Nov 06 2016
Each submission will be a supervillain sitting at a huge table explaining why they should be voted as the Supreme Archvillain, then they go into a story, etc. Reprint excerpts and new writers welcome.
Nov 06 2016
Each submission will be a supervillain sitting at a huge table explaining why they should be voted as the Supreme Archvillain, then they go into a story, etc. Reprint excerpts and new writers welcome.
Sep 17 2016
I spent 5 hours this week watching Man of Steel and taking 5,000 words of notes. It was like being trapped on an alien planet where the atmosphere consists 80% of characters telling Clark what incredible, grandiose things he symbolizes, 20% of daringly bad action scenes, 15% of grimly constipated expressions, and 15% of acting this bad. 130% lethal to humans.
(Much) more to follow for the masochistically inclined.
Aug 14 2016
1. The character introductions were lacking. Having Waller narrate the characters’ backstories to a minor character in a no-stakes infodump was probably not ideal. If Waller’s MO is that she’s ruthless and/or exploitative, would have preferred a scene with her coercing Flag to work on the project and/or why they selected these guys rather than any other high-stakes criminals available. Also, given that virtually all of the characters are total unknowns to most viewers, a smaller team would probably have helped with character development. (Failing that, if you start with a large team of antiheroes, having several deaths would probably have helped raise the stakes and establish a mood).
2. It probably would have helped if the main mission of the movie had been more shady and/or disagreeable. If a supervillain is ravaging a city, it’s not clear why the government needs a “plausible deniability” option here of unwilling gangsters with guns and bats rather than, say, asking Batman or Wonder Woman to step in. Or that having 6 minor criminal patsies would have helped explain at all why a sorceress wrecked a major city. I feel like a very messy police mission like trying to destroy a major gang and/or killing somebody that’s gone rogue and/or helping a VIP (maybe Waller) deal with a major case of blackmail would have been a better fit.
2.1. Waller’s trying to fake an answer to the wrong question. If a villain magically turns millions of people into zombies, the blame coming your way doesn’t have anything to do about who did it, but rather that you either didn’t have a plan and/or it involved sending guys with guns and bats to stop a sorceress rather than, say, asking Wonder Woman. Also, if you DID need to falsely claim that someone zombified a city, could I suggest somebody more plausible than a group of minor criminals headlined by a crocodile and a prison psychiatrist?
2.2. The blame coming your way might also have something to do with “why was somebody as incompetent as Waller within 1,000 miles of a life-or-death assignment?”
2.3. “When Enchantress started killing millions of people, why didn’t we immediately flip the kill-switch on her magical device?”
3. The music selection was ugly. E.g. playing “Sympathy for the Devil” to introduce a shady character with semi-sympathetic goals calls out the viewers as idiots, I think. Not nearly subtle enough. In contrast, Killer Croc got the much more imaginative “Born in the USA”, rather than (God help us) Crocodile Rock.
4. June is the worst archeologist in the world. She spends less than 10 seconds in the temple before twisting the head off a priceless relic that nearly destroys the world. Whoops. Not to be outdone, she falls for the worst soldier in the world, whose superpower is playing golf without a handicap and bungling pretty much everything he touches.
5. The team selection is an odd choice: Harlequin, Killer Croc, Captain Boomerang, Diablo, Katana, Deadshot, and Slipknot. Slipknot and Captain Boomerang are joke characters that contribute very little to the plot. (Seriously, Slipknot’s reason for being on the team is that “he can climb anything”). Harlequin and Deadshot (and secondarily KC and Diablo) feel like a pretty good personality fit for the movie, and the four of them dominate the memorable lines. I would have removed or overhauled CB, Katana, Slipknot, and maybe Rick Flag – they have little impact on the plot, and there just isn’t time.
6. Enchantress feels like a serious mismatch for the protagonists. Someone shootable would probably have created more interesting interactions and better fight scenes, seeing as almost everyone on the team is a badass normal. (The team’s only superhumans are Diablo, Killer Croc, and maybe Katana – not the most intuitive choice for stopping a world-ending threat).
7. Characters raise plausible concerns about Waller’s plans in a fair way (and thoroughly exhaust standard police and military alternatives). In context, it almost feels believable that serious people would agree to this crazier-than-crazy plan. (If we pretend that Batman and Wonder Woman were dealing with some other world-ending threat somewhere else, it almost makes sense). Also, in the interests of making Waller/Flag look better than “totally useless”, it might help if the problem the team had to deal with was not 100% created by Waller being a dumbass. In, say, well-executed noir movies like Out of the Past, characters create their own problems, but without compromising their competence.
8. Although this movie did as poorly as Batman vs Superman on Rotten Tomatoes, I think Suicide Squad is considerably better-executed and more entertaining. E.g. Will Smith’s attempted negotiation with Flag and Waller actually did a great job advancing character development, establishing conflicts between characters, and advancing the central plot. I don’t think there were any scenes in BVS that managed any one of those besides maybe Bruce Wayne’s very brief conversation with Diana Prince.
9. Even for a superhero movie, SS asks you to check a lot of realism at the door. E.g. 3 helicopter crashes for major characters without any deaths or injuries. Seriously, it would have been okay to kill off some of these characters. No one in this movie besides Batman and maybe Joker is integral to the success of the DC Universe moving forward. Also, Rick Flag is a notably passive, weak character – besides killing off Slipknot early, he is curiously reluctant to respond to provocations from his team. I was actively rooting for his death.
10. Several of the characters (notably KC, Joker and Diablo) are taken in an unusually gangsta direction. It feels really strange for Joker, who comes across as more sketchy than threatening. For Killer Croc, it got oddly humorous, in a non-PC way.
11. Harlequin’s background as a psychiatrist does not feel like it fits with the rest of the character.
11.1. The sexploitation was actually pretty effective.
11.2. Harlequin getting punched in the face by Batman probably got the loudest laughter from the audience, followed by Deadshot trying to negotiate in prison.
12. Villains threatening worldwide destruction generally don’t give protagonists much to work with. Enchantress felt like a sorry rehash of the most recent Fantastic Four’s Dr. Doom and Green Lantern’s Galactus, even down to the purple vortexes of death and terrible CGI. It’s much harder for characters to interact with a force that has nothing to talk about. Off the top of my head, the only superhero movies with global villains that worked out creatively very well were the Avengers series and Guardians of the Galaxy, and they relied on exceptionally interesting interactions between the protagonists rather than with the villains.
13. Most of the teammates – and Flag and (if you go as far back as Green Lantern) Waller – have a tragic backstory to soften them. I was sort of hoping for at least one character to have an unapologetic Walter White-style “I did it for me. I was good at it.” The closest we got was Harlequin stealing a purse. While that helps reinforce the character’s craziness, maybe something more important to the central plot?
14. Deadshot’s final scene with his kid (helping her with geometry) was surprisingly heartfelt and refreshingly dark. The kid isn’t just a sweet plot device, and it’s probably the closest this movie got to daring. I wish they had tried it more often (e.g. see Deadpool). For example, maybe giving characters more opportunities to do more antiheroic things than stealing a purse? Giving Diablo and Flag more of a pulse? Making Waller competent?
14.1. Deadshot shows off technical expertise in his final scene very naturally – compare how he talks about the geometry of shooting people and the curvature of the Earth to virtually every Fantastic Four conversation about science.
15. It’s so hard to feel for the setting. It’s very generic and, like every DC city besides Gotham, it’s just a soulless cardboard box to wreck. No interesting characters, no interesting places, no distinctive mood to the city… For God’s sake, it’s called
Fauxcago “Midway City.” How much personality could it possibly have? PS: Would suggest checking out better noir movies for better alternatives to “dark and rainy all the time.”
16. The last 60 minutes of the movie (50:00 to 1:48:00) were a single, REALLY LONG mission where the characters break into Fauxcago, rescue a VIP, and ultimately defeat the villain. I strongly prefer the pacing of virtually every other superhero movie (e.g. Avengers and Incredibles), where several (much shorter) action sequences build up to a climactic confrontation with the villain. That would have also made it easier to work in dialogue into scenes than it was for Suicide Squad – e.g. look at how weirdly paced the bar scene is. (The world’s about to end, but hey, let’s talk about Diablo’s backstory!)
17. Across the movie, I counted about 38 minutes of action scenes. I think that’s about twice the average for superhero movies. Some issues here. First, it got tedious. Second, most of the fight scenes were ineffective. E.g. did we really need 3-4 separate scenes of soldiers/helicopters/aircraft carriers getting wrecked? There are so many characters that could have used most of that space more.
17.1. Most of the action sequences setting up each SS member were wasted.
18. The movie took far too long before the teammates first meet each other 45 minutes in. Virtually all of the moments in the movies that actually worked featured Squad members interacting together (or Deadshot with Flag or his daughter), and getting the Squad together much sooner would probably have helped with the pacing. If your first 45 minutes of the film give more screentime to Waller, faceless government extras, and Joker as the titular heroes, it’d really help if these side characters got more opportunities to be interesting or memorable. In comparison, most of the great superheroes movies that introduce the main case exceptionally late, like Iron Man 1 and Incredibles, used the extra time early on for scenes that were very interesting, hilarious, emotionally effective, developed the main characters, or developed critical plot elements – hell, Tony Stark’s “Merchant of Death” scene and Bob’s attempt to prevent a suicide accomplished a lot on all 5. In Suicide Squad, the first 45 minutes don’t have anything that well-executed… I’d argue the closest is Deadshot’s interactions with his client, which create some character development and humor.
18.1. The odd men out here are definitely Waller, Joker, Enchantress and her brother (Incubus), and arguably Batman. Ideally, I think it would have helped to replace Enchantress/Incubus with villains that could interact with the heroes more directly, made Batman’s scenes more distinctive or removed him altogether, and significantly accelerated the setup to the squad coming together. I think Joker would be a candidate for lead villain, but I wouldn’t keep him on as a side villain because there are so many characters fighting for space. Also, overhauling Waller (more competent, more believable, more logical, more reacting to an actual problem rather than creating a problem that doesn’t exist yet, more threatening to teammates rather than maintaining no surveillance on the team, etc).
19. A point worth belaboring: Waller is outlandishly incompetent.
19.1. While Rick is not as legendarily inept as Waller, he’s not exactly covering himself in glory.
Jul 26 2016
1) If you’re mainly looking for something believable, most major U.S. cities use one of the following:
2) If you’re looking for something more exotic and/or more thematic, I’d recommend starting with a syllable that has the right sound/feel and then adding suffixes from there. E.g. if I were trying to name a city that was economically wrecked and high-crime, I might start with a syllable like Bent or Pac or Mar, and then add a suffix (don, ion, ola/oma, burn, dere, atur, ville, port, er, burg, boro, rst, oma, sen, iet or whatever suits you). In this case, maybe Marburn or Bensen or Paccola.
3) Unless you’re going for a very “comic booky” feel, I recommend against combining an English adjective/noun and “City”. For example, names like “Central City” and “Star City” tend to be very generic and don’t sound like actual names. (Of the 100 largest U.S. cities, only 4 end in “City” and only 7 use a common English word besides a surname: New York City, Oklahoma City, Kansas City, Jersey City, Aurora, Phoenix, and New Orleans).
Jun 04 2016
1. I think the movie is overrated at 90% on Rotten Tomatoes. I’d put it at 60-70% (notably less awful than the year’s other superhero-vs-superhero movie, Batman vs. Superman, but probably the worst-written MCU movie not starring the Hulk).
2. My biggest complaint against the movie is that it guts well-established character development for no readily obvious reason.
3. Out of all the people that could really benefit from financial assistance, the MIT student body is probably pretty low on the list.
4. The cast was probably unnecessarily large. Hawkeye, definitely unnecessary. Black Panther, more on him later. This version of Spider-Man was not written well enough to earn his time/space in the movie. Wanda, arguable. Falcon, probably unnecessary. Of the five, I feel like Falcon was the biggest disappointment, not because I had terribly high expectations for the character (I think his main contribution is that he can eventually replace Chris Evans when he hangs up the shield), but because if he ever were going to establish himself as a character different than CA in any way, this probably would have been his best chance. (“Umm, hey, we know that you’re very close to your WWII teammate, who happens to have been mind-controlled into a superpowered serial killer, but maybe there’s a better way to help him than punching out 20+ police officers?”)
5. The writing for Spider-Man was sort of an odd choice. E.g. bending over backwards to make him annoying, and emasculating him with the scene where Iron-Man pulls him out of the fight. (Over the last 60 superhero movies I’ve seen, when a superhero gets taken out of a fight, typically he either gets knocked unconscious or his combatants withdraw or maybe he faces superior odds and withdraws himself). If you hate a protagonist you’re writing this badly, I’d recommend writing him out of the script. Maybe see Turtles Forever for another example here?) If this was the best they could do with the character, why work him into a movie that already has 10 superheroes in it?
6. Waukanda felt goofy. It’s not the first time a fictional country has been introduced into the MCU (Sokovia in Avengers 2 was a fairly generic setting that mainly showed up to get blown up, and blowing up an actual country might have been too dark). The mix of Waukanda’s 19th century government (king as actual head of state) and very advanced technology might have felt less goofy if it had been established in a separate Black Panther movie rather than in an ensemble movie. Also, I think Thor/Asgard has already covered a lot of this ground, but Thor actually has the fantasy background to make it work.
6.1. Black Panther is a martial artist, a billionaire heir, randomly a jet pilot, apparently a master investigator (he found Bucky quite easily), and driven to revenge by the murder of a parent. If the writing for a character rips off Batman that badly, I’d strongly suggest not making him look like this.
6.2. Unfortunately, they didn’t rip off the stellar lines that Batman typically gets, and personality and character development were sort of missing. With so many characters fighting for time, this probably wasn’t the best opportunity to introduce him. I hope his standalone movie in 2018 will be much better.
6.3. In Marvel’s defense, it wasn’t the worst Batman movie this year.
7. Tony Stark’s creative contributions have been waning over time. I think he had maybe 3 very clever lines in the movie. Weariness doesn’t seem to help him very much.
8. Ant-Man was probably the MVP of the movie in terms of personality and writing, though his role in the plot was negligible. Also, I had previously been skeptical that his powers would allow him to contribute much in combat in a superhero ensemble movie, but he actually contributed more to the fight scenes than most of the other characters.
9. Bucky is hard to care about – he’s less of a character than a mind-control plot device to be fought over. I think Manchurian Candidate, Jessica Jones, and even the pilot episode of Alphas handled mind-control much more effectively, generally from the victim’s perspective. Here’s the introductory scene of Manchurian Candidate.
Mar 24 2016
This is the worst Batman movie since Batman & Robin ~20 years ago. The writing was sub-cartoon grade. If you didn’t enjoy the latest Fantastic Four movie or Man of Steel, I would stay far away from this one.
Feb 21 2016
Are there any circumstances under which a highly inactive protagonist would be more promising dramatically than a more active protagonist? E.g. a main character that is weakly unenthusiastic about participating in the plot*, or opts to do nothing in situations where almost every protagonist in the genre would have taken some sort of move (like a superhero story about someone that develops superpowers but doesn’t want to be a superhero/villain or otherwise interact with superhero activity).
*Weakly unenthusiastic: not all that promising. In contrast, I think someone who’s being coerced into doing something but actively rebelling/sabotaging is helluva more promising.
Feb 03 2016
Under what circumstances (if any) would it be possible to make a grossly incompetent main character likable and engaging? Are there any cases where making the main character consistently incompetent would make a story more interesting?
Jan 27 2016
God, how many hours of counting character lines must have gone into this? Thanks, researchers!
Aug 07 2015
May 21 2015
The most important thing in writing comic books is finding and honing your own unique voice. A unique voice makes your writing exclusive and authentic. Authenticity connects with readers.
Many comic book writers have trouble developing their own unique voices when they are starting out. Fortunately, there are a few exercises you can do to develop your voice and improve your writing.
Study Another Writer’s Voice
Studying other Writer’s voices will make it easier to identify and develop your own voice more clearly. Picking a comic book you really like and aping the style makes a fun writing exercise that will help you do this. Everyone has their own style of writing comic books. Good writing styles are practically invisible. Aping a comic book’s story will help you see the style and better understand the writer’s creative decisions.
What do I mean by aping a comic book? I mean tell your own story, but with the beats of the comic you’ve chosen to ape. Plug your characters and concepts into the other Writer’s story beats. He uses five panels, you use five panels. He uses a caption, you use a caption. He does thought balloons, you use thought balloons.
You will be more comfortable writing in your own style once you’re comfortable with another writer’s style.
Take an inventory of yourself to identify your voice so you can accentuate it. Ask yourself some pointed questions:
Ask other people what they think is unique about your voice. You can find out a lot about your voice in reviews.
Look at Your Writing
Free-write something. Just write something you enjoy without doing any editing. Then, look over what you wrote and ask yourself if this is the kind of writing you’re publishing. Is this the kind of stuff you would read? If it isn’t something you would read, then change your voice to make it something you would enjoy reading. Do you like what you’re writing while you’re writing it? Does it feel like work to write? If it does feel like work, then there’s a good chance you need to change the way you’re writing.
Do you feel afraid or nervous before you publish? If you aren’t feeling vulnerable when you’re putting your work out into the world, it might be time to work on making your voice more personal. Try to write dangerous stuff. You want to be scared of what people will think when they read your work.
Finding Your Voice is Important
A unique voice can help you in many ways. Most writers who don’t write with a unique voice burn out eventually. Your unique voice is what makes people fans of your work. Finding your voice is important for writing comic books. However, it’s even more important to continue developing your voice once you’ve found it. Try these exercises and see what you find out about your voice.
Dec 07 2014
Comics are a visual medium, and that can be an advantage over prose when it comes to storytelling. The motion and force in Wonder Woman’s punch, the adorkable grin on Ms. Marvel’s face, that gorgeous two-page spread of Gotham City: these are images that can be harder to get across in writing. But don’t get discouraged, novel writers. Prose has its own advantages, and one of those is that it can be much more immersive than comics through the use of sensory details.
Touch, smell, hearing, taste: use them right, and it can deepen your reader’s experience, making them feel like they’re right there with your characters. This isn’t central to your story. A solid plot and well-rounded characters always come first, but when you’re revising your second or third (or tenth) draft, look for places where you can enrich your description with sensory details like the examples below:
Small details like these can make the world of your novel feel more real to the reader—which is important when that world is populated by mutants, aliens, and men and women in colorful tights. Sensory details alone won’t make a good story, but they can add another layer to already good writing.
Apr 05 2014
My expectations were far too high — with a Rotten Tomatoes rating of ~90% at the time I saw it, I was expecting a really excellent movie. There were a lot of competent moments but personally I wouldn’t recommend rushing out to theaters to see it.
In Scott Pilgrim, there’s a scene where Chris Evans (Captain America’s actor) parodies a really bad action star. Captain America 2 gave him so little to work with that I feel he came off like the bad action star.
Some notable issues with the movie:
Dec 16 2013
Email: “One of my protagonists is a detective looking for superheroes/vigilantes. What sort of traits might tip him off?
Here are some trends that come to mind for American superheroes.
“Too Long, Didn’t Read” Version:
Almost every adult superhero will meet at least at least 5 of the following:
Sep 28 2013
Prisoners was highly entertaining and I think the writers did a good particularly good job portraying the families going through the kidnapping of their daughters. However, basically everything the police did in the movie was exceptionally Hollywood, so much so that it nearly turned the movie into an idiot plot. If you’re the sort of person that would be distracted by characters habitually acting stupidly to put themselves in suspenseful situations, this movie may not be for you.Pro tip: ace detectives should not hunt alone for serial killers. There must have been SOMEONE in his unit that was good enough to keep up with him… and have Thanksgiving dinner with him.
I think the best decisions in the writing/direction were in what they DIDN’T show (e.g. the kidnapping, the 911 call, the relative lack of emotional outbursts from family members, the way the movie ended, etc).
Anyway, the movie was extremely entertaining. If you like Homeland or Dexter even though they play really, really loose with realism, you’d probably find this movie very entertaining.
Sep 17 2013
The rivalries between superheroes and supervillains represents the battle between good and evil as a whole. It could be said that, without villains, there would be no heroes. Supervillains provide the opportunity for comic book characters with superpowers to become superheroes, as opposed to just regular everyday super people.
But would supervillains even exist without heroes to fight against? The answer is probably not. Heroes tend to either be born with their powers or gain them accidentally. Crime suddenly becomes a difficult way to make a living in whichever city they are based in. The simple solution would be to start a new, crime free, life. But with criminals being criminals, this never happens, leading to them taking often unethical steps to acquire comparable superpowers.
If superheroes create supervillains, then supervillains definitely keep superheroes relevant. Take Batman for example, without the Joker, a villain only he could handle, his uses would be limited. He could be replaced by a stronger police force or something to that effect.
Villains give their counterparts the chance to shine, heroes are pushed to greater accomplishments. Nobody wants to watch or read about an allpowerful hero who destroys all of their opponents quickly and easily. Having this happen can make the hero come across as a bully. Having a strong villain to test their wits against creates suspense and keeps the reader coming back for more.
Facing adversity allows our heroes to grow as characters and truly become superheroes. It is no coincidence that all of the most popular superheroes have become synonymous with their villains. Batman would be nothing without the Joker and Spiderman would be nothing without the Green Goblin. At the same time, the opposite is true.
Superheroes really do need their supervillains, and vice-versa.
Mark Enright is a comic book enthusiast and writer for GB Posters, a retailer of high quality posters.
Jun 27 2013
Tony Stark has a drinking problem. And a broken heart. Peter Parker is a nerd. Superman has daddy issues. And Bruce Wayne? Where do you start?
These are our heroes. And we learn about their addictions and predilections, their agendas and vendettas over the course of hundreds of issues, creating a tableau of identity that evolves over the span of years, or even decades. But in any one issue we are given only a snapshot of their character, another piece of the puzzle that we have to thread together ourselves, week by week.
Not so in a novel. The novel is a tapestry in itself. All the threads already stitched together so the reader can unravel it, page by page.
It doesn’t take a genius (or even a writer) to figure out how such a dramatic difference in form can impact a superhero narrative. What’s interesting, however, is exploring how authors of superhero novels can use the boon of all those extra pages to revise, and sometimes even pervert the norms of comics as a genre.
The comic book, by its very nature, is plot driven (which is not to immediately suggest that many novels aren’t). This is simply a matter of real estate. Geniuses that they are, comic writers and artists are capable of cramming all the conventions of good story telling into cramped panels, but when it comes to the more nuanced issues of theme or character development they often must engage in a type of literary guerilla warfare—a hit and run of suggestions and asides, because as soon as you turn the page, somebody’s going to have to “do what they do best.” Action is paramount, and for every moment of pathos where our hero reveals his innermost fears, desires, etc. there are three more where he opens up a can of Snikt-brand whoop-arse. This is to be expected. It’s what gives the genre its returning weekly audience.
A superhero novel, on the other hand, has fewer limitations and a much wider repertoire of conventions to draw from; after all, the history of the novel and the sheer number of books vastly dwarfs its glossy-covered counterpart. This allows for a multiplicity of purpose that can be both daunting and exhilarating to a writer.
Jun 24 2013
Sidekicked is a superhero novel about a sidekick who’s got just enough superpowers to get everybody killed and the various forces trying to screw him (e.g. a possibly nefarious superhero/spymaster, a squad of supervillains hell-bent on revenge, and whoever named him “The Sensationalist”). Here’s what writers can learn from it and how it could improve your writing.
—The team dynamic was unusually believable and three-dimensional. In particular, the conflicts between the sidekicks and their sort-of-spymaster boss were more satisfying because both sides of the conflict were somewhat likable and sympathetic. Instead of just having the kids fight with Hardass Drill Instructors, for example, the spymaster instead grilled them during debriefings about various decisions and mistakes. It raised the stakes for their superheroics (e.g. not noticing that someone reeks of mind-control chemicals and/or explosives could make for a really bad day).
–I love the idea of a team leader bringing in an outside superhero because he thinks the team is lacking in some way. It’s a very promising way to create a dramatic conflict between the team and the new guy (and perhaps between the team and the leader). It also helps develop the character more quickly than just randomly adding someone because the team wanted an extra person.
—The characterization was not very groundbreaking… For example, the main character is generally a stereotypically ordinary teen who gets relatively few opportunities to make decisions that any other young superhero wouldn’t have made in the same place. Generally, I’d recommend giving your characters more opportunities to stand out from the crowd because it’ll help make them more memorable. For example, this main character gets a kickass scene with a cop car and is unusually gutsy when confronting a deadbeat hero. Both are a great start.
—The main character’s voice/dialogue is interesting enough that I think most readers can let his personality slide. E.g. “[If my identity got leaked] I’d have to tell my parents everything… even about mixing nitroglycerin in the bathroom sink.”
“At least ten weeks [until my arm heals up],” Mike said… “I asked [our boss] if we could just chop it off and get me one of those cybernetics jobs like Cryos has?”…
Cryos has this killer cybernetic arm… It was pretty awesome. If Mike got one of those, I’d catapult myself down the stairs until my own arm broke off.
–The story was usually most interesting when the superheroes were improvising. For example, mixing nitroglycerin in your parents’ sink is far more memorable than mixing it up in a secret lab that is actually suited for mixing nitroglycerin. Hot-wiring a police cruiser is more interesting than having a Batmobile, especially given that the “driver” can’t actually drive and the “hot-wirer” is an electrical superhero with explosively imprecise powers.
–I can’t speak for the target audience (grades 3-7), but I felt like the non-superheroics elements could have been incorporated in a more interesting and coherent way. For example, right after a terrifying supervillain breaks his gang out of prison, I would not recommend cutting to an uneventful flashback of a middle school romance. I’d recommend instead incorporating that sort of information into scenes which somehow develop the central plot moving forward, so that it feels more coherent with the hunt for the supervillain. For example, see how X-Men: First Class used a romance between Mystique and Beast to advance a critical plot arc about mutant self-acceptance or how the romance between Bob and Helen in The Incredibles influences their major decisions.
—Refreshingly non-stupid for a work aimed at this target audience. I’d feel a lot more comfortable using Sidekicked than Captain Underpants in a (say) 4th grade classroom.
—I think the book skews considerably older than the target audience. If the author had removed all of the lines where the characters’ age or grade were mentioned, I would have guessed the main characters was 16-18. It doesn’t have any of the focuses I’d associate most with tween audiences (e.g. an emphasis on fitting in and/or being socially acceptable, academic angst like too much homework or a nasty teacher, and low-stakes conflicts with siblings or parents).
—The book has fun with superhero tropes without getting too ridiculous. For example, although a few of the side-villains were a bit wacky, it never felt at all like the work was either aimed at idiots or written by someone who sort of hated superhero stories. For example, in introducing a new side-villain, the main character helpfully notes that “I have no idea what his deal is, though anyone who dresses up like a bumblebee and carries around a rocket launcher is obviously several eggs short of a carton.” In comparison, if a superhero’s facing off against (say) Sticky Glue Man, the villain probably feels so pathetic that 1) there’s no danger, 2) it doesn’t matter whether the hero wins, and 3) both the heroes and the villain lose the reader’s attention.
—The dweeb vs. jock conflict could be fresher. Fortunately, it’s a pretty minor plot arc, and the target audience probably isn’t old enough to have seen hundreds of these stories yet.
—I like that the character’s superhero name only comes up a few times, especially given that the name is a bit hard to use in conversation (“The Sensationalist”). The name isn’t a huge deal, so I wouldn’t recommend spending hours on this when you’re writing your own manuscripts, but here I would have recommended something a bit shorter, perhaps Keen or Sharply.
—CHICAGOANS DO NOT USE THE PHRASE “WICKED COOL.” For your handy reference, here are some phrases you’ll hear in Chicago but not Boston:
On the plus side, Kid Colt sounded a lot more believable (to this Chicago-area layman with very little exposure to Western or Southern accents).
May 25 2013
New writers have a tendency to focus so much on their character development that they forget that the right setting can be just as important. Setting provides a picture for a reader, without which your characters are flying through nothingness. Action and drama mean very little without interaction between the characters and their environment so, in the right circumstances, a well-established setting can become a character in its own right. Think of Hogwarts, where the staircases are just as likely to move as the people walking on them, a flying car that saves the protagonist from his enemies and the hidden caverns and passages which not only help move plot along but which often interface with the characters too. It is this intelligent use of setting that sets your work apart from average writers and makes your work truly readable and re-readable.
“I don’t believe in the kind of magic in my books. But I do believe something very magical can happen when you read a good book.”
–J K Rowling
Setting can be magical without the presence of magic though. If you’ve ever visited the ancient ruins of a castle, you will know that age brings with it a sense of history and stories unknown. So as your character stumbles across a castle in the night, a hundred feet tall all around, its harsh grey stone covered in green and gold lichen which reflects the moonlight and all but one window dark, you are able to bring about a sense of age and vastness, a sense of mystery and majesty. Similarly, if you’ve ever found yourself in an exotic plant store, there is something about the bizarre, unknown vegetation that demonstrates you don’t need a tree that takes a swing at you as you pass to give a fantastical element to the setting. In the shade of leaning palms, your character finds escape from the arid heat. Winding your way along an isolated trail in the Amazon rainforest, the flora and fauna hold a great deal of surprises, distractions, obstacles and dangers which can be relevant to the progress of your story. Familiarity is what causes something to become clichéd. As long as you stay fresh and thoughtful about your setting then you won’t fall into this trap.
Mar 05 2013
We live in a world where technology has taken over our lives and it has got to the point where it is saving lives but where did this notion of technology saving lives come from, the answer is superheroes. Many people think of superheroes as a comic book character but there is more to them than meets the eye. Have you ever studied the abilities and power they have? If not, then this infographic below will show you what the real value of their powers and abilities are and how it can influence life in the real world.
From DC Comics to Marvel characters, these characters have influenced the growth of technology. The U.S army for instance has looked to them as role models when developing super human soldiers. The “Iron Man” soldiers are just one form of technological advancements and as you shall see in this real superhero powered infographic it has been a wise investment. Much research goes into developing powered technology and armour suits and this has inspired the medical community to develop products that will help those with disabilities. Superheroes have even influenced the digital world we live in, no one would have thought that Tupac would return from the dead through a hologram, but he did through the inspiration of the Green Lantern from DC Comics.
The world incorporates many super humans and through some real training and parkour movements you could be the next superhero.
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Jan 27 2013
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:
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.
Jan 08 2013
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.
Jan 01 2013
My 2012 resolutions were:
My 2013 resolutions:
Dec 07 2012
Which two of your characters would be hardest to merge into a single character? How would you go about doing it?
Some possibilities which come to mind:
If you need help coming up with characters to merge, here are some possibilities…
Nov 17 2012
In Skyfall, M remarks offhandedly that “orphans always make the best recruits” as secret agents. She doesn’t explain, but I would infer that she means that commitment matters more than anything else in her line of work, and that a person with a family won’t be as fully committed because they somewhere to leave to and may have been raised with more inhibitions than someone with a harder upbringing.
In your story, are there any traits or demographic characteristics which are unusually important for your heroes (or villains)? In particular, if you have a team of heroes, what are they looking for when they choose members? (For example, what should a superhero team be looking for besides superpowers? If a team takes random people off the street on life-or-death missions because they happen to have superpowers, does that strike anybody involved as desperate and/or crazy? If not, why not?) If you have a main hero, does he/she have the trait in question? If not, how does he/she get around that?
Nov 10 2012
1. I think the most important aspect is to develop your characters beyond one-dimensional cliches. Generally speaking, a few interesting characters will excite readers much more than many not-so-interesting characters would. Unless you’re doing children’s television, I’d recommend against a Power-Rangers-style setup where the members on a team have a single trait. For example, if your team consists of characters who have nothing going on besides a single trait/archetype (e.g. a hothead, a curious scientist, and an immature joker in Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles), it’s probably less promising than it could be. In contrast, Tony Stark had all of those traits and I think it both made him a deeper and more interesting character while enhancing his dramatic possibilities with other characters (especially in Avengers). For example, Tony Stark’s curiosity combines with his lack of restraint when he decides to cattle-prod Bruce Banner to see if Banner has the Hulk situation under control. Batman’s preparation and paranoia come together in Justice League when he pulls out Kryptonite against a enemy and cryptically says he had it on hand as an “insurance policy.” In contrast, I think there are only two types of scenes between Raphael the hothead and Leonardo the hardass leader (scenes where they hate each other and scenes where they don’t). There’s only so many ways you can have characters act out a single trait with each other.
2. Another problem I’ve seen occasionally is where large superhero teams cut the roles too fine. I’ve seen 3-page synopses for stories which have (say) 8+ characters and half of the characters only get a line of description along the lines of “Avatar has fire powers and defends the base” or “Gridley is incredibly intelligent and is the team’s hacker” or whatever. I would recommend making your characters more versatile than that. For example, pretty much any superhero can defend the base–if base-defense is plot-relevant, just rotate that task among the notable characters or delegate it to a faceless extra that won’t take much space, but please don’t just randomly insert a character that will take space without actually getting to be interesting (or at least develop more interesting characters).
For example, let’s say a team has a scientist, a hacker, a soldier, an explosives expert, an outdoorsman/hunter, a negotiator, and a criminal. I think the most intuitive (though not necessarily best) approach would be to merge some of the characters (e.g. a scientist/hacker, a soldier with a background in wilderness recon and explosives, and a silver-tongued criminal). However, you can mix and match pretty much any of these archetypes into more promising combinations. For example, you could have a criminal scientist, a USAF hacker, a survivalist that knows far more about bombs than he can admit to, and a negotiator that enjoys coercion and/or blackmail far too much. Or a scientist that’s fascinated by explosions, a military hostage-negotiator (or a special forces operative with really good people skills), and a frightfully competent hunter/poacher who’s been coerced by the authorities into helping them catch the antagonist, etc. Hell, if you wanted to, you could probably combine most of all of those characters into 1-2 characters (e.g. a spy with both electronic and physical skills whose main job is tracking down a target and either convincing him to defect or eliminating him).
Nov 02 2012
Did Hollywood or a well-known author just ruin your day by releasing a story that looks strikingly similar to something you’ve been independently developing for years? Here are some ways you can develop your story in a different direction.
1. Focus on unusual character traits. There have been a LOT of superheroes that are brilliant scientists, but Iron Man’s protagonist has a very unusual combination of traits. Whereas most scientist characters struggle with something like shyness, Tony Stark is hyper-charismatic and his main flaw is impulsiveness/recklessness.
2. Give the main characters unusual goals and/or motivations, preferably which tie into unusual decisions. For example, in most national security thrillers, if a character gets framed for a major crime, the character’s quest will center on proving his innocence and/or getting revenge on the people that have framed him. In contrast, Point of Impact’s protagonist is a backwoods hermit who responds to a framing in a very unusual way. His first move is to break into an FBI-guarded morgue to recover the corpse of his dog (who was killed at his house when the criminals were planting evidence against him). The protagonist’s sense of honor causes him to jeopardize his chances of succeeding at the main plot over a point of honor that wouldn’t matter much to most protagonists.
Oct 19 2012
1. A character is disappointed in a role model (who may or may not be part of the conversation).
2. A character tries to act more knowledgeable about something than he/she actually is.
3. Character A tries to convince Character B to do something that Character A would never do himself.
3.1. A character tries to convince a more powerful character to make a major sacrifice and/or concession, but lacks the ability to force the issue.
4. A character tries to act more enthusiastic than he/she is. Is the other person (or people) in the conversation mainly enthusiastic or unenthusiastic? I’d recommend going with whichever one feels less intuitive.
5. One character sees himself as much closer to the other than vice versa. Bonus points if it’s something besides an unrequited romance.
6. A character makes a hasty decision. Compare and contrast to a separate scene showing the same character making the same decision with more forethought. Bonus points: the decision is hard to plan for (e.g. breaking up with somebody).
7. A character tries to hide his/her actual reasons for something, preferably in a conversation with someone suspicious enough to dig at the truth. Suggestion: if the suspicious person explicitly accuses the deceptive character of the actual motive, don’t have the deceptive character instantly admit it. Milk more drama out of it than that.
8. A character tries to trap somebody else into doing or admitting something.
9. Imply that a character is uncertain about a plan/decision. Preferably the circumstances make it difficult and/or risky for the character to openly voice these concerns.
10. Bitter and/or violent enemies engage in a conversation, preferably in a situation where violence and/or threats are not viable. For example, the villain in Iron Man reveals his murderous betrayal to the protagonist at a charity gala as photographers are taking pictures. The limitations there were more dramatic than if the characters had been free to scream at each other in a more private setting.
11.Protagonist A tries showing off in front of Character B, who happens to be much better at the skill/trait in question. Perhaps the protagonist is trying to impress a third character?
11.1. Character B has to save Character A from making a fool in front of a third character, but has to avoid ruffling A’s feathers. For example, if a boss starts using (broken) French at a cocktail party to make himself sound cultured/learned, telling him he’s playing the fool might be problematic.
12. A character grossly underplays or overplays something (e.g. brushing off a catastrophe or playing up a minor inconvenience for leverage).
Aug 09 2012
Shannah McGill has a character questionnaire based on character actions rather than character traits.
I would add the following situations:
Aug 01 2012
1. Hancock’s personality and interaction with other people made for some interesting conflict. The train scene with Hancock, Ray, and the other people at the intersection is a great example of Hancock’s alienation and anti-social nature. He’s one of the few superheroes that people generally hate, as opposed to, say, Superman.
2. The mechanics of Hancock’s superpowers were very fascinating. When he kicks off the ground to propel into flight, it yanks stuff up out of the ground. His invincibility could be cliche, but was used creatively (the shaving scene was a kickass example of that). The physics behind the powers was believable. In contrast, Superman has to use special Kryptonian razor blades when he has to shave (ugh!).
3. Superheroes can commit crimes, and they can get in trouble for it. Hancock went to prison because of the way he used his powers. He had several crimes hanging over his head: aggravated assault and battery, destruction of property, reckless endangerment, and even endangering the safety of a minor (the French bully he launched into the sky). This is very refreshing—in most superhero stories where the police are antagonists, they don’t actually add significant consequences to the characters’ actions. (For example, Batman might have a chase scene or two with the police, but it rarely actually costs Batman anything).
4. Hancock’s significant other was an interesting twist, but could be confusing and contradictory. During the major fight scene with Hancock and his “wife,” she keeps screaming that she hates him, and that she’d never forgive him for what he did. What did he do? They never explain what he did, and they gave no reason for why she’d hate him. Then, in the hospital scene towards the end, she explains how he always saved her over the centuries, and how he was meant to be humanity’s hero. But didn’t you say earlier that you were faster, stronger, and smarter than him? Lady, you’re confusing me!