The Captain Marvel Kerfluffle

Or, How Captain Marvel‘s Writing Team Showed They Really Don’t Know Their Craft.

There wasn’t supposed to be a post today. In fact, I am slamming this out in-between a work shift, a very important errand, work on book projects (my email box is FULL of comments, fixes, and changes from the awesome Alpha and Beta Readers I have), and then a big social event tonight. But this warranted a post.

Okay, backstory: This last weekend, with Marvel’s Captain Marvel about to come out on Blu-Ray, the marketing team released an extended version of a scene from the film.

Okay, fine, not worth commenting on so far, right? Well, this came with an additional caveat. It was marketed as “see a hero taking on toxic masculinity.”

Oh. Oh no.

As I pointed out in my thoughts on Captain Marvel, the largest weakness of the film by far was the writing. And … that’s come back to bite folks again. Badly.

As you can imagine, the internet exploded.

Hang on though. We’re still in backstory. The scene in question is an extended version of the scene in the film where—minor spoilers—Vers steals a guy’s bike and some clothes. In this new version, rather than her simply eyeing the bike and stealing it (which is justifiable in character at the moment), we instead get a scene where the biker hits on Vers in a pretty sleazy manner, only to get his conceptions crushed by Vers. She shakes his hand, then crushes it (you can hear bones crack and pop) and tells him to give her his bike and jacket or she’ll remove the hand.

Again … a bit more sinister, sure. Except … then the writers had to step in and explain that this was Captain Marvel being a hero and striking a blow against toxic masculinity. And … well, you can imagine how the internet has taken it. Both sides have, as you can predictably guessed, gone up in arms. Both make some good points, and both make some bad points.

However, the reason I chose to take some time out of my crunched day to post about this was because at its core, the argument Disney’s marketing team and the writers of Captain Marvel have claimed is … well, wrong.

Vers isn’t a hero in that scene. Not by any definition of the term. And to see people so aggressively defending Vers actions as “heroic,” even the writing team? Well … I think that’s in part why the Captain Marvel had the problems it had.

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Being a Better Writer: Sympathetic Villains

URGENT: READ THIS FOLLOW-UP IF YOU READ THIS POST! It clarifies a few important things.

… are a mistaken understanding.

Okay, that’s a strong statement as a lead-in for today’s post, but it has merit! Welcome back to Being a Better Writer, the weekly writing guide post where we discuss, well, writing topics of all kind.

Today’s topic, Sympthetic Villains, is another request topic. It’s also a topic that I knew would inspire a bit of controversy when I tackled it, particularly among newer writers, because of the amount of misunderstanding I’ve seen concerning it. Misunderstanding that comes from, unfortunately, the name itself and the oft-mistaken misuse of two similar but different words: sympathy … and empathy.

See, a lot of people use the former when they mean the latter. And, to be fair, the two share similar meanings. Sympathy is defined firstly as “feelings of pity and sorrow for someone else’s misfortune,” and empathy is defined as “the action of understanding, being aware of, being sensitive to, and vicariously experiencing the feelings, thoughts, and experience of another.”

Pretty close, right? Well, you’d think so until you saw the second, third, or even fourth definitions (depending on the dictionary) of sympathy, which move from “feelings of” to “sharing understanding” or even “agreeing with.”

Uh-oh. Can you see where the the use of the wrong word can cause a problem for young, newbie writers yet? Or even for more experienced authors? The problem is that while empathy means understanding a character’s perspective, sympathy means agreeing with it.

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Classic Being a Better Writer: Foes

It’s time for another Classic Being a Better Writer post!

New? Just arrived here from Google? Or maybe Bing? Nervously moving your cursor toward the back button and wondering whether or not you found the right place? Well, if you’re looking for good books to read or—in this posts’ case—advice on how to write them, you’re in the right place. You can relax your mouse finger.

So, explanations. Being a Better Writer is a weekly feature here on Unusual Things all about the writing process. Each week, a new question is tackled, everything from “Show VS Tell” to “Pacing.”

Of course, when you’ve been doing this for four years, you end up with just a little bit of a an archive. Hundreds of articles worth. Which can make things intimidating for the newly arrived. And though everything is tagged and compatible with the search box on the right, Classic posts are a good way to introduce new readers to excellent posts from yesteryear. As well as deliver a refresher to long-time readers.

This week? Villains and their minions, one of the more popular topics of all time!


I, Villain—
The first question you need to ask yourself with your story is do I need a villain? Not every story does. There are plenty of stories out there where the main character is their own antagonist, or where the character faces a rival rather than a true villain, a rival who might not be on the same side of the hero, but isn’t explicitly against them either. Don’t feel the need to shoehorn a villain into a story that doesn’t need one. Take a step back, look at your basic plot (because a villain is something you’ll be deciding on quite early) and ask yourself what adding a villain could add to your story, but also take away. Is there a theme in mind that would be weakened by a villain’s actions? Would the story be weaker if the spotlight were splitting its time between your main character and your villain? Stronger? Is your heroes’ portrayal going to be strengthened by their interaction with the villain, or dilluted?


Developing Villains—
We can admit it. In a way, we like villains. Villains are a flavor, a spice, to our worlds and universes, an intricate part of our plotting and scheming for the story at large. And … we know this. This isn’t the first time we’ve discussed villains on this blog. Nor will it be the last. A villain isn’t a needed requirement of any story, but in the event that the story requires one, having a good villain is a key factor, and so understanding how to write a good villain is going to be integral to making sure that whatever you write is as good as you can make it.


Crafting an Army of Foes—
Mook is a slang term for the common enemy soldiers/followers/evil redshirts that the antagonist of your story is going to chew their way through over the course of the story (see a more in-depth write-up here). Basically, if your characters are facing off against a group of any size of mostly-faceless (character-wise) foes, than those foes are mooks. They might be tougher than average and pose a real challenge … or they may go down as readily as Starfleet cadets against an alien with a Nerf gun, but if they comprise the faceless horde or hordes of one faction or another that get in the way of the primary character’s objective, then you can legitimately call them mooks.


 

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Being a Better Writer: Developing Villains

This post was originally written and posted December 8th, 2014, and has been touched up and reposted here for archival purposes.

Villains.

Let’s be honest with one another. We love villains. Even when we despise them. Darth Vader’s labored breathing is iconic. Dolores Umbrage’s fascination with kittens an understood attempt at sinister camouflage. The Joker’s fashion sense catches the eye of any comic reader.

We can admit it. In a way, we like villains. Villains are a flavor, a spice, to our worlds and universes, an intricate part of our plotting and scheming for the story at large. And … we know this. This isn’t the first time we’ve discussed villains on this blog. Nor will it be the last. A villain isn’t a needed requirement of any story, but in the event that the story requires one, having a good villain is a key factor, and so understanding how to write a good villain is going to be integral to making sure that whatever you write is as good as you can make it.

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Being a Better Writer: I, Villain

This post was originally written and posted June 9th, 2014, and has been touched up and reposted here for archival purposes.

Advance Warning: today’s post is going to involve copious amounts of spoilers from everything from games to movies to books. Most of them will be fairly obvious and over a year in age, but I’m giving this whole entry an advance warning anyway. Spoilers be beyond here.

Villains.

I think it says something about us that while some can’t name a favorite hero, almost everyone can remember a favorite villain (or “not favorite,” as the case may be). Darth Vader. Truth. Smaug. Agent Smith.Brother Jon. The Lord Ruler. The Joker.

That’s just the tip of the iceberg. The point is, you can ask just about anyone who their “favorite” villain is, the one who gave them shivers as a child or as an adult, and most of them will be able to think of someone. Villains are just as much a part of a good story as anything else. They haunt our heroes’ nightmares and waking moments, stalk them from behind the scenes, threaten them and their loved ones. Or maybe they don’t even notice the hero at first, too preoccupied with their quest for power as they dominate nations. Or maybe, just maybe, they’re on the heroes’ “side,” carefully playing within the rules—but only just, all while smiling a sickly sweet grin that promises future darkness.

So today, I’m taking a request topic, and we’re going to talk about villains—good ones. We’re going to talk about how you make an antagonist that sits in your reader’s mind, that’s just as memorable as the hero is, who worries your fans every time they make an appearance. The kind that haunts your reader’s mind long after the book is gone, that sits in the back of their head like a song they can’t stop thinking about. So buckle up, because here we go. Continue reading