Archive for the 'Writing Articles' Category

Feb 05 2012

The Death and Return of Superman

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.

This is pretty brilliant, albeit not safe for work.

3 responses so far

Jan 26 2012

Another Plausible Superhero Origin?

“Think of a person watching a computer screen and having his or her brain patterns modified to match those of a high-performing athlete or modified to recuperate from an accident or disease. Though preliminary, researchers say such possibilities may exist in the future.”

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Jan 07 2012

Possible Problems and Obstacles for Superheroes to Face Besides Supervillains

Here are some possibilities.

1. A lack of money.  Superheroics can result in injuries, but anybody with a secret identity probably wouldn’t want to reveal those injuries to an insurance company.  (Otherwise, they’d need to lie to the insurance company or reveal their secret identity).  Second, a lot of superheroes spend what must be substantial amounts of money on their superheroics.  For example, Peter Parker is practically on the verge of starvation (and has been evicted at least once), but he’s still buying high-grade flame-retardant fabric for costumes. Even a wealthier team like the Fantastic Four could have financial difficulties sometimes.  Their headquarter alone would probably cost hundreds of millions of dollars a year (in financing/interest, property taxes, maintenance, insurance to protect nearby buildings from FF science, building upgrades, etc).  Government agencies might face budgetary restrictions, particularly if they’ve antagonized Congress/Parliament.


1.1. Troubles at work and/or school.  Superheroes don’t have very much control over when supervillains attack, so they frequently have trouble maintaining a regular work schedule.  Superheroes can take some steps to minimize the damage to their day jobs, but a worker that’s frequently late and/or absent without leave will probably get in trouble with his/her boss and/or school.


2. Physical stresses of a highly dangerous job.  For example, injuries stemming from fights or overexertion, a lack of sleep and/or time to recuperate, exposure to highly dangerous chemicals or alien symbiotes, mild aging (Batman’s at least in his 40s), etc.

2.1. Mental stress and/or combat fatigue. 


3. Pressure from friends/family/loved ones to give up or minimize superheroic activities.  They may be concerned about the superhero’s well-being because it’s such a dangerous job and/or the superhero might not be well-suited for the job.  Alternately, a spouse or lover may feel that the toll on their relationship is getting too high, particularly if he/she has been kidnapped or nearly killed before.


4. Disagreements with other protagonists (superpowered or otherwise).  For example, Lucius parted ways with Batman over philosophical differences.  Superheroes might privately and/or publicly hold each other accountable if a mission goes awry. Alternately, if there’s a crime or disaster where multiple superhero groups respond, the groups might have trouble cooperating–the teams might be very different philosophically, tactically, demographically, etc.  If a super-SWAT team and a team of superpowered high school students both respond to a hostage crisis, there are a variety of reasons the SWAT commandos would not want to trust the students with any responsibility.  Peter Parker is good at many things, but he’s not extremely methodical and probably doesn’t have much experience with hostage situations.  Alternately, the high school students might have trouble cooperating with the SWAT team, if they’re convinced that the SWAT team is so gung-ho they’re going to get a lot of hostages killed and/or the SWAT commandos don’t have the right superpowers for this situation and/or are using a more standard set of strategies against a completely unpredictable adversary.


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25 responses so far

Jan 02 2012

How to Make a Boring Character Interesting

Here are some possibilities for making boring characters interesting–feel free to mix and match.


Problem 1: The character doesn’t have a distinct personality.


A) Make sure the character has distinct traits.  Can you name 3-4 adjectives that fit your character really well but not most other protagonists in your genre?  If not, please see this list of character traits for some possibilities and this article about how to use traits to develop characters.


B) Give him at least one flaw, a trait that makes it harder for him to achieve his goals and preferably leads to some conflict with sympathetic characters.   Some authors back into rarely-interesting “flaws” like being overly modest or “caring too much.”  If you can use those flaw(s) to create conflict or obstacles, that’s fine.  For example, maybe he wants to succeed in a job where modesty is an obstacle (e.g. marketing, sales or politics).  If you can’t use the flaw to create conflict, I’d recommend trying a different flaw instead or possibly rewriting the plot to accommodate the character.  For example, if you were really dead-set on a character whose signature flaw was his total inability to play the didgeridoo, maybe he’s growing up in a culture where mastering the didgeridoo is a critical rite of passage and/or the main way to pick up ladies.  For more on flaws and challenging characters, please see this article.


C) If all else fails, play up traits to the extreme.  Anything is better than having your character do and say “whatever the author feels like today,” and unfortunately I see many WTAFLT characters.  It’s generally easier to rewrite a character whose traits are too strong than one whose traits are too bland/unclear.


D) Make sure your plot gives your protagonists chances to make unusual choices. If 99% of protagonists from your genre would act the same way if they were in your plot, you’re not giving your protagonist a chance to distinguish himself.  If there’s a goal, a principle or a possession your character values much more than most other protagonists would, your character might make an unusual decision to protect/advance it.  For example, the fugitive protagonist of Point of Impact breaks into an FBI-guarded morgue to reclaim and properly bury his dead dog. It’s a memorable scene because the character is putting himself on the line for a goal that wouldn’t matter to most action protagonists–almost every protagonist would just skip to getting revenge or clearing his name.


E) Flesh out his perspective–what are some things he would notice or comment on that most other people wouldn’t?  What are some things he would draw connections between that most people wouldn’t?  For example, in a superhero-style world where people like Lois Lane or Mary Jane get kidnapped repeatedly, a veteran superhero (or investigator) might guess that anyone that’s been kidnapped by a supervillain for no readily obvious reason is probably very close to a superhero.


F) Force your main character to do or say at least one thing per page that he would do but you wouldn’t.  Don’t let your character get hemmed in by what you would do–most authors aren’t interesting or honest/circumspect enough to make an autobiography work.  Also, if at all possible, please force your main character(s) to do/say at least one thing per page that your other characters wouldn’t.  That will really help the main character feel distinct.  If that’s not possible, I would recommend reevaluating whether the character has distinct traits and whether the plot is giving him opportunities to show those traits.


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43 responses so far

Dec 30 2011

How to Build an Audience for Your Writing Website

I’ve already done an article on how to promote fiction with a nonfiction platform (such as a website mainly devoted to writing advice), but here are some tips for novelists that want to build an audience for a fiction website.


1.  Pick a niche small enough that you can compete in, but big enough that there are enough readers to sustain you.  Your genre and/or subgenre are usually good places to start.  For example, if you were doing superhero stories, Google estimates that there are at least 50,000 searches related to superhero fiction every month (for superhero book, superhero story, superhero fiction, superhero writing, etc).


2.  After you’ve picked a niche, figure out key search terms/phrases to target.  I brainstormed about 10 possible searches related to superhero fiction, but superhero book(s) and superhero story/stories accounted for 86% of the traffic.


3.  When you’re picking out a site name and URL, I’d generally recommend including at least one of your critical search terms.  When search engines are figuring out which sites are the best match for a particular query, they love to see the search term(s) in the title.  (Case in point: Superhero Nation is currently beating Marvel and DC Comics on Google searches for superhero stories, and it’s not because I have more superhero stories than they do).


3.1. If you’d like to include critical search terms into your title, one possibility is including a colon phrase or dash phrase if you haven’t already.  For example, in my case, I did Superhero Nation: how to write superhero novels, comic books and graphic novels.  I’d generally recommend keeping the total title to 65-70 characters so that Google doesn’t cut you off.  (I do get cut off a bit).  There are two main advantages to including a colon or dash phrase: first, it gets more critical search terms into your title, which helps your site perform better on related searches.  Second, it helps identify your website’s purpose to prospective readers glancing through Google results.  “Superhero Nation” doesn’t say all that much about what I offer, but “how to write superhero novels…” does.  If prospective readers do not understand what you offer and how they will benefit, they will probably pass over your website. 


3.2. Your website’s title and URL are critical resources, so don’t waste them on your name.  First, unless you’re a well-known author, people aren’t searching you out by your name yet.  Second, even if people were searching for you by your name, they’ll find you whether or not your name is in your title/URL.  I would highly recommend focusing instead on keywords, or at least on a descriptive phrase that conveys your genre/subgenre or what you offer.  For example, doesn’t really say anything about what you offer, but “Crime Scene: Murder Mysteries and Detective Novels from John Doe” is a much better alternative if you’re dead-set on having your name in your title.  It also does a better job competing on popular search terms like murder mysteries and detective novels. 


4.  When you have quality content on your website, find people that would be interested in your genre and style of writing and email them a 2 sentence synopsis of the story with a link.  For example, a Google search for something like superhero blogs will probably turn up a lot of people that are interested in superhero stories.  If your niche has substantial search traffic, there are probably people blogging about it already.


4.1. As much as possible, I would recommend doing this communication gradually and personally.  Take your time with it.  A form letter obviously written to 50+ people probably won’t go very far.  I think a personal touch (like addressing the recipient by name) goes a long way.  Personally, I almost always read emails addressed to B. McKenzie or B. Mac because it suggests that they’re at least vaguely aware of what I do.  In contrast, “Dear Webmaster” emails are almost always machine-generated spam.  (If there’s a human out there that can’t find a name that’s on 99% of SN articles and the About Page, I am so sorry for him/her).  Another advantage of doing this gradually is that you’ll get better at introducing yourself, introducing your content and writing content with practice, so don’t use up too many opportunities before you’ve given yourself a chance to improve.


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6 responses so far

Dec 20 2011

Don’t Let Information Take a Dump On Your Dialogue

Prologues should be hunted for sport.  They should be in season all year round, and whenever someone brings one down they should take pictures of themselves grinning like idiots over its fallen and bloodied body.  I’m sure many authors would agree with me.  In fact, there are probably several who jumped up from their computers after reading those first few sentences and started chasing their manuscripts through the house with a rifle.


When I read a piece of fiction, I’m trying to be transported into another world through the power of imagination.  I want characters, situations, and dialogue.  Tell me a joke, make me laugh, or let me see a glimpse of something that piques my curiosity as to what may happen next.  I don’t want a history lesson.  If your story doesn’t start at the beginning, that’s fine.  Let the people who have been brought to life through your words explain the beginning to me.  Wait!  Don’t get ahead of yourself.  I don’t want characters sitting me down and reciting a history lecture either.  If you can copy/paste your prologue into the dialogue, chances are it’s terrible dialogue.


In my collection of super hero stories, I recounted how the main character met two different people within the confines of one conversation at a house-warming party:


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Dec 18 2011

List of Superhero Cliches, Tropes, and Conventions

Published by under Writing Articles


1. The story’s inciting event is most often the murder of a loved one(s).  For example, in Spider-Man, Peter’s uncle gets killed because he wasn’t brave enough to take action.  One possible subversion is that the uncle got killed because Peter (or the uncle) did try to take action.  Another popular inciting event is something which suddenly gives the characters superpowers–common examples include scientific accidents, alien landings, living in New York City, and miracle operations.


2. The superhero usually gets his superpowers before the villain does.  Or, at least, we learn about the superhero getting his superpowers first.  It’s pretty rare for a supervillain to start his reign of terror before the hero has superpowers.


2.1. The superhero and main villain frequently gets their superpowers either from the same source or similar sources.  For example, Green Lantern and Sinestro both use power rings.  Spider-Man and the Green Goblin are both biochemically enhanced.  Batman and the Joker are both fueled by insanity.


3. Many villains and heroes share some sort of personal connection outside of work.  The easiest way to become one of Spider-Man’s villains is to meet Peter Parker.  (Green Goblin is his best friend’s father, Lizard employed him as a teaching assistant, Venom is a rival at work, Dr. Octopus once taught him at a science camp, Man-Wolf is J.J. Jameson’s son, etc).  This may be explainable if superpowers are mostly hereditary and/or highly visible in your story.  For example, mutants are a pretty small group of mostly outcasts in X-Men, so it makes sense that mutants have a better chance of knowing each other and/or being related to each other than random humans would.  Alternately, the hero might interact with a lot of people that are relatively likely to develop superpowers.  For example, Peter Parker knows a lot of leading scientists and New York City scientists are more or less certain to develop superpowers.


4. Nuclear weapons cannot destroy anything, but hand-to-hand combatants are largely unstoppable.  If there’s anything I’ve learned from fiction, it’s that a single ninja is the deadliest force in the galaxy.  In contrast, nuclear weapons are hilariously unable to kill anything. Even in Watchmen, where nuclear weapons are the grim doom hanging over everybody’s heads, it’s a giant psychic squid that actually destroys a city. In Heroes, Peter’s healing power can be stopped by a bullet to the back of the head but not a point-blank nuclear detonation. Also in Heroes, a nuclear detonation happens within 10-20 miles of New York City and nobody even notices. In these stories, nuclear romance killed more people (one of Dr. Manhattan’s lovers) than nuclear weapons did.

5. Nobody stays dead (comic book deaths never last).  Almost no superheroes die or lose their superpowers for an extended period in comic books.  It will never happen to bestselling characters, unless a reboot is already planned.  Novels don’t fall into this cliche as often. A novelist doesn’t need to do decades worth of stories for the same character, so it’s easier for a novelist to alter the status quo.

5.1. Primary superhero protagonists almost always survive and win, especially in comic books. In a superhero story, there is a 99%+ chance that the main characters accomplish their goal and survive. In contrast, in other action stories, it’s not unheard of that the heroes either fail to accomplish their goals or die accomplishing them.

5.2 Women are disproportionately likely to get, ahem, stuffed in a fridge or otherwise brutally slain.  Publishers usually treat highly popular characters much more carefully and the characters that drive sales the most are (besides Buffy) almost exclusively male.  However, being a male superhero doesn’t help you much if you aren’t very popular–just ask Jason Todd!


6. New York City (or an obvious stand-in like Gotham) is the default setting for most superhero stories. I think it’s because the U.S. comic book and novel publishing industries are centered there and that’s what their editors are most comfortable with.  Also, they’d probably reason that it’s got a recognizable skyline, a large built-in audience, the brightest lights/biggest stage for a superhero, etc.  This isn’t necessarily a wrong choice, but I would be concerned if you chose NYC just because it’s the generic setting and you couldn’t come up with anything else. New York itself isn’t a problem, but generic settings are. In contrast, Gotham is obviously based on New York City, but definitely has a mood/character to it.

6.1.  95%+ of the world’s superpowered activity will usually happen in and around a single city.  Apparently, New York City has a global monopoly on cutting-edge science–either that, or scientists everywhere else have figured out how not to turn themselves into supervillains.  PS: If your superhero activity is overwhelmingly centered in a particular city, I’d recommend having an in-story reason why.  “That’s where the chemical spill/alien landing/origin story/whatever happened” is usually sufficient.


7. Most superheroes almost never interact with their parents, besides possibly a stirring death scene.  This is true of many non-superhero stories as well. Hollywood kills off or skips over the parents of protagonists (especially adult protagonists) so consistently that I was shocked in grade school to learn that my 40-something teacher’s parents were still alive. Disney had distorted my perspective so much that I had assumed that parents usually died by the time their kids became adults.

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206 responses so far

Dec 17 2011

How to Write a Good Sidekick

A bad sidekick aggravates readers and weakens the story.  Over the past 25 years, the two live-action Batman movies with Robin have averaged 29% on Rotten Tomatoes.  The four without Robin have averaged 82%.  Here are some tips that will help you write a sidekick that will excite readers rather than make them want to stick their brains in a blender.


(Amazingly, the nipples on Robin's suit weren't the worst thing Batman & Robin did to the character).


1. If a character is actually interesting enough to belong as a sidekick, promote him to partner or superhero.  Calling him a “sidekick” cues readers that he’s probably a distraction from the character that actually matters.  If he’s not interesting enough to be a partner, you’d probably be better off without him altogether.  Alternately, you can have a character play an interesting role far from the spotlight.  For example, Lucius Fox (Morgan Freeman) adds an interesting ideological dispute with Batman in The Dark Knight but he gets extremely little screen-time and never participates in any fights.


2. Give yourself a reason for writing in a partner/sidekick besides adding “relatability” for younger readers.  If you’re mainly including a sidekick for relatability, I think you’ll probably aggravate older readers more than you’ll please younger ones.  For example, watch Robin in Batman and Robin, Scrappy Doo in too many Scooby Doo episodes, or Jar-Jar Binks in Phantom Menace.  Did these characters at any point take the story in a direction that you wanted to go?  Or were they exceedingly unlikable and a distraction from more interesting characters?


3. Here are some better reasons for having a partner than relatability.  

  • In Kick-Ass, the relationship between Hit Girl and Big Daddy (her father) was probably the most interesting character dynamic.  It was somehow simultaneously abusive and touching, both of which helped flesh him out as a three-dimensional character rather than just another ersatz Punisher.  Also, having Hit Girl be insanely effective in battle was a delightful subversion that raised the stakes for Kick-Ass.  (If you’re a superhero getting schooled in battle by a 11 year old girl, maybe it’s time to think about hanging up the tights).
  • The character is a loner, but his thought processes are interesting enough that his interactions would develop him and/or the story.  For example, one of Watson’s main roles is giving Holmes a way to narrate the mental leaps he’s making to solve the case.  As the “straight man,” he’s also the audience stand-in, which helps create a contrast with the eccentric and unorthodox Holmes.
  • You absolutely need someone with a particular skill to make a plot arc work, but for whatever reason, it wouldn’t make sense to give that skill to the main character.


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25 responses so far

Dec 16 2011

Encouraging Writing Advice for Young Authors

Published by under Art,Writing Articles


From Ace of Spades.

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Dec 13 2011

How Can Superheroes Maintain a Day Job?

Here are some ideas–feel free to mix and match as you see fit.

1. The superhero’s job gives him a very good reason to take up and leave at crucial moments.  For example, Clark Kent has a great reason to run towards disasters–he’s a journalist looking for the biggest story in town.  Matt Murdoch (Daredevil) or another lawyer might have some good reasons to do so–some supervillains have deep pockets and any disaster scene is liable to have tons of victims that will need a great lawyer.  Successfully suing a billionaire villain (or, umm, the police for failing to take reasonable precautions to keep him in jail) could be a huge payday.


2. The superhero secretly prepares some exciting projects for work that he can unveil whenever he needs to get his boss off his back.  For example, it might be a problem that Clark Kent missed a deadline on mortgages in Metropolis, but his editor would probably look past that if Clark Kent pulled a Pulitzer-grade story out of his brief.  “Sorry, chief, I was busy triple-checking the sourcing on this Luthor confession.  We got him on tape!”  A superhero might be able to sit on a huge breakthrough in his work for a long time–for example, a journalist might spend months checking a story because rushing to print with a libelous claim against an extremely wealthy businessman could be disastrous for the company.


2.1. The superhero is valuable enough at work that his bosses and coworkers look past his tendency to miss work and/or come in late and/or incur mysterious injuries/illnesses.  For example, he might be in a white collar job where uncommon bravery is a major advantage but not many people have it.  (I mean, really, how many journalists are there that would be excited to rush to the scene of a superpowered brawl in progress?  How many lawyers would be excited to interview murder suspects in extremely shady parts of town?)  His skills as a superhero might be really useful–for example, he probably has some degree of investigatory prowess, fast reflexes, familiarity with crime/criminals, toughness, an attention to detail, unusual confidence, determination and/or well-placed contacts in various industries and positions. For example, someone like Clark Kent is probably careful enough to make a good forensic accountant (although most taxmen would obviously not make very good superheroes).


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6 responses so far

Dec 02 2011

Writing More Realistic Violence

Here are some points I took away from this article on violence.

1. Very few people are actually prepared for a life-or-death, organ-stabbing fight.  “Herein lies a crucial distinction between traditional martial arts and realistic self-defense: Most martial artists train for a ‘fight.’ Opponents assume ready stances, just out of each other’s range, and then practice various techniques or spar (engage in controlled fighting). This does not simulate real violence. It doesn’t prepare you to respond effectively to a sudden attack, in which you have been hit before you even knew you were threatened, and it doesn’t teach you to strike preemptively, without telegraphing your moves, once you have determined that an attack is imminent.”


2. All other things being equal, I would imagine someone that’s pretty mild-mannered and hasn’t been in many fights would probably have quite a learning curve as a superhero.  Most violent criminals (e.g. supervillains!) are used to violence that most people could not fathom.  In a savage fight, it is very possible that a superhero’s mental/moral hesitations and inhibitions and unfamiliarity with violence could be disastrous.  Superhero organizations might want to have new recruits fight nonpowered criminals in relatively low-stakes cases until it looks like they might be mentally and physically hard enough to survive a psychotic killer like Mr. Freeze or a death camp survivor that mentally ripped a foe’s tooth out of his mouth… back when he was a protagonist.  And, let’s be honest, it’s not likely that every would-be superhero can successfully make that transition.  (If you’re writing a larger organization like the Justice League, what does the group do about heroes that are so ill-suited for combat they will probably get themselves killed?  For example, maybe some get retrained as crime-solvers and partnered with ace combatants and maybe others get let go and maybe still more take on important support roles like medic or scientist or whatever that might involve some exposure to violence but aren’t as intense as actually being a combatant).


3. Although I think the author discounts the potential benefits of bravery, I agree it definitely has potential costs.  I don’t think we see very much of that in most superhero stories.  For example, violence for Spider-Man is sort of Disney-fied–virtually the only permanent costs of violence (Uncle Ben’s death) are caused by not being brave.   For most superheroes, I think the violence is heavily romanticized.  Being a superhero is more or less fun and games except when a (usually secondary) character dies and, let’s face it, he will probably come back anyway.  On the other hand, I personally don’t enjoy deep-R violence and would feel uncomfortable including it in something primarily meant as entertainment.  (For example, in Kickass, a gangster gets crushed in a car-compactor–it’s decidedly unpleasant and I’m sort of annoyed it was a laugh-line for the audience).


4.  It might be dramatic to make a hero choose between his pride and other goals.  For example, if 3+ muggers have guns drawn on Bruce Wayne, it’d be pretty banal for Wayne to flawlessly disarm the criminals and walk away completely unscathed–pretty much every superhero would do the same in that situation.  It might be more interesting if the character allowed himself to be robbed, walked away and got his revenge later.  How much is his pride worth?  Alternately, if the character does decide that his pride is worth risking serious physical injury and/or revealing that he has superpowers, have him pay something for it.  (For example, the first sign to Gary that something is not right about his coworker Dr. Mallow is that Gary witnesses several men rob Dr. Mallow, taking among other things a cherished personal memento.  Over the next several weeks, all of the assailants end up in mysterious accidents and the good doctor has his memento back.  Mallow could have just let it go, but trying to protect his property even after the fact bears a cost for him).

11 responses so far

Nov 28 2011

Writing a Realistic Superhero Story

Published by under Realism,Writing Articles

1. As always, realism is a stylistic preference.  Feel free to disregard any/all aspects of realism.  Generally, the fans of superhero stories are more likely to cut you slack on realism than, say, the readers of military fiction, so incorporate realism if you want to and not because you feel you need to.


2.  Superpower selection.  If realism is a major concern, I would recommend shying away from powers that insulate the character from vaguely realistic consequences to actions.  For example, an invulnerable superhero can just wade into gunfire, whereas a character like Batman needs to put more thought into it.  Batman’s restrictions are more human-like in that regard, so his actions will probably feel more realistic.  Alternately, if you have a character like Superman, you can try using a variety of situations where the character has to act very carefully rather than just bumrush an enemy.  (For example, rescuing hostages, dealing with an enemy like The Riddler that isn’t actually present, a “scavenger hunt” situation like finding and defusing several bombs, an enemy like Professor Moriarty that works a lot through proxies that don’t know enough to easily incriminate their boss, etc).

  • I’d recommend incorporating as many of the superpowers into the premise rather than having characters develop some superpowers later.  I think it was fairly effective and acceptable that Heroes had a time-traveling character, but just wildly crazy that Superman went back in time in Superman I by flying around the world counterclockwise.  Heroes introduced the time-travel angle fairly quickly, but in the Superman movie, it was a deus ex machina that came out of nowhere.  (Likewise, erasing Lois’ memories with a kiss was not only a deus ex machina, but also an act of raw jackassery).
  • If uncertainty, doubt and/or paranoia are major elements of the story, I’d recommend cutting or severely limiting mind-reading and lie-detection.  For example, if mind-reading is a very intrusive act tantamount to frisking somebody, then it’ll be easier to write a situation where the character is vulnerable to uncertainty than if the character is free to read everybody’s minds without anybody else knowing.  Drama comes from vulnerability, so don’t use superpowers that will make it too hard to find vulnerabilities for the character.
  • Especially if the story is gritty, I’d recommend reconsidering incredible regeneration powers.  The stakes will probably be higher if the character’s actions have consequences, and one very noticeable consequence is the risk of injury.  For dramatic reasons,  you might want to make the character regenerate faster and/or take less damage than normal*, but I just wouldn’t  recommend overdoing it so much that you couldn’t raise the stakes with an injury at a terribly inconvenient time if you wanted to.

*Pretty much every superhero, even ones whose powers are mainly mental, are physically resilient enough to shrug off some hits that would put the average person in a hospital for weeks.  Having heroes get hospitalized for weeks after every fight probably wouldn’t be very interesting.


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35 responses so far

Nov 24 2011

Writing a Marketable Superhero Novel

One major obstacle to getting a superhero novel published is marketability–can your novel convince publishing professionals that it is likely to sell many thousands of copies?  This might be a bit counterintuitive.  Even though superhero stories have sold billions of dollars worth of movie tickets and dominate one branch of the publishing industry (comic books), superhero novels are not known for strong sales.  Here are some tips based on the superhero novels that have been most successful.


1. Please make your novel at least reasonably intelligent.  A superhero comic book or movie might conceivably become a bestseller despite being pretty idiotic.  (Batman and Robin sold ~$240 million worth of tickets, for example).  Comic books and movies have other things to fall back on besides the quality of the writing.  Novels, not so much.  For one thing, the target audience for novels is people that actually willingly buy novels, who tend to be more literate than the population as a whole.  Consequently, the most successful superhero novels (notably The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay and the Wild Cards series) tend to be more complex than just action. For example, Amazing Adventures and the first few* Wild Cards books  were historical chronicles and AA had more action for an artist escaping Nazi-occupied territory than it did for any superheroes.

  • Imagination.  Does your story have elements we haven’t seen before?  If we have seen plot elements before, are you executing them differently and/or more interestingly?  For example, Amazing Adventures deftly handled a stranger-in-a-strange-land with a great ear for the artist’s unusual-sounding voice and some interesting use of his cultural background.  In contrast, the Superman series bends over backwards to make Superman’s transition to Earth as seamless and undramatic as possible.  (Superman looks exactly like a stereotypically attractive human, his English is utterly nondescript, his superpowers don’t create enough problems for him, there are few if any cultural differences in play, etc).
  • The ability to make connections and offer themes that are not necessarily obvious.    For example, The Incredibles has a few scenes where superheroics get mistaken for adultery/inappropriate love.

*Thanks to John for the correction there.


2. It might help to consider a setting besides “pretty much any modern First World city.”  I think it’s more acceptable for superhero comic books to use a more or less generic city as the setting.  (Besides the names of the villains, is there anything that could happen in Superman’s Metropolis that couldn’t happen in Spider-Man’s New York or Green Lantern’s Coast City or vice versa?).  If you’re doing a novel, I’d recommend looking harder at more flavorful, distinct examples (inside and outside of the superhero niche) like Batman’s Gotham, Terry Pratchett’s Unseen University (and probably Ankh-Morpork generally), Watchmen’s New York, Transmetropolitan’s The City*, Harry Potter’s Hogwarts, maybe Dresden Files’ Chicago and Making the Corps’ Parris Island.  Also, whereas most superhero comic books and movies are set mostly on modern Earth, quite a few successful superhero novels have experimented with historical settings (e.g. Amazing Adventures and Bitter Seeds are mostly about WWII and the buildup to WWII and the first few Wild Cards books cover the period from WWII to the present).

*Vastly more interesting than it sounds.


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21 responses so far

Nov 24 2011

Building Up Romance (Danielle Kazemi)

Published by under Guest Articles,Romance

One problem when writing romance in books is how to show it. Everyone knows of the basic ways: hugs, kisses, and obviously getting into bed. There are dozens of different ways to show it. You don’t need to rely just on the basics.


Shyness: Even a hardened, tough as nails character might have difficulty putting their feelings into words. In real life, sometimes even a suave jock has trouble asking out a girl. This can be manifested through stuttering as well. In the character’s mind, the stakes might be considerably higher than simply taking out the bad guy. Sure, defending the city is important but not nearly as important as fulfilling his or her dream of getting the object of affection.


Holding hands: This helps connect the two people for the first time (usually). You are connected to someone and in a sense it helps you know the other person is always there. It can also be seen when teams do the hand circle and touch one another. It helps everyone feel connected. In romance, this is no different. However, you can add in running fingers over the other person’s hand. Try that in a team and see the looks you get.

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6 responses so far

Nov 06 2011

Ideas About How to Name a Superhero

First, I’d like to reiterate that superhero names generally don’t matter very much and probably won’t mean the difference between getting published and getting rejected. That said, if you can’t come up with a superhero name or a team name, here are some possible sources of inspiration.


1. Something thematically and/or symbolically appropriate. For example, “Captain America” is more interesting than “Shield Throwing Man,” because the America and military angles matter more to his story than the details of his superpowers. Alternately, Oracle can’t actually predict the future, but her name sort of makes sense because her main role is providing information and assistance. There are also a bevy of characters named after mythological or literary references (e.g. Ozymandias is acutely aware of human limitations/mortality, which also happens to be the main theme of the poem Ozymandias). Please note that you can either gloss over the symbolism or skip over it — e.g. Watchmen and Breaking Bad spent less than a minute discussing where “Ozymandias” and “Heisenberg” came from.

2. An emotional impression. Some characters have names that evoke the right emotions, but aren’t related to the characters’ powers. Some heroic examples include Wonder Woman and the Martian Manhunter, as opposed to villainous examples like Venom and Carnage.


3. Something in the character’s origin story. For example, Green Lantern is named after the source of his powers (and his organization). Batman is named after a bat even though his powers aren’t actually bat-related. (Unless bats are secretly master ninja-scientist-detectives. That’d go a long way to explaining how the bats trapped in my attic have survived this long, actually).


4. The character’s goal. This is more common in team names (e.g. the Avengers or any name with Guardians in it), but names like The Punisher or The Question make it pretty clear what the characters want to accomplish.   Continue Reading »

751 responses so far

Nov 04 2011

Miscellaneous Links

  • Stars and Stripes has an article about how Hollywood (mistakenly) depicts military uniforms.  If you’re very into realism and didn’t know that Marines can’t wear hats indoors unless they’re armed, I’d definitely give it a look.  Some of these are just common sense, such as giving soldiers eye protection in the desert.  (Patrolling Iraq without sunglasses is crazy–sunglasses are the fount from which all badassery gushes. Iraq’s also pretty sunny, I hear).
  • Janet Reid has some thoughts on a query that tries covering too many characters.  If at all possible, I would not recommend mentioning another character in your query until you’ve covered something interesting and/or plot-critical for the previous character.  (My rule of thumb is that it’s probably best to mention only the characters that are individually vital to understanding the story–for example, if your main character joins a group of 4+ superheroes, you probably don’t need to introduce all of his teammates individually).  Reid liked this approach to an ensemble cast better.
  • I’m reading Stephen Henning’s A Class Apart today.  Some of it is rough around the edges.  For example, the plot is a bit hard to understand and the female main character is obviously written by a guy (see #1, #2 and #4.1 here). However, if you’re writing a book with superpowered action, I’d recommend checking out the scene where the bomb explodes.  I like his use of sensory detail there.
  • Especially if you’re an experienced job-seeker, I’d recommend checking out this legendary cover letter by an applicant to the OSS (the WWII-era CIA predecessor).  Notice how fluidly he shifts from the needs of the organization to how he is qualified to fit those needs.  He comes across as both modest and confident.  If you’re not an experienced applicant, I’d recommend focusing instead on how you meet the posted job requirements rather than proposing a new course of action in the cover letter.

6 responses so far

Oct 27 2011

Hero Brainstorming Forum

Do you have any questions about how to write a hero for your story?

37 responses so far

Oct 09 2011

Reasons Your Characters Might Not Use Secret Identities

A few days ago, I covered some of the pros and cons of writing secret identities.  But that covers why YOU the author would want to use them or not.  Why might a character decide not to use them?  Here are some possibilities.


1. The character’s loved ones are mostly superpowered and/or not in harm’s way. For example, if the character is a superpowered alien, chances are his family members are, too, so protecting them from danger is a bit less essential. Alternately, in Booster Gold’s case, his family is hundreds of years in the future, so he doesn’t have to worry about them getting hurt.


2. The character has family/friends to worry about, but a secret identity is not an option. For example, Alicia Masters might be safer if Ben Grimm had a secret identity, but there’s no way for someone that looks as unusual as The Thing to pull off a secret identity. In The Taxman Must Die, one of the main characters is a mutant alligator that wants a secret identity (because anyone badass has enough enemies to need a secret identity, he reasons), but he surlily discovers that Clark Kent-style glasses don’t give a mutant alligator much of a disguise. (He attributes it to his poor acting skills).

2.1. The character’s origin story was caught on tape or otherwise too public to try a secret identity.  Perhaps the New York Times or Daily Bugle had someone covering that new exhibit of genetically modified spiders and happened to notice that one went missing–it’s not TOTALLY implausible that journalists might do something competent, right?*

*Despite CNN’s best efforts to suggest otherwise.  More on Casey Anthony at 9.


3. The character has loved ones, but is so scary that nobody’s brave enough to mess with them.  For example, if a criminal happened to find out the connection between Alfred and Batman, he’d have to be pretty damn nuts to take a shot at Alfred unless he was really looking forward to pain. Bad career move.  If you have a problem with Batman, it’d probably be less suicidal to gun directly for him (so that at least you’re not distracted when he comes for you).


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24 responses so far

Oct 03 2011

Pros and Cons of Using Secret Identities in Your Story

+: 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.


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22 responses so far

Sep 29 2011

Elements of Superhero Stories That Might Be Surprisingly Plausible



1. Invisible jets will probably be feasible within 50 years.  We already have rudimentary cloaking devices and one researcher suggests that it could eventually be used on submarines.  (I wonder if anyone would bother applying this technology to a jet, though.  Isn’t the ability to see jets irrelevant if the battle is resolved from miles away?)


2. An Iron Man-style powersuit might be viable someday.  We already have rudimentary jet packs, military grade lasers, exoskeletons and a five-pound rocket launcher.  I’m not a scientist, but it strikes me as fairly likely that engineers could figure out how to refine and combine those elements.  Then a few questions remain (how to power it, how to stop concussive forces from killing the pilot, and why you’d bother spending all that money on a shell for a human when you could do more with a remotely-operated suit or a robot).


3. Technopathy might be theoretically possible.  According to Scientific American, “Signals channeled directly from the brain can already control computers and other machines.”  From there, I think it’s relatively easy to suspend disbelief that someone might be so capable at doing it that he can hack into machines with his mind.

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19 responses so far

Sep 22 2011

Superpowers Will Not Make a Boring Character Interesting

Here are two common problems I’ve seen with submissions:

  • Characters are developed mainly in terms of their superpowers (e.g. listing out the characters and their superpowers).
  • The novel starts with a superhero-to-be that is not interesting before getting superpowers. (If a character is not interesting before getting superpowers, he/she probably won’t be interesting afterwards, either).


If you’ve encountered either of the above issues, these questions should help.

1. What is the character’s personality like? What are his key traits?


2. What are the character’s goals/motivations like?  How do those tie into the character’s personality and background?  (I guess it’s possible that there’s a not-particularly-bright athlete out there whose burning life goal is to win a Nobel Prize in Chemistry, but trying to make the varsity squad would probably be more intuitive).


3. What sort of unusual decisions does the character make that other superheroes (or superheroes-to-be) wouldn’t?  In particular, why does the character choose to become a superhero?  Is there anything in the character’s personality or background that influences this decision?  (I’d look at that especially hard if the character wasn’t notably brave or violent before getting superpowers).


4.  How is the character different from other superheroes-to-be?  


5.  How is the character different from other characters in the story, particularly other superheroes (if applicable).  


6.  Are there any ways this character’s background, personality and/or skills make him a good (and/or bad) fit for the plot?  Either could create drama.

  • Sherlock Holmes is a good fit against a villain like Professor Moriarty because Moriarty is so dangerous that only someone as competent as Holmes could stop him.  That raises the stakes and makes it easier to challenge Holmes.  (Challenging protagonists is key to generating drama–if the protagonist easily outmatches his obstacles, it probably won’t be as interesting as it could be).
  • If a character is a bad fit, he’d have to work harder to overcome obstacles.  For example, Chuck, Bad Company and The Taxman Must Die are about relatively normal people thrust into super-dangerous spy jobs.  The characters’ lack of preparation and personalities help create tension/conflict with teammates and helps writers wring drama out of obstacles that might have been mundane/forgettable for a spy with years of experience.
  • It’s possible to do both.  For example, Dexter is a serial killer that works as a police crime scene analyst.  On one hand, he’s less likely to get caught because he knows what they’re looking for and can sabotage the investigation.  On the other hand, they’re unusually close to him and have started to ask questions about why he misses so much work.

11 responses so far

Sep 19 2011

Problems Superheroes Would Face in the Real World, Part 2

1. Most superheroes commit crimes fairly frequently.  In real life, some crimes that superheroes would probably be charged with include:

  • assault and battery (preemptively attacking criminals in cases where an immediate threat to the public did not exist).
  • reckless endangerment (using superpowers in a way that unintentionally injured bystanders–it’s implausible that most superheroes would be close to 100% accurate with superpowers, particularly if they’ve only recently developed them).
  • child endangerment (using children as sidekicks).
  • evidence tampering (altering/destroying evidence or convincing witnesses to protect the hero’s secret identity).
  • plotting to make and/or possession of weapons of mass destruction (such as a space station with a death ray and probably adamantium claws).


2. A superhero’s ability to collect human intelligence would probably be somewhat limited.  Solving cases more complex than a crime-in-open-view usually requires a lot of time tracking down leads, talking to people and evaluating evidence. In particular, superheroes would probably be at a major disadvantage in convincing reluctant witnesses to come forward because they can’t offer as many incentives for cooperation (like witness protection or legal cooperation in other matters) as the police can.  Also, wearing brightly-colored spandex can make it harder to earn the trust of strangers facing life-or-death situations.  (Fact!)

  • What, if anything, makes your superheroes more effective at solving crimes than the police?  Do they have anything going on besides just getting lucky with stumbling onto crimes in progress?
  • If your criminals are geniuses, do they actually act like geniuses?  (Hint: if they’re committing crimes in open view, probably not).  Does it take any skill to find them?
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17 responses so far

Sep 18 2011

Which Crimes Do Most Superheroes Commit?

Assuming that the hero is a vigilante and the district attorney is furious, which felony charges might apply under U.S. law?


1. Assault and battery, probably aggravated if superpowers are involved.  The superhero will claim that he was acting in self-defense or the defense of others.  That’s fine if he was just responding to a crime in progress.  However, if he initiated the action (like attacking a gang stronghold or hunting down a supervillain), self-defense is probably off the table because the only imminent danger was created by the hero’s actions.  In particular, a self-defense claim is awfully tenuous if the hero was breaking-and-entering.


2. Felony murder, if anybody dies (criminal or bystander).  Assault is a violent felony, and any deaths caused even indirectly by a violent felony are deemed murders even if the superhero didn’t intend to kill anybody.  If a superhero breaks into a hostage situation and a criminal kills a bystander in the crossfire, the superhero can be charged with murder unless he was authorized to be there. As far as the law is concerned here, it doesn’t matter that the superhero was fighting against the shooter and that the superhero did not intend for a civilian to get hurt. Also, if a vigilante causes a criminal to die (either intentionally or not), that would also be felony murder.


3. Reckless endangerment, if any bystanders get hurt.  In severe cases, this could be a felony. (E.g. vehicular manslaughter if Batman happens to hit anyone while driving several hundred miles per hour through Gotham traffic).


4. Obstruction of justice.  For example, breaking into a hostage situation while the police are still trying to negotiate with the hostage-taker would be a felony in some states.  (Note: if nobody gets hurt, the DA might knock this down to a slap on the wrist, particularly if the superhero is extremely popular).

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36 responses so far

Sep 06 2011

Erik Larsen’s Comic Book Submission Answers

If you’re interested in submitting a comic book, particularly to Image, I would really recommend checking out these answers from Erik Larsen.

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6 responses so far

Sep 04 2011

Difficulties Superheroes Would Face in the Real World, Part 1

1. It’s not that easy to find crime from the street.  Most superheroes look for crime by aimlessly patrolling the streets or otherwise looking for readily visible crimes.  As it turns out, there aren’t that many crimes visible from the street, perhaps because criminals would prefer to avoid witnesses and police involvement.  America’s largest city (New York) has only ~450 bank robberies and ~300 outdoors murders in a typical year, so it’d probably be really hard to find one on a given day unless you were patrolling a massive area or knew where/when to look.  And God help you if other superheroes in town have the same idea.


2. Maintaining a secret identity would be practically impossible, unless you were a real loner or your significant other, friends and family were idiots.  For example, most crimes happen at exceedingly inconvenient times.  The most common hour for a New York City homicide is between 3-4 AM.  If you’re out in the middle of the night (let’s say) 50-100 times per year, it seems implausible to me that you could go more than a year or two without a few people noticing.  I doubt most people could keep that up for even a few months before their friends/families/coworkers noticed something was amiss.

  • If your hero is maintaining a secret identity from his/her loved ones, what does he or she do to keep them from the truth?


2.1. A superhero is probably going to get injured once in a while, probably by gunfire.  If you got shot, how hard do you think it’d be for your friends/family/coworkers to notice?  If you got shot more than once, don’t you think your friends and family would have a lot of awkward questions?  For example, “Why the hell aren’t you going to the police?  You got shot. Were you buying drugs?”  If being a superhero is illegal, going to a hospital would be tough.  Most U.S. states (including New York) require hospitals to report gunshot wounds to the police and getting the police involved would also raise a lot of awkward questions about what the hero was doing when you got shot.

  • How does your superhero deal with injuries? Does he have somebody he can turn to?  Or does he have to treat it himself (and risk infection) or go to a chop-shop doctor whose specialty is treating criminals?
  • Is there any other reason a hero can’t go to a regular hospital?  For example, maybe routine bloodwork would raise too many questions or she’s not a human.

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41 responses so far

Sep 04 2011

Is Your Authorial Photograph Effective?

I was reading through the website of Michael Hyatt, the chairman of Thomas Nelson Publishers.  Besides his marketing director’s advice on how to promote fiction, one thing that really thing that caught my eye was a particularly effective photograph of the author.  A lot of authors have a photograph on their website and/or inside their books (sometimes even on the front cover in non-fiction), but a lot of these shots are not terribly effective.  Here are some tips that might help you do it better.

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7 responses so far

Sep 01 2011

“My Publisher Beats Me Because It Loves Me” and Other Fun Links

I don’t agree with everything in this article about the publishing industry, which compares the average professional publisher to an abusive husband, but it might be really interesting, particularly if you were considering self-publishing before.


PS: One of the things the author complains about is awful cover-art. If that’s a problem for you, I’d recommend offering to pay a feelance illustrator (like Emily or Laura Dollie or Aguaplano or anyone that strikes your fancy here) to quickly do another version of the cover. The publisher might not actually end up using it, but I feel like it’d give you a good chance to undo a potentially costly mistake. (The faster the publisher sees the art, the easier it will be to use). Who knows, maybe even the publisher will comp you the $300-500.

The New York Times has a piece on encouraging novel-reading among boys.  As a child, I was really down on fiction because it felt very juvenile to me.  Almost all of the novels I read after turning ~9 were exclusively about adults doing adult things (frequently with firearms and axes).  Admittedly, my sample size of one is extremely small and idiosyncratic, but I just loathed young characters.


Some thoughts for parents trying to encourage their sons to read:

  • When your son(s) pick out video games or movies, how often do they reach for ones starring characters around their age?
  • If they tend to prefer adult protagonists in other media, why wouldn’t they prefer adult protagonists in books as well?
  • If your son is very literate but isn’t enthusiastic about novels with young characters, I’d recommend leaving some adult novels lying around.
  • Nonfiction is totally fine, too!  Some readers (particularly guys, I’ve noticed) are not particularly interested in fiction. That’s not a problem at all.  Extremely few educational and career paths require an enthusiasm for fiction.

9 responses so far

Aug 31 2011

Writing Distinct Character Voices

In real life, everyone talks in different ways. Their tone, timbre, rhythm and vocabulary are often influenced by region, race, class, profession, and so on. If your hobos sound like your professors, that’s usually a problem.  Giving all the characters in a story a similar voice is usually unrealistic and uncanny.


Some writers have problems with giving their characters distinct voices. By keeping several factors in mind, character voices can be diversified.


Word Choice

What is the character’s vocabulary like? It’d probably feel out of place for a hobo to start spouting words like “erudite” or “superfluous,” or for a professor to say “gigolo” or for a politician to say “sorry.”  This varies by situation (see below), but generally characters should use terms more believable for their level of education, intelligence and/or lack of any discernible moral code.


How does the character use those words?  Do they talk in full, long sentences, or in fragments? Do they use contractions, curse words, or made up words? Dialogue doesn’t have to be as perfect as the narrative text. On the other hand, if they go all the way towards following grammar rules that most people don’t even know about, they might establish themselves as pedantic/snobby.


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43 responses so far

Aug 30 2011

How Do Superpowers Affect Your Characters’ Perspectives?

One aspect about Alphas that seemed really believable and well-written to me was that a villain that could control physical events and influence probabilities became paranoid, reading malevolent intent into the failures of others.  He had trouble understanding that most people don’t have that level of control.


Here are some other possibilities that come to mind.


1. Psychics might be very cynical or very optimistic about human nature depending on whose minds they have read.  In a situation where their ability to read minds does not work (such as using email or talking over a phone), they may or may not be wildly distrustful because they don’t have the ability to know whether they’re being lied to.


1.1. A psychic might have privacy issues.  Courtesies that might seem commonplace to most regular people, like reading a suspect his Miranda rights or not listening in on a private conversation, might not make any sense to a psychic.  If the character grew up with other people that also had psychic powers (like an alien civilization), this would probably have a major impact on how he interacts with other people.  For example, if you grew up among psychics, you’d probably be used to everybody in a conversation knowing everything important already.  In a conversation with normal humans A and B, you might unwisely reveal something to B that A wants to keep secret.


1.2. A psychic might have major identity issues, particularly if he/she doesn’t much control over the psychic powers.  For example, the psychic might have trouble distinguishing between his/her own thoughts and the thoughts of people nearby.  In The Taxman Must Die, one decidedly scrawny psychic can’t quite remember whether that memory about rampaging through a bank vault is his or somebody else’s. This is one of the limitations I use to keep the psychic’s powers from short-circuiting the mystery angle.  He remembers somebody committing a crime, but that memory has given him only a few vague clues to pursue.


2. A character with incredible speed and/or reflexes might perceive time as passing very slowly.  If he does so all the time, he might get impatient with people that move/talk/think much slower (i.e. everybody).  For a character with incredible reflexes, time might only seem to slow down at particular moments, like stressful events or danger.


3. Somebody with the ability to control and/or influence a particular element or phenomenon might be really sensitive to it. 

  • Somebody with the ability to control heat/fire or ice might be more sensitive to temperature changes, like somebody getting chills when they feel scared.
  • Somebody with magnetic abilities might feel metal objects moving and might get bothered by rush hour.  Maybe your Magneto can feel Wolverine approaching because Wolverine’s skeleton is mostly metal.
  • Somebody with the ability to influence/control plants and/or animals might pick up environmental cues other people miss.  For example, maybe your plant-controller is more likely to notice snapped twigs, a slight indentation in a patch of grass and/or leafs knocked from the top of a bush and conclude that somebody came through here in a hurry.  The ability to empathize with plants and/or humans might affect the character’s mindset, as well.  For example, Poison Ivy hates on humans (those plant-killing fiends!) and Beast Boy is a vegetarian.  Incidentally, I think the best reason to be a vegetarian is not because you really like animals, but because you really hate plants.


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39 responses so far

Aug 27 2011

Red Flags for Female Characters Written By Men

1. If something would be boring and/or undramatic for a male character, it would probably be boring and/or undramatic for a female character.  If you’re writing a female character (particularly in a major role), I’d recommend thinking about whether you’d want to read about a male character in that situation or with that trait.  If not, then you’re probably boring your readers.


2. The character is useless.  Have you made a main character more or less helpless for most of the story? Does she watch as the story happens around her?  Does she get repeatedly saved by other characters when the going gets rough? Please think back to #1.  You’d probably be bored reading about a more or less helpless guy, right?  Your readers will be just as bored by a helpless female.


3. The character’s only defining trait is being hyper-smart or (more rarely) a total ditz.  That’s fine for one character among several, but if she’s your only significant female character, it’ll raise questions about your ability to handle female characters at a more relatable level of intelligence.  If you’re having trouble with more relatable female characters, I’d recommend checking out some Meg Cabot books, Mean Girls and/or Pride and Prejudice.


3.1. The character is totally pure.  A character that always does the right thing and has no motivations besides being friendly/agreeable/nice is probably pretty boring.  100% pure characters strain the suspension of disbelief, are less relatable and usually less dramatic.  For whatever reason, these types of boring characters are almost always women.


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139 responses so far

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