The Following Blog Post is not an official writing style guide for the Marvel Database Wiki. Presently there isn't a writing style guide (even though there should be). This post is based on personal opinion and past writing experience. This is also a general guide and shouldn't be viewed as a complete list of all possible situations.
One thing that is sorely lacking here on the Wiki are proper issue summaries. Which is unfortunate, because if there were proper issue summaries then people who don't have comics could do research without actually having the comics. Either a summary page will be left blank (which, in my personal opinion, I find incredibly lazy. People spend hours adding character appearances when a new comic comes out but they can't be bothered to write a decent summary?)
In other situations, you get absolute garbage like this summary written for Spider-Man #11. At the time I used it as an example for this blog post it read:
"Spider-Man and Wolverine team-up to protect the flesh-eating creature called the Wendigo."
This is a shit summary. Sorry to use such harsh language, but it is awful. You have to put this into the perspective of the individual reading that summary. They may not know much of anything about the characters involved. Why are Spider-Man and Wolverine working to protect the Wendigo? Where is this happening? What about all the other characters listed in the appearances section? What did they do?
This is the biggest problem with contributions made to the wiki, users are writing as though the reader has an intimate knowledge with the characters. As a writer,YOU SHOULD NEVER ASSUME THE AUDIENCE KNOWS WHAT YOU ARE TALKING ABOUT. Considering how Marvel writes all of their comics in a way that someone can pick up an issue at random and have a good idea of what is going on, I am often surprised that contributors to this wiki don't take this approach when writing on this wiki.
(For the sake of clarity, I'll refrain from getting into putting in reference tags and other tagging issues and focus solely on composition)
Here is a breakdown on how I write the countless detailed issue summaries I've written over the past 12 years I've been contributing to the wiki:
- 1 Write Like Your Audience Doesn't Know the Subject Matter
- 2 Who, What, Where, Why and How
- 3 Write a Summary, Not a Book Report
- 4 The Opening Paragraph Needs to Set the Stage
- 5 Write Your Summary to Follow the Flow of the Story
- 6 Whenver Possible: Read Around the Story
- 7 But Don't Get Off Track (Stay in the Confines of the Story)
- 8 Suppliment Your Understanding
- 9 Avoid Slang and Nicknames to Start
- 10 Avoid Topical References
Write Like Your Audience Doesn't Know the Subject Matter
I know it sounds impossible, but there are some people who really don't know who Spider-Man is. Or at least, don't know enough about him other than what they saw in the movies. That said, you cannot assume that your audience in the know. So stop writing like they are. This alienates new readers and repeat visits. What's the point of having this Wiki if we can't explain things simplistically enough that people will come back.
Who, What, Where, Why and How
If you are writing an issue summary, you have to explain what the characters are doing, where, and why. This is basic storytelling.
Since most issue summaries have a listing of all the characters, places, and things in a given story, you already have the who, what, and where.
Let's use the appearance list for Amazing Spider-Man #318 which goes as this:
- Spider-Man (Peter Parker)
The Featured Character is going to have the most written about them. If you can't properly explain what they are doing, where, why and how they do something in the story, then you've failed at an issue summary. What is written about this character should encompass 90% of what is written in the issue summary.
One of the biggest failings of issue summaries is that they completely ignore the fact that most characters in the Marvel Universe have double identities and both aspects of the lives of these characters are often exploded during the course of the story. If you're only talking about what Spider-Man is doing in a story while in costume, and nothing about the moments he is not, you've just ignored up to 50% of the story.
- Mary Jane Watson Parker
- Harry Osborn
You also need to explain what the supporting characters are doing. Often they are involved in a secondary plot that is unfolding in that story. Regardless of how important you feel their goings-on are, you have to detail them as well. What is Mary Jane doing in this story? How does it relate to Spider-Man and his battle with the Scorpion? If there isn't any, what is the secondary plot that Mary Jane is involved in?
- Justin Hammer
Obviously, the antagonists should take up as much of the explanation of the story. You should treat the antagonists as equals compared to the featured characters. Not only do you have to transcribe both aspects of their personality, you also have to properly explain the conflict between the featured characters and their antagonists.
- Joy Mercado
- Lance Bannon
- General Chester Musgrave
- Sandy Kintzler
- Phillip Barnett
Lastly, the "Other Characters", although they may play a minor role in a story, they still do something that merits identification and mention. Perhaps you might not find their contribution to the story to be relevant, keep in mind there are people who could be writing an article about Lance Bannon. If you don't detail what Lance Bannon was doing in this story and they don't have access to the issue, congratulations, you just !@#$ed someone's research.
Write a Summary, Not a Book Report
A lot of summaries start with what I call "book report" tropes. Opening statements like "our story begins" and "in this issue". You know what that sounds like? It sounds like a bored kid giving a book report that they put together grudgingly.
I always refrain from writing a summary that appears someone dictating something they were forced to read and present to the class. Eliminate the image that you're dictating something you read. If you can write your summary like a short story, then it helps people visualize what happened in the story since the pictures are obviously absent.
The Opening Paragraph Needs to Set the Stage
With the above in mind, you need to be very specific about setting up what is going on in your opening paragraph. If it's a new story arc, you start by setting up what starts the events that eventually unfold. Even if it is as mundane as the Spider-Man swinging across the city minding his own business.
If the story is a continuation from another issue, you should write at least a few sentences in your opening paragraph explaining what led up to those events. You can't assume your audience has read the previous story or will go back and read the issue summary about it. It should encapsulate the climax of the previous story and set the stage for what is happening in the going story.
Write Your Summary to Follow the Flow of the Story
There is nothing worse than explaining the story in the wrong order. To write a coherent summary, you need to follow the flow of the story you are summarizing. This way the audience reading your summary knows the order in which events happen.
This can be tricky when you are dealing with a story that takes place during multiple time periods or utilizes flashbacks. I typically use sub-headings in the summary such as Then and Now to detail a story that constantly shifts between different periods of time. Works well with any story like that, especially if they're written by Brian Michael Bendis who was notorious for a story that jumps ahead and backward over the course of weeks or days.
However, if the narrative of a flashback is one character telling the story to another, I usually write it in such a way and have all of the flashback moments in italics so people know the difference.
Whenver Possible: Read Around the Story
As you are well aware, the Marvel Universe is a web of continuity that spreads out all over the place. Most of the time, a story doesn't usually reference much outside of what's going on in the Marvel Universe during the time of publication.
My recommendation is that before you even start writing an issue summary, try to read as many of the stories around the one you are summarizing.
When I write a summary, I usually read all the featured character's main books that were published at the time. That way I know the relevant events that are happening in the other areas of their lives. I also try to read any relevant cross-overs or stories that were published years after the fact. The best way of writing the best summary possible is being able to know everything that has happened outside of that story that still have some relevance to the story.
The simplest explanation is taking a major story arc, let's say Maximum Carnage for example. You should probably read every part of Maximum Carnage before writing a summary about any one issue in that arc. Using that arc as an example there are many characters who guest star in that series. Captain America, Cloak and Dagger, Dathlok, Iron Fist, Firestar, the Black Cat, Nightwatch, and a handful of others. It also helps to read the comics that the characters appeared in around the time these stories come out so you can better understand any reference that may be made that may relate to that character but not to the present stories as a whole.
But Don't Get Off Track (Stay in the Confines of the Story)
If you are writing issue summaries for old comics, often times you may be detailed information that may be no longer relevant or changed due to future revelations. The best examples of this are the identity of the Vision and Scarlet Witch's parents and the nature of their powers. Since the 1960s, their parentage have been changed four different sets of parents. Likewise until the mid 2010s, they were assumed to have been mutants.
That said, if you are writing a story that was published prior to those revelations, you shouldn't be specifying them in the primary summary of the story. this is something that is more befitting of a reference.
Likewise, when there is a passing reference to an event that has previously happened. You should mention it in as simplest of terms (and in a way that makes sense to the reader) Going into great detail in the summary distracts from the actual story. If there is more to explain, you should put it in a reference.
Here's an example:
After battling Nuklo, Quicksilver and Scarlet Witch check to see if their alleged father, the Whizzer, is okay.
You explain what's going on in the context of the story while noting that there is more going on. It gives you the avenue to explain something in more detail without bogging down the flow of the summary. A reference is basically an event that is irrelevant to the story at hand, but is still important for readers to know.
Suppliment Your Understanding
When reading a particular story, I always make a point of reading the most relevant and more current entries of the Official Handbook of the Marvel Universe and the Marvel Index that pertain to a given story. This helps when it comes to figuring out references for later revelations, or seeing how Marvel officially addresses a situation where a topical reference happens. It also passes as a decent alternative if you can't fill all the gaps with your personal comic book collection.
Avoid Slang and Nicknames to Start
This applies to the "don't assume your audience knows what you know" rule at the start. If you're writing about Spider-Man, call him by whatever identity he is operating in at the time. If he's in costume call him Spider-Man, if he does not call him Peter Parker. Not only should you explain a costume change (it's a sentence at least) then make those assumptive leaps later on. The same should be said about calling a character by nicknames to start. Call him Peter Parker and/or Spider-Man first before you start referring to him as Spidey, or the Wall-Crawler.
Another example is J. Jonah Jameson. At least call him by his full name the first time you mention him before you refer him as just Jonah, or Jameson, or (ugh) JJJ (which is really lazy by the way. Typing has been a skill base that has been around for over 100 years, it's time to learn a basic life skill.)
Avoid Topical References
First of all this and this. Although I said above that we do not have style per-se, we do try to use a similar style to the Official Handbook of the Marvel Universe. In order to write issue summaries, you're going to have to understand how topical references and the sliding timescale work.
There is nothing more annoying than reading a summary that says that Flash Thompson fought in Vietnam. That was a topical reference. Stop stating it literally, explain it in a reference. You are dating the summary, you are also providing confusing information that someone will write in the character summary page.
That should cover some of the common things I see (other than obvious things like spelling and grammar, which I admit I am sometimes a victim of myself) But if you want to write decent issue summaries start with the above.
If you can only bother to write a few sentences about a story, perhaps your efforts should be focused elsewhere.
- At the time of this story, the Whizzer believes that Quicksilver and the Scarlet Witch are his children, as revealed in Giant-Size Avengers #1. However, years later, this was revealed to be false in Vision and the Scarlet Witch #4. Their true parentage was not revealed until years later in Scarlet Witch Vol 2 #4.