Archive for May, 2012

May 30 2012

The Most Common Reasons Good Manuscripts Get Rejected

Published by under Getting Published

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.

Most publishers reject 99%+ of unsolicited submissions. Based on the manuscripts I’ve read, here’s my take on the most common issues that separate pretty good manuscripts from the top 1%.


1. The main protagonists act too much like most other protagonists would act in the same situation. This will probably make the characters feel generic and forgettable. Some fixes:

  • Please make sure that your characters have distinguishing traits. These will help you find situations where the characters act differently than most protagonists would. For example, in The Avengers, Tony Stark has a lot more curiosity than self-control or tact, so it is fitting and memorable that he electrically prods Banner to see whether Banner can resist turning into the Hulk under pressure.
  • Make sure there are consequences for every decision (especially the unusual ones). Cattle-prodding the Hulk leads to an interesting confrontation with more compassionate and/or restrained characters. The consequences make the decision more memorable.
  • If your cast is too large, it is harder to distinguish each character. If this is an issue, merging and/or deleting characters would give you more opportunities to develop each character. It’d be much easier to sell a novel publisher on a superhero team with 2-4 interesting members than 5-7 scantly-developed heroes.
  • Please develop your characters beyond their capabilities (e.g. superpowers). If your query letter spends more time talking about a main character’s superpowers than developing the character’s distinguishing traits and/or personality and/or motivations, I would lean towards a rejection.


2. The main protagonists are generically nice and/or do not make disagreeable decisions.  This does not mean that the protagonists have to be antiheroes (and especially does not mean that they should be jackasses*), but readers should disagree with something the main character does. For example, Peter Parker lets the robber go out of petty spite. This will help add a bit of moral depth and help establish that the character has a pulse.


3. *The main characters are totally unlikable. Some common examples:

  • The main characters are generic and lack any personality or distinguishing traits, particularly everyman high school students dealing with one-dimensionally nasty bullies and superheroes dealing with forgettable bank robbers.
  • Characters that act disagreeably without any reason to. Peter Parker comes across as petty (but not a jackass) for letting the robber go, because the robber’s victim had tried to cheat Peter. In contrast, just letting him go for the hell of it would have been jackassery.
  • The character doesn’t have a personality besides being angry.  If you’re doing a revenge-driven character in the mold of the Punisher, I’d recommend looking at how values like honor and loyalty keep the protagonist of Point of Impact likable even though he’s a frosty killer.


4. The plot is too hard to follow. Can 95%+ of your readers accurately recount what is literally happening in each scene?

  • Do we have enough information to understand why things are happening?
  • In particular, the first time something supernatural comes up, I would recommend being clear that something unusual is happening, because readers aren’t yet sure that supernatural explanations are in play.
  • Are fictional words and concepts introduced gradually enough that new readers can figure out what’s going on and how the pieces fit together?
  • Can we figure out who is delivering each line of dialogue?


5. The beginning is too slow and/or does not show the main character(s) doing interesting things.  Common offenders:

  • The story starts with a prologue far removed from the main characters.
  • We don’t get enough chances to see what makes the main characters exciting and/or different than most characters in their genre(s).  For example, a main character waking up and doing a mundane routine would probably bore readers, unless the character has been woken up by a barrage of artillery fire or his morning routine is preparing for a commando raid at 0400.
  • The narrator drops an infodump, a block of exposition which focuses on worldbuilding at the expense of characters doing interesting things. I would generally recommend introducing your world by having characters experience it.


6. The stakes are too low and/or the goals are not urgent enough for the characters. The stakes don’t have to be life or death, but the characters really need to feel that something major is at stake.

  • One potential issue is when the main character passively waits for the main plot to unfold. If you need some time to bring the main character into the main plot, you can use an intermediate goal to drive the story forward and develop the character. For example, Harry Potter spends several chapters dealing with his family before coming to Hogwarts, Tony Stark deals with Afghani terrorists before tangling with the main villain, and Luke Skywalker argues with his uncle about becoming a pilot before he fights against the Empire.


7. The plot hinges on inexplicably idiotic decisions, like a villain letting the heroes go or a character withholding critical information for no apparent reason. Make sure that important decisions have motivations. For example, in The Matrix, the villains release a captured protagonist after bugging him so that he will unwittingly lead them to the other protagonists. In contrast, releasing the heroes without any ulterior motive will probably make the villain feel 100% nonthreatening and raises huge issues about whether anything is actually at stake for the heroes. If I had been otherwise leaning towards a rejection on a manuscript, this would certainly push me over.


8. The main plot gets derailed by side-plots. The most common offender I’ve seen here is half-hearted romances. If you’re not into romance (e.g. have never read a romance novel or short story), those thousands of words could probably be used more effectively elsewhere.

16 responses so far

May 29 2012

This Is Sort of Cute

A mother needed help convincing her four-year-old (who suffers from severe hearing loss) to wear a hearing aid. He thought it was decidedly unbadass. In response to a letter from the mother, Marvel Comics created a superhero who used a hearing aid to detect crime.  This strikes me as a very thoughtful gesture (and, although it would probably cheapen the moment, very cost-effective public relations).

4 responses so far

May 29 2012

Legolas Arrow’s Review Forum

Published by under Review Forums

Legolas Arrow writes:

“It has happened before and it has happened again, when the worlds of the great gods and men collide. It happened first in Greece–the Greeks were the first men to inhabit the time zone in which gods and mortals were in a realm together. Eventually, they were separated.


Now, the connection has resurfaced again. The mortals were afraid to turn from their single god, but eventually accepted reality. But, with the gods came the monsters. Beasts from Tarturus rose once again, set loose by the gods of old, the Primordials and the Titans. The mortal men fight for thier lives using their new fancy technology and guns to slay these beasts in a never-ending war.


Of course, there are times as well when the gods come in closer contact with the mortal realm. There are times when a god may come, and have a child with a mortal. These Demi-Gods wielded aspects of godly power and mortal will. They are the ultimate anti-monster fighting force. The army realized this. At the age of eighteen, each year all those of age eighteen are drawn to their local military camps to serve for ten years against the monsters. After they went through the Demi-God trials to see if people were in fact of godly heritage.


These Demi-Gods are then sent to an advanced training camp. They are out-fitted with special issue armor crafted from god-metal, an alloy of incredible strength crafted by none other than Hephastus to be used by the Demi-Gods and to be especially effective in slaying monsters.


Target Audience: Preferably young adults. It may also appeal to fans of the Percy Jackson series.”

8 responses so far

May 26 2012

Carl Shinyama’s Review Forum

Published by under Review Forums

Please see the comments below.

7 responses so far

May 25 2012

Supervillain Tactics You Might Not Have Heard Of

Published by under Supervillains

  • “Swatting”–spoofing the target’s phone and placing a call to 911 which is intended to harass or kill the target. (Skype and internet proxies can make it difficult for the police to trace the actual call).  The perpetrator pretends to be the target and claims to 911 that he has just killed somebody and probably tries to sound as disoriented/crazy as possible. The police will send out a SWAT team to make an arrest, and the SWAT team is more likely to fatally react to the slightest false move if they think they are dealing with a lunatic. In a superhero story, swatting might also involve false claims of superpowers–if the police believe they are dealing with a psychic killer, their trigger fingers will probably be especially itchy.  (Alternately, the police would probably be more likely to shoot first if they think the target has superspeed, illusions, or any other power which would rapidly thwart a squad of police officers).
  • Many journalists would probably hesitate to cover a case against somebody who “swatted” the last guy to try.
  • If a perpetrator has been arrested for a particular crime, he/she could have an associate commit a similar crime (or pay another criminal to do so). If the cases are uncannily similar (e.g. sharing operational details far beyond what a copycat criminal would have access to, like bombs made in exactly the same way), this might raise questions for law enforcement about whether the person they’ve arrested for the original crime is actually guilty.
  • Workplace intimidation. A perpetrator, particularly someone who has committed violent felonies before, may be able to scare a boss into firing the target by threatening to attack the target’s workplace. (This is the inciting event of The Taxman Must Die).  Failing that, making false accusations to the target’s boss and/or coworkers or planting evidence against the target might work.
  • Harassment, particularly against family.  An experienced superhero would probably be harder to faze than, say, Aunt May or Mary Jane.  (Also, superheroes are generally used to rough treatment, but might not feel comfortable subjecting their family and/or friends to it).
  • Revealing and/or threatening to reveal embarrassing or damaging information or, failing that, making up damaging information.  Embarrassing information might come from medical records, psychiatric files, divorce records, legal/criminal records, emails, sensitive case details for a superhero (particularly on cases that went sour), anything related to the superhero’s secret collaborators (e.g. criminal informants or Sgt. Gordon), etc.
  • Frivolous lawsuits, especially against anybody implying that the perpetrator is allegedly committing this crime.  In particular, during the discovery process of a lawsuit, the villain’s lawyers would push for information about superheroes which could be damaging (e.g. information that would compromise the secret identity and/or  assist harassment or sabotage, such as a list of WayneTech facilities).
  • Identity thieves with exceptional hearing could modulate their voices to impersonate others on the phone. One blind hacker severely abused AT&T customer records (such as credit card information)  by impersonating supervisors.

17 responses so far

May 25 2012

Artists Looking for Writers

Published by under Writing Articles

If you’re an illustrator that wants to find a writing collaborator, please post a request below (e.g. any relevant details about the project you have in mind).


For contact information, I would recommend using only an email you’d be comfortable throwing away–no phone numbers or addresses.

114 responses so far

May 24 2012

If You’re Interested in Superhero Writing Advice, Please Sign Up For My Email List

Published by under Navel-Gazing

I’m working on a proposal for a superhero writing guidebook, Don’t Forget the Death-Ray. If you might be interested in buying a copy when it comes out, please sign up for my email list here so that I can show publishers that there is demand.

No responses yet

May 16 2012

Please Avoid Having Characters Repeat Each Other

Published by under Dialogue,Scene-Building

Character 1: “Bob and I are going to Vancouver for the summer.”

Character 2: “Vancouver?”


Character 2 comes across as sort of mentally slow, right? Unless you’re trying to make characters sound slow (or totally disoriented), I would recommend against having them just repeat each other.


Whenever a character says something, it should develop a character and/or advance the plot (e.g. conflicts, goals/motivations, major decisions, etc).  For example, you can use questions to bring in new details rather than just repeating something that has already been introduced.


Here are some more interesting responses to “Bob and I are going to Vancouver for the summer.”

  • “Where’d you get the money for that?”
  • “What about your job?”
  • “But there are Canadians there. You don’t even own a gun!” (This character isn’t much smarter than in the original, but is definitely more memorable).
  • “Isn’t Bob convinced the airlines are trying to kill him? How are you getting there?”
  • “Did that Canadian put you up to this?”



21 responses so far

May 14 2012

This Premise Sounds Brilliant: Redshirts

Published by under Plotting

From John Scalzi’s Redshirts:

Ensign Andrew Dahl has just been assigned to the Universal Union Capital Ship Intrepid, flagship of the Universal Union since the year 2456. It’s a prestige posting, and Andrew is thrilled all the more to be assigned to the ship’s Xenobiology laboratory.


Life couldn’t be better…until Andrew begins to pick up on the fact that (1) every Away Mission involves some kind of lethal confrontation with alien forces, (2) the ship’s captain, its chief science officer, and the handsome Lieutenant Kerensky always survive these confrontations, and (3) at least one low-ranked crew member is, sadly, always killed.


Not surprisingly, a great deal of energy below decks is expended on avoiding, at all costs, being assigned to an Away Mission.Then Andrew stumbles on information that completely transforms his and his colleagues’ understanding of what the starship Intrepid really is…and offers them a crazy, high-risk chance to save their own lives.

13 responses so far

May 10 2012

Which Tend to Be Better: Superhero Team Movies or Lone Superhero Movies?

Published by under Comic Book Movies

Since 2000, movies with 2+ superheroes have averaged 59% on Rotten Tomatoes, whereas movies with a lone superhero have averaged 50%.


Lone Superheroes


Average RT Rating










Superhero Teams


Average RT Rating










Below, I listed all of the superhero team movies and lone superhero movies which went into these ratings.

Continue Reading »

13 responses so far

May 09 2012

How Would You Have Done The Avengers Differently?

Published by under Comic Book Movies

Is there anything about The Avengers you would have done differently? If so, what? (I wouldn’t recommend reading the comments here until you’ve seen the movie–there will probably be many spoilers).

21 responses so far

May 08 2012

Guest Authors Wanted

Published by under Guest Articles

If you’re interested in becoming a guest blogger for SN, I’m looking for writing advice for current and/or prospective authors (for example, on some element of writing craft, marketing/sales, promotions/publicity, agents, the publishing industry, or anything else many novelists and/or comic book writers would find helpful). Please send me a 1-2 sentence query at superheronation-at-gmail-dot-com.


As always, these articles do not need to be about superheroes specifically. 


Not sure what to write about? Here are some ideas on my board:

Continue Reading »

8 responses so far

May 03 2012

Canadian Superhero Authors Wanted

Tyche Books is looking for Canadian superhero stories between 1000-10,000 words. “We want to see any and all permutations of the superhero genre, but with a uniquely Canadian perspective. Stories must involve a Canadian element — setting, politics, culture, history, characters, etc. Any genre-mashing goes: alternate history, crime, horror, romance, SF, fantasy, surrealism; we want a variety of tones, approaches, subgenres, cultural perspectives, etc. We’re especially interested in submissions where setting (a specific city, region, or province) plays an essential role, but we’re open to other types of stories, too.”


I’m looking forward to the resulting anthology, because Canada has everything a superhero story needs: international intrigue, dark plottings, and enough lies buried in murders to make even a Minnesotan gasp. How does a superhero survive in a country where even the geese are trying to kill everybody? Are Canadian superheroes mortified when Hollywood casts them as Australians or Britons? What sort of doomsday schemes are unfolding in the barely-inhabited reaches of the Canadian wilderness? (The Apocalypse Nome Theorem, multiplied by Canada). And, of course, the Wolverine Paradox: how many Americans does a Canadian have to slice to become popular in the United States?

8 responses so far