Tag Archives: clever writing

When Your Characters Rebel…

(I’m not saying this is Season 3 Miraculous Ladybug salt… But I am saying it is probably flavored liberally with it. I will avoid spoilers to the best of my abilities in terms of naming characters, but you know, you might get the gists of it anyway.)

So you have been working on this long running series–whether it’s for TV or a book series, comic run or insert other media here–and you have always had a couple in mind for your endgame. This is the pairing everyone needs to love, this is one that they need to get behind and want to be together. You have distractions and miscommunications in mind, whether you have an outline or just a vague concept in your head, but you also have key moments where they are meant to come together and prove that they can work.

So what do you do when they don’t do it organically, and worse yet, your audience soundly rejects it?

I’m not talking about the background characters that everyone is shipping together, cracky or not, or if the fans have decided your platonic best friends who are your main duo are meant to be, and I’m not talking about if you are dealing with a story that has no or only a very small romance plot and you can change the love interest without it changing the story one gram. This is a love-centric relationship that you, the writer, has built into the very premise, and the fans know this from day one. You may have even made the poor decision to use social media to assure everyone that yes, you know what you are doing, and yes, no matter what, the pairing will be endgame.

But remember those distractions I mentioned before? This is where things as a writer can get really gnarly. If I’ve spent time breaking my main pairing apart for the sake of time management, so they can get together in the final one or two chapters/episodes/issues/what-have-you and I have too much time to fill in between them, well… This pokes holes in why my audience is going to believe that this couple is going to work together in the end. (I am not touching my salty examples treatment and twisting of characters to make this possible.) If they fall out of love with this relationship as the characters question their feelings for each other, then when I provide a distraction in the form of new, alternative pairings… I’ve just split my fanbase.

Now, for some marketing people, they think this is a brilliant idea. Ever since Team Edward/Team Jacob, they have been gung-ho about love triangles, since marketing took what was previously a well known if slightly tired trope and fanned it into a fandom war that sold a ton of merchandise and kept people talking about a franchise that honestly didn’t deserve the level of hype and devotion it ended up spawning. See, once a fandom war starts, if you feed the fires right, fans will entrench themselves in their camp and will go out of their way to not prove the other side wrong, but spend a ton of money to show their support of their camp.

But notice my not so nice dig at the franchise? That’s because love triangles have to be written very carefully. In order to actually make sense as a plot device, there needs to be a very obvious reason why one side is better than the other, and writers usually get lazy with this, making it a matter of the nice guy being secretly violent or just saying that the jerkass was the one who really understood the girls promise (and in my opinion encourages abuse way too much). And that’s when they start at the same time! Many franchises spend whole books or seasons establishing a love interest, and then try to throw in a rival in the new season/sequel book. That only works if it’s quite clear to your fanbase that this isn’t meant to be a new romantic angle, and that the new rival is actually really unsuitable for the character he/she is pursuing. While some fans will hop on to the new camp with this rival (it’s inevitable), the majority will stay where you want it–with the mains.

This is where things can get hairy though. If you don’t make the new character unappealing, you can completely split your fanbase. My salty example here did this in two different ways and both failed. For one, they didn’t portray her personality consistently across her episodes, so despite having more screen time than the rival for the other side of the main pairing, it was so inconsistent that fans were irritable over it. That should have been enough by itself for fans to be split on her and to keep attention on their main couple. Except the boy is an oblivious idiot, no matter what the writers say on Twitter, and he has repeatedly stated that he can’t see the female lead as anything other than a friend, but he can see this new girl as a potential love interest to move on from his celebrity crush. For fans, that was digging a grave and a lot of them jumped ship.

But that left the other half of the pairing in the wind, right? Nope, insert our second rival. He didn’t get nearly the level of screen time, but what there is, it is consistent. Now, it’s also too perfect and two-dimensional, so some fans hate him for just that reason. Again, this should have kept everything split up and the focus on the main pairing. But our female lead is not only in the wind as far as her crush and trying to move past it, she has had so many responsibilities heaped on to her that it’s a miracle she’s still standing. And this boy has said that he loves her for who she is, just her, not her superhero self blinding him so badly he can’t see her, but her. And she doesn’t even have to explain everything to her (as our male lead has thrown a tantrum over in the past).

My friends, they not only dug the grave, they put in the final nails themselves. (Supposedly there are two episodes left that will revive it like a zombie, but I doubt it.)

At this point, if I was in that writing room, I would be looking over fan responses and questions, look at my team, and go, “Ya’ll, we have to either spend an entire season fixing this, which by our premise we can’t do… Or we may have to let go of the love square being endgame.” But of course, these are a bunch of men (and one woman) and I can’t see them doing that. What I can do though is take this as an object lesson myself. If you have a couple, it’s fine for there to be complications towards them ending up together–that’s life. There’s also a line in the sand where if you cross it, you won’t get your fanbase back. This is going to apply to me for Sun’s Guard, so I’m going to take this lesson and run.


Review: Tempests and Slaughter

I approached Tempests and Slaughter with a healthy amount of both caution and interest. On one hand, it was more of Numair and that always makes me happy. He and Daine are my OTP in Tortall. On the other hand, this is a prequel. I was going to have to put up with Valarie, guaranteed, and with one of the worst villains in Tortall history being viewed as an okay guy. Blegh. But I finally knuckled down and read it. While I don’t regret it, it definitely wasn’t what I expected either.

Not yet Numair Salmalin, Arram Draper is a young boy at the College of Mages in Carthak. Tempests and Slaughter tells of his late childhood/early adolescence, as he rises with the ranks of powerful mages with the growth of his Gift. As he grows farther away from his family and home in Tyra, he has to learn not only who he is and what he can tolerate, but also who his friends are becoming. In the end, plague hospitals and arenas decide for him where his limits are. Now if only he can bring his only two friends, Valarie and Ozorne, along with him.

So, let’s get it out of the way. I love Tamora Pierce’s writing. I’ve had my style compared to her a couple of times, and it always makes me squee because she has such a way with prose that it just flows, smooth and clear. Thankfully, she spared my overly imaginative butt too much medical in the hospitals, but the way she did it is very real to how people who are in those professions describe how they feel after it is over. I really valued her return to third person and in normal chapter format. It wasn’t so heavily cluttered with slang that I needed the dictionary in the back just to wade through until I adjusted to the dialect, but it was there enough to carry the culture of the world across. It was a little different, because the narrator is a boy for the first time for an entire book rather than a short story, but after a couple of chapters, I managed to fall in with it. I think it’s interesting how she keeps exploring new formats and narrators, rather than sticking to formula.

World building wise, she had some room to play and it shows. Carthak was barely hinted at beyond the capital during the Immortals quartet, and while some of the short stories have touched on other countries as part of the empire, we haven’t seen all of it. There’s a curious mixture of African cultures, and I use that term in relation the continent as a whole. At times, I see the south and the tribal influences, but further north it is reminiscent of Egypt and it’s interactions with Europe. I also saw bits of South Africa, if only because of the way the ruling class appears to be of light skin versus…everyone else. This is also the first time we saw how a mage was trained, from the ground up and without pesky fighting training to overlap, and while at times I felt a little like the magic systems were too muddled, that is more personal taste than anything, and it was interesting to see how magecraft is taught for the Gift when there aren’t deities involved.

Characters is really where this book could have made or break for me. I knew I was going to like Arram, because I liked him as an adult. It was curious to see how clumsy and unsure of himself he was as a boy, though, and how easily swayed he was by others around him until he found his backbone. I also wasn’t suspecting his healing magic to be at the forefront, but then, his entire history is so secretive, I guess I shouldn’t be surprised. Valarie… Ugh. All of my problems with Valarie still exist. I mean, her “kitchen witch” label aside, she really just irks me. I don’t think that will ever change. I don’t like manipulation like I see her doing, even when it is for the sake of those she considers friends, at least without some sort of moral code behind it, which I know she’s lacking in. And then there was Ozorne. He could have gone wrong very quickly, but thankfully Tamora never forgot what he was going to become. The brief flashes alone were enough to sooth me, and then she dropped his ambitions, his goal to unite everything under one Empire, and at that point I knew he was the same person we knew, it was Arram who hadn’t realized it yet. That is going to be fascinating to see continue, and I’m beyond curious to see what the tipping point will be.

As for other characters, the teachers rotated around so much, I had a hard time nailing down a favorite. I did like Yaven and how he applied something most people would consider silly to help Arram concentrate, and how that evolved into other lessons. Sebo and her ties to the crocodile god were also interesting. Oh god, the crocodile god was hilarious, I was very amused by him and his interactions. My only complaint, if you could call it one, was Preet, if only because she seemed like a plot device more than a character. The lack of mention of her to Daine in prior books also makes no sense. But then, we don’t know how Preet’s plot is going to end, so I could end up being placated.

This definitely reads to me like there’s one more book, possibly two, in this series, but I don’t think it’s going to be a quartet and I’m leaning towards just one more like the Aly Cooper books. That seems about right to me, because really this is mostly bringing some light to a mysterious back story that I’m sure fans like me have been wondering about since the first books with Daine. I can’t wait for the next book and to see where this story is going and how it will dove-tail with where we first met Numair.


Review: Captain America – Civil War

I had issues with Age of Ultron (a lot of people did), and while some of my issues are very specific to my love of Hawkeye, some just dealt with the lack of characterization, the lack of acknowledgement of the previous films, and some serious suffering of dialogue in very of snarky quips. Civil War was by nature set up to be the next big team-up movie in the MCU, and was the first chance for it to salvage its reputation.

And boy, did it deliver.

Set (sort of) at the same time as Ant-Man, Civil War details the signing of an agreement between over a hundred nations in the world to bring the Avengers in check, turning them from a private organization into something controlled by a UN panel. The problem? Not all of the Avengers agree with the decision. The ink isn’t even dry when the first conflict arises where the Avengers are needed, and a choice is made that draws the line between Captain America, Iron Man, and those who side with them. But nothing is black and white, not when personal motives are involved.

OMG, this movie. Where do I even start? Okay, characters, because they are why you go see this movie. We had a wonderful catch-up with where some of the characters are emotionally after films, such as Tony (and his relationships with his parents and with Pepper, his guilt, etc.) and Wanda (where she’s at with her powers, the loss of her brother and home, her feelings for the Vision), that went unaddressed for a while. The women finally weren’t shafted into the role of love interest and little else. I think my favorite line is one of Wanda’s (let’s be honest, she and another character I’m about to get into stole the show). “I can’t do anything about their fear. I can only control my own.” I’m paraphrasing, but that line, ugh, my heart. The women got to kick ass, take names, make their own decisions, and stayed true to their own characters, even with faint nods to Natasha’s botched attempt at a relationship with Banner.

Also, we have the best Spiderman now, we do not need another. I thought his costume was a little too bright in tone compared to the others, a little too simple in terms of just being cloth but supposedly Tony has had an eye on this kid for a while, but otherwise I was very impressed with him. I especially loved the touch of Tony using Steve’s words to get Peter to his side, that was brilliant. (According to my friend  Brandon, this was a symbol of Tony realizing he needed a Steve on his team, a point I agree with.) We didn’t get some long, drawn out explanation of his powers, which was great since God knows, we’ve had the origin of Spiderman shoved down our throats enough. And Aunt May looked like an actual aunt, not a grandmother. I loved how someone tried to shut him down as far as chattering in a fight. Meanwhile, Hawkeye is going, “Hi. We haven’t met yet. I’m Clint.” As to parallel that this kid is on the right track, ignore the crusty military types. Just…wow.

(Also, THANK YOU FOR GIVING ME REAL CLINT! I HAVE MISSED HIM SO!)

There was so much clever writing in this movie, I can’t even explain. Like, without giving away the big plot twists, let’s just focus on a few little things. That moment when Bucky struggles to get Steve to understand that yes, HYDRA was controlling him but he still did these horrible things, telling Tony that he remembers all the people he killed, I had the epiphany that he is meant to represent what these accords will do the Avengers over time. I mean, we all know that they would be blocked from doing many of the time sensitive things they need to do or would be severely hampered (since most of the MCU movies take place in about three days, give or take). But he represents the jobs where they were sent in and they didn’t need to be there, the political power-plays, and the damage that they would do to them psychologically and emotionally.

Tony also came to represent how personal investment ruined the ability to rationally approach a problem, something commonly explored in this movie where so many people have suffered over the years, both at the hands of HYDRA and other villains…and just by the efforts of the Avengers to stop them. His own festering guilt drives him to make one set of decisions, his desire to protect the people he considers family drives him to make another that contradict the first…and then in the end, when an attack hits him personally, all the rational reasons he had fly out the window. But I think Tony grew in this movie, more than he has in any of his solo movies outside of the first, and that excites me…even if I wish he wasn’t doing a fourth Iron Man film (sorry, those just haven’t jived well with me lately). Vision suffered from a similar problem, since his emotional investment with Wanda bit him in the butt in a way he wasn’t expecting, but I feel like Tony really had the big moments of it.

A throw-away brilliance is the return of Russo. For those who may have forgotten (I did), the Secretary of State in Civil War is the same dude who released Red Hulk on Manhattan back when Edward Norton was Bruce Banner. That should terrify you. In addition, Black  Panther did have a good story arc to help introduce him well leading up to his own film. This is coming from a person who hated this character going into the movie, wasn’t going to go see his film, was hoping he didn’t ruin the movie for me. I have never gotten a good opinion of him. But this movie helped change my mind considerably. I liked him, I’ll go see his movie. They did a good job.

If I had to nitpick something, it would have to be the camera work and one element of the story. The camera got better as the film went on (or I adjusted to it, not sure which), but shaky camera syndrome was bad early on, particularly in fights. It made it hard to track what was happening, though that could be because I know some stage combat myself and track out of habit where a blow is going in case a sword goes flying when it isn’t supposed to. The other is a massive SPOILER, so avert your eyes if you haven’t seen it yet. The death of the Wakonda king at the UN conference didn’t affect me like it was supposed to. I thought the man was a self-righteous ass, so  him dying, even with the obvious grief of his son, didn’t make me go, “Awww, poor babies,” it made me go, “Whelp.” But then, I have daddy issues, so you gotta actually work to get me invested in your character before you kill them.

Overall, this is a fantastic ride. While it’s getting to where its hard to follow the MCU without previously seeing any of the other movies, Civil War does enough recapping that you might be okay if you come in with some general knowledge rather than specific viewings in your memory. And I highly recommend it.