What Marvel Teaches us About Storytelling

(Age of Ultron image taken from nydailynews.com )

(Age of Ultron image taken from nydailynews.com )

Marvel movies are always a big hit in the box office. Whether it’s hulk-smashing, shield-throwing action on the big screen, or sitting at home laughing at the witty one-liners, Marvel’s stories are a success.

The fast-paced, stunning fight/action scenes and the humorous dialogue certainly contribute to Marvel’s intimidating presence in the movie industry, but there are two other things that make the Marvel Cinematic Universe stand out. I think Tom Hiddleston sums it up nicely:

 (Image taken from Google Images. All credits go to rightful owner.)

Exactly. We can learn so much about storytelling from the way Marvel tell its own. Witty dialogue and explosive action sequences are the glaze on top of the barbecue, but the meat is how Marvel shapes its characters. Let’s break down Tom’s comment.

1. Marvel makes its heroes flawed.

    Marvel’s protagonists may be superhuman and they may be superheroes – but they’re not super perfect. The company has always been great at creating characters with realistic flaws and challenges. Its heroes are definitely not cookie-cutter stereotypes. In fact, some of them may not even be considered heroes because of things they do or how they act. Arrogant Tony Stark has a drinking problem and less-than-ideal morals (definitely not the kind of guy you would want people looking up to as a superhero). Dr. Banner’s alter ego, “Hulk”, is legitimately the complete opposite of a hero. Natasha Romanoff (Black Widow) is a sneaky former assassin that isn’t above killing when needed. Thor has some serious family issues. And let’s not forget overly flirty, thieving Peter Quill who comprises a ‘superhero’ team of nothing but criminals (which happens to include a mercenary, a bounty hunter, and a revenge-driven murderer).

But all these characters still try to do what’s right, whether that’s because it’s their job, they want to prove themselves, or they realize that if they let the villain win, they’ll die too. And although, in the end, they’re saving people, they make mistakes along the way. Because Marvel makes its heroes flawed, its characters become more complex, realistic, and lovable.

What writers can learn from this: Take a cue from Marvel and give your characters flaws. Give them challenges and problems. Make your heroes less-than-perfect. Make it hard for them to do the right thing at times. Have them make hard choices. Because most of the time, heroes aren’t the people who do everything right. They’re the ones who mess up, but keep trying.

(Image taken from Tumblr. All credits go to rightful owner.)

2. Marvel makes its villains heroic.

This is where I might lose you. Villains? Being heroic? What kind of topsy-turvy, upside-down world is this we live in? Hold your horses and let me explain.

Pretty much no one is bad simply for the sake of being bad. They have a reason for what they do (whether it’s out of love, revenge, hatred, betrayal, or something else). And usually, villains don’t see themselves as the bad guys. They’re the heroes of their own story, and they think whatever they are doing is fair and just. A lot of times, villains are hurt emotionally, physically, or mentally, and that’s why they resort to their devious methods. Sometimes, they may even have good intentions, but go about it the wrong way. Additionally, no villain, no matter how crooked, is completely evil. They have inner conflicts; they have second thoughts. They have regrets and doubts.

Probably the best example in the Marvel universe of this is Loki. He just screams “complex character development”. His hatred and anger was born out of being betrayed and lied to. In “Thor”, you see the pain and fear that assaults him as he realizes that he is not what he was told his whole life that he was. In “The Avengers”, he doubles back sometimes. He verbally expresses his regrets several times, but yet he still believes that he is too far gone to be loved and helped. He even helps the heroes later on! There are a thousand things I could say as we try to delve deep into Loki’s mind and character, but that’s a post for another day. Hopefully you get the picture. Harry Osborn from “The Amazing Spiderman 2” resorts to villainy because he desperately wants a cure for his strange illness. When his supposed best friend flat-out refuses to give it to him (for good reasons, considering the antidote could kill Harry), he doesn’t understand and grows angry. The Winter Soldier is a brainwashed villain who later regains his memories and struggles with the horrific realization that he’s been trying to kill his friend. Ultron, an artificial intelligence robot, was created to keep peace. However, he interprets that as wiping out the source of conflicts – humans, the very creatures he was supposed to protect. Although his motives could be argued as being good, his actions contradicted them.

Marvel villains display both villainous and heroic intentions and qualities. They make you love them because you feel for them. Perhaps you don’t approve of their actions, but you see their pain and sadness and you understand what drove them to commit their heinous crimes.

What writers can learn from this: Don’t keep your villains two-dimensional and predictable. Give them a valid reason for the things they do. Give them regrets and feelings. Enable them to have backstories and motives. Don’t label your baddie just as a “villain” – after all, he/she is a person too. A villain doesn’t know he is a villain – his disillusionment causes him to see himself as the hero.

(Image taken from Tumblr. All credits go to rightful owner.)

It’s your turn! What have you learned about characters from Marvel? Who is your favorite Marvel villain? What do you like most about Marvel’s characters? Do tell!

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5 Things Your Characters Need To Be

5 Things Your Characters Need To Be

Do you know what makes or breaks a story? The characters. Sure, there are a lot of other things that go into writing, and those are all important, but your story rests on the shoulders of the fictional people you create. And if they’re poorly developed, they will buckle under the weight and the whole story will fall.

A story with a really great plot but bland, boring characters will turn away a reader. On the other hand, if a story has a weak plot, but the characters are well-developed and relatable, a reader is likely to continue reading. Of course, in an ideal world, both the plot and the characters would be amazing, and you should still strive for that goal, but the bottom line is: if you have to choose between one or the other, pick the characters.

Okay, so characters are a big deal. They drive the story, and if the reader is stuck with them for several hundred pages, they’ve gotta be fresh and interesting. But how do you do that? I’ve thought long and hard about it, and here are five things that every one of your characters needs to be.

1. Diverse

    Other good words for this would be “unique” and “distinguishable”. Essentially, your characters need to be different from each other. No two characters should be exactly alike. Don’t make all your male characters have the same personality, and don’t make all your females act identical. Not every girl should be feisty and strong-willed; not every boy should be the macho hero type. Real people’s personalities vary, and so should your character’s.

In addition to this, make each character’s voice recognizable. Someone should be able to open your story to a random page and, without seeing the narrator’s name, know who it is just by their voice and word choice. This is extremely prevalent in first-person writing, in which a character (or multiple) is telling the story directly to you. However, it is just as important in third-person point of view, where it shows up in the form of thoughts or dialogue. Your character’s personality, background, word choice, age, and other influencing factors will shape how the character speaks – just like how all of those things shape your individual speaking style.

For example, one of my characters was abandoned as a child and has grown up on the street, receiving no formal education. Therefore, when he narrates the story, he’s very loose and informal, utilizing slang words often and sometimes breaking the rules of grammar (nothing serious, small sentence fragments like “Did ya see the look on his face? Didn’t even see that coming. Poor bloke”). Another of my characters is much more formal and reserved in his narrating. Their voices are easy to tell apart.

2. Detailed

Oh, the little details. How they are so often overlooked, and how they are so needed. If you want your character to be interesting, they need to be detailed. Vague characters are boring characters. Decide your character’s favorite color, food, animal. Do they like when it rains? Does a certain smell make them happy? What would they do if they had a day to themself? Questions like these, once provided with thought-out answers, fleshes out a character. If the detail itself is used in the story, it shows the reader that your character is a real person who has likes and dislikes. If it is not, the knowledge that you have will still unconsciously give the character a more realistic approach.

3. Independent 

You may mistake this for me telling you that all characters need to be strong, independent young men and women (or…old men and women, I guess) that don’t need anyone else. That is not what I am saying. What I mean by all characters needing to be independent is that if they are around simply to be tied to another character, they need to go. Don’t have a love interest that is there solely because the protagonist or someone else needs to date. That love interest’s existence is then tied to your protagonist, and they are there because you needed something convenient. That is not the way to go. Treat each character like they have their own complex backstory, feelings,thoughts, hopes, and dreams – because they do. Let the love interest have an identity outside of dating another character. This also goes for sidekicks, antagonists – anyone really. Bottom line: no character should exist solely for the convenience of another character.

4. Relatable

All well-developed characters should be relatable to the reader one way or another. It doesn’t have to be something big. Maybe you’re not a 3-foot-tall hobbit that’s taken on a huge fire-breathing dragon — but maybe you know what it’s like to feel small and insignificant, or you share the same hunger for adventure. You’ve never sold your family out to the White Witch for Turkish Delight, but you’ve made your share of mistakes and have had to be forgiven. You’re not a demigod with a quest to save the world, but you can relate to being made fun of for being different, and you can understand feeling lonely. As the writer, you won’t always know what each person will or won’t relate to, but you can solve that by giving your characters real-people problems and feelings. A reader doesn’t want to read about someone who is perfect all the time or never has a bad hair day. They want a character that they can understand. A reader will not connect emotionally to a character unless there is something they can sympathize with. That’s simply a matter of stripping down the unrealistic factors of your fiction to the raw feelings and situations the people are in. The circumstances may be different, but as long as they’re still dealing with things that people have been dealing with for hundreds of years, the audience will respond in a positive manner.

5. Real

And lastly, your characters need to be real. Those past four factors of characterization will aid you in making a character realistic, but they need to be real to you before the audience will see them the same way. So, keep on working and spending time with those fantastic fictional friends. It will help your story in the long run.

Is there anything you want to add? What are some characters in popular fiction that you feel embody all (or most) of these traits? How do you strive to make your characters more interesting and developed? I want to hear from you!

How These Books Have Shaped My Writing

Books writingOn Thursday, I wrote a post on how writers are pretty much always readers, and why reading is so important in the writing process. During that post, I gave three reasons as to how books influence a writer’s storytelling. I promised that today I would give examples of books that have changed my writing, and how they’ve done so.

This will not be a complete list, because I don’t think I could ever record all of the authors and books that have inspired and taught me. However, I’ll pick some that stand out a lot.

Percy Jackson and the Olympians by Rick Riordan – This is quite possibly my favorite book series of all time (you’ll hear me reference back to it a LOT). Before these books, I greatly disliked reading or writing first-person. However, Rick Riordan’s first person POV from his protagonist Percy Jackson taught me to like first person, and now I write in it a lot. Also, I love his laid-back style of narrating and his humor. Both of those things have worked their way into my writing.

The Seven Wonders by Peter Lerangis – Much like Rick Riordan, Peter Lerangis’ informal style of writing and laugh-out-loud humor has influenced my writing a lot.

Resistance (Ilyon Chronicles) by Jaye L. Knight – I’m extremely impressed by the different races of creatures Jaye creates in her high fantasy world. I’m definitely taking notes.

The Chronicles of Narnia by CS Lewis – CS Lewis’ books aren’t called classics for nothing. His writing is beautiful and his story-telling powerful. One thing I take away from his books is the human-ness of his characters. They make mistakes just like we do. It makes them more relatable, and everyone loves relatable characters.

The Hobbit / The Lord of the Rings by JRR Tolkien – There is literally no way that these books could not have made it into this list. Tolkien’s books are pretty much the epitome of what high fantasy should be. His intricate plots, his amazing fictitious world, his lovable characters, and the way he is somehow able to spend five pages describing the color of a tree without boring the reader are all factors that inspire me.

Harry Potter by JK Rowling – I daresay, Rowling’s plots are as intricate as Tolkien’s. The woman thinks of everything. She is definitely an example of how to shape the rules of magic in a book. Also, her characters are colorful and diversified.

The Finisher by David Baldacci – I did say in my last post that not all books will influence you to follow their example. Some will show you what NOT to do. I wish I had something good to say about “The Finisher”. I really don’t, though (sorry, Baldacci). While the plot was good, it was not expanded to its full potential, and the characters were flat and lifeless. Additionally, homemade jargon that he created was not explained, and left the reader (me) disoriented, frustrated, and confused. So basically, I’ve been inspired to avoid all of that! (It can be noted, however, that I did like the speech impediment of the one character in the book, and that was a good quirk that I would readily insert into my writing).

Now that you’ve seen how reading can help you write better, I want you to go read!

(Gif taken from Tumblr)

It’ll help you out a lot!

How about you? What are some books (and authors) that have inspired you as you write? How have they done that? 

Why Writers are Readers

Writers Readers

Have you ever asked a published author for advice on writing? Whether you have in the past or are going to in the future, I guarantee that I can tell you the advice that they have given or will give you. Don’t believe me?

They will tell (or have told) you to: read. 

Boom. There it is.

No, it’s not magic by which I knew that. I knew that because that is the advice I have received from authors time and time again. Sure, they may give you other tips, but their main one will be to read (and then read some more). Authors are crazy about telling you to read. After several times of hearing this advice, I was going, “Okay, alright, I should read. I do read. I read a lot, actually. Got anything else?” I actually started getting annoyed, because I found the advice repetitive and useless.

I was wrong.

Sure, it took me a while to figure it out, but I’ve come to the realization that the “read” advice authors give is actually really valuable, important advice. And they hammer it in, even though it seems obvious, because they know that it’s the most important tip they can give you.

Reading and writing go hand in hand; there’s no denying that. Reading stories is ultimately what propels you to write stories. It’s like the Circle of Life or something. But for a moment, we can forget that. Why authors tell you to read is because reading makes you a better writer.

“Reading makes me a better writer?” You ask. “Wouldn’t – I don’t know, writing – make me a better writer?”

Well, yes. But reading books helps a lot. I’ll quickly break down three reasons why.

1. Reading helps you to find your writing style. 

    Each author inherently has their own writing style that is unique to them. You have it, too, but sometimes it’s hard to find exactly what yours is. Reading helps you. As you read the styles of different authors and decide on those that you like and don’t like, your preferences bleed over into your own writing. Now, to clarify, this is not trying to copy another author’s style – that will just turn out sad and pitiful. You can’t be another writer, so don’t try to imitate their style. However, taking tips from it is perfectly fine. For example, if you like the laid-back approach the author takes to addressing their reader through their characters, experiment with making yours a little less formal and a bit more approachable. All your preferences through reading different author’s writing styles will blend together to make a unique concoction for your own writing.

2. Your likes and dislikes in books will give you experience for your stories.

This may be the most prevalent thing I’ve found about reading that influences my writing. Simply what I like and don’t like about a book shapes how I write. So you like/dislike a character. Why? What makes you root for them or wish for their untimely demise? Maybe their compassion draws you to them, and you want a character that is that likable. Or perhaps you hate their whininess, and so you don’t want to push your readers away by making a character with that characteristic. As you read, you pick out different details that you think work and don’t work. Obviously, if you think something is amazing, you’ll want something that amazing in your own story, and you’ll take notes on it. If you find a book absolutely horrendous, you’ll want to determine what was so bad about it so that you don’t make that mistake in your writing.

3. Reading can inspire you in many different ways.

There are a thousand (that’s probably an exaggeration) different ways that other people’s writing can inspire your own. Maybe the concept or plot of a story ignites a plot bunny in your mind. Also, reading a successfully published book can refuel your desire to share your story with the world as well. It reminds you why you started writing in the first place. Also, reading the really horrible books gives you hopes that if a book like that can be published, yours surely can. 😉

On Monday, I’ll touch more on the books (and other forms of media) that have influenced my storytelling, and in what ways.

So, I have to join the ranks of my favorite authors in telling you: read, read, READ!

It’s your turn! Is there anything I missed on how reading enhances your writing? Have you been heavily influenced by reading? If so, how? 

Bookends Revamped!

Hey! I’m Kiara, and it’s very nice to meet you!

You may (or may not) know that Bookends was a blog I had previously started on Blogger. However, I didn’t like how the layout looked, and I wasn’t very organized. So, my friend has a writing blog on WordPress ( it’s http://www.simple-scribbles.com/ – check it out!) and she recommended this site to me.

I’ve decided to try it out, and I really like the way it’s set up. So, I’m transferring Bookends to here, and it gets a complete makeover. 🙂

If you’re new here, I would love to get to know you. I am a fifteen-year-old (as of this post) writer who aspires to be a published author someday. I love animals and books.

Here are some random facts about myself:

  • My favorite color is blue.
  • My favorite animals are wolves. (I’ve had the privilege of visiting a wolf sanctuary, where I got to be around my beloved animals and hear their hauntingly beautiful howls).
  • I read pretty much all genres; my absolute favorite is what I call traditional fantasy.
  • I have three older sisters.
  • I own a shih-poo dog, Bella, who is extremely lazy, but also extremely cuddly.
  • I want to own a dragon.
  • My birthday is on the same day as Sebastian Stan’s birthday (he’s one of my favorite actors). Additionally, I share my birthday with another actor, Corey Fogelmanis (he and I were actually born the exact same day in the exact same year). Also, my birthday is National Left-Hander’s Day, and guess what – I’m a proud leftie!
  • I have an extremely vivid imagination (all the better for being a writer, right?)
  • I’m self-teaching myself archery.
  • As of the time of this post, I have 6 books autographed by their respective authors – 3 from a local pair of authors, one of those authors that I’ve gotten to communicate with; two from one of my favorite authors, Christa Kinde (I also extensively communicate with her through cards, letters, and email), and one from another of my favorite authors, Jenny L. Cote. I also feel special because all of those autographs are specifically addressed to me by name.
  • I wear hearing aids.
  • I’m starting this blog to communicate with other writers, both young and old. I want to give the advice I’ve found to work with me, and I want to journey with other writers as we navigate through this tricky thing called writing.
  • I will post on Mondays and Thursdays. Please take note that when school starts up in the fall, postings may have to be spread out and/or less frequent.

Sorry if I bored you with those pretty much useless facts. If you want to learn more about me, you can comment below or you can check out the “About the Blogger” section of my site.

Now it’s your turn! What are some interesting facts about you? Is there anything else you want to know about me? Let’s talk!