dialogue, chances are it’s terrible dialogue.

 

In my collection of super hero stories, I recounted how the main character met two different people within the confines of one conversation at a house-warming party:

 

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9 responses so far

Dec 19 2011

Redesigning Robin

B. Mac likes to pick on Robin in 9 Easy-to-Fix Problems with Superhero Design. I’ll admit that I’m a bit of a Robin fan, so let’s take a closer look at the Boy Wonder himself to see what went wrong and how effective changes to a character’s costume can create an entirely new visual story of a character.

 

Artists have changed Robin’s visual aesthetics many times over the years and few characters needed the changes as badly as he did. By comparing two different costumes, one of his early ones from the 1940s, to his appearance in the recent Young Justice cartoon, we can see that no character is beyond redemption with some changes to his costume. Both designs are of the same hero, using some of the same costume elements; however each costume tells a very different story about the character.

 

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11 responses so far

Dec 18 2011

List of Superhero Cliches, Tropes, and Conventions

Published by under Writing Articles

PLOTTING

1. The story’s inciting event is most often the murder of a loved one(s).  For example, in Spider-Man, Peter’s uncle gets killed because he wasn’t brave enough to take action.  One possible subversion is that the uncle got killed because Peter (or the uncle) did try to take action.  Another popular inciting event is something which suddenly gives the characters superpowers–common examples include scientific accidents, alien landings, living in New York City, and miracle operations.

 

2. The superhero usually gets his superpowers before the villain does.  Or, at least, we learn about the superhero getting his superpowers first.  It’s pretty rare for a supervillain to start his reign of terror before the hero has superpowers.

 

2.1. The superhero and main villain frequently gets their superpowers either from the same source or similar sources.  For example, Green Lantern and Sinestro both use power rings.  Spider-Man and the Green Goblin are both biochemically enhanced.  Batman and the Joker are both fueled by insanity.

 

3. Many villains and heroes share some sort of personal connection outside of work.  The easiest way to become one of Spider-Man’s villains is to meet Peter Parker.  (Green Goblin is his best friend’s father, Lizard employed him as a teaching assistant, Venom is a rival at work, Dr. Octopus once taught him at a science camp, Man-Wolf is J.J. Jameson’s son, etc).  This may be explainable if superpowers are mostly hereditary and/or highly visible in your story.  For example, mutants are a pretty small group of mostly outcasts in X-Men, so it makes sense that mutants have a better chance of knowing each other and/or being related to each other than random humans would.  Alternately, the hero might interact with a lot of people that are relatively likely to develop superpowers.  For example, Peter Parker knows a lot of leading scientists and New York City scientists are more or less certain to develop superpowers.

 

4. Nuclear weapons cannot destroy anything, but hand-to-hand combatants are largely unstoppable.  If there’s anything I’ve learned from fiction, it’s that a single ninja is the deadliest force in the galaxy.  In contrast, nuclear weapons are hilariously unable to kill anything. Even in Watchmen, where nuclear weapons are the grim doom hanging over everybody’s heads, it’s a giant psychic squid that actually destroys a city. In Heroes, Peter’s healing power can be stopped by a bullet to the back of the head but not a point-blank nuclear detonation. Also in Heroes, a nuclear detonation happens within 10-20 miles of New York City and nobody even notices. In these stories, nuclear romance killed more people (one of Dr. Manhattan’s lovers) than nuclear weapons did.

5. Nobody stays dead (comic book deaths never last).  Almost no superheroes die or lose their superpowers for an extended period in comic books.  It will never happen to bestselling characters, unless a reboot is already planned.  Novels don’t fall into this cliche as often. A novelist doesn’t need to do decades worth of stories for the same character, so it’s easier for a novelist to alter the status quo.

5.1. Primary superhero protagonists almost always survive and win, especially in comic books. In a superhero story, there is a 99%+ chance that the main characters accomplish their goal and survive. In contrast, in other action stories, it’s not unheard of that the heroes either fail to accomplish their goals or die accomplishing them.

5.2 Women are disproportionately likely to get, ahem, stuffed in a fridge or otherwise brutally slain.  Publishers usually treat highly popular characters much more carefully and the characters that drive sales the most are (besides Buffy) almost exclusively male.  However, being a male superhero doesn’t help you much if you aren’t very popular–just ask Jason Todd!

 

6. New York City (or an obvious stand-in like Gotham) is the default setting for most superhero stories. I think it’s because the U.S. comic book and novel publishing industries are centered there and that’s what their editors are most comfortable with.  Also, they’d probably reason that it’s got a recognizable skyline, a large built-in audience, the brightest lights/biggest stage for a superhero, etc.  This isn’t necessarily a wrong choice, but I would be concerned if you chose NYC just because it’s the generic setting and you couldn’t come up with anything else. New York itself isn’t a problem, but generic settings are. In contrast, Gotham is obviously based on New York City, but definitely has a mood/character to it.

6.1.  95%+ of the world’s superpowered activity will usually happen in and around a single city.  Apparently, New York City has a global monopoly on cutting-edge science–either that, or scientists everywhere else have figured out how not to turn themselves into supervillains.  PS: If your superhero activity is overwhelmingly centered in a particular city, I’d recommend having an in-story reason why.  “That’s where the chemical spill/alien landing/origin story/whatever happened” is usually sufficient.

 

7. Most superheroes almost never interact with their parents, besides possibly a stirring death scene.  This is true of many non-superhero stories as well. Hollywood kills off or skips over the parents of protagonists (especially adult protagonists) so consistently that I was shocked in grade school to learn that my 40-something teacher’s parents were still alive. Disney had distorted my perspective so much that I had assumed that parents usually died by the time their kids became adults.

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195 responses so far

Dec 17 2011

How to Write a Good Sidekick

A bad sidekick aggravates readers and weakens the story.  Over the past 25 years, the two live-action Batman movies with Robin have averaged 29% on Rotten Tomatoes.  The four without Robin have averaged 82%.  Here are some tips that will help you write a sidekick that will excite readers rather than make them want to stick their brains in a blender.

 

(Amazingly, the nipples on Robin's suit weren't the worst thing Batman & Robin did to the character).

 

1. If a character is actually interesting enough to belong as a sidekick, promote him to partner or superhero.  Calling him a “sidekick” cues readers that he’s probably a distraction from the character that actually matters.  If he’s not interesting enough to be a partner, you’d probably be better off without him altogether.  Alternately, you can have a character play an interesting role far from the spotlight.  For example, Lucius Fox (Morgan Freeman) adds an interesting ideological dispute with Batman in The Dark Knight but he gets extremely little screen-time and never participates in any fights.

 

2. Give yourself a reason for writing in a partner/sidekick besides adding “relatability” for younger readers.  If you’re mainly including a sidekick for relatability, I think you’ll probably aggravate older readers more than you’ll please younger ones.  For example, watch Robin in Batman and Robin, Scrappy Doo in too many Scooby Doo episodes, or Jar-Jar Binks in Phantom Menace.  Did these characters at any point take the story in a direction that you wanted to go?  Or were they exceedingly unlikable and a distraction from more interesting characters?

 

3. Here are some better reasons for having a partner than relatability.  

  • In Kick-Ass, the relationship between Hit Girl and Big Daddy (her father) was probably the most interesting character dynamic.  It was somehow simultaneously abusive and touching, both of which helped flesh him out as a three-dimensional character rather than just another ersatz Punisher.  Also, having Hit Girl be insanely effective in battle was a delightful subversion that raised the stakes for Kick-Ass.  (If you’re a superhero getting schooled in battle by a 11 year old girl, maybe it’s time to think about hanging up the tights).
  • The character is a loner, but his thought processes are interesting enough that his interactions would develop him and/or the story.  For example, one of Watson’s main roles is giving Holmes a way to narrate the mental leaps he’s making to solve the case.  As the “straight man,” he’s also the audience stand-in, which helps create a contrast with the eccentric and unorthodox Holmes.
  • You absolutely need someone with a particular skill to make a plot arc work, but for whatever reason, it wouldn’t make sense to give that skill to the main character.

 

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21 responses so far

Dec 17 2011

This speaks for itself, I think

Published by under Comedy

I made this t-shirt on CustomInk. It is a t-shirt for spectacular people.

Funny T-shirt about ninjas killing dinosaurs

 

Custom t-shirt printing at CustomInk.com

 

 

 

2 responses so far

Dec 16 2011

Encouraging Writing Advice for Young Authors

Published by under Art,Writing Articles

 

From Ace of Spades.

4 responses so far

Dec 13 2011

How Can Superheroes Maintain a Day Job?

Here are some ideas–feel free to mix and match as you see fit.

1. The superhero’s job gives him a very good reason to take up and leave at crucial moments.  For example, Clark Kent has a great reason to run towards disasters–he’s a journalist looking for the biggest story in town.  Matt Murdoch (Daredevil) or another lawyer might have some good reasons to do so–some supervillains have deep pockets and any disaster scene is liable to have tons of victims that will need a great lawyer.  Successfully suing a billionaire villain (or, umm, the police for failing to take reasonable precautions to keep him in jail) could be a huge payday.

 

2. The superhero secretly prepares some exciting projects for work that he can unveil whenever he needs to get his boss off his back.  For example, it might be a problem that Clark Kent missed a deadline on mortgages in Metropolis, but his editor would probably look past that if Clark Kent pulled a Pulitzer-grade story out of his brief.  “Sorry, chief, I was busy triple-checking the sourcing on this Luthor confession.  We got him on tape!”  A superhero might be able to sit on a huge breakthrough in his work for a long time–for example, a journalist might spend months checking a story because rushing to print with a libelous claim against an extremely wealthy businessman could be disastrous for the company.

 

2.1. The superhero is valuable enough at work that his bosses and coworkers look past his tendency to miss work and/or come in late and/or incur mysterious injuries/illnesses.  For example, he might be in a white collar job where uncommon bravery is a major advantage but not many people have it.  (I mean, really, how many journalists are there that would be excited to rush to the scene of a superpowered brawl in progress?  How many lawyers would be excited to interview murder suspects in extremely shady parts of town?)  His skills as a superhero might be really useful–for example, he probably has some degree of investigatory prowess, fast reflexes, familiarity with crime/criminals, toughness, an attention to detail, unusual confidence, determination and/or well-placed contacts in various industries and positions. For example, someone like Clark Kent is probably careful enough to make a good forensic accountant (although most taxmen would obviously not make very good superheroes).

 

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6 responses so far

Dec 13 2011

Rolando’s Review Forum

Published by under Review Forums

Rolando is working on a story about a superhero whose wife gets assassinated at his retirement ceremony.  That Jamaican cruise will have to wait.

7 responses so far

Dec 02 2011

In Conversation, Answers Don’t Have to be Verbal

Published by under Comedy

I ordered a dish at a Korean restaurant and the server said “ooh, that’s spicy.”  “How spicy?”  She just handed me a pitcher of water.

 

 

Conversations don’t have to be purely linear.  You might be able to develop a conversation in an interesting and/or unexpected direction if characters respond to questions and statements in unexpected ways.

 

B. MAC: This apartment complex looks nice…

LANDLADY: And the pool is beautiful!

B. MAC: …but I’m concerned that several tenants have had toxic black mold.  What sort of remediation efforts–

LANDLADY: —COME, YOU MUST SEE POOL.  

 

 

17 responses so far

Dec 02 2011

Writing More Realistic Violence

Here are some points I took away from this article on violence.

1. Very few people are actually prepared for a life-or-death, organ-stabbing fight.  “Herein lies a crucial distinction between traditional martial arts and realistic self-defense: Most martial artists train for a ‘fight.’ Opponents assume ready stances, just out of each other’s range, and then practice various techniques or spar (engage in controlled fighting). This does not simulate real violence. It doesn’t prepare you to respond effectively to a sudden attack, in which you have been hit before you even knew you were threatened, and it doesn’t teach you to strike preemptively, without telegraphing your moves, once you have determined that an attack is imminent.”

 

2. All other things being equal, I would imagine someone that’s pretty mild-mannered and hasn’t been in many fights would probably have quite a learning curve as a superhero.  Most violent criminals (e.g. supervillains!) are used to violence that most people could not fathom.  In a savage fight, it is very possible that a superhero’s mental/moral hesitations and inhibitions and unfamiliarity with violence could be disastrous.  Superhero organizations might want to have new recruits fight nonpowered criminals in relatively low-stakes cases until it looks like they might be mentally and physically hard enough to survive a psychotic killer like Mr. Freeze or a death camp survivor that mentally ripped a foe’s tooth out of his mouth… back when he was a protagonist.  And, let’s be honest, it’s not likely that every would-be superhero can successfully make that transition.  (If you’re writing a larger organization like the Justice League, what does the group do about heroes that are so ill-suited for combat they will probably get themselves killed?  For example, maybe some get retrained as crime-solvers and partnered with ace combatants and maybe others get let go and maybe still more take on important support roles like medic or scientist or whatever that might involve some exposure to violence but aren’t as intense as actually being a combatant).

 

3. Although I think the author discounts the potential benefits of bravery, I agree it definitely has potential costs.  I don’t think we see very much of that in most superhero stories.  For example, violence for Spider-Man is sort of Disney-fied–virtually the only permanent costs of violence (Uncle Ben’s death) are caused by not being brave.   For most superheroes, I think the violence is heavily romanticized.  Being a superhero is more or less fun and games except when a (usually secondary) character dies and, let’s face it, he will probably come back anyway.  On the other hand, I personally don’t enjoy deep-R violence and would feel uncomfortable including it in something primarily meant as entertainment.  (For example, in Kickass, a gangster gets crushed in a car-compactor–it’s decidedly unpleasant and I’m sort of annoyed it was a laugh-line for the audience).

 

4.  It might be dramatic to make a hero choose between his pride and other goals.  For example, if 3+ muggers have guns drawn on Bruce Wayne, it’d be pretty banal for Wayne to flawlessly disarm the criminals and walk away completely unscathed–pretty much every superhero would do the same in that situation.  It might be more interesting if the character allowed himself to be robbed, walked away and got his revenge later.  How much is his pride worth?  Alternately, if the character does decide that his pride is worth risking serious physical injury and/or revealing that he has superpowers, have him pay something for it.  (For example, the first sign to Gary that something is not right about his coworker Dr. Mallow is that Gary witnesses several men rob Dr. Mallow, taking among other things a cherished personal memento.  Over the next several weeks, all of the assailants end up in mysterious accidents and the good doctor has his memento back.  Mallow could have just let it go, but trying to protect his property even after the fact bears a cost for him).

8 responses so far