The Art of the Unexpected – Humor and Writing

Humor is one of humanity’s unifying experiences. Nothing draws a group of people together like a good joke, laughing actually alters brain chemistry in ways that makes people more friendly, more enthusiastic and less stressed. Even people who are not particularly funny still tend to have one or two good jokes they can share with others to break the ice in new situations or just keep a conversation moving when it’s stalled. But original humor requires a great deal of intelligence and social awareness to pull off and, even then, it’s very subjective, so what leaves one audience in stitches will leave another bored and restless. Any stand-up comedian can attest to this.

Most writers try to have some humor in their works. Getting that humor to land can be very difficult for all the reasons above but when it does the benefits it provides in getting and keeping your audience is immeasurable. Humor isn’t a formula or a set of tricks but instead a fresh perspective combined with penetrating understanding of the world in general and human nature in particular. The two basic keys to good humor tend to be honesty and surprise. The first, honesty, is very simple. You cannot get a laugh if it’s not founded on some truth of the world that your audience recognizes. There’s a lot of nuance to that, cultures and limited perceptions playing a huge part in it, but that’s the core of it.

The harder part is being unexpected. We laugh because our expectations have been violated but not badly violated, or violated in a way that is very harmful. People in stressful situations often say that they laugh because the only other option is to cry, a testament to the fact that the biggest difference between humor and trauma is how deeply the wound cuts. Another way to look at it is the difference between being tickled and rubbed with sandpaper – one causes laughter, another tears.

Unsurprisingly, this means that a failed joke often causes some kind of emotional distress. Anger, sadness and general discomfort are the outcomes of a failed joke, which means using humor in your writing carries a great deal of risk with it. More than just breaking immersion, a bad joke can actually turn audiences against your story if it really rubs them the wrong way. It’s true that you can chalk this up to part of the audience being thin skinned or overly stodgy. But at the same time, it could be that your use of humor didn’t suit the story or audience you were trying to find. These kinds of judgement calls ultimately rest in the hand of the author but, as always, are also things you must be aware of in order to make those calls effectively.

There are three basic ways to violate expectations for humorists. The first is to cross societal bounds, the second to set up non sequiturs, the third is to construct running gags.

Crossing societal bounds is touchy stuff, the kind of humor most likely to cause offense and, naturally, the funniest when done right. The most famous example of this is probably George Carlin’s “Seven Words You Can’t Say on TV”, although the modern masters of the art are undoubtedly Bill Burr and Dave Chappelle. Beware strong language – Here’s a great example of Bill Burr explaining why there’s always a reason to hit a woman (but you shouldn’t).

So yeah. That kind of humor is potent, potentially destructive stuff. I’d say it’s for advanced users only but, honestly, it’s probably impossible to master that kind of biting social commentary any way other than going out and doing it. But, for the aspiring writer it might be wise to practice this kind of humor a great deal in less permanent venues before immortalizing it in writing. Test it on trusted friends first, then maybe writing groups and, if you have access and can speak in front of people, at comedy clubs. Get really good at judging this kind of thing and exactly where it’s funny for most people because once it’s out there in writing it’s never going away.

Of course, there are many much milder ways to play on societal expectations for humor. Consider the punchline of this gag from Girl Genius. The setup is when General Zog hears Dimo was listening at the door like a great big sneakypants and he says, “Dimo, I am shocked at this behavior!” And the payoff is when we realize he found it shocking because it was smart, not rude. Our understanding of shocking behavior is violated by the general’s. Puns are another great example of a very mild form of humor relying on social norms.

It’s important to note that this kind of humor can fail for reasons other than being offensive. Someone from a culture where listening at doors is normal and accepted, for example, might immediately conclude General Zog was shocked at Dimo’s display of social awareness in knowing when to listen at doors rather than the fact that he did it at all. Humor based on social conventions needs to be placed in a story that will appeal to an audience that will understand those social conventions or it won’t play.

The second kind of humor is the non sequitur. As the phrase implies, this is humor that violates our expectations simply because the punchline does not follow directly from the setup. All absurdist humor follows under this banner, as does a good bit of sketch comedy and improvisational comedy. Fish out of water humor is an interesting blend of non sequitur and societal norm humor as it revolves around people taking actions that make perfect sense to them but no sense to the audience (see Demolition Man’s three seashells gag), or taking actions that make sense to the audience but produce absurd results.

One of my favorite examples of a non sequitur gag is demonstrated in Dr. McNinja on this page and the next.

No explanation is ever given for what happened in that missing third of a page, if you’re wondering. Christopher Hastings is a master of non sequitur humor in addition to great plot based storytelling but cutting out a typical encounter in the middle of a typical adventure story and using that absence to remind us that the Doc is, in fact, a ninja is delightfully absurd. He violates both our expectation to see the Doc manage a cop quickly and easily and our expectation to learn something new about what’s going on at the same time and he does it so skillfully we don’t hold it against him. And we get to see Doc fight the NASAghasts that much faster.

Non sequiturs also have their weaknesses as humor devices. You have to present the audience with something surprising in order for it to really work and that gets harder to do every day. There’s a sequence in The Orville episode “About A Girl” where a Mexican standoff turns into a dance-off because one of the officers has been tinkering with the holodeck programs. It’s supposed to be funny but it flopped, first because Guardians of the Galaxy already attempted that gag and flubbed it but secondly, and more importantly, because going from Mexican standoff (an exotic and unusual situation) to dance off (not particularly exotic, and still less unusual than a Mexican standoff) is a poor non sequitur joke. The sequence of events started us someplace more in violation of our expectations than where we wound up, which is not funny.

Finally, there is the running gag.

It may seem strange to say that a thing that happens over and over again is a violation of our expectations. But the secret of a running gag is not that it is the same thing over and over again, but that we keep seeing the gag in places where it hasn’t shown up before and doesn’t make sense. The best examples tend to come from long running media or entertainment careers that have the time to really find the best use for these gags, things like the black cat in Trigun or the way Harpo Marx never speaks, in spite of take the roles of many people who would have to be excellent public speakers. Even Bugs Bunny’s “What’s up, Doc?” is a running gag of sorts. Star Trek: Deep Space Nine found nearly infinite uses for self-sealing stem bolts, and the accompanying reverse-ratcheting routers. And the Nostalgia Critic’s relationship with the Bat Credit Card is the stuff of legend. But one of the greatest running gags of my childhood has to be the Noodle Incident from Calvin and Hobbes. The less said about that the better.

There tends to be a danger that running gags become overused. They can’t turn up constantly because then they stop being unexpected and funny. But if they’re forgotten completely or only mentioned once or twice then they can’t build up the force of a good running gag. Of course, repeating a gag that is naturally funny, as often happens on Who’s Line is it Anyway? helps make reusing it easier, but even these gags can wear out their welcome. The best part about running gags is that they’re easy to set up and bear little of the risk of other kinds of humor – basically, the only two risks are setting up a running gag that isn’t funny at all or running one to death so that your audience loses interest whenever it comes up instead of laughing. Of course, the opposite side of the less risky coin is that few running gags are exceptionally funny. Typically they just are. People like them but don’t love them.

Humor brings a lot to a work but it’s also important to know what kind of humor best suits what you’re writing. Running gags rarely fit commentaries, for example, while social humor is going to completely miss with younger audiences, who don’t get puns and don’t fully grasp the contexts that make other forms of social humor funny. Learning what humor goes best in what situation is just another part of sorting out how you’ll use it in your writing. Sorting it all out is half the fun – for you, if not your audience. But once it works the payoff will be more than worth it.


The Dave Barry Effect

Ever read Dave Barry? He’s a Pulitzer Prize winning humor columnist who used to write for The Miami Herald and he’s hilarious. Seriously, if you’re not familiar with his work go read one of his books like Dave Barry Does Japan or Dave Barry Talks Back. Both of these are great examples of his work and relevant to what I want to talk about because today I want to talk about humor. And he’s gotten a Pulitzer with his humor so he must be good at it, y’know?

I’ve mentioned before that humor is mostly derived from timing and delivery, the biggest exception being humor based on the absurd. And the reason I mentioned Dave Barry is because comedie bizarre is his forte.

Before there was an Internet few writers interacted directly with their audience. But as a weekly humor columnist Dave Barry had a constant and gnawing need for material. At some point, presumably early on in his career, Barry started encouraging his readers to send him any and every weird headline they found in the news. This eventually resulted in his featuring stories like the exploding whale or the air dropped trout. Each and every time Barry would tell his audience about one of these ridiculous events he would assure us, emphatically, that he was not making them up.

Seriously, this was a running gag equaled only by the way Barry would suggest random phrases would make good names for a rock band.

But the point of this post is not to exposit about Barry’s style, it’s to talk about one work of his in particular. In 1999 Dave Barry published Big Trouble, a novel. I won’t go into everything the book is about because it’s got a lot of plot threads juggled in a lot of ways that are really kind of clever and build to a decent climax and a mildly interesting payoff. It’s an okay book, but not a great one. That could be forgiven but, as someone familiar with Barry’s style, I found it had one flaw that was totally unforgivable.

It wasn’t that funny.

Oh, it will make you smile. And you might chuckle at a line or two. But there’s nothing particularly laugh out loud, sticks in your mind for life funny in the book, at least not that I found.

You see, a writer’s ability to use the absurd in fiction is inherently bounded by the fact that truth is stranger than fiction. Just reporting verifiable facts and then commenting on them lets Barry and many modern imitators get away with talking about some really ridiculous stuff, writing fiction demands that the author produce scenarios that sound at least somewhat plausible to the average reader. Big Trouble, unfortunately, crosses the line of plausibility in search of laughs and that kind of undermines the story.

Let me see if I can explain this a little better. You may know about something absolutely crazy that happened to your friend when he was sixteen and on a road trip across the country to visit his grandmother but if you adapt it to be a part of a fictional story you’re telling people will most likely just roll their eyes and wonder how you expected them to believe it. That’s the problem Big Trouble feels like it has.

Or, in other words, Dave Barry’s absurdist humor worked because we knew he wasn’t making it up. When he published a book that went in the fiction section, explicitly telling us he was making it up now, he lost most of the power in one of his greatest humor weapons. Now Barry is still funny and a brilliant satirist. But in both Big Trouble and his second novel, Tricky Business, he tried to turn the satire he lavished on real life into the foundation for a story and it was found somewhat lacking. While it may sound like I’m being harsh with Barry’s books I do want to say that I still enjoy his writing. His first two novels just aren’t the greatest examples of it and I haven’t read any of his later fiction. Maybe one day when I have some more time on my hands.

In conclusion, absurdism may be the best foundation for written humor but it’s not a good foundation for fiction. So what do you do when you want to write humorous fiction?

Well, that’s a question for another time.

I Hate Zombies – Because Braiiiins…

In honor of the recent conclusion of this season of The Walking Dead, I offer you this thought:

Zombies are stupid.

I don’t mean they’re mindless, shambling creatures of pure appetite, although there is definitely that to take into account. Rather, I mean that they are the result of very lazy storytelling, resulting in plots and themes that are full of more holes than their antagonists!

Now I should mention that most of my ire here is going to be directed at zombies as they appear in popular culture, movies like I Am Legend or 28 Days Later, or written fiction like World War Z (which, admittedly, I really enjoyed) or Feed. And, of course, The Walking Dead is a TV phenomenon about zombies in the “modern” vein. These modern zombies are supposed to be disease carriers, or possibly druggies, as opposed to creatures created by magic, evil spirits or other supernatural forces. I dislike supernatural undead, too, but this isn’t the set of posts for that particular gripe.

So what, exactly, are my gripes with the zombie plague horror story?

Let’s start with the zombies being disease ridden plague carriers. At some point, and I’m going to go out on a limb and guess that it was some kind of reaction to the incredible campiness of The Evil Dead franchise (DISCLAIMER: I’ve never watched these movies but there are stories…), it was decided that zombies as the result of sorcery or other supernatural meddling wouldn’t be taken seriously anymore. So people settled on this disease idea.

And that’s probably not a terrible idea, since people with rabies are likely the source of the zombie/vampire/ghoul/wraith ur-legends. The problem is, people insist on keeping the trappings of sorcerous zombies, like the person actually being dead, impervious to pain and not having body heat (to name a few). Problem is, these “more real” zombies are actually less believable than zombies that result from occult forces.

You see, moving takes energy. Living people get the energy to move around chemically, by metabolizing sugars from the food they eat. Zombies get energy by… well, no one ever bothers to think about this, because zombies are the result of writers being lazy and their audience letting them get away with it. Seriously, they don’t have a working metabolism so they can’t actually eat food or burn body fat. And if they did burn old tissue for fuel they’d quickly run their bodies down to nothing, because they never do more than sink their teeth into a victim before they run off after something else and a new zombie rises to take their place in the ranks of the horde. A “real” zombie would have to strip it’s victims to the bone to get enough calories to keep going, there wouldn’t be anything left to add to the ranks.

Which brings me to another aspect of lazy writing: with the exception of Feed, I’ve never read a zombie story where zombies went after anything other than humans. Why is that? There’s all those calories out there, waiting to keep the zombies going, and they ignore them! Likewise, how can zombies tell that other zombies are already plague carriers and should be left alone? Why not eat them, too?

At least drug addled zombies theoretically keep enough of their wits about them to recognize that they need food and water, but that doesn’t explain why they would desire to add to their ranks or why their drugs would spread to people bitten by them. The endless swarm is one of the defining characteristics of zombies, you can’t make one without the ability to spread the plague. I think that’s why you see so few plots with drug zombies in them.

And that reminds me of another thing. How do dead things move around, anyway? A juju zombie is a puppet for whatever evil is keeping it going, but a zombie that results from a disease? Most viruses and bacteria only have enough room in their DNA for mechanisms that allow them to replicate themselves and infect hosts to help them do it. Zombie fiction frequently tries to foist off zombie behavior as part of the infection’s reproduction drive but that’s just ridiculous.

It’s one thing to say that a virus can cause increased mucus production by settling in the sinuses, as a cold does, as part of it’s survival process. Rabies is the same – it infects nerve tissues, eventually causing inflammation of the brain that leads to violent behavior and biting attacks (which infect others) and death. These things are the results of the body’s normal attempts to fight off the disease, processes that just so happen to result in the disease spreading to other people as well. But when the body is dead there are no natural processes to spread the disease.

The zombie virus has to be doing all the work itself – firing the neurons that make the limbs move, processing visual and audio input to locate prey and then telling when you’ve successfully bitten the victim and it’s time to move on. The virus has to do all of that, and still be a small enough organism to be transmitted from one person to another by saliva. Are you starting to see why I find this idea so absurd?

Oh, and let’s not forget zombie resilience. Another thing that makes no sense. The human body is fairly delicate, people. Cut a muscle and all those around it become strained. The muscle fibers around the wound become overworked, pull apart and stop working and pretty soon you have a chain reaction that leaves the body immobilized. Sure, zombies won’t feel the pain – although I’m not sure why they won’t since they can still see and hear and sometimes smell – but that just means they won’t realize the body is breaking down, not that it’s still functional. Because it’s not.

And then there’s the 100% infection rate. No one ever survives a zombie bite. Why? It makes no sense. No one ever tries to justify it. We’re just told that’s the way it is. The writing is so lazy it’s infuriating.

I could go on. (Why don’t zombies get infested by maggots?) But the fact is, people are going to go right on creating novels, TV shows and movies based on zombies and ignoring the fact that they make no sense because they keep making money. Only a very few people will be turned off by the absurdities of the concept because a story with the right themes and good technique can overrule both logic and sense using style and humor.

My real problem with zombies runs a little deeper than that. Hopefully you’ll come back on Friday, when we dig a little deeper into the problem – maybe deep enough to bury it for good.

A Day in the Life of an Indiana Meteorologist


  • Wake up.
  • Check the radar reports.
  • Pencil “cold – mostly sunny” into draft of morning weather report.
  • Start the coffee.
  • Put miniature potted cactus out on back porch, so it can get some sun.
  • Breakfast.
  • Rescue potted cactus from unexpected rain shower. Too much water can make them swell up and burst!
  • Don heavy jacket, strap on galoshes and collect umbrella.
  • Drive to TV station.
  • Place dry galoshes and umbrella in locker.
  • Call Giuseppe Garfagnini, from the Parks and Recreation office, about that segment on fun things to do in warm weather. Suggest changing to a cold weather activity.
  • Give morning weather report – mostly cloudy, cold, small chance of rain.
  • Enjoy sunny weather on drive to local park.
  • Leave jacket in the car. It’s too warm for it.
  • Text wife, ask her to put the cactus back out on the back porch.
  • Roll up sleeves for segment with Giuseppe. Sweat through taping of segment.
  • Run back to car to grab spare umbrella to ward off sudden cloudburst. Let Giuseppe use it to get back to his car. There’s one in the locker at work.
  • Text wife, ask her to bring the cactus back in.
  • Receive reply from wife.
  • Remind her that the cactus cost twenty bucks, and you’d hate to see it wasted because of a little rain.
  • Receive reply from wife.
  • Remind her not to use that kind of language once the kids are home from school.
  • Drive back to TV station.
  • Lunch.
  • Check weather radar.
  • Give evening weather report – clear skies and cooling temperatures.
  • Drive home.
  • Receive phone call from wife, who says car battery died while picking kids up from school.
  • Point out that you just replaced that thing.
  • Say that yes, that doesn’t get the car started and you’ll be there soon.
  • Check radar reports.
  • Put cactus back out on the back porch, because some sun late in the evening is better than no sun at all.
  • Drive to local elementary school.
  • Spend fifteen minutes diagnosing problem with wife’s car.
  • Conclude that the car battery is dead.
  • Ignore “I told you so” look from wife by cleverly pointing out that the skies are clouding up and it looks like rain.
  • Discover that Giuseppe still has your spare umbrella.
  • Realize your usual umbrella and galoshes are still in the locker at work because you hadn’t needed them when you left.
  • Enjoy unseasonal thunderstorm complete with torrential rainfall.
  • Prepare to jump wife’s car in half inch of standing water.
  • Remember that prayer is an important part of a long and fulfilling life.
  • Jump start wife’s car.
  • Drive home, wet and cold.
  • Discover there is no warm dinner waiting for you because no one was there to cook it.
  • Eat cold cut sandwiches in gloomy silence.
  • See that clouds are breaking up!
  • Step out onto back porch and enjoy glorious sunset.
  • Bury miniature cactus.
  • Go to bed – tomorrow is another day!

Any semblance to people living or dead is strictly coincidental. Any semblance to real events is credited entirely due to the nature of Indiana weather.

A Brief Primer on Magical Theory

Fantasy is a popular genre today. One of the most common aspects of fantasy stories is magic, but many people complain about magic because it doesn’t seem realistic. I applaud these people. The whole point of magic is to be not realistic. It is to be, you know, fantastic.

So, for those who don’t quite get it, or who want to write fantasy and were looking for some basic guidelines, here are some things to keep in mind when you’re working with magic.

1. Doing magic does not follow the laws of physics.

This should really go without saying, but most people just can’t get over the fact that the stuff they are seeing or reading about doesn’t seem to add up. How can a two pound house cat lift a four thousand pound car over it’s head even though it doesn’t have opposable thumbs? It’s magic, people. Stop worrying and enjoy the show. This is such a large stumbling block that most of the following rules are actually specific examples of this phenomenon.

2. Undoing magic also does not follow the laws of physics.

This is a corollary of rule #1. Even if it makes no sense that an enchanted amulet can stop a building destroying energy beam, or that the energy necessary to destroy a single magic sword of slightly greater than normal sharpness lights up the horizon brighter than your average city, that’s just the way things are.

3. Magic causes confusion.

Regardless of what kind of magic it is, good or bad, people always experience a moment of disorientation when they are subjected to it. Wizards become addlebrained old men so frequently because they spend so much time messing with it. Really, this isn’t surprising since magic totally defies all the rules of day to day living. So whenever someone has a spell cast on them, expect a moment of disorientation as they adjust to the addition of magical influence to their lives.

4. Magic treats inanimate objects as if they were thinking beings.

In short, magic makes the Pathetic Fallacy a reality. This is why magic items so frequently develop a mind of their own. And since magic is such a confusing, I-do-what-I-want kind of a force, you can expect most intelligent magic items to be real jerks.

5. Magical movement does not create inertia.

Regardless of how big or small, if you use magic to move objects, they won’t have any inertia. For example, if you throw a bunch of knives at someone with a telekinetic spell or are holding a kite aloft with magically conjured wind, and then another wizard undoes your spell, your items will waver for a moment in confusion (a combination of rules #3 and #4) and then fall to the ground, instead of continuing on their merry way until gravity catches up to them. This applies to all magically created phenomenon, so charging golems will drop straight to the ground without sliding a step further on their course, avalanches will come to an immediate rest no matter how precarious their position and, in extreme cases, objects will actually teleport themselves back to where they came from in the first place.

6. Magic that involves blood automatically protects the user from communicable diseases.

Seriously. If you are a horrendous, blood-sucking fiend your magical powers will prevent you from ever getting the flu or malaria or any other such stuff from any of your victims. Why these creatures don’t just start a blood bank and take a little off the top from each transfusion is beyond me.

7. Magical elements are not located on the periodic table.

Wizards are allowed to think of the world however they want. Just because fire, ice, poison, metal, grim and fluffy aren’t on the periodic table doesn’t mean they aren’t perfectly good magical elements.

8. The phrase “schools of magic” doesn’t refer to institutions. Nor do they have classrooms, scholarships or “school spirit”.

Schools of magic are how people think about magic, not boring buildings where you listen to boring lectures all day. Expect lots of exciting, potentially lethal hands on experiences to go along with your painstaking book learning when you join one of these. It’s also likely that you’ll spend more time proving yourself the better fluffymancer when you encounter others from the fluffy school of magic than you will striving to prove the superiority of fluffymancy over venomancy.

9. The more complex a magic spell, the sturdier or harder to disrupt it becomes.

This is why your basic light spell is always flickering out at the least opportune moment, even though all it involves is tapping a little crystal until it lights up, but a summoning ritual that involves candles, synchronized chanting, intricate diagrams drawn in chalk and constantly updated listings from the New York Stock Exchange never fails.

10. The cooler the thing you use to cast your spells, the cooler your magic.

For example, if you’re a plain ol’ wizard with a plain ol’ staff, you can expect that your coolest magic to be something like a fireball or a disintegrate ray. On the other hand, if you store your magic in playing cards, expect the ability to summon five story dragons or transform a normal mountaintop into the world’s newest caldera.

Of course, magic is much deeper and more complex than that, in fact it is deservedly thought of as a force beyond human understanding. Consider this a basic primer and remember the most important rule of magic there is: If you don’t know, you can just fudge it!

So You Want To Be A Sidekick…

We’ve discussed some of the generic things to keep in mind when experimenting with life as a bit player in a comic book. Ironically, it’s always much more dangerous to be a bit player in that kind of story, because the main characters, in spite of being in dangerous situations all the time, are equipped with plot armor that is likely to keep them alive through the entire story. So it might be a wise move to increase your overall importance to the narrative, if for no other reason than to help you keep your head on your shoulders.

Still, sidekicking is a tricky business. If done too well, you could wind up being the hero of your own series, which is great except it’s much more trying and comes with much less in the way of returns (see point #3 on the Minor Comic Book Characters list.) If done poorly you could wind up being the little guy in the next Batman and Robin clone. And the world honestly doesn’t need another Robin.

So what are some things to keep in mind?

  1. Do some research. If you’re given an option in which hero you work with* try and work with someone who’s archenemy isn’t a natural foil for you. For example, if you have hydrokinetic powers, turn down the offer from the guy who’s frenimies with the lighting mage. Sure, you’re not going to be as cool as the hero but there’s no reason to make things harder on yourself every time you encounter his archnemesis.
  2. On a similar note, diversify. Don’t use the same kind of power as your hero. That way, when an EMP bomb knocks out your hero’s power armor suit you’ll be able to drag them to safety with your telekinesis, rather than being just as stuck as he is.
  3. If someone you’re about to bring to justice tells you they’re going to reveal your hero’s dark past to you, don’t stop and listen to them. Punch them in the face and throw them in the paddy-wagon, then ask your hero if there’s anything you should know about.
  4. You and your hero will be shipped, regardless of age, gender, species or personal preferences. Get used to it, or find a different job.
  5. Keep in mind that heroing is an all ages, all genders occupation, and thus so is sidekicking. Even if you’re getting up there, keep in mind that Alfred was just as much Batman’s sidekick as Robin was. And if you ask me, he did a much better job.
  6. That said, as a sidekick, you have certain obligations to your hero. Food preparation, chauffeur services and psychological counseling are not usually among them, at least not until you and the hero have had a long and mutually beneficial relationship. Know how to set boundaries. And generally, it’s better to try and keep your secret identities as separate as possible. Unless, of course, you are the Incredibles.
  7. Work out an understanding of what your hero/sidekick dynamic will be ahead of time.  If he’s expecting an Arthur Hastings it’s a good idea to mention that you’re actually a James Hathaway, and vice versa.
  8. While some people are sidekicks for life, it’s actually not the most common way for things to go. People change and sometimes retire or pass on, at least temporarily. It’s important that you have a plan for the future, discuss it with your employer** and take steps to fulfill it even while still a sidekick.
  9. Do your legwork. In all the rushing around from one crisis to another, heroes can’t always stay on top of all the technological, social and political trends in the world. While it’s not glamorous, keeping up with these details while the hero focuses on his archenemies lets you be helpful to your hero and buffs your plot armor to help you stay one step ahead of the bus.

While points one and two on the Minor Characters list still apply to you, to all that it’s important to add that you should avoid dating your boss’s children. The incredible amount of danger you will be in on a regular basis is bad enough, adding all the relationship baggage to it will be a lethal mix.

I hope this advice proves useful to you when you develop superpowers and take up the cape. Superhero Sidekicking can be a fun, exciting and fulfilling career choice, and if these tips help you make the most of it then I’m happy to have provided them. Just drop me a line and let me know how they worked out for you.

And maybe how I could get some of those superpowers myself…


*And what hero worth his salt wouldn’t give you an option?

**Unless your plans involve a turn to villainy.

Writing Resolutions

Hey, it’s that time of year again! That’s right, it’s a brand new year and that means people are girding themselves up and resolving to do new and exciting things like loose weight, eat responsibly and in general make it easier to make it to the next new year. But me, I’m a writer and healthy living is an area of contractual genre blindness for us. So I figured I’d come up with some writing related resolutions instead. What kind of resolutions? I thought you’d never ask…

  1. I will maintain this blog, doing my best to continue to post on schedule, no matter how many toothpicks I break keeping my eyelids open.
  2. I will not poke myself in the eye with a toothpick. It impedes the writing process.
  3. I will try to read less garbage in my continuing attempts to understand what kinds of stories currently drive the writing market.
  4. I will read more garbage with the intent to discover what makes bad writing bad and how to correct those flaws.
  5. I will remember that finding ways to resolve apparent contradictions helps a person become more creative and flexible, it’s exercise for the imagination and every writer needs more of that.
  6. I will continue to offer shameless critique of people who have succeeded in an industry I have not yet broken in to, as well as people who work in industries I know little about. If they want to sell me stuff, they better make it a worthwhile product.
  7. I will do my level best to get an e-book assembled and available for purchase from, so that my work can be held up for ridicule in the largest forum available.
  8. I will add as much suspense to my stories as is humanly possible, because day to day life does not contain nearly enough uncertainty.
  9. I will add more romance to my writing, because write what you know is more a loose guideline than a mandatory requirement.
  10. I will hire a person to stand behind me with a rolled up newspaper and periodically whack me over the head yelling, “Make with the funny!” This should keep my writing from being overly gloomy.*

So there you have it. My authorial goals for the year. If you have any advice for how I might live up to these goals, I’d love to hear from you in the comments. Please feel free to add your own suggestions in the comments, as well.

*These resolutions void where prohibited. No exchanges, substitutions or refunds. Use only as advised. Keep hands and feet clear. Please resolve responsibly.