Archive for February, 2012

Feb 25 2012

“In a Superhero Story, How Could I Keep the Police From Getting Involved?”

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.

If you’re looking to write superhero stories that are more about superheroes than about the police, here are some possible explanations.


1.  The police mistakenly conclude that no crime took place.  For example, if a supervillain murders someone, maybe he planted evidence that makes it look like a suicide, faked an accident (e.g. pushed the victim down the stairs) or used a poison that induced a heart attack. In a theft case, the villain might have replaced the stolen goods with a convincing forgery.  In an assault case, the victim might have been intimidated into silence.


2. The police didn’t realize that this was an extraordinary case and gave up when ordinary police-work didn’t pan out.  If Mary Jane gets killed and the police can’t find any helpful forensic data at the crime scene or any witnesses or even anybody with a discernible motive to kill MJ, the police are screwed.  Half of U.S. murders go unsolved and the police will declare it a cold case and move on if they’re not getting anywhere.  In a lot of cases, the police don’t have the necessary background information to figure out what’s going on–for example, knowing that MJ was dating a superhero would have been really helpful.


3. The case is unusual enough that the police wouldn’t know where to start. For example, let’s say a ghost kills somebody.  The police will probably get lost running down more mundane angles if they don’t know that ghosts are an actual possibility.  (They may even unknowingly railroad an innocent guy if he looks like the only plausible suspect).  Even if detectives are willing to risk their careers by telling their superiors they think it’s a ghost, what are the police going to do? Arrest a ghost?


3.1. If the police know how unusual the case is, they may delegate it to an expert. In the Dresden Files, the Chicago police use Harry Dresden on supernatural cases.  They know he’s more experienced with that sort of thing (being a wizard and all) and using a freelancer gives the police some degree of plausible deniability if the case goes horribly wrong.


4. The case is hard enough that the police wouldn’t know where to start.  If you need Batman-grade detective and/or scientific skills to realize the first thing about who committed a crime or how to find him, it’s plausible that the police will give up after regular police-work doesn’t bear any fruit.  For example, many Sherlock Holmes cases are first reported to the police, but then Holmes is brought in (either by the victims or by the police) after the police have failed to get anywhere.


5. The police may suffer from corruption, political interference and/or gross incompetence.  For example, the Penguin is politically connected in Gotham (e.g. he’s a viable candidate for mayor), and it’s plausible that police brass would be more careful about investigating somebody that might be their next boss.  (Political considerations may also be a factor for prosecutors and judges). Police officers and lab technicians that have been bribed might “lose” evidence or make “mistakes” that cause crucial evidence to be thrown out of court.  Forensics analysts might be paid to implicate the supervillain’s rivals (maybe even a superhero).  Corrupt supervisors might reassign honest police officers and technicians that won’t take a hint.


Continue Reading »

12 responses so far

Feb 21 2012

Overcoming Psychological Barriers to Authorial Success

I saw this in one of Slate’s advice columns:

Q: This may not sound like a problem, but I seem to be surrounded by incredibly talented people. My boyfriend has appeared on magazine covers for his worldwide surfing adventures and is also a published writer (which is my chosen field, but I’ve found no success in it). My siblings and circle of friends are all artists and musicians enjoying relative success and happiness with these careers. I know this sounds hyperbolic, but all of them seemed to have found something they’re not only very good at, but passionate about as well. I, on the other hand, am a mediocre “jack of all trades” type and want nothing more than to find that thing that I will shine at… How can I find my talent and/or not be resentful of those in my life who already have?

Here are some thoughts:


1. Writing is more of a practiced skill you create than an innate talent you find.  Temperament and attitude are better indicators of success as a writer than talent is.

  • Are you excited about improving?
  • Do you work hard and write often?
  • Do you take constructive criticism maturely?
  • Are you brave enough to make mistakes and learn from them?
  • Do you read heavily, especially within the genre(s) you write?
  • Are you willing to see this through even though it will probably take you years?

If you said yes to all of those, I think you will probably succeed with practice.  If you said no to a few of them, it might be worth looking into other fields or other forms of writing.  For example, if you would feel like a failure if you’ve been writing for a year and haven’t been published somewhere, it might help to start with short stories rather than novels.


2. Some seemingly-untalented writers make vast improvements. Even incredible writers very frequently start out inauspiciously.  For example, Terry Pratchett’s first manuscript (Carpet People) was an absolute disaster, but he’s grown into an excellent author (maybe the best in his genre).  J.K. Rowling got rejected 12 times and many authors top 50 rejections.  Closer to home, P. Mac and I were not the most talented writers in our high school–hell, not even in our family–but we’ve both practiced heavily* and he’s since been published in the New York Times and I’ve had a few hundred thousand readers.


3. Don’t be discouraged if there is a gap between your self-expectations and the quality of your early work.  You won’t impress professionals right away and that’s okay.  When young writers feel frustrated by the quality of their writing, most often it’s because they’re comparing themselves to experienced writers that have had tens of thousands of hours of practice and are in the prime of their careers.  If your self-expectations are high enough that you’ve read through this far, please keep in mind that the only way to close the gap between your self-expectations and the quality of your work is to practice.


4. Unless you’re independently wealthy, I would recommend looking into full-time writing and/or editing jobs to hone your craft (such as communications, journalism, publishing, publicity, marketing, etc).  The typical professional novelist took 10 years of practice to get published.  That’s a long time to go without getting much positive reinforcement–your self-doubts may overtake your drive.  In contrast, a full-time writing job will give you writing assignments where you can plausibly succeed in the short and medium terms.  That sense of success will help propel you forward.  Additionally, the steady pay and practice will help you develop your writing skills and keep your anxiety level to a minimum.


And this concludes our hopefully encouraging note on talent, effort and the publishing industry.  And now, back to our regularly-scheduled, morbidly depressing content, such as 5 Ways to Survive a Writing Career Without Buying Food.

12 responses so far

Feb 19 2012

Zoey’s Review Forum

Published by under Review Forums

Zoey: “I’m writing a YA story about a pulling pranks, getting in trouble, getting put in jail, and hitchhiking to Florida.”

17 responses so far

Feb 19 2012

The Navy’s Five Most Sitcom-ish Screw-Ups

Published by under Comedy,National service

#4 is accidentally attempting to assassinate the President–it somehow gets worse.  Oh, by the way, all five screw-ups happened on one ship (the William D. Porter).



One screw-up Cracked doesn’t mention is that FDR asked his Secret Service attendee to wheel him over to the side of the battleship so that he could see the incoming torpedo.  That reminds me of the Nedelin disaster, where a Soviet space commander got ~120 people killed (including himself) by watching a shuttle from the launch pad rather than the bunker.

No responses yet

Feb 19 2012

Brandon’s Review Forum

Published by under Review Forums

Brandon writes:


“Unlikely savior Bryan Deleon has discovered his true self and his powers at the young age of 13. Forced away to “Lost Angeles” by the king he raises himself until he is 18. The world is overrun by a murderous threat called the Dark Axis and there are only a select amount of individuals who can stop this plague and bring the world back to its regular state and not be entirely eaten up by the “dark sister” of Earth. Bryan and his friends must embark on a perilous journey in order to stop the world from being entirely consumed by Thrae.


Facing many new friends, enemies, and rivals Bryan is introduced to the real side of life, the one the media and the government, particularly the king; his father has hidden for countless years. This is the reality and it is scary, will this batch of heroes have what it takes to take back the world from tyranny or fall victim to the leech of a world.


Bryan is an introverted teen who lost his memory shortly after being banished by his own father. Now 18 years old, Bryan must re-discover himself and discover the harsh and overly brutal reality that life has its jagged edges and leaves deep scars. He can’t turn down his quest save if he wishes for the world to slowly implode within itself.


His friends are much more charismatic than him; Chase and Sarah bring out the best in him though. Through time he grows to be a very insightful and incredibly powerful catalyst who both leads a rebellion against his father’s kingdom and takes down a tyrant bent on sucking Earth dry of resources and teleporting them to Thrae.”

9 responses so far

Feb 18 2012

Five Reasons It’s Less Dramatic That Greedo Shot First

In 1997, George Lucas re-released Star Wars.  Among the changes were a half-second tweak to the cantina scene where Han shoots Greedo.  In the original version, Han preemptively shoots the bounty-hunter that has come to kill him.  In the revised version, Han lets Greedo shoot first.  Greedo’s shot misses and Han shoots Greedo.


So… why does it matter?


1. It’s implausible and contrived that Greedo misses his shot.  Greedo has his gun aimed at Han Solo.  Neither Greedo nor Han is moving.  The two are roughly five feet away from each other.  Everybody—even drunken Ewoks tripping on LSD—could easily hit this shot.


2. It reduces Han Solo from a competent hero into an idiot that got lucky.  Given the choice between shooting first or waiting until Greedo shoots first, only an idiot would wait because (as above) Greedo is virtually guaranteed to hit.  The new scene also reduces Greedo into an idiot that is apparently the worst shot in the galaxy.  The original scene was a fight between two competent shooters that was resolved by craftiness and guile.  The new scene is a fight between two idiots that is resolved by a contrivance.  If you absolutely need to incorporate contrivances into your story, I would generally recommend having luck play against the protagonists.  It’s more dramatically satisfying when protagonists overcome bad breaks rather than ease through obstacles just because they got lucky.


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13 responses so far

Feb 17 2012

2000s Superheroes

Published by under Superhero Stories

If you were reading or watching a superhero story twenty or thirty years from now, what would be a giveaway that the story’s from 2000-10?  (What about contemporary superhero stories do you think is most likely to go badly out of style?)


For example, if you were reading a 1990s story, one of the giveaways would be if the guys have long, unkempt hair and that characters are introduced with names like Harvest or Lady Deathstrike.  More 1990s superhero trends here.

8 responses so far

Feb 16 2012

List of Superhero Origin Stories

If you’re not sure where your superhero’s superpowers might come from, here are some potential superhero origins.

Science and Science Fiction


1. Cybernetics–replacing human limbs or organs (usually crippled/injured ones) with superior mechanical substitutes.  See Cyborg, the Bionic Woman, etc.


2. Genetic engineering–e.g. replacing genes with sequences from other sources can create interesting results, such as pigs that glow like jellyfish.  See Spider-Man, etc.


3. Powersuits, exoskeletons and/or giant death machines (Iron Man, Steel, the M-1 Abrams, etc).  We already have jet packsmilitary-grade lasers, and a five-pound rocket launcher, so within (say) 30 years, origins like the Iron Man suit might not actually be science fiction.

3.1. Robotics.  Domo arigato, human-sized death machine.  (Robots don’t have to be androids, but usually are in fiction).


Continue Reading »

272 responses so far

Feb 14 2012

One Thing Hollywood Has Taught Me…

Published by under Realism

…is that nobody will notice that anything is amiss if incredible, mind-blowing superpowers are used at a high school talent show. Basically everything besides blowing up the building can be explained as part of the act. If superheroics do somehow blow up the building, then the superhero needs to move up to “lab accident.”

What has Hollywood taught you?

7 responses so far

Feb 14 2012

America Needs to Know…

Are you a patriot or a vampire?

3 responses so far

Feb 10 2012

Sparx’ Review Forum

Published by under Review Forums

Sparx: “I’m writing an action/comedy about the lives of superheroes not only during their crimefighting gigs, but their hectic and often funny home lives as well.


It doesn’t have a title yet, but it’s about a team of young superheroes (around age 20) who live in an apartment complex that houses other superhumans as well (good and bad ones). The main character is the younger brother to the team leader, but doesn’t have superpowers himself. Certain circumstances force the character to live with his brother at the apartment, along with the leader’s zany teamates.


The idea of this story makes one think of it as a mix between “Hey Arnold”, and “Justice Friend” from “Dexter’s Laboratory”. The target audience would be anyone 16 and up. I can add much much more detail about the entirety of this story if you have any questions.”

4 responses so far

Feb 09 2012

Superhero Nation Response Times

Published by under Superhero Nation

Our reviewing options:
  • Free advice: I generally respond to writing/editing questions within 2-14 days. Please email your question to superheronation-at-gmail-dot-com or leave a comment anywhere on SN.  If you haven’t received a response within 5 days, please feel free to politely remind me once (either by emailing or commenting).
  • Expedited advice: If 2-14 days is not fast enough, I’d be happy to expedite your request for some nominal fee (like $10 / hour). If an editor’s time is not worth even $10 an hour to you, I’d suggest waiting 2-14 days for free advice. If neither of those is an option, thank you for your time, but I’d like to pass on reviewing your work because I don’t think that it will be a mutually happy experience.


Thanks for your questions!

One response so far

Feb 08 2012

Zyrion’s Review Forum

Published by under Review Forums

Zyrion is writing a novel (target audience 12+) about a girl with brain cancer who gains telekinetic powers after her operation is interrupted by a fight between a superhero and a villain.

9 responses so far

Feb 08 2012

Richard’s Review Forum

Published by under Review Forums

Richard writes:

“My main character is called Edward Snyde, but is mainly referred to by his surname. He is a bit of a misanthropist, and is easily agitated, but he tries to keep a mainly calm state of mind. This is because of his superpower: he can control people. This is done through a chemical he produces through his skin, that turns those that inhale it into a hallucinogenic state, in which Snyde can tell them what to do. This sounds great, but it has two drawbacks: Snyde must be completely focused at all times, and if he controls the person for two long, their basic brain functions stop, and the person being controlled dies.


In the world Snyde inhabits, all those with powers work for the Company: a large organization that pretty much serves as a superhuman military service. Anyone with powers who does not work in the Company (this includes criminals, old people- anyone) are collectively known as Manics, and are brought down by the heroes. Hero training begins at thirteen, and they can stop doing active crime fighting (but not leave the Company) after 30 years of service.


The main plot of the story revolves around Snyde and his division of beginning heroes (they have all just started in the Company). There are five mutants in the group:
-Shepherd (Snyde’s codename)
-Bonfire, a character who I also want to go into depth with. He can release large quantities of thermal energy, as well as absorbing other forms of energy, then converting them. He is the opposite of Snyde: Whilst he is resourceful, calm and antisocial, Bonfire is headstrong, arrogant and eager to be the center of attention.
-Specter, the stereotypical ‘little miss backstabber’. She has the power to enter people’s dreams, something that scares Snyde (he hates the thought that others can enter his head when he is unaware of it).
-Electron, the daughter of their first villain, Techulon (excuse for the cheesy name: her mother was an old school hero fan). She has the power to control technology through electrical signals
-Division, a highly religious boy that can replicate himself. He is also a sadist, and this troubles him deeply.


I want to show the development of the team members as individuals, and how the actions they take change one another (spoiler: Snyde becomes a manic). I also want to show the Company as both a good thing and a bad: whilst it keeps those that the public would be afraid of on a leash, and uses their powers for the good of mankind, there are some things that seem a little off (for example, using children as bio-weapons, and categorizing them based on their powers: Snyde has a purple ring on his chest, because he is psychic, and Bonfire has red, as his powers are energy based. This open discrimination creates a lot of tension, as psychics are generally seen as trouble, energy powers as big headed, and the children of Manics as evil.)


Any comments are greatly appreciated, as I want this novel (if I ever write it) to be as good as possible.”

18 responses so far

Feb 08 2012

1990s Superheroes

Published by under Discussion Board

If you picked up a comic book, what would be some of the cues that would tip you off that it was written in the 1990s?  If you were doing a parody of 1990s superheroes, what would your approach be?

18 responses so far

Feb 05 2012

The Death and Return of Superman

This is pretty brilliant, albeit not safe for work.

3 responses so far

Feb 03 2012

Ani’s Review Forum

Published by under Review Forums

“Hi there, I’m Ani, a newbie to posting but a long time reader, and I’d like some opinions.


My newest idea is about a teenage girl named Jessie who has been working to defeat the forces of the supernatural since she was ten years old, when the ghost of her mother returned to help her grandfather train Jessie. She’s seventeen now, and she regularly fights these forces, what she fights varies from week to week, but includes things such as vampires, werewolves, and ghosts – all in the classical sense. However, the biggest thing she fights are the Boogeymen, ghosts of emotions who cause havoc and pain wherever they go in their quest to destroy. Boogeymen can only be seen by those who know exactly what they are and believe in them – such as Jessie and Derek (we’ll get to him), and children, who believe in such monsters under the bed.


Jessie is not focused on being popular or getting boys, and will not fall apart the first cute boy she comes across. The drama comes mostly from her two worlds intersecting, her friends finding out about her abilities and ‘night job’, and the tension between her grandfather and her over the ‘future of the family power’. Her abilities come from meditation and balance, meaning that she needs to stay focussed and calm or run the risk of getting herself killed in action. Essentially, she’s a ninja. A redheaded, British descended ninja.


The rest of the cast includes Samantha a.k.a. Sam, Jessie’s sports loving, tomboy best friend who has a major crush on Derek. Tristan, the childhood best friend of the girls, who is not actually in love with either of them. He’s into technology and inventing. And then there’s Derek, the stereotypically hottest and most popular guy in school, who, in all actuality, is a huge dork and loves all things supernatural, often tripping over his words in trying to protect his reputation. He’s generally a nice guy though, and hangs out with everyone, particularly Jessie and Co.


There’s not much in the way of plot yet. But I do know that Sam already knows about Jessie’s little hobby, Tristan is suspicious of what they do in their spare time – which actually leads to a subplot where he thinks they are secretly dating and ‘outs’ them to the whole school. He later finds out the truth though and proceeds to try and make new gadgets for Jessie. And Derek ends up in the middle of it all due to his paranoid and supernatural loving ways. Add on the fact that Jessie’s Mom tends to hang around and chat with her, though Jessie and her grandfather are the only ones who can see him, and her grandfather constantly pushing her to become the ultimate fighter and wanting her to take over the family, and I think I have something relatively interesting.



15 responses so far

Feb 02 2012

Using the Evil Overlord List to Write More Interesting Villains

1. If a competent villain must make one of the huge villain mistakes on the Evil Overlord List, the villain should have a good reason to do so. Here are some examples:

  • For example, it’s generally a mistake to try capturing a hero rather than just killing him (because the hero will always escape).   However, if the villain needs a human shield right now, an intelligent villain might plausibly decide that leaving the hero alive for now is his best plan.
  • It’s generally a bad idea to have vents that are big enough for a man to crawl through, because someone like Batman will exploit them.  In The Taxman Must Die, one very intelligent villain knows that large vents are dangerous, but builds a holding cell with large vents to pump in enough cold air to suppress a hero vulnerable to cold.
  • Building a walkway above a vat of highly dangerous chemicals can lead to all sorts of accidents.  In TTMD, one villain does, but just so that he can kill off an unruly employee with an “accident” if he has to.  In contrast, it’d just be idiotic if the villain built the walkway for no reason and got himself pushed into the vat.


2. If the villain does make a mistake, hopefully the hero forced him into a difficult decision.   For example, if the hero has stolen and hidden some critical piece of equipment, it’d make sense if a villain really wanted to take him alive rather than kill him on sight.  In that case, killing the hero would cost the villain something (he’d have to find the equipment himself rather than just torture the information out of the hero).


3. If the supervillain’s signature flaw(s) causes the villain to make a mistake, hopefully the hero exploited the flaw.  For example, if an incredibly proud villain captures the hero’s superweapon or power-suit, it wouldn’t be very satisfying if he relaxed his guard on his own just because he thought he had won.  One example that would be more interesting is if the heroes planted misinformation that made the villain think that the fighting was all but over.  (E.g. if the Justice League’s headquarters has been bugged, maybe the Justice League members could hold a fake meeting where they break up the group because supposedly it’s too dangerous to keep fighting.  A proud supervillain may think the real fighting is all but over and get caught off-guard when the heroes actually attack).  I would generally recommend giving your heroes as large of a role as possible in the downfall of the villains.


4. A brilliant villain might make a “mistake” that is actually a trap.  For example, you know those scenes where the heroes successfully guess the villain’s password and steal all of the incriminating evidence?  A brilliant villain might set up his computer so that it pretends to log in successfully after a certain number of incorrect passwords, but only gives the heroes access to reams of incorrect information.  This incorrect information might frame other important characters, which could cause the heroes to do something that angers characters that wouldn’t otherwise have been a problem.  (For example, instead of giving the heroes any sort of valuable information in Watchmen, maybe Ozymandias’ computer could have given false information implicating President Nixon and/or the Soviets in Ozymandias’ scheme?  It would have distracted the heroes from what was actually going on and might have drawn them into conflict with a powerful third party).  Another cool, intelligent thing a villain can do with passwords is have his computer immediately notify security if it registers an incorrect log-in attempt.  (Depending on the situation, it might make sense to immediately attack the intruders, but if the intruders are police officers, then it might be better to feed them misleading information than try to kill them).


Are there any particularly clever subversions you’ve used in your superhero stories?  Please let me know in the comments below.

60 responses so far

Feb 02 2012

Hobbes’ Review Forum

Published by under Review Forums

Please see the comments below.

41 responses so far

Feb 01 2012

Dan Lee’s Review Forum

Published by under Review Forums

Please see the comments below.

31 responses so far

Feb 01 2012

Green Kid’s Review Forum

Published by under Review Forums

Green Kid says: “I’ve started work on a teen superhero novel about a boy who develops super powers after being exposed to a chemical dumped in the local lake by a large corporation conducting research on possible ways to create a superhuman. It’s very early in the process and I’ve barely written anything, but I’d like to see what people have to say about my ideas and how I can make them better. By the way, I am very new at this and I don’t have a lot of experience.”

5 responses so far