Archive for the 'Research and Resources' Category

Dec 16 2013

A Criminal Profiler’s Guide to Superheroes

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.

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.

 

Strong Associations

  • They’ve had a loved one(s) murdered by a stranger. That’s pretty rare in the United States. Only about 2,500 U.S. murders are committed by strangers per year. If we rule out intergang violence and drug deals gone bad (because most people in a Uncle Ben or Martha/Thomas Wayne situation are not gang members), we’re probably looking at about 500 murders per year that might be of interest to police looking for superhero origin stories, and probably less than 10-15 a year in any particular city.
  • They’ve had a loved one(s) kidnapped by a stranger, sometimes repeatedly. (For example, are there any Metropolis supervillains that haven’t kidnapped Lois Lane at some point?) Normally, it’s EXTRAORDINARILY rare for someone to get kidnapped more than once by a stranger. I doubt it’s happened in U.S. history. It should certainly raise a lot of questions about why so many major-league criminals have an interest in kidnapping this particular journalist rather than any of the other major journalists in town.
  • Most superheroes are 1) extremely physically fit but 2) do NOT work out regularly at a gym or at home. If the investigator has access to credit card records, he can look for purchases of gym membership and/or fitness equipment. Most superheroes won’t have any. (If Clark Kent started bench-pressing thousands of pounds at a gym, it would raise a lot of questions, and any fitness equipment specialized enough to help a superhero train is suspicious enough that they probably wouldn’t keep it at their residence).
  • Most superheroes don’t have any kids or pets. First, there’s the time factor. Being a superhero is a major time commitment. There could also be security issues if a kid sees anything interesting or mentions to a stranger that his parent(s) disappear every night.
  • Superheroes will give off lots of signs of combat experience but almost never have any military experience. (Even Captain America had only 1-2 years before getting iced). These signs may include paying a lot more attention to exit routes, habitually glancing at anyone entering the room, and avoiding turning his/her back towards an entryway or window.
  • Adult superheroes are almost always college-educated. In contrast, 70% of U.S. adults don’t have a bachelor’s degree.
  • If you interview the coworkers/boss of a superhero, certain traits will probably crop up. They’re brilliant, but hard to work with. They have major absenteeism issues and frequently come into work tired or with (poorly explained) injuries, and they NEVER follow orders or a chain of command.  Despite their many failings, superheroes’ coworkers will unanimously agree that they are exceptionally competent at their job. (Bruce Wayne is virtually the only exception here — most superheroes are too proud/lazy/careless to pull off a dummy act).
  • In most cases, everyone that knows a superhero well will agree that he’s unusually courageous and altruistic, but has issues with punctuality and reliability. A lot of people that know him will attest that it’s hard to get him on the phone and/or that he sometimes disappears during work.
  • Everyone that has observed this person in a life-or-death emergency will agree that he was unusually collected, even if he’s normally sort of bumbling (e.g. Clark Kent).
  • They won’t own any guns, no matter how bad their neighborhood is.
  • Most superheroes don’t have a criminal record, but will be surprisingly familiar with police capabilities and tactics. For example, in most cases, the police can get a suspect to unwittingly give a DNA and fingerprint sample by offering a soda (or paperwork to fill out). These techniques will certainly not work with a superhero. However, a superhero will never insist on having a lawyer present, which will come across as highly unusual for a suspect that otherwise knows what he’s doing. (In-story, superheroes might not get a lawyer involved because they think it’ll make them look suspicious and/or afraid and/or because they really hate defense attorneys. (Not surprising after how many times Lex Luthor has gone free on a technicality). However, the main reason writers avoid having lawyers present is because they almost always make interview scenes less interesting… it’s basically a lawyer’s job to keep its client from saying anything interesting).
  • Superheroes are generally extremely sensitive about their medical records. Even the identity of their general practitioner will be a closely-guarded secret because the doctor is almost always an active collaborator that knows what’s going on. It would be very hard for a superhero to hide the truth from his doctor because routine x-rays will show an extensive history of broken bones and the superpowers may cause their bloodwork or DNA to be highly unusual.
  • We can rule out virtually everyone who has an unprestigious job. In-story, this might be explained because a vigilante that’s flashy enough to create a gaudy persona is probably an attention-seeker. Also, prestigious jobs tend to be more helpful for a superhero than an unprestigious job would be (in terms of resources, access, training/skills/education, etc).
  • Superheroes tend to value money quite a bit less than the population as a whole. Most superheroes could be wealthy if they wanted to be, but most don’t care that much about it. Even billionaire superheroes tend not to be that personally involved in the day-to-day operations of their company.
  • If a superhero suspect has a personal connection to a supervillain, follow up on that. People that know a superhero are far more likely to become a supervillain. In particular, 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).
  • Most superheroes have exceptionally good reflexes and reaction times. If the investigator has access to insurance or police records, it’s unlikely a superhero has any routine accidents on his record. If there are any accidents, it’s probably because the driver was doing something outlandishly daring/reckless.
  • If a superhero has the ability to fly or teleport or run extremely fast, he probably drives and/or takes public transit much less than normal. “Your credit card records indicate that you haven’t purchased gasoline or refilled a public transit card in the last 3 months. How do you get to work?” If he claims that he made all of his gas station purchases with cash (yeah, right), then the investigator can check the speedometer on his car. If he claims that he pays cash for public transit, the investigator can ask routine questions about public transit (e.g. “which stop do you usually get off at for the Daily Planet?”). In addition, if I were looking for a superhero that could move especially fast, he probably won’t have any records of taxi usage on his credit cards.
  • If a superhero does not have flight/teleportation/super-speed, his credit card records will probably show he travels less often than normal because it’d be logistically difficult for a hero to get back to the city quickly in case of an emergency. Also, the more time Peter Parker spends outside of New York, the more likely that someone will notice that there are no Spider-Man sightings while he’s away.
  • We’re probably looking for someone that isn’t at home most nights. If you check his credit card records, there probably won’t be any purchases over these hours-long absences.
  • We can probably eliminate anyone that can be easily tailed and/or put under surveillance. Most superheroes have situational awareness bordering on the supernatural and are mobile enough to disappear around any corner or through any fence.

Weak Associations

  • Superheroes are generally romantically dysfunctional. There are a few superheroes that make a long-term relationship work (frequently because they date/marry other superheroes), but more often it’s a Bruce Wayne or Punisher situation where the character is a pathological loner or divorced by murder.
  • We can safely rule out anyone that’s been divorced. In-story, one explanation might be that the significant others of superheroes are in so much danger that they don’t usually make to the 7 year itch, or that they’re so dysfunctional they can’t find anyone to get married to. Alternately, most superheroes are desirable enough (e.g. generally wealthy and intelligent, athletic, altruistic, and interesting) that significant others might not start to wonder if there are better options available.
  • We can safely rule out anyone that’s had an affair. Betraying someone that generally knows life-or-death secrets is a really bad career move.
  • We can safely eliminate anyone that’s poor, and I’d look especially closely at billionaires. In-story, the explanation here is that someone who is ludicrously wealthy probably has more resources (e.g. gear, vehicles, training, healthcare, etc) and probably more ability to spend tens of hours each week on unpaid volunteering.
  • Most superheroes are 15-40, particularly 20-35. In general, most superheroes have had unusual success in their chosen day-job at an early age.
  • I’d take an especially close look at scientists, journalists, and corporate moguls.
  • Generally very talkative/outgoing, but secretive.
  • Some people close to the hero may suspect the person is having an affair or otherwise hiding something because he lies so often (and perhaps so implausibly) about so much (e.g. where he is, why he misses appointments, why he’s been injured, whatever).
  • Most superheroes aren’t noticeably religious, even the ones that personally know gods. In contrast, most Americans attend religious services regularly.
  • Most superheroes aren’t noticeably politically active. In contrast, most American adults are registered to vote with a particular political party.
  • Nobody’s ever seen him sweat or show any signs of fear.
  • Generally has lived in a particular very large city his/her entire life. In particular, most Americans don’t attend college in their hometown, but most superheroes do.
  • Probably attended a very respectable university in a city (e.g. Empire State or Gotham University). In real life, the United States only has a few of them (U-Chicago, Columbia, maybe USC and Rice). There’s going to be so much strangeness surrounding these few elite urban universities that it’d be impossible to miss — e.g. Dr. Connors turning into a lizard monster.
  • Even within the city, most superheroes do not move very often. (If there is a secret compartment in the house, moving would be very inconvenient). If a superhero does move, he does not use a moving company, even though he probably earns enough that it’d be unusual to do it himself.
  • Superheroes tend to be significantly more attractive than the population as a whole. In particular, most superheroines could pass as models.

 

“Too Long, Didn’t Read” Version:

Almost every adult superhero will meet at least at least 5 of the following:

  • They’ve had a loved one murdered by a stranger.
  • They’ve had a different loved one kidnapped or seized by a stranger.
  • No divorces or infidelity.
  • They’re exceptionally good at their day job but have trouble following orders.
  • No criminal convictions. In the rare cases there were any convictions, there’s probably a bizarre philanthropic angle to the crime.
  • They’ve graduated from college (usually a prestigious one) and have a prestigious or glamorous career.
  • They will not give police any medical information (e.g. medical records or a saliva swab) because it might be incriminating.
  • They’re exceptionally physically fit, but not a member of a gym.
  • There is evidence they’ve seen a lot of combat, but they don’t have any military experience.

 

41 responses so far

Mar 05 2013

Real Superhero Power of Technology Infographic

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 08 2013

Infographics on Historical Travel Times

Published by under Research and Resources

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

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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

Aug 22 2011

List of Superhero Movie Rotten Tomatoes Scores

If you’ve ever wanted to know which is the best superhero movie or the worst superhero movie ever, I’ve compiled Rotten Tomatoes’ ratings below.  If you’re interested in a comparison of how DC’s movies stack up against Marvel’s, please see this article.

Excel file downloadable here with additional data included. Current as of April 2016.

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Aug 20 2011

Hostage Situations from the Police Negotiator’s Perspective

1. The first police officers on the scene will not be specialists.  These police officers still play an important role (containing the situation, maintaining a perimeter, clearing out civilians, etc).  Circumstances may force them to initiate some sort of negotiation, but as soon as it looks like the situation will not be promptly resolved, the line officers should immediately terminate negotiations and call in specialists.  (Metropolitan police departments, some state police departments and the FBI have officers who have been carefully selected and trained to deal with these critical incidents).  The specialists’ job will be harder if a line officer antagonized the subject.

1.1. Across the board, negotiators tend to have excellent self-control, calm under stress, communication skills, a calm and confident demeanor, strong listening and interviewing skills and the ability to work effectively on a team.  They’ll have at least 40 hours of training on techniques, abnormal psychology, active listening skills, case studies and drills.

 

2. The main goal of negotiation is to convince the subject(s) to surrender.  If that is not possible, the secondary goal is to give the SWAT team the best opportunity to rescue the captives with a minimal loss of life.  To accomplish these goals, the negotiators want to:

  • Stall for time.  First, time allows emotions to cool down, which reduces the likelihood of hostages getting killed.  Second, it may take hours (rarely, even days) for the subjects to realize how hopeless their situation is.  Lastly, if it does come down to a shootout, the operation will be more successful and less dangerous if the SWAT team has had time to prepare.
  • Establish communication and develop rapport.  For example, the subject might be thinking about giving himself up, but he isn’t sure whether the 20+ armed cops outside will shoot him if he comes out.  A negotiator could work something out fairly easily.  For example, “if you’re ready to come out, the police will lower their weapons.”  (By the way, if the police are willing to lower their weapons, they probably have sharpshooters ready to fire if the subject reaches for his gun).
  • Gather intelligence.  A secondary negotiator should check the subjects’ criminal, civil, medical and psychological records and conduct interviews with friends/family/coworkers.  Is the criminal actually likely to kill his captives?  What might cause an escalation? What actions could the police take now and after the crisis to make sure that there’s a long-term solution here?

 

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Aug 20 2011

Writing Links

  • Six Questions Authors Hate to Be Asked strikes me as mostly spot-on, but “What are you writing?” definitely should not make authors feel uncomfortable.  I would highly recommend rehearsing a 1-2 sentence answer.  “I’m writing The Taxman Must Die.  It’s a national security comedy about an IRS accountant and a mutant alligator whose detective skills make Scooby Doo look like Batman.”  If you have a two-sentence synopsis, this is a great time to bust it out.  If it looks like the listener is interested in your story, please give him/her a business card with a link to your writing website, if you have one.
  • P.W. Creighton wrote Cliched Plot Contrivances.  I found the section on walking encyclopedias especially helpful.  Hat-tip: Nancy at Author Chronicles.
  • Romance author Roni Loren wrote Six Important Components to an Author Bio, a sharp set of ideas about how to introduce yourself effectively to readers.  I’m not sure about relatability, though.  Which would interest you more: an author with a dog named Max or an author with an alligator named Chompy?
  • Author Paul Dorset wrote a guide to self-publishing e-books (novels, not comics).  If you’re going down that path, it looks helpful.

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Aug 16 2011

Publishing Sales Are Rebounding

The New York Times reports:

  • Revenues from adult novel sales grew 8.8% from 2008-10.
  • Juvenile fiction revenues grew 6.6%.
  • In total, book-publishing revenues are up 5.6% and total sales are up 4.1%.
  • From 2008 to 2010, e-books grew from .6% to 6.4% of the total market for books.
  • Adult hardcover and paperback books grew only 1% and mass-market paperbacks declined 16%.  (Ouch).

Hat-tip: This Week in Writing, by Mark Evans.

 

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Aug 14 2011

Hostage Situations from a Criminal’s Perspective

1. Taking hostages is so dangerous that it usually isn’t premeditated in the United States.  A criminal’s main means of survival is mobility.  If he’s taken many hostages, he doesn’t have any.  Even if he’s taken only one hostage for ransom money, the police will know where the criminal will be at the designated pick-up time and may even be able to locate the victim with evidence left at the scene of the kidnapping.  There are two main types of hostage-taker (HT) and one type of victim taker.

  • Someone caught in a botched crime.  For example, maybe the criminal is trying to rob a bank, but the police respond unexpectedly quickly.  In the heat of the moment, an utterly trapped criminal might take hostages out of desperation.  In his stress-addled mind, he might think that taking hostages is the only way to somehow effect an escape and avoid a 15+ year sentence.  (He might even have dreams of demanding a helicopter, but that’s a Hollywood fantasy).
  • Someone that cannot outrun the police.  For example, if the police come to serve an arrest warrant, an unwilling suspect might take a hostage (usually a family member) to buy time and space for an escape.  Alternately, rioting prisoners may take guards as hostages to deter police reinforcements from retaking the prison by force.
  • Somebody in an emotional crisis without a clear set of negotiable demands.  For example, a laid-off worker might seize his former boss or a disturbed lover might seize his/her significant other after being rejected.  These criminals are not looking to bargain.  Technically, in police parlance, these criminals are not considered “hostage-takers” because “hostage” implies tangible demands.  People captured without demands are “victims.”  Victims are in much graver danger because the criminal may have murder-suicide in mind.  In contrast, a “hostage-taker” does not have a personal incentive to murder the hostages.  (If you murder a hostage, you lose your bargaining leverage).

 

2. Hostages are fairly high-maintenance, particularly in long-term standoffs (which are very rare).  In the short-term, the criminals have to worry about food/water, toilets, the potential for medical emergencies and the difficult task of controlling the hostages.  In the long-term, the criminals also have to worry about hygiene, medicine and recreation/hostage morale.  (The HTs probably do not have any humanitarian concern for the hostages, but they have selfish reasons to care.  Happy/healthy hostages are easier to control, less likely to infect criminals and less likely to result in a murder conviction.  Also, killing a hostage that happens to be a prison guard could be very hazardous to an HT’s health when he is returned to police custody).

 

2.1. Keeping a handful of hostages is much easier than keeping many, especially if the HTs don’t have the manpower to control many hostages.  But the police will still give criminals a lot of latitude even if they have a relatively small number of hostages. The police will offer the criminals incentives to release some hostages and make other seemingly meaningless concessions (like giving up any extra firearms).

 

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Aug 04 2011

Link Roundup

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Jun 19 2011

Are Marvel or DC Movies Better? A Research Survey

Summary

  • Including the older movies, the average Rotten Tomato score was 47.3% for DC and 58% for Marvel.  If we look only at movies since 2000, DC drops to 47.2% and Marvel inches up to 60%.  DC’s movies have actually gotten slightly worse since 2000.

  • Marvel has been having more critical success with more series.  Since 2000, DC’s non-Batman movies have averaged 38.7%.  Since 2000, Marvel’s movies without Spider-Man have averaged 56% and its movies without X-Men have also averaged 56%.

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May 31 2011

7 Things Guns Cannot Actually Do

How many times has a Hollywood protagonist screwed a silencer onto his pistol, cocked the hammer a few times, and delivered a perfectly silent shot or ten into the bad guy, causing him to fall backward and knock over a storage unit full of lead weights? There is so much wrong with that premise, and yet we see it all the time. It’s given many people a poor perspective on firearms, how they really work, and their capabilities. I’m here to help dispel these myths and improve the realism in your writing!

1. Guns are loud!

Crazy loud.  Without any ear protection, a gun battle is louder than a rock concert.  The cartoonish image of somebody’s ears bleeding after a loud sound is almost accurate if a gun battle were to erupt inside a building. Decibel levels of a gunshot can be 140dB, which is more than four times as loud as a common rock concert (115dB). (See this breakdown for more info.) It is worth adding, though, that when adrenaline (and even morphine) levels are running high during a fight-for-your-life scenario, strange things have happened where (in addition to expected things like tunnel vision) gunshots feel much, much softer, so it’s conceivable for a conversation to take place right after a gun shot.  However, this is incredibly unlikely.

 

2. “Silencers” aren’t.

They’re also more formally (and accurately) referred to as suppressors. Technically speaking, they suppress the concussive shock waves that are released from the barrel in front of the exiting bullet. Suppressors tend to greatly reduce the “boom” associated with gunfire, but the sounds of the actual explosion of gunpowder and all the metal moving parts on the gun are not really decreased at all.  Either way, it’ll be very loud.  For example, most suppressors on the market will bring a .22lr round from 160 dB (loud enough to rupture an eardrum) to about 120 db (a rock concert or jet engine).

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May 03 2011

13 Legal Warrantless Searches in the United States

If your characters are police officers, warrants are a hassle.  They’re designed to be (so that the police can’t just intrude on citizens’ privacy without cause).  To obtain a search warrant, the police must show a judge that they have “probable cause” (substantial evidence demonstrating that they’re likely to find evidence of a crime at the location or on the person specified on the warrant).

 

Reasons why a character might not be able or willing to obtain a warrant:
 

  • Time.  Under the best of circumstances, a police officer can get a warrant within an hour, but in smaller towns, there might not be any judges on duty in the middle of the night.  Also, judges will be slower to respond if the case is less urgent (i.e. no lives are at stake).
  • The police may not have probable cause yet.  Gotham’s police may find it suspicious that Bruce Wayne always seems to disappear right before Batman shows up, but that isn’t enough to get a search warrant for Wayne Manor.
  • Search warrants come with limits attached.  For example, if the police/district attorney can convince a judge that a murder victim’s body has probably been stashed at a house, the judge would probably allow a search of the house but only places where a body would fit. If the police started searching drawers or other small containers, any resulting evidence would probably be inadmissible.

So let’s say an American police officer doesn’t have a search warrant.  Under what circumstances can he legally search?

 

1.  The suspect voluntarily lets officers inside and/or consents to a search. “Hello, I’m Detective Smith and I have some questions.  May I come inside?”  If an owner lets the officer come inside, anything within plain view of the officer is admissible as evidence.  If an owner consents to a search, anything found is admissible.  Note: Consent must be freely and knowingly given.  If the officer uses deception or threats to obtain permission, any resulting evidence will probably be thrown out at trial.

 

2.  In certain circumstances, permission may be given by a third party. Third parties are almost always more receptive to searches because they have less reason to fear the police than criminals do. 

  •  A spouse (or anybody with equal rights to the property) can let police search.  Frequently, spouses don’t know about the criminal activity and will let the police look around if asked nicely.  One really effective tactic is emphasizing the possibility that the search may help clear the suspect.  (“We’ve received some troubling information about your husband and we’d like to clear his name as soon as possible.  Do we mind if we look around? We’ll leave everything like it was and you can watch us.  Or we can come back with a warrant later, but it’ll be messier”).
  • An employer can let police search a workspace (including lockers and computers).  “We’ve received some troubling information about your employee.  Could we check his computer?  We’ll be real quiet.”  Note that a manager may be leery about offering access if she fears that the company is somehow involved in the crime.  If so, police can gently prod the manager with veiled threats like “We can come back later with a warrant, but if we do, we’ll have to cordon off the building.  It’d be bad for business.”
  • Police can ask school officials for permission to search the lockers, purses and backpacks of minors without a warrant.  School officials don’t have much reason to decline such a request (they hate crime as much as the police do).
  • When a child lives with his parents, a parent can allow police to search the child’s space unless the child pays rent or has otherwise established exclusive, private ownership over his space.
  • A host can allow police to search a guest’s quarters. A landlord cannot.
  • Hotel employees can let police search a vacant room.  See #9 for more details.
  • Store-owners are usually very cooperative about sharing surveillance footage.  But you’ve got to be fast!  Many stores cut down on costs by retaping over old footage every few days.

 

3.  Exigent circumstances–action is immediately necessary to prevent physical harm, preserve evidence or prevent a suspect from escaping. For example, let’s say your officer is on patrol when he hears a scream from inside a building.  He would be entitled to force entry to investigate a possible assault in progress.  Anything he sees in the course of investigating this possible assault would be admissible, even if it wasn’t related to the assault (e.g. drug paraphernalia).

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May 01 2011

Worldbuilding Rules

Published by under Research and Resources

If you’re writing a story with heavy worldbuilding, I’d recommend checking out K. Stoddard Hayes’ Worldbuilding Rules.  It’s a how-to blog with a lot of interesting articles about how to build innovative worlds and broaden your writing horizons.

 

  • What Does Your World Smell Like?:  This will help you incorporate smells into your story.  I don’t think smells come naturally to most first-world authors because we don’t encounter many on a daily basis.  That’s okay if you’re writing a story set exclusively in a sterile lab or a vacuum tube, but if you’re not, here’s some ideas about what you’re missing. 
  • Worldbuilding Legal Systems: If you’re building alien legal systems, this will help you keep them distinct from the ones closest to home.  Especially if you’re Norwegian–nobody wants to read about publicly drowning criminals in mayonnaise, you sickos.
  • Clothes and Setting: This provides useful ideas about picking clothing that is culturally and physically well-suited to your story.  (In case you’re saddled with characters that can’t rock out in trenchcoats and sunglasses).
  • Language in Worldbuilding: This has some helpful ideas about how to use language to reflect cultural attitudes and other ways of thinking.  You know how Eskimos supposedly have ~30 bajillion words for snow?  Starcraft’s Protoss need just as many ways to say “we’re screwed.”

 

PS: I’m looking forward to Hayes’ upcoming superhero anthology, Gods of Justice, and not just because it won’t have many executions-by-mayonnaise.  She and Kevin Hosey really know their stuff.

6 responses so far

Mar 30 2011

How to Format a Novel Manuscript

William Shunn’s guide to manuscript formatting is the best reference I’ve seen on this subject.  If I could add some minor formatting points that should be obvious:

  1. Please do not ever use more than one exclamation mark at time.  It looks awful!!!
  2. Even if you’re writing a heated conversation, please don’t end a string of sentences with exclamation marks!  It will look really strange!  I wouldn’t recommend it! In a heated conversation, readers can infer that the characters are shouting at each other even if the sentence ends with a period.
  3. If you’re inclined to capitalize words for emphasis, 1) don’t and 2) if you do, please do so super-sparingly.  (No, really, just a FEW times in the manuscript, PLEASE.  It’s SO HARD to read when AUTHORS just seemingly use all-caps AT RANDOM).

34 responses so far

Feb 06 2011

An introduction to bounty hunting

Bounty hunters may be a useful point of reference for your superhero story:

  • Like most superheroes, bounty hunters have a non-government job that entails some violence.
  • They hunt criminals without all of the assets of a police force (authority, the ability to threaten prosecution for noncooperation, forensics labs, generous access to state records, virtually unlimited backup, etc).

Learning more about bounty hunters may give you some ideas about how to write superheroes cracking cases, so I’d recommend checking out this Washington Post article (hat-tip: Contra Glove).  In particular, I liked the tactic of calling the fugitive’s cell phone*, posing as a FedEx dispatcher and then asking the fugitive if he will be available tomorrow for a package delivery.  “Can you confirm the street address?”

(I also found the use of MySpace pretty hilarious, but I’m sort of hoping that your Lex Luthor isn’t on MySpace).

*You can get somebody’s number by asking family members,  friends, disgruntled exes or sometimes the cell company.

8 responses so far

Jan 06 2011

Criminal forensics resources for writers

In case your protagonists are investigating a crime scene, here are some basic angles to check out: 10 Most Incriminating Types of Evidence.  For more detailed tricks, I’d recommend the rest of The Writers’ Forensic Blog. Hat-tip: Marilynn Byerly.

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Oct 09 2010

Does your story include serious violence? Check out this profile of life in a trauma ward

When a patient gets stabbed or shot, they’re usually sent to a trauma ward.  So I think this article in The Detroit News might be useful to you if you’re writing a story where a character gets violently injured.  (Ahem–such situations are not exactly uncommon in superhero stories).

“Feeling is believing,” [the head trauma surgeon] tells a glassy-eyed intern as he fishes around in a knife wound in the back of a man’s knee, trying to augur whether its damage to the vein or the artery.  Watching [the doctor] operate shatters the illusions of TV medicine….

For [one thing], when he operates it is not the stuff of daintiness accompanied by the subdued pings of the EKG machine. He is often elbows deep inside the victim’s cavity, tugging and rooting around as if he’s lost a set of keys. And then there is his bedside manner, which is not so much sympathetic clucking, but rather a combination of pugilism and cold-water truth that has an odd but soothing effect on the patient….

And in the pursuit of saving lives, [the doctor] has donated his life. At 46, he has consistently worked 100 hours per week for more than two decades, which would make him 70 years old in working years. He plays no golf, reads no novels, has few friends and spends more time at the hospital than with his wife and three children.

2 responses so far

Jul 27 2010

Which famous author do you write like?

Published by under Research and Resources

This writing analyzer is fun.  It’s totally useless for anything but amusement, though.  It claimed that a passage actually written by Hemingway most resembled the work of P.G. Wodehouse, which is a bizarre choice for a passage about a man that killed a lion.  Wodehouse mainly wrote comedies about foppish dandies more likely to use a club for golf than for anything interesting.  (In the program’s defense, alcohol does play sort of prominently in both the Hemingway passage and Wodehouse’s work).

33 responses so far

Jul 02 2010

Automatically generate a plot!

P. Mac coded this random plot generator:

Did you like this? Submit us to Stumble!

28 responses so far

Jun 30 2010

Generate your own plots!

Step 1: Randomly pick an inciting event, an antagonist, a protagonist and a goal.

INCITING EVENT

  • cheated on
  • kidnapped
  • impaled on a national landmark
  • thrown out of a window
  • mentally mutilated
  • disowned
  • fired
  • hired
  • drafted
  • mugged
  • kicked down the stairs
  • put in the poor house
  • brutally murdered
  • psychically ravaged
  • drop-kicked in Times Square
  • publically serenaded
  • mistaken for a felon
  • exiled
  • sent on a one-way trip to Djibouti
  • interrogated
  • sold a [adjective] pet
  • implicated
  • sold into slavery
  • deceived
  • misidentified
  • sued
  • infected
  • ruined
  • mistakenly tackled
  • swindled
  • blacklisted
  • judo-chopped through a wall
  • poisoned
  • framed
  • drunk under the table
  • thrown into a pit of carnivorous gophers
  • beaten in the World Series of Poker
  • outed as a superhero
  • humiliated
  • betrayed
  • forced to read Twilight
  • thrown into a wood-chipper
  • blackmailed
  • tricked
  • nearly decapitated
  • rear-ended
  • magically turned into a man-eating llama

Continue Reading »

14 responses so far

May 11 2010

How Long Should a Book for Children or YA be?

I already have a post about how long adult novels should be, but what if you’re writing for children or young adults? Mary Kole, a literary agent and young adult/middle grade author, suggests the following guidelines:

  • Board Book — 100 words max
  • Early Picturebook — 500 words max
  • Picturebook — 1,000 words max (Seriously. Max.)
  • Nonfiction Picturebook — 2,000 words max
  • Early Reader — This varies widely, depending on grade level. I’d say 3,500 words is an absolute max.
  • Chapterbook — 10,000 words max
  • Middle Grade — 35,000 words max for contemporary, mystery, humor, 45,000 max for fantasy/sci-fi, adventure and historical
  • YA — 70,000 words max for contemporary, humor, mystery, historical, romance, etc. 90,000 words max for fantasy, sci-fi, paranormal, etc.

Did this reference help? Submit us to Stumble!

10 responses so far

Apr 28 2010

How Long Should Graphic Novels and Comic Books Be?

If you’re interested in length guidelines for graphic novels, please see this LinkedIn discussion. By the way, if you’re interested in getting published, I’d recommend getting on LinkedIn. It’s like Facebook for professionals. For example, right now I’m in discussions with other writers about how best to build up a writing platform to impress prospective publishers. I think it’s even better for comic book teams: I posted a request for feedback on a group for comic book illustrators and received feedback that was very useful and informed.

 

PS: Based on the graphic novels I’ve seen recently, I think anywhere between 132-200 pages would be publisher-friendly. However! Each publisher has its own preferred length, so check out what they’ve been publishing lately. If your length is significantly outside of the range of what they’ve published in the past few years, I think that bodes poorly for your chances there.

 

One final note: As a measure of comparison, comic books are usually 20-26 pages of content (not including ads). As always, check out what the publishers put out, but Marvel and DC usually publish at the shorter side of that, compared to Dark Horse and Image.

5 responses so far

Mar 25 2010

What I’m reading today…

These three articles are by the editorial assistant that runs Editorial Ass.

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Mar 22 2010

The Writing Advice I’m Reading Today

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Mar 19 2010

How Your Novel Manuscript is Evaluated

Like many other literary agencies (and publishers, for that matter), Bookends uses reader’s reports to help agents/editors evaluate each credible proposal.  Assistants and/or interns will sift through the slush pile of unsolicited novel submissions and will pass along maybe 1% to their bosses for consideration, along with reader’s reports.

Bookends posted the guidelines for its reader’s reports, which is useful to you because it lets you know many of the criteria by which a novel proposal will be graded.

  • What was the book about?
  • Did the overall idea seem different and unique?
  • Was it a common theme, but executed in a unique way?
  • What did you think of the author’s voice?
  • Did the characters seem real and likable?
  • Was the plot seamless and did it make sense or were there a lot of holes?
  • Did the multiple plotlines blend together to create a whole book or did they seem choppy and disconnected?
  • Continue Reading »

4 responses so far

Mar 12 2010

A ‘zine for superhero fiction!

If you’re looking for a low-stakes way to get a short story (up to 6000 words) published, This Mutant Life might be worth looking into.  You can see its submission guidelines here.  “Stories which deal with the everyday lives of people with unusual abilities or physical characteristics are ideal, and there will be a definite preference given to stories which present interesting and well defined characters and situations.”  The pay is extremely low, though.

UPDATE: A Thousand Faces is a quarterly journal that also specializes in superhero stories. You can see its submissions page here.

14 responses so far

Feb 09 2010

Liz Argall has some advice about how to find an artist for your comic…

Check it out here!

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Feb 06 2010

Looking for a Publishing Job?

If you’re looking for a job with a novel publisher or nonfiction publisher, I’d highly recommend checking out BookJobs.  Right now, ~200 jobs and internships are available across the US, including a few telecommuting positions.

Unfortunately, it’s not that useful for jobs with comics publishers.  I’ll have more thoughts about how to get comic book jobs in the weeks to come, but until then I would recommend checking the job pages for Marvel, ImageDark Horse and DC regularly.  Also, if you’re interested in unpaid internships in New York City, Marvel has more than a few of them.

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Jan 12 2010

If you like reading blogs, check out FastestFox!

Published by under Research and Resources

If you’re a Firefox or Chrome user that likes to read deep through blogs, I think you’ll like FastestFox. Rather than making you hit “Previous Articles” again and again, it’ll automatically add the next set of articles below the last article. I’m doing some heavy editing work on all of the articles I wrote in 2007, and I enjoy not having to hit “Previous Articles” 25 times.

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