Archive for the 'Novel-Writing' Category

Mar 01 2010

Illustrating the Economics of E-Books

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.

Two things jump out at me here.  First, the author’s royalty is proportionally much larger with e-books than hardcovers (20-25% compared to 15%, and even lower for paperbacks).  Second, since distributing an e-book is cheaper, the cost to consumers should drop considerably.

Picture taken from the New York Times.  Full article here.  This statistic caught my eye: “The industry is based on the understanding that as much as 70 percent of the books published will make little or no money at all for the publisher once costs are paid.”

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Apr 25 2009

How to Use Backstory Effectively

It’s hard to handle backstory (what has happened in the past of the story). Most authors just use dull exposition. “Twelve years ago, John McGruesome was a mob hitman…” Here are a few common problems with backstory.

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25 responses so far

Mar 25 2009

Novel-Writing Tip of the Day: Be Careful with Sequels

When a first-time novelist says that he’s writing the first book in a series, that’s usually code for “I’m not going to resolve anything.”

For example, the story builds up to a “climactic” battle that doesn’t actually vanquish the villain. The main sidegoal is to get the girl, but the hero doesn’t manage to accomplish that, either. After reading hundreds of pages, your audience will want some resolution.  If your novel can best be summarized as “to be continued,” then what’s the point?

Here are some better ways to set up sequels.

  1. The hero achieves his initial goal, but the problem is more complicated than he had believed.   For example, we are set up to believe that John is the main villain.  Over the course of 300 pages, the hero struggles against him and narrowly defeats him.  At the very end, though, we learn that he was only a lieutenant to the true mastermind.  This gives us some resolution because the hero has accomplished what he set out to do.
  2. The hero achieves his goal in a standalone novel, but unanticipated complications arise in a later work.  In the first novel, the hero defeats the villain and woos the heroine.  The end of the first novel will feel satisfying because it appears to have resolved the underlying problems.   The characters live happily ever after… well, not quite.  Your next novel skips forward a few months and reveals that the hero is quite unhappily married and that the villain from last time left a nasty surprise. This sort of sequel is easiest to write if you give yourself some minor loose ends to pick up later.

94 responses so far

Mar 20 2008

Welcome, MicroISVers!

Hey! Superhero Nation offers comedy, superhero writing advice, generic writing advice, and a few assorted articles on how to manage a small online project, particularly an online novel (these include Using Header Art and Using Google Analytics to Self-Review).

Note:  if you’d like to read the article Pat mentioned, click here.

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Dec 12 2007

Improving Your Beta Reviews

This article will focus on how to find beta reviewers and how to get beta-reviews that are more useful.
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2 responses so far

Nov 30 2007

Quote of the Day: Nov. 30


It has come to our attention that you have continued to violate our intellectual property rights. Continuing to infringe on copyrighted terms and concepts, including but not limited to the following, will force us to pursue alternate methods of defending our legal rights.

  1. superhero
  2. “superpowers”
  3. The concept of superpowered individuals concealing their identities with masks and capes.
  4. Accusations of lurid conspiracies by government personnel against the public interest

We eagerly anticipate your cooperation in this matter.

–Wonder Comics


It has come to our attention that you are attempting to restrict our linguistic rights for your selfish profit. Please refer your legal staff to the following concepts in US-American jurisprudence.

  1. Common usage
  2. Lawyers/media vs. police/military. Who do you think we have on staff?
  3. Billionaire playboys: you’ve either got them or you don’t.

We eagerly anticipate your lawsuit.

–The Social Justice League

No responses yet

Nov 16 2007

New Sidebar Category: Writing Case Studies

Hello. In addition to my normal articles on writing, I now have Writing Case Studies.  Each entry will review a book and then describe what writers should take away from what worked and what didn’t from the book.

This makes it a bit easier to describe problems/successes in characterization and plotting that might otherwise be abstract.

So far I have:

I’d really appreciate if you’d like to suggest any novels, particularly ones with superheroes or high fantasy generally.  I focus on those kinds of novels because they often have the same challenges and audience expectations as Superhero Nation.

  • Creating a world more or less by scratch
  • Making a fantastic world serious enough that people won’t hear your premise and groan
  • Combining action and non-action components into a workable whole.

One response so far

Nov 09 2007

Only a Bumbling Person Can Stop a Supervillain

A supervillain is easily identifiable because power is sexy.  That’s why we always get the best women (no one really wants to date a mild-mannered reporter or an inept freelance-photographer).  But superheroes are also easy to identify if you know what to look for: the bumbling factor.  The more bumbling someone is, the more superpowers he’s waiting to unleash. For example, the last time my henchmen attempted to break into a presidential convention, they got absolutely shellacked by Tucker Carlson. If you have ever wondered whether someone that looks that bumbling could only get on TV because he was really a superhero, you’re not alone.

Tucker Carlson, Superhero

There’s really no way to know how many of my plots have been spoiled by Carlson and Alan Colmes, but I’d feel pretty confident saying that they’re the main barrier between me and global domination.


I’d give you two guesses whether it’s Hannity or Colmes that’s the bane of supercriminals everywhere. Remember, people that look bumbling are dangerous. And anyone that looks as bumbling as Colmes can strangle your best assassins with his mind.  Interestingly, Sean Hannity is also a superhero, but any supervillain that fears a conservative diversity hero should reconsider his line of work.

Way to keep a secret identity, dumbass

Unsurprisingly, the talk radio guy doesn’t know how important it is to keep his appearance secret.

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Jul 22 2006

How to Write Gripping Scenes

This article will focus on how to craft gripping scenes that immerse readers in the story. First, I will start with an absolutely awful scene, offer a revision, and then draw connections about how you can make your scenes more immersive.


My mini-scene


The elf hit the orc with his shield, giving him enough time to cast Fireball. It shot out of his land like a bullet.


This scene completely fails to immerse readers.


  1. “like a bullet” feels distinctly inappropriate for a conventional fantasy story (let’s assume that’s what it is).

  2. What’s the fireball like? This wasted a huge opportunity.

  3. The passage used weak and generic verbs (hit, cast and shot).

  4. We can’t really visualize the fight. What happens to the orc that lets the elf cast Fireball?

  5. What’s the elf like? Or the orc? We can’t really visualize either beyond the barest mental cliches.


A somewhat better version of my mini-scene


The orc swung wildly with its masher. The elf instinctively ducked. A cool breeze fanned the elf’s face as the hammer rushed by. The elf sprang up with his shield, smashing the orc’s face. It fell backwards, chains rattling as it crashed into the ground. The orc’s bloodyshot eyes fluttered, unfocused as though gazing at something miles away.


But it was alive.


“Spirits of fire…”


Mystical energy welled in the elf’s chest and smoke pooled in his lungs. The smoke. He lived for the smoke.


“I implore you…” he aimed his hand at the prone orc. Power surged from his heart, as though magma were rushing through him. Clumps of his skin charred and flaked away in the wind.




A geyser of fire hot enough to melt stone gushed out of his fingers. The orc’s top half disintegrated completely. And the bottom half… only he and the gods would know it had ever belonged to something alive.


The elf inspected the black gashes that ran up his heavily charred, heat-withered arm. Regrowing skin and bone was simple enough that any apprentice healer could have his arm functional within an hour. But the scars, the scars were permanent. In any case, they made for great bar stories.


Then he noticed that his fingernails had burnt away.




It took weeks for fingernails to grow back.


This story is better, but it still has many problems… “incendio”? Come on. More substantively, we have no impression of the physical setting, where the story is taking place. (Is this fight happening in… an open field? An Orcish coliseum? An astral plane? What’s the weather like? How does the terrain affect the duel? Who, if anyone, is watching? Is anyone else fighting? What time is it? How humid is it?)


In contrast, this scene does develop the cultural setting. We learn a lot about the elf here and his society. He spends as much time thinking about his burnt fingernails as he does about killing the orc.


The sensory imagery is occasionally solid– particularly the fire/smoke/imagery– but aside from that it was pretty bland…


Making Your Scenes More Immersive


  1. Sensory imagery is critical. “He cast a fireball” is too bland to captivate readers.

    1. Show us what the spell does to the victim, the caster, the terrain, etc. Give us the smoke!

    2. Try to engage as many senses as possible. Smell and touch are particularly immersive and visceral. Sight and hearing are obviously important but are usually more generic.

    3. Focus on the elements that separate your story from every other story we’ve read. A fight between elves and orcs on the beach should not focus on the seagulls. Likewise, a story with a dragon character (ie a dragon that actually has lines) had damn well better describe and use the dragon. Give us the dragon!

  2. You have to show readers where the scene is happening.

    1. The best way to develop the setting is to show your characters interacting with the scenery. For example, if the fight is in a tavern, bystanders might jeer or root for one combatant. The elf might use a chair or mug as a weapon. More generically, the elf might choke on the smoke that comes from the fireball or his eyes might water.

    2. Don’t overwhelm your audience with trivial details. For example, if they fight on a beach, describing the sounds of the waves hitting the beach probably won’t add much. But mentioning that the sand offers bad footing will help your readers visualize the scene.

  3. Explain the cultural setting. What are the people in your world like? How are their thought processes and cultures different from ours?

    1. Above, the elf is pretty messed up. He talks about his scars at taverns and cares more about his fingernails than burning an orc to death. If I had only described him as an elf, the audience would have assumed he was elegant, high-minded, nature-attuned, etc. What is this, Dungeons and Dragons?*

    2. Readers prefer unique settings.

  4. What is the focus (or purpose) of your scene?

    1. Originally, my fireball scene was an action scene, describing only the elf-orc fight. The rewrite was far more character-driven. I used the fight as a vehicle to portray the elf.

    2. Mixing up scenes is usually more effective. You can drown your readers in action (or dramatic dialogue). I tried to mix action and character development here and I think it was pretty effective.

21 responses so far