superhero

Writing Is A Bad Habit: It’s A Kind Of Magic

Many kinds of genre fiction incorporate elements far beyond our normal, everyday reality.  Whether it’s advanced technology, magic spells, psionic powers, or superhuman powers, extranormal abilities are a constant in many kinds of fiction.  While essential to those genres, these elements can present numerous challenges for a writer.  However, there is a way to cut off many of these potential problems before they can even take root: establishing the ground rules at the start.

It’s certainly tempting to leave these sorts of things open-ended.  After all, it may seem like it leaves you, the author, with a convenient back-up to unforeseen plot holes.  Paint your characters into the back of a valley with an army of monsters bearing down on them?  No worries, you don’t need to rethink the scene.  Magic can save them!  Or the special super-tech device, or the hero’s new super power or … or … well, I’m sure you can see where this is going.  It basically can lead to a series of ever-increasingly annoying deus ex machina that will alienate your readers.

The obvious way to avoid that is to bound yourself in, to establish ground rules to how these extranormal or super-futuristic systems work.  Even if you never reveal these rules to the readers, keeping those rules in mind will add a sense of order and internal consistency to your tale.  In addition, seeing and knowing that these systems are limited will add to the building of dramatic tension, as your readers will know that your protagonists don’t have an unlimited ‘Get Out Of Jail Free’ card in their back pockets.

There’s one potential trip-up to establishing a set of rules for your extranormal systems and that’s when you want to break them.  Yes, it’s true that every rule is meant to be broken.  Well, at least some people say so!   I would say that it’s perfectly fine to break your world’s rules once in a while.  There are always loopholes, there are always unknown exceptions, and no one knows everything about everything, right?  So it is fine to break your world’s rules from time to time.  The problem comes when you do so on a regular basis.  Some authors have a habit of doing this and, again, it breaks your readers’ suspension of disbelief or even feel any dramatic tension.  If the rules aren’t rules, why should the readers care or pay attention to them?  If the rules may not constrain the heroes’ abilities, why should the readers worry about their survival when they could unleash an unknown new power to save their collective rears?

So, to sum up: genre fiction means cool supernatural stuff which needs rules, dude!  You can break rules, but only once in a while or else it’s a bummer.  *mic drop*

Until next time, friends, good reading, good writing, and good luck!

Oh, and support my writing, my reviews, and my blogging on Patreon!  Get free stuff and Patron-only stories!  Do it!

Monday Musings: Everybody Should Read Comic Books!

Welcome to the first weekly installment of Monday Musings, where I shake off the hunger pangs of another hardscrabble weekend to bring you whatever crosses my addled brain.  For this initial article, I want to tell everyone out there that they should really read some comic books already!

This may not be that left-field of a thing for me to say.  After all, I write in the superhero genre, one born from the comic books.  What’s different here is that I’m saying that you should read not superhero stuff, or watch comic-book-inspired movies, but to read actual, real comic books.  Why?

Look, they aren’t all good.  Many are actually pretty bad.  However, there are some truly remarkable stories told in those four-color pages and, more importantly, they are our modern mythology.  They are our Greek gods, our legend makers.  It isn’t ‘David and Goliath’ anymore, as much as Spider-Man freeing himself to save his Aunt May in Amazing Spider-Man #33 (websearch it if you haven’t seen the pages before and don’t be surprised if you HAVE, just didn’t know the exact source).

Just open your eyes and see that quite a few superheroes ARE the gods of old.  Thor, Hercules, Odin, Loki, Ares, and many more hobnob with the new colorful pantheons we have created.  Even more are closely connected with the old mythology.  Wonder Woman, Shazam, and countless others herald back to the Greek, the Norse, the Egyptian, and so many other collections of gods and heroes.  Our comic books are inheritors of thousands of years of tradition, history, and introspection.

Don’t buy it?  Comic books have been with us now for decades and those characters and stories that resonate with us have never faltered for that entire history.  The archetypes, the parables, the lessons those pages hold connect with the same stories man has told in thousands of ways since the dawn of time.  Comic books reflect the times they are written in, but still contain the same messages and characters they have held since their inception.

There must be something culturally vital for what began as children’s entertainment to still be so important to us over seventy years later.  There must be something critical for us all to glean from something that was considered as indispensable to many soldiers during World War II as anything else in their care packages.  Our culture, our history, our hopes, our dreams, and our nightmares are in the colorful pages you can get at any comic book shop.  We just have to take the time to read them and sort the good from the bad.

Starving Review: Reincarnation (The Seven Uniters Book 1) by Alicia J. Love

FinalReincarnationEbookCover

Reincarnation (The Seven Uniters Book 1) by Alicia J. Love (Amazon, Goodreads)

Young adult sci-fi romance, it’s a mixture of a lot of popular tastes these days.  Conceptually in the same realms as the paranormal romance that still sells piles of books, Reincarnation tries to turn away from the Twilight crowd, using a nice dollop of alien worlds and even a hint of superhero chocolately-ness to make its own mark.  Do all of these new flavors make for a brilliant recipe or a deflated souffle?

Before we find out, it’s time to bring out the Starving Review creed:

  1. I attempt to rate every book from the perspective of a fan of the genre
  2. I attempt to make every review as spoiler-free as possible.

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Book News: Incorruptible is now available!

Incorruptible Cover

The final book (for now!) of The Push Chronicles is now available!  You can purchase the finale of this superhero tale through an altered Earth from Smashwords and Amazon for $2.99, with additional outlets and a print edition available in the coming days.  Check out the book blurb and information about the rest of the series here on My Books page.

Thank you for everyone who has bought, read, reviewed, and supported my writing to this point!  Good luck and good writing!

Tangential Politics: A strange little tale of gender, superheroes, and video games

Before I put up a post about the existential panic of being so close to a funded Kickstarter but running out of time, I want to take a moment to tell a weird little tale that might show, in a quirky way, some of the deep-seated issues of misogyny ingrained into both parts of the comic book culture and the video game culture.  In fact, the arena for this little tale is none other than one of those nexus points of the two cultures, one of my favorite video games, Marvel Heroes.

Marvel Heroes is a fun, free-to-play action game using the Marvel IP.  They make their money primarily by selling cosmetic costumes for the characters in the game … a pretty smart way to go, as visuals can mean everything to people and comic book characters often have quite a wardrobe that can be sold.  Early in the game’s history, they also introduced the notion of Enhanced Costumes:  Costumes that had more than a basic visual change.  Altered special effects, new voice overs, new animation sets, that kind of thing.

One use of Enhanced costumes was for cross-gendered counterparts of characters.  As you may know, many comic book characters had Distaff Counterparts created, female versions of male heroes, both as cheap fixes for the female demographic or, more recently, trying to bring some equality in the male-imbalanced comic book world by putting a woman in a legacy hero role.  Rarely, you can see the reverse, the Spear Counterpart, but considering the massive imbalance already between male and female representation in comic books, this has been exceedingly rare.

Here’s where things start to get creepy.  From the start, there have been sections of the game’s player base to keep shouting about the ‘unfairness’ that there were multiple male-to-female swaps (Lady Loki, Kate Bishop (a modern female Hawkeye), Lady Deadpool, etc.) and no female-to-male swaps.  Any argument about gender imbalance in the existing cast (which these costumes helped to even out) or the tremendous lack of Spear Counterparts in comics period were met with deaf ears.  The developers opened a feedback thread for suggestions for such female-to-male costumes and 99% of the suggestions were extreme stretches, often trying to stick totally different characters into totally incompatible character slots.

Eventually, two female-to-male costumes were announced.  A lot of people were unhappy about them, because they were, by the eyes of any fan of comic books, stretches.  The developers original policy was that Enhanced Costumes had to have near identical powers as the base character and be strongly linked.  Both of these new ideas were on-point with the second idea, but stretched the first one considerably.  Still, they continued on.

Cut to the now, as the first of these is to be released.  There are now creepy and strange little nitpicks about it.  Why isn’t the character name changed, it looks weird to see a feminine name (despite the fact that no other Enhanced costume has had a name change)?  Why do the power icons still show the original character, it looks weird to see a woman’s face on them (despite the fact that, you guessed it, power icons have never changed on other Enhanced costumes)?  Why did this costume take so long to come out, all the other female enhanced costumes came out so much faster (even though they took just as long, one even being released incomplete after a long delay)?  To contrast, none of these questions were brought up by the female gamers who were getting male-to-female costumes; they just expressed relief and thanks for getting more female playable options.

This may seem a little thing, but it’s very eye-opening about the casual misogyny that men (and some women) can show.  There’s an expectation that there are different rules and that what applied to women doesn’t apply to them.  Their needs are more important and things that weren’t previously an issue are now big issues that need to be addressed for their comfort.  The one positive I can take away from this is that the Marvel Heroes dev team have not indulged in any of this chicanery.  Still, the whole deal colors portions of the game’s community in a pretty negative light … thankfully it’s no one I hang around with!

Looking at Character: The Invincible Hero

As an author who writes superhero books, I have a long-held love of the comic book medium.  I’ve been reading them since I was a little kid and still keep up with them in various formats.  The other day, I came across a discussion of what people thought were the rights and wrongs of the latest Superman movie and what it boiled down to, in essence, was a talk about the difficulties of writing an interesting story for so powerful of a character.  I came away from that forum mulling it over myself and decided to take the musings here to my blog.  It’s time for another round of Looking at Character with today’s guest, the Invincible Hero.

At first blush, the Invincible Hero looks a lot like our other friend, the Ace, but there are some vital differences.  Like the Ace, the Invincible Hero is the best of the best, a seemingly unstoppable force.  Nothing seems to slow him down and even the rare setback is fleeting and temporary.  However, unlike the Ace, who is a supporting character and used in various ways to interact with the protagonists, the Invincible Hero *is* the protagonist.  Hercules, Achilles, Superman, Hulk Hogan … all of those characters in their prime certainly fit the bill.  So the question remains: How do you write an effective plot about a protagonist that, by definition, easily overcomes any direct conflict?

There are a few ways to go about it.  The first one is to go about deconstructing the myth of the Invincible Hero.  In a deconstruction-based story, the conflict is generally not the obvious external one, but conflicts generated by the flaws and foibles that are hidden behind the shining facade of the Hero.  Concepts such as alienation from the rest of humanity, hubris from his/her invincibility, loosing touch with one’s humanity, the burden of the expectations of the masses (realistic or not), and so on can be explored to shine light on the realistic problems of being put above the rest of the Hero’s peers and relations.  In such a way, the Invincible Hero becomes relatable; though his problems may still be on a different scale, they are simply larger versions of issues everyone faces, allowing the reader to connect to him/her.

Another way to spark conflict and plot is the approach of ‘the bigger fish’.  Yes, the Invincible Hero is unstoppable compared to his usual opposition, but that doesn’t preclude an even more awesome threat from existing, thus creating a new conflict where the normally triumphant Hero is faced with the prospect of being the underdog.  As with straight deconstruction, this makes the Invincible Hero relatable by injecting all-too human feelings such as fear and a sense of inadequacy into the equation.  The potential stumbling block, though, is the possible temptation to inject these feelings then quickly have them ‘overcome’.  This is usually meant by the author as a show of the Hero’s true courage or what-not but it usually comes off as just another problem the Invincible Hero can shrug off, unlike the reader, causing an even larger rift in relatability.

The last way that came to mind to give an Invincible Hero a good story is to approach the primary conflict in a way that is outside of the Hero’s element.  However unstoppable the Hero may be, there are undoubtedly areas and problems where his/her particular set of abilities and skills are not useful.  Making the conflict revolve around some problem that cannot simply be directly confronted once more brings the Hero down to the human level, allowing the writer to showcase and develop the Hero’s character as he/she struggles with a problem instead of running it over as per the norm.  Another facet of this that could be fascinating to explore is the Hero’s social and familial life.  Again, it’s a source of conflicts, vital ones, that build character but cannot simply be approached by kicking down doors and beating up bad guys.

It’s not hard to see that all of these approaches revolve around finding ways to interject a strong dose of relatability into the Invincible Hero.  As characterization is usually the heart of a good story, that ability to relate to the protagonist is vital.  If we have no way to connect, we usually cease to care about the character in a short period of time and no amount of finely crafted action or well-rendered description will fix that.

What do you think?  Have you ever had to write an Invincible Hero?  If so, how did you tackle their relatability?  Comment below!

Weekend Update: The cover to Indomitable 2nd edition!

Indomitable 2nd edition (cover)

Here it is!  From the talented hand of Felipe de Barros, here’s the cover for the second edition of Indomitable, releasing late this week on Smashwords, Amazon, and a ton of other e-book sites.  Next up will be the second edition of The Opening Bell, followed by the next book in both series.  All titles should be out by the end of September, then it’s on to the finales for both series!