The internet, and myself included, were all in a tizzy this week with the announcement that in a new comic series, Steve Rogers #1, Captain America is actually an undercover Hydra agent.
Not having it.
Fans were quite rightly upset and for good reason. Captain America has stood as a moral icon, defending the defenseless against tyranny and oppression, and choosing the right path, regardless of personal cost, for 75 years. He’s the good guy, with no hints at all to his character to the contrary. Many fans believe this is just a publicity stunt, shock for shock value alone, and I agree.
With his rise in popularity due to two wonderful films in the MCU, I can imagine that there was a meeting in which execs and writers came up with a few “what if” scenarios, but as a fellow writer, I can attest to the fact that not all ideas are good ones. I can’t fault a writer for wanting to take a risk, especially with a character of Cap’s reputation, but taking a character with such a strong moral code and turning that on its head without any warning is just feeding into the mentality that the only way to be relevant is to be shocking.
We, as a people, continually exposed to all manner of craziness via the internet and the rise in dramatic, stunning television, I think, are the reasons behind such bold moves. In order to be noticed, we’ve resorted to becoming the one-uppers. Shows like Game of Thrones, The Walking Dead, and American Horror Story, among others, have risen the bar in the way of surprising their audience, and I thank them for it, but at the same time wonder if it’s not hurting us as well, overall.
We now expect so much more from all our media-going experiences, and this is forcing writers to do the unexpected often without reason. A scene like the Red Wedding in Game of Thrones had a great deal of build up. It wasn’t an out of left field surprise, although yes, it was upsetting. The stage was set, long before we arrived, with bread crumbs left along the way that led us to such an inevitable conclusion.
This is something as writers we need to be aware of. We can’t throw in a shocking twist just because – there has to be a reason, motivation, there has to have been set up. Audiences want to be satisfied, they also want to feel clever, and this is done by offering them morsels and insights they can piece together before the big surprise.
This offers us, as writers, a great challenge to think about the nuances needed to tell our story more effectively. If we look at the big picture, how can we impress upon our audience what is to come with a little foreshadowing? Is there a metaphor that could highlight the impending dilemma? Is there a phrase said by a character early on that offers such insight? Think of social media and how people dig into their favorite scenes, stories, characters, etc. to find more depth and hidden meaning (I have discovered a number of memes and the like showcasing foreshadowing I missed myself) and think of how happy it will make our audience if we can offer that to them.
I found this writing tip via Helping Writers Become Authors that offers the good and bad reasons to kill a character, but I think it can be utilized in regards to any plot device.
Let us not short change our audience. Let us give them the surprises they deserve; those that mean more because we cared enough to think our story through, and not just another tactic or ploy meant to incite emotion or a reaction. Let us also not short change our work or our characters. Be true to them. They deserve no less…and so does Cap.