Wednesday, June 8, 2016

Earning Your Plot Points

There's a disturbing trend popping up that needs to be addressed and really - stopped.  From Captain America being a part of Hydra, to Batman fighting Superman, Disney trying to explain why the Mad Hatter is so mad and even our ongoing presidential campaign: the issue of clickbait has started to invade our media, and it's not for the better.  In fact, it's actually making consuming media more of a chore and a mud pile that we - as fans - are getting lost in.

The final poster and title.
Let's take the recent DC movie that everyone is so up and arms about.  Now, I'm not going to tell you if "Batman V Superman" and the DC movie universe is good or bad, that's not the issue here, but just follow me on this bigger picture for a moment. 

Back when the movie was first announced, it was actually called "Man of Steel 2", and there were whispers that Batman might be involved some how.  As a frequent movie lover and a longtime lover of Batman, this got me intrigued and caught my attention, I'll admit and I started actively searching for news tidbits on the movie as it was in production and I'm sure I wasn't the only one.  This is the buzz that movie studios try and create when information is released or leaked. 

A little bit after the movie had been announced, the working title was floated around and created a bit more buzz.  A working title is kind of like a movie's nickname and while it doesn't always have to, this one seemed to reveal a bit more about the plot.  That working title was "Batman v Superman" and, as one might expect, this is the sort of working title that created more buzz and more people started talking.  A DC movie where the two might fight?!  That was something we hadn't seen and the fans seemed hyped and skeptical, but they were still talking about the movie.

I think this is the point where things went wrong, because someone at the studio must have noticed all the reactions and suddenly "Batman v Superman" wasn't just a working title, it was THE title and now all the talk was about how these two heroes would be fighting on the big screen and it would be the match up of the century... and it wasn't. 

Beyond comparing the movie to the Marvel counterpart of "Civil War" the bigger issue is that the studio didn't earn this fight they were trying to get us hyped up about.  In the span of one movie DC tried to catch up with Marvel's expanded movie-verse, introduce new characters, new plotlines and a whole new universe of their own.  The result was a mess of a movie with plot points that were shoehorned in and mysterious emails that gave loads of information because there wasn't time to do the same thing organically in the story.  Not to mention the end game baddie who was barely even a shell of the menacing and threatening force of nature he was supposed to be.  

When you're a writer, the biggest point is to create and tell a cohesive story where your plot points genuinely excite and shock the audience, yes.  But it is also your job to explain this excitement and shock and wrap it all into a cohesive story that the audience can enjoy.  The wonder of seeing a story line progress and a character grow and change is something that's hard to express, but it's the feeling that I personally search for in movies and books and fandoms around me, because that's where the escapism lies.  That's the part that sweeps me away and makes me get happily lost in your story and eager to consume more.   

There've always been taglines.
"Batman V Superman" and many other recent media choices have amounted to nothing more then clickbait and really are becoming just as unsatisfying.  The trend of "... and you'll never believe number 7!" has its merits here and there, and is older then a lot of us think.  Tag lines from novels are only one example of a very well known and common marketing technique that serves it's purpose: it gets your attention.  When you pick up a novel from the shelf and read that single line or quote, authors and publishers are hoping it's interesting enough that you will open the book and start reading, that's the point.  The problem arises when the tagline or clickbait makes a promise that isn't kept and is really just there to catch your eye and make you spend your money. 

Too often now media isn't delivering on the promise it's making.

There's so much clickbait out there in our media now that 'number 7' really isn't that shocking anymore, and that tagline promising the fight of the century?  When you don't have a good plot to put the characters in the right place at the right time and give them legitimate reasons to fight, you honestly just cheat your readers and consumers out of what they showed up to see.  Sure, the movie studio might already have their money and the book author has already locked in their royalties, but the consumers (US) are left feeling empty and cheated and worse!  Now when I see clickbait, I scroll past it.  When I hear about an epic story line being tackled in the next comic book movie, I tend to say "I'll wait for reviews" and when I click on a book to consider adding it to my Amazon shopping cart it's from an author I already know, because new authors are starting to become too much of a risk.

This sounds horrible and jaded and as an author myself, it's a lot like a death nell.  The whole point of a variety of media being out there is so that we as consumers can pick and choose between what we like.  But clickbait invading the media means that there's more noise and more mud to sift through and too often, people will decide it's not worth the effort because it's harder to find the stuff that is sincere in the mess of boasting that's too loud to ignore. 

So how do we fix this?  How do we as authors and creators earn our plot points?

Write a good story. It's as simple as that.  

Sure, have something shocking happen, but have that something shocking make sense.  If you're going to tell me two characters are going to fight, give them concrete reasons to fight and give them an end game and result that's realistic and worth the reveal.  Fans can argue day and night if the reveal at the end of "Civil War" was warranted and well written, but there's no denying that it was better written then of the promises made by "Batman V Superman" and even the latest "Fantastic Four" movie.  Your movie, novel, comic and story can not survive on a single plot point, it needs a full foundation like a house to support that plot point.  Without this it will be blown over and there will be an aftermath that - at the very least - drives people away from your story and - at the worst - drives people away from the genre as a whole.

There's an effort that is lacking recently and we as creators need to be aware of this and do better. Our taglines and clickbait are selling things that we are accountable for and we need to be aware and own up to it. 

So what I'm saying is that I've not read the Captain America arc where he's now a Nazi, and I'm not going to because it's so far beyond what the character is about that it's not worth my time and effort. But what I'm also saying, and more importantly to not just Marvel comics, is prove me wrong.  Throw out those shocking plot points sure, it's still effective in gathering attention, but surround them in amazing writing, convincing build up and nail-biting climaxes that make me want to shout "No! This is really good!"  I challenge you as a creator to not only get my attention but to earn it and work for it. 

Because writing and creating is a job, and damnit, the world really needs to take it seriously again.

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