Archive for April, 2012

Apr 30 2012

This Joss Whedon Interview Leaves Me Optimistic About The Avengers

Published by under Comic Book Movies

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.

My main reservation is that a large cast frequently leads to more generic characters used in a more rushed way, more storytelling-by-committee (e.g. the studio dictating what can be done with each of the characters or how the plot has to play out), and less time for each character that viewers find interesting. For example, if you like Iron Man much more than Thor OR if you like Thor much more than Iron Man, then having both in the movie will result in less time for the one you want to see.


This Wired article suggests that Whedon and his team are at least aware of these issues, which bodes well. On the other hand, I would have been more encouraged if Whedon had been more involved in the selection of the villain (the company selected Loki for him).


UPDATE: Initial reviews for the movie on Rotten Tomatoes (based on an early overseas release) are astronomically high, 94% so far. Among superhero movies, only The Incredibles (97%) has done better.

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Apr 28 2012

The Third Draft of My Guidebook Proposal

Published by under Superhero Nation


Don’t Forget the Death-Ray!: How to Write Compelling Superhero Stories will help prospective authors write superhero stories that are as effective and unforgettable as the titular doomsday implement. It will cover storytelling elements such as characterization, plotting, dialogue, and how to craft villainous schemes that will make would-be Supermen wish they were back in Smallville.


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Apr 27 2012

Levitating Bears?

Campus police officers in Colorado used tranquilizer darts and a trampoline to safely remove a bear hiding in a tree, leading to the photograph of an apparently levitating bear seen below and/or a Matrix-style battle royale.


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Apr 26 2012

13 Reasons the Police Might Oppose a Superhero

If you’d like to use the police as an antagonist but aren’t quite sure why they might oppose the superhero, here are some  possibilities.


1. The superhero is investigating sensitive cases.

  • The hero might be challenging cases that have already been “solved.” If the superhero can show that the police & district attorney have convicted/arrested the wrong person, it will make the police look bad, could open up them to lawsuits, and could jeopardize careers.  Also, the police will probably be skeptical about whether the superhero knows more about the case than the police investigation was able to find. What if the superhero is wrong?  If a superhero even looks into the case, that could create unwanted media attention for the police and prosecutors.
  • Major politicians (e.g. the mayor) might pressure the police if the superhero is tackling politically sensitive cases (for example, if the suspect is a politician or major donor or if the case is highly publicized).
  • The case is likely to implicate police officers or otherwise make the police look bad. For example, anything involving police brutality, corruption, police misconduct (e.g. why did the police drop the case against Lex Luthor? Did the mayor put them up to it?), etc.


2. The superhero refuses police commands (which will especially irritate police if the case ends badly). For example, if the superhero tried breaking into a hostage situation while the police were still trying to negotiate a surrender, that would make the police livid (particularly if any hostages then got injured or killed). If the superhero does something that causes the police to get heavy media and/or political criticism, the police might throw the superhero under the bus to protect themselves. “We had this case completely under control until Captain Doomsday showed up!”  (The superhero would probably disagree with that claim–if it looked like the police had the situation under control, the superhero probably wouldn’t have charged in).

2.1. The superhero is too rough. If the hero has a history of gratuitously injuring criminals, getting bystanders/hostages injured, and causing serious property damage, the police might think they’d do a better job on their own.


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Apr 19 2012

Writer’s Review of Bob Moore: No Hero

Published by under Writer's Reviews

Bob Moore: No Hero is a superhero novella about a private investigator looking into a baffling series of (possibly) missing superheroes.  Here’s what writers can learn from it and why you might want to check it out.


What Worked:

The characterization is unusually strong, particularly for the main protagonist. His development arc was unexpected and fresh. The book has hardly any romance (besides two brief conversations between the main character and his ex-wife), but the relationship definitely added something to the main plot which would have been otherwise missing. As for the main antagonist, he’s not one-dimensionally evil, but he’s definitely a problem that the protagonist needs to deal with.  If you’re struggling with how to write a not-conventionally-evil antagonist without making the stakes less urgent for the protagonists, No Hero  is a good example.


The ending sequence was eerily effective. The author (Tom Andry) made an unusual decision to end the book with a conversation between the protagonist and his ex-wife rather than, say, a conversation with his assistant or anybody else that’s actually present in his life.  In retrospect, I think it really effectively showed how the character had evolved and made his previous decisions in the climax both more interesting and morally questionable.


-I would strongly recommend this book to anybody who wants to make a disagreeable protagonist more likable.  Notably, the book doesn’t gloss over his disagreeable actions and other characters (mainly his ex-wife) call him out for it in reasonable ways and he responds in a mostly reasonable way.  I think that helps readers stay on board even if they aren’t taken with the character’s occasionally hard-boiled approach.


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Apr 16 2012

How to Shorten a Novel Manuscript Which Is Too Long

Generally, I would recommend submitting an adult novel manuscript at 80-100,000 words. Here are some tips for shortening your manuscript if you’re considerably over that. (NOTE: Please don’t shorten your manuscript until you’ve actually finished a draft! Until it’s finished, completion should be your #1 goal).


Substantive Changes

1. If you have too many main characters, please eliminate and/or merge some and/or demote some to minor characters. If you’re an unpublished author, I’d recommend limiting yourself to at most 6 main characters (protagonists and antagonists total) that will require substantial space.


2. Eliminate and/or merge side characters.  Individually, a side character doesn’t take as much space as a main character, but there are usually more SCs and it’s generally easier to reduce their roles because they have a smaller individual effect on the plot.


3. You can eliminate or pare back side plots. What the characters are doing when they’re NOT pursuing the main arc of the book? Is it worth the space?

  • Relationships between major characters and side characters.
  • Anything a side character does without developing a major character.
  • Anything characters do in their daily lives or day jobs (e.g. when they’re being Bruce Wayne rather than Batman).


4. Make the main plot more efficient.  For example, remove intermediate steps in the main conflict which don’t contribute enough to tension and/or character-development.  For example, in the last book of of the Hunger Games series, the main character spends about 6300 words taking down an intermediate obstacle (a fortress standing between her and the main enemy). The fight wasn’t terribly interesting and it didn’t show us much about the characters we didn’t see elsewhere. The author could probably have shaved off a few thousand words there.  Another possibility is making the villain’s scheme less monotonous/repetitive. For example, if you had your villain and hero racing around the world to gather 9 plot coupons, it might help to cut that down to (say) 5 so that you have more space for each intermediate step and readers have less cause to grouse (“Oh, God, another Pokemon badge?“).


4.1. Another way to make the main arc more efficient is to shorten the buildup to the inciting event. For example, if your superhero action novel takes 20,000 or 30,000 words to give the main character superpowers, you might be burying the lede too much (assuming the superpowers are the most important plot development early on–if the action is secondary to the story, that might not be the case).


Phrasing Changes

5. Convert some/most of your adverb phrases into shorter verb phrases.  For example, “He moved quickly through…” could be “He ran through…” or “He raced through…” Your book probably has hundreds of adverbs*, so you could probably save a page or two here.

*To count your adverbs, have your word processor find all of the examples of “ly ” in your manuscript.


5.1. Root out passive and/or unnecessarily long phrases. For example, “There were a great number of dead leaves lying on the ground” can be shortened to “Dead leaves covered the ground,” saving you seven words. I’d recommend having your word processor finding all examples of “there were” and “there was” and rephrasing most of them.


6. Glance through each of your chapters for unnecessary words/phrases and eliminate them. For example, if somebody has just thrown a plate at the wall, you don’t need to tell us he’s angry or surly. Additionally, the word “then” is usually unnecessary in sequences of events. For example, in “Mike did X and then he did Y,” you don’t need to tell us “then” because it’s obvious that Y came after X. (Otherwise, you would have put Y first).

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Apr 04 2012

Show, Don’t Tell: How Much of Your Story Is Implied?

As much as possible, mentally engage your readers by giving them clues they can use to draw conclusions and inferences.  Instead of just telling your readers “the security is incredibly tight at this military base,” remind us of the foggy day the guards fired three rockets at what turned out to be an angry llama.  It’s far more memorable and interesting than telling us what to think/feel.


Are you “showing” enough of your story?  One way to check is to see how much of your story is implied.  For example, on any given page, how times can the reader infer something rather than just read a conclusion you gave to them?  My rule of thumb is that each page should give us room to make an inference (rather than tell us what to think/feel) at least twice.  Show us the llama.  That may sound difficult, but you have a lot of possibilities.  For example…


  • Characterization.  Can we make inferences about personality traits, demographic traits, or any other information that might develop a character?  (For example, in the excerpt below, the character doesn’t say how old he is, but there are clues).
  • A character’s thoughts/feelings/beliefs.  For example, is there any evidence implying a character is lying or putting up a facade? Is there any evidence implying that a character’s beliefs are incorrect?  (For example, in the scene below, the main character is probably wrong about his father in at least one crucial way).
  • Motivations and plot. Why does a particular character do X rather than Y? For example, in the excerpt below, if you think about why a murderer might poison a victim rather than shoot him, you probably know more about the victim than his son does.
  • Setting.  Can we figure out anything about the setting beyond what the announcer has told us?


Here’s the opening paragraph of I Am the Jackal:

There are a lot of things that could wake you up in the middle of the night in Bellem—you know, that don’t involve gunfire. Cop cars, cop sirens. Shattering glass. Sometimes yelling from the streets, screaming, sometimes the guys trying to party in the apartment next to you. Sometimes normal things like phone calls. And sometimes phone calls from the hospital, saying that your dad’s in the E.R and that he’s been poisoned and he’s convulsing and, would you please come to the hospital right now for him, only I don’t hear that part too well ‘cause by then the only thing I can hear is Mom screaming “GET OUT HERE, SETH!”, a slamming door, and nothing else.


What sort of inferences were you able to make?  Here are some I came up with, starting with the most obvious.

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