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
+: Secret identities provide another avenue of conflict/danger that helps develop the characters outside of combat.
-: Your readers have probably seen secret identities used quite a bit before. It’s arguably the most cliche, conventional aspect of superhero stories. If you go down this path, I’d recommend having it play out in unusual ways. For example, in Kick-Ass, the protagonist’s attempt to protect his superhero identity from his father leads to a touching and darkly comical scene where the father mistakenly infers that the son was a victim of a sexual crime.
+: It’s a fairly easy way to build coherence between the superpowered side of the story (e.g. what Spider-Man is doing) and the non-powered side of the story (what Peter Parker is doing). Another possibility that’s pretty well-worn is showing how his superpowered side affects his non-powered life. For example, Spider-Man 2 covered how hard it was to come up with time for both. Another possibility would be showing how the strains (injuries, stress, other damages) of one affect the other.
-: Especially in stories where only a villain or two uncover the secret identity, secret identities tend to cause side-characters to act atypically dumb. Many investigative journalists interact with Clark Kent or Peter Parker every day but don’t ask any awkward questions about how Peter Parker comes up with so many more phenomenal Spidey shots than anyone else or wonder how Superman’s face looks awfully familiar. If you do go with a secret identity, I’d recommend having the secret identity depend on whether the main character can successfully thwart the side-characters’ suspicions, rather than just making the side-characters too dumb/incompetent to get suspicious in the first place.
Continue Reading »
Should superhero teams include a flyer? If you want to, that’s fine. But flyers aren’t necessary. I don’t think superhero teams need any particular kind of superhero (although comic book teams might have more visually interesting fights if they have at least one character that can do melee combat–purely ranged combat can get tedious).
What do superheroes need in their lives? Anything interesting. Here are some possibilities that come to mind:
- Action that is driven by interesting goals and personality traits.
- Interesting conflicts, preferably some with characters that aren’t purely unsympathetic. (For example, in X-Men: First Class, Mystique argues with Beast over Beast’s attempts to cure his mutation, and I don’t think that the writers pushed either position over the other).
- Unusual decisions.
- Relationships that influence the plot.
- Maybe some goals and problems that don’t have much/anything to do with being a superhero—romance is one possibility, but you have a lot of options here. (For example, in The Incredibles, one of the main problems for Dash was fitting in despite being supernaturally gifted).
How many characters can you introduce in a first chapter? However many you can develop effectively. Generally, I wouldn’t recommend introducing more than 10 named characters or more than 5 major characters in the first 30 pages unless you are confident in your ability to develop interesting characters with relatively few lines. Gradually introducing characters will generally give you a better chance to develop characters without overwhelming readers.
What games do sailors play? Danger Nut. In terms of raw peril, it makes Navy football look like a ballet recital.
Continue Reading »
The New York Times has an article on police standoffs, which I think could be useful if you’re writing a scene where a protagonist deals with something like a hostage situation and/or a barricaded gunman. For more information on this, I’d recommend checking out Stalling For Time: My Life as an FBI Hostage Negotiator. For the short version, here are some ideas I’ve gathered along the way:
1. Even if you want to resolve the hostage situation with protagonists rushing in, negotiation can play a key role.
- A tactical takedown is more likely to succeed with few casualties if the police have time to prepare. For example, during the Japanese embassy hostage crisis in Peru, the police prepared by smuggling in communications equipment to hostages (so that they could learn what was going on inside), provided light-colored clothes to the hostages (so they could be easily distinguished), and scheduled their raid at a time when the hostage-takers liked to play soccer and would be away from the hostages. To practice their strategy, the Peruvian commandos built a scale building of the compound, including the tunnels they had dug to carry out the raid.
- Often, negotiators can convince the criminals to release some hostages and/or surrender. (It’s harder for hostage-takers to keep control of large groups of hostages and the police may be willing to offer food and water in exchange for releases, so there is some incentive to release some hostages). Best case scenario: Armed confrontation isn’t necessary. Worst case scenario: If the protagonists do need to execute a raid, fewer hostages will be at risk.
Continue Reading »
Joel Wyatt just finished his 41st issue (chapter) of his free superhero story. It strikes me as sort of a Seinfeldesque take on superheroes. Here’s the protagonist reflecting on a fight between a superhero and a villain.
But you would be mistaken. Centrifuge, man: this guy’s got class, style… that certain je ne sais quoi that makes him the perfect dark horse for your super-group. His body’s center of gravity shifts wildly when he’s under stress, like the beads in one of those South American rainsticks, making the guy FLIP OUT, like a Topsy-Turvy Titan.
Now that is a freakin’ subtitle. Market analysis my balls.
“But Joel,” you say, “He didn’t even win the battle. Deacon Struck got away.”
“You, sir,” I retort, “are a dildo.”
Robert Mason is collecting plot ideas in a publically available Idea Bank. Here’s my contribution: The hero has to stop a plan set in motion by a villain that has already died. How will a flying brick save the day if it’s not clear who needs to be smashed? What good will a psychic be if the main “henchmen” are actually innocent delivery boys that have no idea what they’re delivering? How can somebody like Jack Bauer stop a villainous plot if there’s nobody left to torture?
While a criminal may have put some thought into creating a coherent story that’s hard to disprove, probing questions can move the conversation into areas where he has to make up a lie as he goes along. The more you push for details, the harder it is to keep up a lie. Here’s an excerpt of a fictional interview between an investigator and a criminal suspect.
Continue Reading »