Friday, November 14, 2008

Setting Up An Organization I: Pragmatic or Moralistic?

So, let's look at organizations in-depth for a moment; specifically, what kind of organizations are there? More to the point, how useful are they from a writer's perspective?

When it comes down to it, there are four ways to grade a potential organization: Pragmatism/Moralism, Sinister/Friendly, Secret/Transparent, and Supportive/Hostile.

Pragmatism/Moralism: This refers more the organization's moral standing relative to the general populace, and to what degree those morals are implemented. A pragmatic organization will tend towards dealing with any situation as expeditious as possible, and cares more about the results than the context. They have no problems using assassination, blackmail, and discrediting a target in order to accomplish their goals. It should be noted that such an organization can have moral reasons for this stance; MI6 is willing to do almost anything in defense of England, for example. New agents' conflicts are usually those involving their conscience (“Would you kill a four-year-old girl in order to save lives?”), whereas older agents are more worried if they still have a conscience; agents of such an organization are going to be world-weary and have some sort of vice that they engage in in order to feel alive. Sort of explains why James Bond has that issue with beautiful women...

A moralistic organization, however, is more interested in maintaining the high ground. The agents are going to tend to be more intelligent than more pragmatic agents, but they are also going to have more hurdles to deal with; after all, they'll need to allow for the various rights of the target, and will generally be seen as softer than more pragmatic agents. This means that they need to more circumspect than pragmatic agents, and will actually use the threat of using a more pragmatic organization to stop bad guys (“Deal with us and you might actually live!”). Also, they are more likely to use devices that have stunning options to slow down targets, and will gather more detailed evidence; the more pragmatic agent would just figure out a reason to shoot. Besides dealing with targets that want to kill them, all agents will have conflicts based on their conscience; besides having to deal with innocent victims, they will have to deal with possibly letting a dangerous criminal go. Suffice to say, some have the same addiction problems as pragmatic agents, just due to stress.

Although the stereotype is to use pragmatic organizations in dark stories and moralistic ones in comedies, they can easily be switched. The major concern you should have is what kind of point you are trying to make. A pragmatic organization is great if you are trying to make a point about people doing whatever they need to do, but can also make the point that sometimes you need to do hinky things in order to preserve things. It can also be used to show what happens when an organization takes itself too seriously.

A moralistic organization can be used to show that everyone has rights, and those rights take precedence over the group. It can also be used to point out that a rights-based enforcement system is ludicrous. Of course, if you just want a really friendly police system, this works as well. However, don't make the mistake that this can be a shallow system; sometimes there are good reasons for why it's been set up, and those reasons are very good.

Of course, you can always go with a middle ground (which is where most organizations seem to be), in which case your organization is basically one that allows rights whenever possible, but isn't afraid to shoot. You can also mix and match, where each agent makes their own decision on how pragmatic they are, or have an organization that has a specific unit that's very pragmatic, but the rest of the organization tends towards moralistic ends.

Next Up: Is your organization user-friendly?

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Some Do's and Dont's!

Here's a quick list so you know I'm thinking of you!


1)Have a good reason for any exception. I'm placing this hear as a first rule because each and every suggestion has this as an exception; you can do anything you want, as long as you have a good reason for it. Keep this in mind as you read each suggestion, and you should hear in your head a lot of times!

2) Diversity is key. I don't mean this in a strictly racial sense; you need a variety of powers and weaknesses. Each character needs to have their niche and speciality; a character that can be outdone by another character is going to be useless. By the same token, a common weakness is going to take your entire team out of action, and that's annoying to readers (not only is it basic manipulation, but it's going to ask the question of why aren't they taken out more often).

3)Avoid cliches, but don't run from them. This is the hardest thing to deal with; you're going to want to create something that's unique, but you can't avoid the basic cliches because they work . The obvious one is Spandex; from a practical perspective, they are help you market the characters, and, well, let's get real: If you had super-powers, and had to use them in combat situations, you'd either go armor (which also helps market the character), or in something that covered you while being comfortable. Spandex does that really well. And, better yet, your super-genius can make it into something that either mimics powers or is otherwise unaffected by them (useful for that character who is covered with acidic slime!).

4)Have fun! I can't stress this enough. Too many writers forget this, and so get burned out quickly. If you aren't enjoying it, then no one else is either. At the same time, don't do something you don't want to do simply to make your comic something more popular or profitable; ironically, that will almost always make your it less popular and harder to profit from. Follow your heart, and hope others will follow.

5)Always have someone with glasses. A personal preference, but I find that groups that have at least on character with glasses and/or goggles is much more interesting than one without that accessory. But that's just me...


1)Say that there is something you won't do. This limits your characters and your plot, usually artificially, and that's not a good thing. A lot of fantasy stories don't have elves; by advertising that, they may be favorites of elf-haters, but they usually replace elves with something similar or that takes their niche. Obvious stupid question: Did they actually eliminate elves? In the super-hero genre, you find comics that don't have costumes, secret identities, or world-shaking abilities; what fun is that? It also prevents you from have to be an apologist later on if you decide to introduce the banned subject. Don't do it in the beginning, and you won't have a problem later on.

2)Think that you require a pantheon. It may help to build your universe, but it's not necessary. You can have a character that is the only super-powered being, or at least the most advanced or experienced. For that matter, he could hunt down other powered characters. But don't think that you need a team that handles all of the heavy lifting; that can be just as limiting and harder to write.

3)All characters need powers. Consider Iron Man; he has no powers, and yet is able to keep up with the other Avengers. Batman? He's won every fight against Supes. Don't feel that you need to have every character having powers in order to have a great comic. Even Naruto has Rock Lee...

4)Avoid common origins. Although it irritates a lot of people, having a common origin liberates you in a lot of ways. You don't need to keep everyone's origin straight, you don't need to allow for different mechanisms, and you can leap straight into the story. And it gives you an excuse to have everyone join up and fight someone if the secret is to be revealed or if that common origin is threatened. This isn't to say that you need a common origin, just that you shouldn't avoid one because you were told that it sucks.

5)Obey the rules. It's your story! Not anyone else's; they aren't responsible for writing or illustrating it, and they don't know where you're going with it (if they do, there's problems!). Just remember that if you're going to break or bend them, understand why the rules exist in the first place.

Have fun!