Saturday, August 10, 2013

What I Learned About Writing from The Avengers

Since I had fun with my What I Learned About Writing From Eragon post a few weeks ago, I decided to do another.  This time, I'm going with a movie, rather than a book (because movies still have valuable writing lessons!).  It's the third highest grossing movie of all time.  The Avengers, of course. 
  • Your novel should be tight.  Like clingwrap.  I talked about what this means in this post.  Basically, if your novel is tight, everything fits together and it flows at a solid pace.  It should have no weak points.  The Avengers is like this, and so are good novels.
  • Snappy one-liners are awesome.  One thing I love about writing is that your characters can fire off awesome comebacks like that *snaps fingers*, and it looks like that just rolled off instantly when, in real life, it took you half an hour to think of it.  People tend to love a character that fires off these snappy lines all the time.  Like Tony Stark.  (I do believe, though, that the ultimate master of the comeback is Artemis Fowl.  Seriously.  That kid is quick.) 
  • Sometimes, we just want a little comic relief.  Emotions take a toll on the readers.  We want our readers to feel, but we can't let them sink into a dark pit of despair, either.  (Unless you're writing A Song of Ice and Fire, of course.  Then, by all means, go right ahead.)  Sometimes, all it takes to give readers a little break is to include a little comic relief.  The Avengers does this all over the place. 
  • Awesome villains are, well, awesome.  HELLO, LOKI.  Do I need to say any more about this?  I probably don't.  I kind of have already, anyway.
  • Chemistry is vital.  This movie would be nothing without the unspoken romantic intensity between Natasha and Clint.  The culture and generational clash between Steve and Tony.  The we're-enemies-but-you're-my-brother conflict between Thor and Loki.  The epic bromance of the Science Bros (Bruce and Tony).
  • Don't underestimate the power of side characters.  Some of the strongest characters in the movie aren't even the big heroes.  Phil Coulson pretty much establishes himself right away as the guy you don't want to mess with, even though he has no superpowers.  And yet, we connect with his admiration of Cap, which makes him human.  Side characters can be just as valuable to your story as the main protagonist. 
    Welcome to Level 7.
  • "Thought we wouldn't notice, but we did."  If you think you can stick a plot hole or inconsistency into your story and nobody will notice, you're wrong.  Readers can and do notice these things.  Please, get rid of plot holes. 
  • Sequels are hard.  Think about how many other movies The Avengers is a follow-up to: Iron Man 2, Thor, Captain America, The Incredible Hulk...  It manages to tie in loose ends from all of them at the same time.  If you write a sequel for your book, you're going to have to find that balance between tying things together, and creating new storylines.
  • It's fun to hide little clues for your readers/viewers.  Did you know that a few scenes before Iron Man falls from space, there's actually a schwarma restaurant in the background of one of the shots?  It's not important to the plot, but still.  If you can hide tiny clues throughout your story and not make it too obvious, you might have fun with it.
  • You have to think about logistics.  If your characters have to make an 100-mile journey on foot, don't let them do it in a matter of days or even hours.  (TDKR, I'm looking at you.)  While you don't have to write about every minute of the journey, you can't just pretend it didn't happen, either.
    Well, this is...(wait for it)...hawkward.
  • Most people love escapism.  The Avengers asks the viewer to do a huge suspension of belief.  For example, are we really going to believe that all the Chitauri magically disappear at the same time?  Probably not.  And though the plot gets a little out there and a little unbelievable, it's still a fun ride and I enjoy it despite its flaws.
  • If you can pull off a clever plot, do it.  The Avengers is so, so clever in that the good guys don't actually win.  Think again.  It's clever writing on Joss Whedon's part.  If you can figure out how to work clever things like this into your story, and do it well, by all means, do it!
  • You can get a huge message across with no dialogue.  Does anyone ever specifically say that Clint and Natasha are in love?  No.  Do we all know it?  Of course.  You can use body language, emotions, and simple actions in your novel to convey huge pieces of information.
  • Sometimes you have to sit back and let your characters tell the story.  When Tony Stark is eating food during this movie, most of the time, it's not scripted.  It was just Robert Downey Jr. wanting a snack.  However, some of these scenes (blueberry scene, anyone?) with unscripted eating actually added something to the plot.  If your characters are feeling the need to improvise, give them a little rein.  Something good might well come of it.
What about you?  What have you learned about writing from The Avengers?  What books/movies have you learned from?

Edit: There's another great article on this same topic right here.
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