On Writing: Having a Message without being “on the nose”

One of the particular struggles I have with writing is that I feel like I want to have much more significant messages, but other than crossing my fingers and hoping the individual story carries some sort of emergent theme organically any of my attempts to write with a message either comes across as preachy nonsense or really contrived characterizations.

And as we know such writing tends to put readers off. I don’t think people like to be preached to as a general rule, even if the message is an agreeable one I think it breaks the spell of fiction, there is too much of the authors belief seeping through the story for a reader to enjoy.

So I’ve been scrounging around some resources and reflecting on the topic and come up with some ideas for how to have message without being ‘on the nose’

Here are 15 of our favorite memes from this week!

Using secondary characters

One of the subtle but invaluable tips from Save the Cat! Writes a Novel is to use secondary characters’ dialogue to communicate the MCs lessons and changes, a simple example being rather than have an MC state “I’m a selfish pig” get another character to do it!

While it seems like a bit of a cheaty McCheat way of inserting themes or messages into a work I think the strength of using secondary characters to communicate is the reader naturally sees their input differently to a Main Character. An MC who spouts off is typically hard to relate to, and as mentioned above can be very obvious is just expressing the authors opinions.

Secondary characters however can be presented as a less is more approach. Now there is still a risk of being ‘on the nose’ with secondary characters, a rather obvious technique is to have characters whose views are meant to be WRONG have terrible things happen to them and/or get paired with ugly character traits, for example if you want to express to your reader that environmentalists are bad its pretty obvious if you write a bunch of hippie dippie or terrorist characters with Green views.

What you can do however, if say you want to sneak in a message that lying is bad, is show a subplot were a well-rounded by lying secondary character does suffer the consequences of their behaviour. Probably a bad example because disception backfiring is a common character point that does actually work pretty well for MCs (see Shakespeare)

The Message Doesn’t have to be the Main Plot

This is rather counter-intuitive, after all, if you want to write a story with a message it kinda seems like you should be making that message a vital part of the plot and characterization right?

I’m not so sure.

In Lord of the Rings, (actually contradicting my earlier point a little) Frodo Baggins ends his character arc with a strong message of pacifism, which is kind of drowned out by Aragon, Pippin, Merry etc celebrated the defeat of the Dark Lord (oh Spoilers I suppose).

Also that message isn’t a major part of the conflict leading to the success of the heroes in the story, the main thrust of Sam and Frodo’s journey is their force of will and goodness to sacrifice all to get that ring destroyed. Frodo’s mercy does enter into the equation as he spares Smeagal, but ultimately there is a message there that isn’t inserted directly into the main story.

And of course Lord of the Rings is technically filled with messages and emergent themes, so is probably a bit overwhelming to try and study for advice on the subject!

My point is though that usually when it comes to a MC and their plot-long character progression we’re usually looking for a more personal struggle, something relatable and broad such as being brave, loyal, sacrificing oneself, putting love first, honesty, or you know, getting that serial killer before they get you. That’s what readers are really turning pages for, and its OK to have messages embedded throughout the story NOT the main conflict.

That might seem a little sneaky or even covert, but that’s not my intention to advocate. Particularly of novels, part of the purpose of fiction is to meander and explore widely, to make an imitation of life and sometimes in life our lessons aren’t paired with a storyesque conflict, its something quiet that we realize on the journey somewhere else.

My next to points kind of converge together so finally..

Showing not Telling

This cliche piece of writing advice is usually dolled out for character emotion and action, however its equally important for your messages as well. While the above advice is more in the ‘telling ‘ vein, its far more powerful (and subtle) to show a message rather than just tell or espouse it. This can get very tricky as you don’t want to overwhelm your scenes with action purposed towards your message, but I think it can be done. Let’s say you want to communicate that democracy is better than dictatorship, you can show that through some character’s group interaction style, selecting a couple of characters to represent the two ideas. You don’t need to show a country run by a dictator full on failing and a democratic one forever flourishing (not only is that on the nose its hard to demonstrate in a good story)

Which sort brings me to my convergent point Exploring not Preaching

I think ultimately even if you believe your points absolutely, there is a counter-intuitive process where messages that are presented and explored open-mindedly are often seen as more powerful than a absolutist presentation. This is reflected in real life too, where we are far more likely to resist and defend against hard-line arguments (even if technically the arguments are rational and true) and more likely to accept and consider softer presentations.

It’s because a softer approach allows us to toy with the idea in our heads before becoming more likely to accept them. As I mentioned above fiction is in part an attempt to imitate life, and in life we are bombarded with messages and opinions. Not saying we should attempt to bombard readers with even more messages! But rather we appreciate fiction that allows us the space to consider and process messages rather than having ideas thrust in our faces.

While it’s true that some successful writers have managed to have, in some cases extremely, overt and in-your-face thematic messages, for the vast majority of cases works that preach, or force ideas at people are rejected. Yet having important messages and themes is a key part of why stories are so important, so I think its an important topic to consider!

For me, I still struggle with the subject, and for most of my stories I “retcon” messages and themes based on what seems to happen with the personal stories of my characters, although I still hope to brainwash write stories with more significance in the future!

 

What are your thoughts on stories with messages?

Do you write with a message?

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Writing Amnesia: a risky trope

After recently watching Captain Marvel, I’ve been reflecting on the relatively common fiction trope of amnesia. Specifically that is when main characters have a piece of or indeed their entire past wiped from their memory, and a significant if not entirely of their story is about trying to discover or rediscover their lost memory.

As a side note its a particularly at odds trope with reality, amnesia (as depicted in most fiction) is not a particularly common occurrence, especially not as a tidy difficulty where the ‘facts’ of one’s past are obscured yet much of the persons character is intact especially without any other neurological difficulties. Oddly the portrayal in the film Memento where the MC cannot form new long term memories, is closer to ‘real life’ amnesia, however because the trope of a characters losing their past is so common in fiction the story of Memento seems like the outlandish one.

View our entire collection of image quotes that you can save into your jar and share with your friends: Don't lend people money, it gives them amnesia.

Why is amnesia a popular trope?

I believe the trope is common and popular because its a bit of an instant mystery for the story, we automatically see a persons past as important for their character, and not knowing said past creates an immediate problem to be solved. Amnesia also creates a bit of a ‘blank-check’ for a writer and creating tension, because their is a gap in the established backstory for a character, you can always throw in something from their past, without much fear of inconsistency (although more on this later as I think its a double-edged technique)

So why is amnesia “risky”

On reflection I think there are some real writing risks with using amnesia as a plot device, which I will list out below. I’ve called these risks, because I don’t think they definitively cancel amnesia as a plot-point, they are more cautions.

Playing with the past

In general good fiction moves forwards – backstory and flashbacks are also tricky techniques that are generally best used sparingly and wisely to maintain a sense of forward momentum and a story happening in the ‘now.’ Having an amnesia missing past storyline almost guarantees that the story will be mired in the past. That’s not to say that readers don’t care about characters histories (they do) but its hard to make a characters past significant enough to drive a story forwards when intuitively backstory is something that flavours the current story as opposed to completely drive it.

Oddly unrelatable

As we writers all know, main characters are supposed to be relatable. Now this is totally my opinion, however amnesia story-lines are inherently difficult to relate to. Don’t get me wrong, I think that most people want to know their own past, and put in a situation of not remembered would want to. However for the most past, the sort of forgetfulness we suffer is trying to remember a name just before we introduce someone, or the answer to an obvious test question. It’s hard to really comprehend what it would be like to miss large chunks of one’s personal history, furthermore most amnesia story-lines involve a high level of motivation and effort on behalf of a MC either to find out their past and/or pursue the plot around them and there is a catch-22 in this: not knowing said past, its hard to get behind a motivation to discover it or act in spite of it.

Usually for MC’s we find ourselves rooting for them because they try and fight for good, or secure a relationship with their fated lover, or escape evil and so forth. Things that we can imagine ourselves doing. I’m sure most of us would be curious about a lost past, but not enough to risk life and limb (which most fictional characters do)

Also backstory/pasts are a powerful way of communicating character to a reader. With a gap readers often feel a little cheated or at risk settling on how they feel about a character. As I said above, while a blank slate of a past can be a useful tool in fiction its a double edged blade as the lack of backstory can leave a reader feeling like the character is equally lacking.

Hard to satisfy

I think we all know that writing is quite hard, particularly pulling together multiple plot and character points together in a satisfying conclusion. Using amnesia hamstrings a writer by forcing them to incorporate that lost past into the story. They need to make the reader not only care about the lost memories, said memories also have to be pretty relevant to the ongoing story, and while it may seem like an easy source of twists, the potential of simply annoying the reader is high. I think readers have a sense that the author does have a bit of a magic hat in the form of a forgotten past and feels cheated if anything about that past becomes a magic wand to fix the current tensions, feels too on the nose or just generally doesn’t deliver on the expectations setup by the story.

So can it be done right?

Personally I think this trope can be used really well, it’s just about avoiding the pitfalls and above and taking some things into consideration:

Who knows what: Most amnesia story lines force the reader/viewer to experience the discover of the past alongside the character, however careful use of dramatic irony (the reader knowing stuff the character does not) can actually strengthen the story.

For example letting the reader know a piece of information about the lost past first, and letting them see the MC flounder or make bad decisions can be a good source of tension (or a frustration, be careful).

My thoughts are that if the reader and MC discovers their past at the same time it needs to be well crafted to fit with the story, the reader will intuitively care more about story relevant elements not necessarily points that the MC will (e.g. who their best friend in school was)

Meshing with the story: One challenge is portraying amnesia in a way that doesn’t just seem convenient, but also is relevant. Even if the main thrust of a story is an MC trying to discover their past there needs to be some other motivations and goals in there too. E.g. let’s say a character feels they cannot commit to a marriage until they find out about their past, said past has got to in some way relate to their relationship goals. It seems like common sense as I write it but the reveal needs to have an impact – and preferably not just a melodramatic ‘oh I’ve done bad things in the past but have been a good person the entire novel so its actually pretty irrelevant’ type thing.

The Reveal: finally I think lost pasts need to be handled carefully, a readers suspension of disbelief can only go so far, memories rushing back when a person returns to a location, dream sequences, minor characters who are happy to explain in great detail are all common cliches that if not presented well can remind a reader that the author made all this up, and it actually wasn’t much of a challenge to thread it together because they just made it all up!

 

Anywho, need to go to work – what are your thoughts on amnesia tropes? Am I too harsh, do you like memory loss plot-points?

Let me know!

Captain Marvel

SPOILERS AHEAD, BEWARE

The iconic Captain Marvel

I’m not going to lie, a big part of me watching Captain Marvel was really just looking out for hints and links to Infinity War and Endgame.

The movie itself on its pure ownsome is actually really hard to review.

Captain Marvel was pretty damn awesome and epic enough to pull the movie along nicely.

On the other hand elements of chemistry felt a little forced, Fury and Marvel were instant sass buddies which happened all a bit quick, as did the not particularly unpredictable mid-point twist. I think part of the problem is the whole amnesia plotline thing. It’s always hard to pull off unless we’re attached to some elements of the character’s life outside of their current memory. Also the whole “she’s the weapon” thing didn’t sit well, would a relatively advanced Kree race really allow her such free reign and/or such a poor plot to track down the Skrulls?

The humour of the movie was pretty all over the show – for every great gag, there was another that undermined the action, or didn’t sit too well with the tension of the scene, sometimes the smart talk landed, other times it just felt out of place.

Unfortunately for my tie-in focus it didn’t really get that satisfied, the appearance of “Who?!?” and Ronan the Accuser really just made who the bad-guys were more obvious, and the credits scene started great but kind of ended with jump-awkward moment that didn’t really hype anything (IMHO)

Finally there has been complains of retconning the MCU, given all the events it feels difficult to believe that Thor showing up was the catalyst for the Phase II mentioned in the Avengers and Avengers one feeling like the first threat to Earth, the film felt a lot like a Men in Black episode with a sort of silly take on aliens etc, rather than the the more melodramatic MCU we’re used to.

I dunno, I’ll let the film percolate a little longer and see what other have to say…

On Writing: Stakes

Ok you guys have probably heard too much about Marvel Movies this year, so its time to get back into thoughts on writing.

4' Bamboo Stakes - Plant Support & Cages

Too much?

A helpful guide for preparing, cooking and serving steak. - Imgur

Ok I’ll stop now

Sorry, sorry its a been a week so my brain is getting silly (I can’t even remember which stake to write now)

Stakes is an area of writing that I feel is well known, but often neglected. We’ve all heard about raising the stakes, making the stakes real and so forth, but I feel there isn’t too much advice on how to really make a reader worry about whats going to happen in a story. Most advice around the place is more about how to make a scene tense, which is obviously an integral part of the subject, but also creating a sense of what might happen as an outcome of a scene is super-important. So I paid some attention to some books and movies and this is what I’ve noticed about stakes:

First of all some common mistakes, or tropes that miss the mark:

Genre confused stakes

This is a little tricky to explain, as one would think that most ‘stakes’ are fairly common, after all death, as an example, is dire in any genre of story right?

However I think this ties into suspension of disbelief – whatever style or genre of story one writes there is a kind of implicit contract with the reader to accept the story as real for the sake of enjoying it, part of that contract is that whatever threatens the characters or the story as a whole fits into that believable framework.

An example to make this less gobbledegook, in romance stories sometimes some sort of life-threatening situation arises for the hero or heroine. That can work just fine, however if the issue is that the writer hopes that fear of the MC’s death will raise the tension on its own they are likely to be wrong. Most readers know they they haven’t picked up a romance novel just to have a character randomly suffer and die 2/3 through.

The reason I called this genre-specific though, is that I’m not just talking about plot-armour making main characters feel invincible, but also that whatever ‘stake’ is proposed needs to fit with what fits with the story and genre that has been established otherwise it automatically feels like its not going to happen anyway!

Fake Stakes

The second thing I noticed about “miss-stakes” (can’t believe I only just thought of that one) is we are often ‘told’ some stakes not ‘shown’ them. An obvious example of this is B-grade horror where often a bunch of characters that are about to get slaughtered talk about their backstories to try and get some sense of empathy, the most obvious attempt for heart-strings being people with children at home or an expecting wife.

Interestingly I don’t think the problem with this sort of thing isn’t that we need to be ‘shown’ the stakes, because backstory is often pretty boring whether its just revealed in dialogue or shown in flashback or prologue, its actually an odd trait I noticed about reading (or watching) a story that as readers we are somewhat selfish or perhaps more accurately self-involved with a story, than affected by actual events. Which brings me onto my key example where I’ll flip into what makes stakes ‘real’ or not.

Melodrama and “in-story” stakes

The final error I see in stakes is a ubiquitous problem, that is having or threatening events that seem dramatic for the sheer quality of the event, death, dismemberment, divorce. As we should all hopefully know is what makes events significant and powerful in a story is the impact on the character(s) and their journey, but there is a subtle point about stakes I want to highlight.

The most powerful stakes are ones that will impact the story going forward. 

Now to some that will sound like a no-brainer, or seem like a simple point. But ultimately what is at threat at any scene or turning point is the reader’s experience of the story. The reason that backstory families, side-quest stakes or whatever often fail to worry a reader is what we are really thinking about is our own experience with the story coming up.

So really we don’t care about the MC’s love-interest getting kidnapped, unless we’ve been treated to some scenes earlier in the story that were a tonne of fun, and their death means no more scenes like that. Or even better there are some unresolved issues between them, again their death leading to those issues being unresolved.

Game of Thrones is well-known for being horribly fatal, but the truth is there are plenty of books filled with mortality, even of main characters, but GRR Martin’s deaths are hugely significant for the story, it’s not just “oh I like that guy” it’s “holy crap we’re not going to see X happen then are we?”

Now I’m not talking just about character death here though, break-ups, failure, loss, change there are multiple stakes to be held in stories and the most powerful are those that a. are likely to happen within the context of the story, and b. if they happen will change the story-world for the reader.

So I was going to waffle a little further about how perhaps to raise stakes, however I think my main insight of the day is this idea around including the reader in the stakes is my main point, so I will leave it at that for now…

 

How do you raise the stakes in your stories?

 

Do you have any other examples of common errors in “staking”?

 

Marvel Marathon: Ant Man and The Wasp

 

 

ant man & wasp fanart | ant man fan art | Tumblr

I’m not sure if I already said this – but back when I decided to work through this Marvel Marathon I thought I was perhaps being a bit greedy starting at Xmas, yet here we are just as Captain Marvel is about to come out, and I’ve only just caught up. It’s kind of hard to put all of that movie material into perspective.

Anyway so getting to Ant-man and The Wasp, I can’t work out whether this movie’s release was genius or a little contrived and tone-deaf. Released after the multiple gut punches of Infinity War Ant-Man is set a few smidgens prior to the War and the final credit scene brings us up to the ‘snap.’

On the one hand its a nice breath of humour after the dark romp, on the other its hard not to feel a little underwhelmed. There are plenty of good gags, some really good character tensions, for example Hank and Hope are really hacked off at Scott for his antics in Germany getting them into trouble. Ultimately it feels like a bit of a “side-quest” that sets up some world-building for Endgame (something something quantum realm although I hope its not really an integral part).

What it does bring into question is will the MCU stand up under its own pressure? Will any future movie stand up to the epic double event of Infinity War and Endgame?

Well I guess let’s get through Captain Marvel first! I’m interested to see whether jumping further back in time (the 90s was it really that long ago????) will create a similar problem of struggling to maintain tension – at any rate I guarantee the analysis will be extremely thorough and avoiding EndGame Youtube videos will become a full-time occupation.

Marvel Marathon: Infinity War!

Holy Cow

 

[Infinity War Spoilers Fanart] by vivalski (tissue warning; x-post from r/marvelfans)

I fully expected to have to take my time getting through Infinity War, as I’d essentially had to watch the past few MCU movies as a series, however the movie is just too damn good, I did have to break the film up across a weekend day but there was no way I could sleep not finishing it!

This is the 3rd time I’ve watched Infinity War and there is still stuff I’m picking up on, so prepare for a long winded post…

The crazy thing is I remember when Infinity War was first coming and I made big assumptions about what the movie would be like – essentially I thought that the ‘story’ would be basically collecting all the different good guys (in Wakanda according to the trailer) while Thanos approached and then there would be the big battle and whatever. So I found it quite cunning and mind-boggling how the writers managed to split the movie up the way they did.

Especially, and this still does my head in TONY AND STEVE HAVEN’T MADE UP YET, are they going make up – what if like one of them gets killed in the meantime, Tony almost did ARG.

One has to appreciate the torture that we’re being put through on this – it was really interesting that when Civil War happened, Steve wrote that letter and gave Tony the phone and they though everything was fine again. NOPE. Just some interesting thoughts along the way – in Spiderman Tony ships a prototype shield for Cap’n America, this was after the events of Civil War so he’s still working on Cap related things, also while people give Tony a lot of crap for hesitating to ring Steve at the beginning of Infinity War can we just acknowledge that, a. he was actually about to before the space-ship appeared AND he was walking around with the cellphone in his pocket the whole time he didn’t go collect it from the Avengers headquarters or anything, he’s been walking around with the cell to Captain America for two years.

The the otherside of the coin it’s not as clear how Steve feels about the situation, he obviously still respects Tony greatly, calling him Earth’s greatest defender. To be honest I almost care less about Thanos and the dusted people, just let us see Tony and Steve in the same room dammit!

Anyway back to everything else going on in this film, I’m not sure if my eyes are getting old (Actually pretty sure its this film) the action is absolutely frenetic, but actually pretty good. To draw another contrast I initially preferred the action sequences in Civil War to Infinity, in part I suspect because the Russo brothers indulged and drew out the action, whereas with tonnes of material to cram into Infinity War everything is all go, but once your brain has a chance to catch up Infinity War is pretty hard core, its kind of hard to put into words the extreme change in tone and darkness – I did note working through the films that Civil War was a step towards the more grim and serious, and Ragnarok despite the jokes was very deadly, but Infinity War – right from the first scene is downright fatalistic. It’s a pretty bold move from the studio, and one I personally applaud because its a hella intense film, but one I can understand kinda freaked many people out on the topic, especially given that Thanos essentially tortures his way through the plot and stabs one of the most beloved superheroes through the gut.

Speaking of tone one small bugbear is that I felt that Infinity War pushed relationships a little too hard, back in Age of Ultron the whole Hawkeye has a family thing felt very forced, and in Infinity War we have Tony talking about children with Pepper, Vision and Witch hooking up, and Gamorah and Starlord too, (personally I found Loki and Thor to be more heart-breaking) but at some point its like “we get it this isn’t going to go well” I hate to be a hater but my feeling was with such limited screen time for all characters they could have found some other emotional tags, for example isn’t the theme of this films about found families, shouldn’t Starlord have been gushing about all of the Guardians (Ok the Gamorah stuff is very vital for a later plot point). Anyway its a small rant.

Finally what is really cool about this moment in MCU history is that no-one, NO-ONE really knows what the heck is going to happen. We’ve had Empires striking back, and cliff-hanger films before, but I don’t think any series has had such an audacious conclusion to a film before. The internet and my friends are rife with theories and for once in recent trailer history, the teasers give almost nothing away.

I’m almost terrified of seeing Endgame because it seems like nothing can quite top the 2.5 hour build-up of Thanos winning!

For what its worth I still think the most likely solution is that the original avengers will hold an infinity stone each (to their ultimate demise) as per the mythology of Guardians of the Galaxy, however who knows whether that would be to reverse the ‘snap’ defeat Thanos or what! I sort of can’t believe Marvel released a trailer for the next Spiderman film but somehow managed to reveal nothing about the conclusion to Endgame, its not even clear if it could be a bit of a prequel or something…

Anyway I still have Ant-man and the Wasp to go, and then off to see Captain Marvel, I think I’m most interested to see how the momentum works with Cap’n Marvel. People will be so desperate to see Endgame, will Marvel be a frustration or a welcome balm until the next month?

Marvel Marathon: Black Panther

So I have a major problem with Black Panther…

Be_Biscoita / Pantera Negra

And that largely is I honestly cannot think of anything meaningful to say other than various gushing and fanboying about this film!

The funny thing is prior to Black Panther appearing in Civil War (in which he is awesome too) I didn’t really care much for the character, he seemed kind of blah in terms of powers and the whole he is a King and a Superhero just seemed kind of Over the Top,

Yet Marvel pull it off, not just suspending our disbelief in Wakanda and the Black Panther but actually creating a compelling storyline both personally and politically, while still being a ‘superhero’ film.

I don’t even want to get into the cultural phenomenon of the film, other than to say again I love every aspect of it, not just the celebration of cultures often not celebrated in film, but the full blown embrace of issues of race from a Wakandan perspective. I think its fair to say that some of the issues raised in Black Panther could have been risky especially for crisp and squeaky Disney owned Marvel Studios but they threw a story out that challenged, but did not confront, that prompted thought, not conflict.

Of all the Marvel films I feel like Black Panther has the most flawless story, a flawed hero, a sympathetic but scary villain and overall filled with heart.

 

 

Marvel Marathon: Thor Ragnarok

 

One thing to be said of Thor Ragnarok and of more recent MCU movies, like Spiderman Homecoming, is that Marvel is putting the effort in to keep things fresh

 

1,781 curtidas, 1 comentários - Marvel Cinematic Universe (@marveldaily270) no Instagram: “My spoiler free review of Thor Ragnarok Well... First of all the heart of the movie is the music…”

Taika Waititi certainly puts a unique spin on the Thor movies, as other reviewers have discussed changing the Thor character from an arrogant and aloof Asguardian, to well, mostly a doof. Taiki also turns the humour up to at least 11, which shouldn’t be a surprise for a Marvel movie, yet somehow manages to cram even more funnies into any already humour heavy series of movies.

Which is I guess where I’ll start my review. Thor Ragnarok has to be the only movie I’ve seen stretched out by humour. Most MCU movies have frenetic jokes crammed into the action and story, but Thor Ragnarok actually feels like joke sequences and moments are given such high priority it increases the screen-time. And I confess, as loyal as I feel to Taika as a kiwi I do feel the approach to humour is scattershot. There are some absolute gems in this film, Thor throwing a bottle(?) at Loki’s forehead to check he’s not an illusion, imagining what Hulk’s arrival must have looked like to the Asguardians:

Nonetheless there were many moments that I felt the energy of the scenes were sapped by endless jokes, or gags that got in the way. The movie does have heart, the scenes with Odin are poignant – and its super awesome to see Thor go full “Lord of Thunder”

Also once you peel away the jokes and the boss action (it’s kind of weird, the first time I watched this movie I didn’t really appreciate the action or the visuals but the fight scenes are really cool) the story of the film is a little flakey, the Asguard scenes with Hela feel sort of unreal, there is a failure to capture the sense of a whole realm being torn apart by Hela – I just had this weird thought about Galadrial taking the one ring and Hela being the outcome.

All in all, the best thing about this movie, like every other Thor movie, is the brother relationship between Loki and Thor, somehow with each movie the writers manage to deepen and move their relationship on to something different. I love the final moment where Loki catches the lid(?) Thor throws at him, proving he is planning to stay.

Next up Black Panther!

Marvel Marathon: Spiderman Homecoming

Back in Christmas I thought I was being a little overeager starting my Marvel rewatch so soon, however now that the year is in full throttle I think I was about right. Essentially I had to watch Spiderman as a short TV series in 20-30 minutes blocks!

Spiderman is an interesting one in the context of the whole MCU, of course we have the whole ‘rights’ debacle, but also, similar to Civil War I feel like this was a movie that Marvel put a lot of effort into – not saying that some of the others were low effort – just that between wanting to get Spidey right in yet another reboot, superhero fatigue creeping around, and some fairly heavy complaints about casting choices in Dr Strange I think that Spiderman Homecoming was a high priority for Marvel Movies.

And I think overall they succeeded, watching through all the films, Spiderman feels very fresh (quite an achievement as film number 16) Tom Holland and the character writing for Peter Parker is brilliant. I usually don’t like secret identity plotlines, or superheroes trying to balance their ‘real lives’ because it comes across as cheesy, yet I think Homecoming plays this game with just enough humour and fun that its not a drag. Not to mention the scene where Peter discovers the vulture is Liz’s father and we have a tense car ride to Homecoming where we see Vulture work out Peter is Spiderman – it’s a almost psychological thriller-esque style of moment which is unusual in an MCU but probably one of my favourite Marvel scenes ever.

So between the meme-y and awkward humour there isn’t too much to hate about Spiderman. I confess the action gets a little tired in the film, I sort of felt like once a few gags were made about Spidey having to run across a sports field, using the wrong webs etc, the action always devolved into Spidey clinging to walls (a difficult tension to sell as wall-climbing is a superpower so like we don’t know how powerful it is) and then webbing together the environment again, eventually engaging in some sort of muscle straining moment.

What is really cool though is Ragnarok is next, and I’ve been dying to rewatch that for ages!

On Writing: Populating a Novel with Characters part 1(ish)

I’ve been stewing on this topic for a while now, and like many writing subjects Characters could probably take up a whole book, let alone a blog post – nonetheless I’m going to try and explore a few insights that I picked up from Save the Cat! Writes a Novel which oddly wasn’t majorly focused on character outside the MC, but the few pointers were really insightful ones.

caricaturas en vectores

I suspect I’ll have to do another post about what makes an MC or not, but for now I’m going to assume a solid MC has been developed, and just going to talk about the rest of the merry gang that makes up a novel’s characters.

First of all I might address how I used to develop characters and how now I’ve realized that isn’t quite right, or probably more accurately didn’t lead to as stronger writing as it could. Ironically my characters tended to come from a logical place or essentially randomly generated. Which probably sounds oddly dialectical, however I bet many writers have done the same. By ‘a logical place’ I mean I generated characters based on who would normally or rationally be around the MC or the setting. For example if the MC was a teenager then I’d generate friends, family, teachers and so forth. Or if I was going random I’d already have a character that I wanted in a story somewhere so I would just insert them.

Now you might be thinking what is wrong with logically inventing characters, or using characters you’ve already invented? Well it’s not wrong per se, it’s more what is missing from such a process, i.e. I didn’t invent characters based on the MC’s story arc needs. And this is the crux of what I want to get at in this post. In my early (ha pretty much in most of my writing) I haven’t had a good sense or understanding of how other characters can deepen our main story.

In my defense I don’t think its that easy to get one’s head around. I’ve heard for years terms like ‘foil’ and ‘subplot’ but it hasn’t really been until reading Save the Cat! Writes a Novel that the interaction of Main Characters and Secondary, really sunk in.

One of the issues, which again probably warrants more page time, is the distinction between what some people call the A story and the B story, others might call is the context and the subtext – basically the difference between overt and external tensions and the ‘internal’ thematic and characterization tensions.

For example when one sits down and reads Lord of the Rings and we see the Fellowship get put together we don’t automatically realize that the eight other characters aren’t their to help Frodo dispose of the One Ring, they are really there to make Frodo’s journey to dispose of the one ring a much deeper journey by: providing guidance (Gandalf) antagonism (Boromir) contrasting form of heroism (Sam).

What I’m trying to say is it would be easy to try and generate your Epic Fantasy squad by wondering what sort of team would be needed to get to Mordor, when what you really should be reflecting on is how the squad will flesh out the MC’s journey as a character.

Even writing this is starting to sound like gobbledygook to me, so to continue with the same story LoTRs I’ll try to explain how characters can deepen the MC’s journey.

So Frodo in Lord of the Rings is basically a fairly ordinary, humble individual bar their deep love for The Shire and a strong motivation towards doing what is right. The nature of his journey is to continually make difficult moral decisions that ultimately mean the one ring can be destroyed, however the journey is so difficult and traumatic that The Shire is not saved for Frodo.

A lot of people say that Sam is the true hero of LoTR, and he is definitely a hero, but I’m, afraid his literary existence owes very much to emphasizing Frodo’s journey. Isn’t it that much more heartbreaking to see Frodo suffer in contrast to Sam who is able to return to an idyllic life after everything? It’s much more intense to see Frodo interact with Gollum and show mercy, when Sam is also present suggesting they do not.

Anyway to repeat the point, it’s easy to assume that two hobbits simply makes more sense for sneaking into Mordor than one, but ultimately the point is that Frodo’s journey has that much more depth and impact when compared and contrasted with Sam’s.

So there are many ways that secondary characters interact with an MC’s story:

Same but different: Often a secondary character will have a similar story arc to an MC, this is particularly common in romance stories where a friend of the MC is also unlucky in love, however will often secure or resolve their relationship before the MC – this often emphasizes the MC’s fatal flaw or problem – and hits home how if that problem isn’t resolved they won’t succeed.

Foil: This word gets thrown around a lot but often not explained too well. A foil provides contrast to the main character, often emphasizing the MC’s good points. For example a side-kick is often a super-hero’s ‘foil’ they’ll be on the same side but the side-kick will often not be quite as brave, moral, or strong as the hero. Villains and Antagonists can also be foils often having direct opposite traits of a MC, although clever writers will often make some points of similarity. A foil isn’t necessarily a ‘hype-man’ for the MC either a Foil can also highlight the MC’s flaws.

The point of a Foil is to bring more attention and exploration of the MC’s character – we will often see a Foil succeed or fail, again in contrast to an MC’s traits, for example a common superhero story is the side-kick who sick of living in the shadow of the hero tries to save the day on their own – only to result in the hero having to save them and the day after they fail.

Choices: Another function of secondary characters is they can represent or show the outcome or nature of different choices. In some respects Boromir from LoTR represents the choice to not take the difficult and sacrificial path of destroying the One Ring.

I’m actually going to keep studying this topic and possibly come back for round two – the main point of this post is to talk about how to generate characters, not based on the logic of the story context, but the subtext of the MC’s character development. And while I’ve only mentioned three, I think there are many many ways that other characters can deepen the story of the MC.

(which I will explore further next time)