The character spotlights are by far the site’s most popular section, and also they happen to be the hardest entries to write. Not only do you need to have access to most of the issues that the character in question has appeared in, you also have to make a choice which appearances you consider important enough to get mentioned, and which you deem unnecessary. Add to that the problem to get it all in correct order and some basic skill in writing to make for an interesting read, and you might gain an idea how much dedication is put into this section.
Every Spotlight On... entry is made up of several parts – Vital Stats, Biography, Issue Checklist, Costume Gallery and Alternate Versions. If you eventually contribute an entry for this section, you would have to provide the text aspects for all of these pages, except for the Vital Stats section.
This is the main aspect of each spotlight and will cover several pages. Just like with the issue summaries, the histories are to written with a 3rd person voice, but that‘s where the similarities end. The entire text is to be in past tense, as it is some character’s personal history that’s being described, something that already has happened to them. For the same reason, the events are to be in chronological order (opposing to the order in which the original issues were released), that also applies to memory and flashback scenes. In that regard, the Marvel Chronology Project is always a helpful resource, though even they happen to get something wrong every now and then, or an issue has been left out. Meaning, you still would have to back-check the correctness of the chronological order they present.
Rather important is that it’s not exactly the chronological order in which the events happen, but the order in which the character in question learns of them. For the most part, there’s no difference, however sometimes a subplot that later becomes important to the character runs parallel to some other events in his life, or maybe even earlier. This subplot, though, will only be mentioned by the time the character is directly affected by it.
As already mentioned above, when writing the spotlight, you also need to make a choice what to include or not. Basically, every plot/story elements that lead to a change either in the character’s powers, personality, their membership in a group, their profession or their personal relationships (friends and lovers) should be covered.
Something that most contributers found rather troublesome with their first submissions was the “flow“ of the text. You need to get away from the issue-by-issue approach, which is great for doing character research prior to your writing, and instead do it plot-by-plot. The comic books usually end with cliffhangers, at a high point in the story. The text in the Spotlight On ... entry is the other way around; here one paragraph describes an entire plot – start, climax and end. The next paragraph then will deal with another aspect or event in the person‘ life. Each fact that you add in the character’s history needs to be backed up with an issue number where you draw it from. These issues are to appear in brackets, right after the paragraphs talking about them.
The Issue Checklist is kind of an extract of the Biography. Only the really important issues are mentioned, with a very brief mentioning of what happens. You don’t have to provide the links to the cover images, just the issue numbers and short descriptions. This too is in chronological order, but in present tense, as it’s a look on each specific issue and what happens in it.
Describing clothes is not everyone’s speciality, but please give it at least a try. If your descriptions are lacking, though, we’ll have our queen of Issue Summaries – the one-and-only Ruth, take a look at them and provide some more appropriate terms.
In this section however, we’d like our contributers to be reliable. We’d like to have a description of each relevant counterpart of the character, the only problem being which counterparts are being considered relevant. Basically, we go for all counterparts from the Age of Apocalypse, Mutant X and the Ultimate universe. Then there’s also some alternate future, such as the DOFP, Earth X or the MC2 universe, where some of our current day characters are still alive and well. Besides these, we also go for counterparts in the Exiles series of certain issues of What If. However, to make sure that the Alternate Versions pages don’t get too crowded, of these people we will only use versions that were full members of Weapon X or the Exiles, or those that are drastically different from the main reality version and/or had a special function in a storyline.
How to become a Spotlight On ... writer:
Okay, by reading this far, you have already take the first step. The next would be for you to take some time and think it through if you are really up to the task, and which character(s) you would like to write a spotlight about. Considering past experiences, I wouldn’t go for such characters you have extreme feelings about – may they be good or bad. It’s understandable that you’d like to share your respect/joy/admiration for character X with the audience, however it might also cloud your judgement when it comes to deciding what parts to keep and where to make the cut. Likewise, you despising the character might make its way into the text, by it becoming rushed and boring.
But, let’s assume you have made up your mind, and decided on a small number of characters that you could and would like to provide a Spotlight for. Well, then’s the time to drop Dean Clayton a mail. He’ll check whether this character spotlight is already worked on by some other contributor or whether it‘s on hold for some future Event Month concept. Also, he’ll help you to identify which costumes and Alternate Versions should be mentioned.
To make sure that you have gotten the hang of writing spotlights, and that you are headed in the right direction, you will be asked to only write the first two or three paragraphs, and to send them in as a sample of your work. It would be rather annoying both for you and the editor, if a fundamental error (like the wrong tense) is only discovered once everything is finished, and the entire piece would have to be re-written.
An image can say more than a thousand words, and when you compare the plain text to the final version of a spotlight entry, you’ll see how much truth that saying carries. Fortunately, you don’t have to provide these images, picture scanning and arrangement is already covered for this section. However, you are welcome to make suggestions. If you want certain images to appear next to your text, please write such notes into the text, best in a different text color. Please mark each such reference with issue, page and panel numbers. Same goes for the opening image on the Vital Stats page, or the costume gallery pictures. You know of a useful panel, just point the way.
Finally, the spotlight entries are updated in semi-regular intervals, approximately every 18-24 months. Sounds like a long time, but that’s only circa twenty-five newly released appearances, so only a small fraction compared to up to 40 years of comic book history these characters have on their backs. Basically, these updates are already covered by the section’s regular contributers, as they turned out to be rather reliable, and in most cases happen to be the ones who originally wrote the entries – so there’ll be no change in voice or tone. Applications for providing these updates are reviewed on a case by case basis