Archive for June, 2012

Jun 23 2012

Writing Highly Intelligent Characters and Points-of-View

Published by under Character Development

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.

1. By itself, intelligence is not a personality. One barometer of whether characters have enough of a personality is whether they make choices most other protagonists wouldn’t make in the same situation. Giving your characters room to do unusual things will help make them memorable. For example, notable social skills (or the lack of social skills) help flesh out brilliant characters like Tony Stark (charming and uninhibited), Sherlock Holmes (cold and unorthodox), Dr. House (abrasive and aggressive), and Bruce Wayne (charming, but generally emotionally reserved to the point of sociopathy).


2. Please come up with some ways to show that the character is intelligent besides just:

  • Chess.
  • Having other characters tell him how smart he is. (For example, search your manuscript for the words “brilliant” and “genius”—double-check those lines to make sure that they sound somewhat believable).  Another issue is whether you’re sufficiently showing the character’s traits. Intelligence should not be a coconut power!  Please give us something so that we can conclude whether the character is smart rather than just telling us what other characters think. One potentially serious problem I occasionally see here is when characters are purported to have certain traits but rarely actually show them.  (For example, in Watchmen, the purportedly brilliant villain commits felony idiocy at least four times).  Unless there’s some reason for this discrepancy, it would probably make the characterization weaker than it could be.
  • Scientific mumbo-jumbo. This isn’t a huge problem by itself (especially in hard sci-fi), but an intelligent major character would probably feel pretty empty if this were the only way his intelligence manifested. Please see #2.1.
  • IQ scores and other standardized tests. This is the most blatant way to turn intelligence into a coconut power.

2.1. Not sure how to make an intelligent character come across as intelligent? Here are some ideas.

  • Heightened perception of opportunities and/or threats.
  • A better appreciation of possible motives.
  • An ability to reason through double-speak and lies.
  • Resourcefulness.
  • Unusual social skills (e.g. figuring out which levers to pull in each situation).
  • An unusually clear understanding of what’s going on (e.g. the ability to detect a physical or social trap or figure out why someone is behaving uncharacteristically).
  • Extensive background knowledge (e.g. the ability to use relevant scientific, historical, cultural and/or miscellaneous knowledge to help solve problems).  Sherlock Holmes is perennially solid here. I’d also recommend checking out Batman Begins’ Dr. Crane, especially the scene where he’s discussing a patient diagnosis with a DA that suspects him of working for the mob–it comes across as very believable that judges would respect his psychiatric evaluations, even though it turns out he’s corrupt and mentally unhinged. 
  • The ability to set up plausible plans several steps in advance.
  • The ability to predict and prepare for various contingencies.
  • The ability to coax and/or manipulate others.
  • A character intelligent in one way might commit blunders of overconfidence. For example, a capable attorney from one country might see it as a sign of weakness to hire an attorney if he gets sued in another country. “Anyone who represents himself has a fool for a client.”


3. A character’s intelligence might show up when the character narrates a chapter and/or is used as a point-of-view. The most obvious example of this would be vocabulary and word choice—I think the most common hazard there is using advanced vocabulary so often that the character comes across more as a caricature than someone that is actually intelligent. I’d recommend checking out how Stark, Wayne and Holmes do this—first, most of their lines don’t use vocabulary much more advanced than other lines in the work. Second, they very rarely use terms that are so advanced that most readers would have to check a dictionary (e.g. “sesquipedalian,” “cryokinesis,” or anything which might plausibly show up on a GRE vocabulary list). Another possibility would be working in interesting details and connections. For example, I think something like the connection between superheroics and marital infidelity in The Incredibles could be used to establish that a character is clever/intelligent and/or has an unusual perspective. Another possibility would be showing a keen attention to details and/or a grasp of which details are most important.

22 responses so far

Jun 20 2012

Nagoya Is Awesome… Besides the Typhoons

Published by under Navel-Gazing

In other news, I’ll be in Japan for the next 10 days or so. My access to a computer is limited, so updates will be sparse.

3 responses so far

Jun 15 2012

Three Powerful Tips To Heighten Story Tension

This article reveals three powerful ways to play ‘games with time’ when crafting a story. They build suspense and engage the reader’s interest. Stories that master narrative pace get published. 


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5 responses so far

Jun 11 2012

Reader Email: “How Long Does It Take to Get Published?”

Published by under Getting Published

The typical author spends about 10-11 years to get published.


Some suggestions on how to get published faster:

  • Write regularly. I’d recommend setting aside 1-2 hours for writing each day. If you’re writing 300-600 words per day, you are definitely headed in the right direction.
  • Join a writing workshop. For example, the Critters Online Writing Workshop is free, online, and well-stocked with professional authors & editors. Workshop experience will help you think like an editor and, eventually, impress editors.
  • Establish an audience with nonfiction work? For example, I practiced my writing by blogging about writing advice. The initial results were extremely slow (e.g. it took me 6 months before my readers were collectively spending more time here than I was), but within 5 years (when I got published), SN had had around 500,000 readers.

No responses yet

Jun 09 2012

Wreck-It Ralph Looks Funny

Published by under Comedy

Even though “the best video game movie” is as low a bar as “the best interior designer at West Point” or “the least murderous Minnesotan,” this movie looks genuinely well-written (if the trailer is any indication).


One minor quibble: I’m a bit tired of traditionally villainous creatures getting recast as protagonists (e.g. vampires in Twilight, dragons in any dragonriding work, sharks in Finding Nemo, Canadians in Dudley Do-Right, zombies in Play Dead, Godzilla in any non-villainous appearance, etc). Personally, I wouldn’t get into an overcrowded niche unless I was REALLY sure I had something new to say.

7 responses so far

Jun 07 2012

Edgukator’s Review Forum

Published by under Review Forums

Welcome to Majestic, California’s fastest growing Metropolis. Centrally planned and powered by some of the world’s most cutting edge Tech-Companies, Majestic is home to the Majestic Comet’s baseball team, America’s largest vertical garden and, until recently, no superheroes.


Enter Dante “the Juice” James, former bodyguard to the rich and famous, self-proclaimed fastest man in America and super-powered entrepreneur. He’s here to convince Majestic that the one thing every great city needs is a professionally paid superhero.


About the Author:

A superhero enthusiast from the age of five, Edgukator has been playing around with all things superhero, from comics to computer games to role playing games, for more than 3 decades. In his secret identity, he is a father of two and English teacher who has sidelined in such diverse enterprises as an academic editor, script writer for educational television and rock promotion.

32 responses so far

Jun 05 2012

Warner Bros. Wanted Leonardo DiCaprio as the Riddler

Published by under Comic Book Movies

According to Yahoo News, Warner Bros. originally pushed for the Riddler as the villain in The Dark Knight Rises. “WB’s top executives said, according to [screenwriter] Goyer: ‘Obviously it’s gonna be The Riddler, and we want it to be Leonardo DiCaprio.'”


Sometimes I wonder about the decision-making process at Warner Bros. when it comes to DC adaptations. DC/WB’s non-Nolan movies have averaged 38.7% on Rotten Tomatoes since 2000 and 29.5% over the past 5 years (Green Lantern, Jonah Hex, Watchmen, and The Spirit). RED, the only DC property which was made by a different studio, succeeded both creatively (71% on Rotten Tomatoes) and financially (grossing $199 million against a production budget of $58 million). It has a sequel slated for next year, which will make it the only DC property since 2000 to survive to a sequel without Nolan’s involvement.

23 responses so far

Jun 01 2012

Sermon Hermit’s Review Forum

Published by under Review Forums

When Souls Scream for the Deaf Girl

Officer Kazumi is at the center of a revelation: the plague is coming. Town after town is engulfed by a rolling force never seen or heard. Populations have become enthralled puppets, and they seem to share one mind with one goal: shoot the messenger. Or cut her, or shatter her bones. She isn’t certain why, but Kazumi is sure it has something to do with her ability to restore humanity to these husks. And maybe somewhere in this mess is an answer to a question she’s pondered since childhood: why can she syphon the skills of others?


Kazumi quests to deliver news of this plague to the Shogun before it spreads to every inch of Japan’s colonies. Sixteen years of life raised by a professional deicide and extensive travel have prepared her well for this task. But she can’t do it alone. Joining her are the police captain’s mistrustful son, a previously detained assassin who wants her life, a vagabond old woman possibly suffering from dementia, an uptight priestess, and Kazumi’s faithful pet skunk.


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13 responses so far