Archive for January, 2013

Jan 27 2013

The 5 Least Promising Scenes for a Superhero Story

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. Bank robberies with faceless criminals that never had a chance of accomplishing anything. If you’re mainly including this scene to give the superhero(es) a chance to show off their powers, I would recommend reevaluating whether anything is at stake and whether the scene actually contributes anything to the story. For example, Dark Knight’s opening bank robbery does a really good job developing the Joker and the main antagonist-vs.-antagonist conflict, even though the main character is not at stake.

 

2. Any scene featuring more or less helpless antagonists. If your superhero’s opponents cannot challenge him, there’s probably very little at stake, which means that the fight will create very little suspense. Some possible solutions:

  • Give the hero stronger opposition. For example, if your hero’s superpowers are incredible enough that he can only be challenged by someone with superpowers, it’d be worth considering a plotting element which makes it easier in your universe for low-grade antagonists to get superpowers or some sort of threatening capabilities. (For example, perhaps criminals can buy a temporary super-serum or a Hulk-grade hunting rifle).
  • Change the scene so that it’s harder for the character to use his powers (e.g. characters with fire-based powers should probably be careful if there are innocent bystanders and/or volatile chemicals present).
  • Give the character(s) problems which his/her powers can’t effortlessly solve. For example, it’d probably be more interesting to see The Thing deal with a hurricane than a guy with a gun. The gunman probably isn’t challenging. Alternately, the hero might be in a situation where the character can’t openly use his superpowers because they’d blow his secret identity.
  • Weaken the character’s powers. For example, a faster-than-sound character could probably defeat an average bank robber with little (if any) difficulty or drama. A character that could merely run at ~60 miles per hour would have to put more thought into it, particularly if hostages are involved.
  • Temporarily reduce the character’s capabilities. For example, perhaps the character is injured or temporarily has lost access to his/her superpowers (like during an eclipse in Heroes).
  • Increase the cost of the character’s superpowers. Please see #2 in How to Keep Your Story’s Superpowers Extraordinary.

 

3. Confrontations between protagonists which hinge on a protagonist(s) being irredeemably stupid. Particularly with protagonist-vs-protagonist conflicts, I’d recommend making both characters at least somewhat sympathetic. For example, in The Dark Knight, both Lucius and Batman have a likable reason to oppose each other on the use of a cutting-edge tracking system. In contrast, if one (or worse, both) sides are wildly dumb and/or childish (e.g. see Batman & Robin), the conflict is more likely to make readers want to brain everybody involved and throw the story in a fire.

3.1. “I hate you because I’m one-dimensionally evil and/or stupid.” Common offenders: abusive parents, bullies, and Jim Crow stand-ins (e.g. more or less every non-mutant in X-Men). If you have to demote characters to mind-numbing unlikability, I’d recommend doing so sparingly. For a potential solution here, I’d recommend checking out how Homeland and The Wire treated mostly unsympathetic antagonists (terrorists and drug dealers, respectively) with some degree of human empathy. It made them feel more believable and the conflicts against them more satisfying.

 

4. Any scene where the main character does the same thing(s) 95%+ of other superheroes would have done. Give your characters more chances to be original. For example, in a particular scene, is there anything the superhero does or says which is really unique? If not, I’d recommend reevaluating the character development (so that the characters have more unusual traits to act on) and/or reworking the plot so that the characters have more chances to demonstrate these traits.  For example, if you have a superhero who is uncommonly loyal to his friends, you could make his/her loyalty more memorable by developing friends that many superheroes would not be loyal to. In Point of Impact, the main character is a fugitive that risks his life breaking his dog’s corpse out of an FBI-guarded morgue. The scene develops the character very effectively–he risks himself for honor in a way that almost no protagonist would have and it establishes how isolated he is (the dog is the closest thing the protagonist had to friends or family).  

 

5. Any funeral scene so generic that 95% of the words could apply to 95% of superheroes. E.g. “Captain Awesome was a great hero who risked himself for us on so many occasions” while teammates sob about how hard it is that he’s gone. Boohoohoo, nobody cares. I’d strongly recommend moving towards more distinctive scenes–e.g. you can focus instead on teammates/friends/family sharing memorable stories showing us what kind of person the fallen superhero was, and that would help readers genuinely care on their own that he’s gone. I’d recommend staying away from eulogies, especially by faceless extras–it’s generally not the best approach to making your funeral scene memorable.

5.1. Any funeral scene where the character isn’t actually dead*. Personally, I’d probably lean towards a quick rejection on an unsolicited manuscript here–the scene (and the death arc in general) is probably a waste of time. Also, this is very cliche–see pretty much every comic book funeral. For best-selling superheroes, it’s sort of justifiable because actually killing the character would leave millions of dollars on the table. Most unsolicited manuscripts don’t have that excuse.

5.2. Undoing death. Unkilling a hero means that death doesn’t actually matter, which tends to ruin action scenes. If death is temporary, there are no stakes to losing — it doesn’t matter whether your characters win or lose a fight. That’s much less interesting than characters that actually have something to worry about. If you want to kill a character, please be brave enough to make it stick. Alternately, just take it out. As a last resort, if you’re absolutely committed to resurrecting a character, I’d recommend setting some hard limit (e.g. the destruction of the time machine or whatever was used to unkill the character) so that readers know that this cop-out was absolutely just a one-time thing and will not happen again.

Exception: The readers know the funeral’s not real. E.g. characters holding a fake funeral to convince an enemy that the hero is no longer a threat. This is more promising because you’re not asking readers to be emotionally invested in a supposed death which won’t actually go anywhere.

19 responses so far

Jan 14 2013

Justice League Movie Update 2

Will Beall, the screenwriter for the upcoming Justice League movie, just had his first movie (Gangster Squad) out. It averaged 33% on Rotten Tomatoes (thanks to “lackluster writing and underdeveloped characters”) and disappointed at the box office. I think this bodes poorly for the JL movie.

 

To recap:

  • Writing the Justice League movie will likely be much more challenging than a relatively simple police shoot-em-up. (For example, several of the Justice League characters have their own movies in the works, so the creative coordination will be more complicated).
  • Introducing multiple characters simultaneously on a team would be challenging for a very good screenwriter.
  • It does not look like DC-WB has A-grade writing talent on this.
  • Several directors have passed on Beall’s outline/script for Justice League (which might suggest problems with the outline, or might be totally unrelated).
  • DC-WB’s had some notable problems with scheduling/delays before (e.g. Green Lantern’s production delays set back marketing efforts by months and contributed to the under-editing).
  • Avengers 2 is scheduled for release in May 2015. DC-WB’s under pressure to get JL out in time to face Avengers 2, but Justice League doesn’t even have a director yet. Hollywood studios sometimes rush out godawful movies before they’re ready because of pressure from competing films (e.g. Skyline vs. Battle: Los Angeles).

 

I’m lowering my Rotten Tomatoes prediction for Justice League from 30-45% to 25-35%.

 

PS: Speaking of box office results this week, the three top-performing theaters for Zero Dark Thirty (a movie about the hunt for Osama Bin Laden)  were within 5 miles of the CIA headquarters in Langley, VA.

54 responses so far

Jan 13 2013

A Brief Review of the Only Redeeming Feature of Cars 2

Published by under Pixar Movie Reviews

I won’t mince words: this movie was generally disastrous, juvenile, and the plot was driven by idiocy. However, the final confrontation between the hero and the villain is incredible–the best of any Pixar movie. If you need help writing a more interesting climax to your story, I’d recommend checking it out.

 

Here’s a spoiler-laden breakdown of the scene:

  • The hero has a few minutes before a bomb will kill him. Only the lead villain (identity unknown) can defuse it.
  • In this situation, most heroes would run off with the bomb to ensure it does not risk anybody else (e.g. Dark Knight Rises).
  • The hero instead confronts a character meeting with the Queen on a wild-eyed hunch that this character is the villain.

 

Here’s a few reasons this makes for an incredible scene:

  • The confrontation between the hero and lead villain is not a fight. The hero uses the bomb to blackmail the villain into defusing the bomb (thereby admitting that he is the villain). This confrontation is much more interesting than a fight would have been (particularly considering that neither the hero nor the villain is an especially capable combatant).
  • There is doubt as to whether the main character’s actually picked out the villain correctly. Besides being a successful businessman, there isn’t any reason to guess that the CEO is a supervillain.
  • This confrontation raises the stakes beyond just the main character dying. His plan brings several civilians (including the Queen) into risk if the bomb goes off. First, this was effective because I cared more about the side-characters–the main character was so relentlessly annoying up until this point that I was hoping he would die. Second, this created an unexpected and surprisingly dramatic conflict with non-villains (the Queen’s security team).

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Jan 13 2013

Silverfish’s Review Forum

Published by under Review Forums

Silverfish: “I’m writing a novel about facing your fears and learning from your past mistakes. The story is told from the perspective of a superhuman with incredible power, but a flawed personality and with much to learn. He is chased by the demons from his past: not only the hauntings from his past mistakes, but also the superhuman cult he has recently betrayed. At least at the start, a lot of the updates on this forum will be character and setting development.”

 

“My target audience: 16-20 year olds that enjoy action with moments of emotional turmoil. This will probably be targeted more towards a more stereotypical male audience, as I do not intend on including a romance throughout the novel, and the violence might be quite graphic.”

 

“Author experience: I have no professional experience in writing, though I definitely need to improve my writing skills as they are, put mildly, bad. Therefore, I would ask that you please be polite, but do criticise my work when needed.”

 

Please see the comments below to learn more.

6 responses so far

Jan 08 2013

Infographics on Historical Travel Times

Published by under Research and Resources

Especially if you’re interested in historical fiction, I’d recommend checking these infographics for a better idea of how much harder it was to move hundreds or thousands of miles before railroads were widely available.

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4 responses so far

Jan 05 2013

Some Brief Observations on Writing From a Marketer

  • If you’ve ever wondered why so many stores use bizarre prices rather than whole numbers (e.g. $9.99 rather than $10), check out my article on pricing psychology. (Short answer: the prices look cheaper, so customers are more likely to buy).
  • Ads with the word “you” or “your” are generally more likely to persuade readers to make a purchase. Personally, my ads with “you”/”your” are about 11% more persuasive. I’m not sure that people consciously notice these little personal touches, but they definitely have an effect. 
  • Some people read an ad and are wavering so close to making a purchase that even a little burst of enthusiasm might seal the deal. My ads with a single exclamation point are 6% more persuasive. Fortunately, nobody likes multiple exclamation points. I’d go crazy if I had to write like this!!!
  • I mainly write 2-line online ads for Google, so my perspective here may be biased. In my limited experience, customers are more receptive to an unsubstantiated claim (like “Great [products]”) than any sort of evidence to substantiate the claim.
  • The average customer actually does care about proofreading. My strongest recommendation for young writers would be to pay attention as closely as possible to spelling/punctuation/grammar in schoolespecially if you are thinking about possibly pursuing a full-time writing job.

 

2 responses so far

Jan 03 2013

Deep’s Review Forum

Published by under Review Forums

Please see the comments below. Thanks!

10 responses so far

Jan 01 2013

2013 Resolutions and 2012 Summary

My 2012 resolutions were:

  • Increase SN site traffic from 600 hits per day to 900 (50% growth). We averaged 960 (60% growth). Thanks for your help! We had 350,000 hits this year.
  • Get in the top 2 results on Google searches for list of superpowers and superpower listThis is hard to measure, because Google personalizes search results, but on this computer I haven’t previously used for SN, SN ranks #3 on list of superpowers and #4 on superpower list. I was previously #6 and #7.
  • Get publishedLearning to Write Superhero Stories is out! It sold enough copies to clear its advance in its first month, which was definitely a pleasant surprise.

 

My 2013 resolutions:

  • Increase site traffic from 350,000 hits to 500,000 (47% growth). If you happen to know any writers or frequent any other writing websites, please feel free to recommend SN articles whenever helpful. SN fans on National Novel Writing Month forums and TV Tropes were our MVPs this year. Thanks, guys!
  • Generate $2500 in royalties on my first book this year.  That’d be about 850 sales.
  • Generate $5 $15 million in total sales with writing. Typical book sale: $5-10. Most recent nuclear reactor sale: north of $1 million. Clearly, I went into the wrong hobby. 😉
  • Get 25 Amazon ratings for my book this year. If you’ve read my book, I’d really appreciate if you would take 3-5 minutes to rate it on Amazon. Ratings and reviews play a huge role in Amazon sales.
  • Publish another book (of Pixar movie reviews) in 2013. I’ll probably self-publish this time.  In addition, I’m preparing for a superhero writing guidebook (rather than movie reviews) in 2014.
  • Get a dog! The first name that came to mind was “Chompy,” so I might need some help there.
  • Pray Aaron Rodgers gives up those Wisconsin hippies for Chicago. Or AT LEAST BEAT THE VIKINGS SO WE MAKE THE PLAYOFFS. I’m not looking forward to recapping this point next year.

26 responses so far