Essay from Zara Miller, author of the YA novel I Am Cecilia

HERO VS. VILLAINS

“Honestly, the closest I can think of them, as well made as they are, with actors doing the best they can under the circumstances, is theme parks. It isn’t the cinema of human beings trying to convey emotional, psychological experiences to another human being.”

So, Martin Scorcese compares Marvel movies to theme parks. And honestly, what a mood.

True, this isn´t exactly the newsworthy material, Ricky Gervais discussed Scorcese´s top-notch diss of superhero culture movies during his monologue at the 2020 Golden Globe Awards.

But it recently popped up in my recommended videos because the Youtube algorithm works in mysterious ways and got to thinking – is it just about shallow screenwriting and the allure of cheap CGI action, the mindless fun?

And I realized that the problem of Marvel storytelling runs even deeper than the genius director conveyed to us out loud – that it heavily influenced the type of novels we get to read – and it´s not exactly Marvel´s fault … Not entirely.

ONE-DIMENSIONAL CHARACTERS

One-dimensional characters or flat characters do not change or grow from the start of the story to the end. Their purpose is to highlight the main character, to be a plot device, or a tool, and they typically are simpletons with a one point of view on life – they only see one dimension – hence one-dimensional characters, hold a simple and small perspective about life or the situation in the story. Their character is often used as a literary device to keep the narrative moving – many times when the script has written itself into a corner, or the writer has run out of effective ways to move the plot forward.

Now, Marvel, from the three-hundred and seventy-two movies total from which I´ve seen eighteen, does not suffer from one-dimensional characters on the hero side of the story. All the good guys go through trauma, they learn, they grow, they develop new opinions (ehm-ehm- some of them).

Marvel has been criticized for sucking at writing an effective villain but the problem is not the villains, the problem is the root of the Marvel storytelling – the good guys are good and the bad guys are bad.

One would think that they would take their own advice and write all the villains the way Loki is written – which is the reason (not the only one, yeah, Tom Hiddleston is awesome and all that) why audiences flock to him so much. He has a strong motivation, he´s smart and his character is a rainbow of personalities – just like a regular human being, which makes him likable and most importantly, relatable.

But Marvel is not the inventor of one-dimensional characters.

William Shakespeare is.

Benvolio from Romeo and Juliet, Gertrude from Hamlet, Shylock from The Merchant of Venice very effective plot devices with one stubborn character feature that poses an obstacle to the protagonist.

However, Shakespeare didn´t have Hollywood studios behind him to balance out the lack of personalities in his stories with raging beam in the sky and generic CGI armies. To give a complete experience to audiences, he had to support the narrative by creating strong protagonists, interesting antagonists, and villains with complex personalities (Lady Macbeth, Hamlet, Portia). And when you do that, your story not only allows for the one-dimensional character to make sense, it makes it even more immersive and realistic – because we all know that one blank person who is just sort of … there. Existing, with one opinion on all the debatable, morally grey, complicated stuff we deal with in life.

And that´s why people will never have such a raging allergy if a Marvel movie turns out bad and will keep watching them and paying for the next one and the next one and the next one.

Low stakes, low damage.

Now compare that to a show heavily driven by character development where there are no villains and heroes like the Game of Thrones. 

Feel like re-watching it? No? Me neither. And no one can blame us. That show became un-rewatchable due to replacing the complexity of the human heart with a hero vs. villain storytelling and adding some explosive Marvel-type action as the final lethal, cyanide-like icing on the cake. 

IN BOOKS

All the teenage apocalyptic series. Thank you for your time, good night.

….

I really didn´t want to get into this but there is no better example than the popular doomsday book series where children hunt each other in a world that no longer resembles a rational society. And they gave us all the subsequent movie franchises in which those very same teenagers are at least twenty-six years old, of course.

However, there is a silver lining on the horizon in a form of Shadow and Bone. I´ve never read the books but the popular fantasy book series The Grisha has been picked up by Netflix and the first book has been adapted in a form of a limited TV series.

And if the source material is as strong as the adaptation, we might just be plunging out of the lazy storytelling brought about by the likes of Twilight and 50 Shades of Grey.

DOES I AM CECILIA DO BETTER THAN THAT?

Cecilia used to think that being born to a small fortune, accompanied by chrysanthemums on the way from the hospital and surrounded by exploding fanfares of affection, would set her up for a never-ending life of lottery wins, parades without rain, and smooth slides on the slopes of adoration. She never realized how slippery that slope of adoration was. Maybe money was not the root of all evil. Family dysfunction was. 

An Excerpt from I am Cecilia by Zara Miller

As promised last time in the first article, I would reveal a little bit behind the story and the inspiration behind writing this YA novel.

The hero vs. villain in the Marvel movies is something that was always on my mind and tried to avoid during writing. Blurring the lines in the protagonist/antagonist/villain/anti-hero characterization. Not just because it´s a lot of fun but because it makes for a rich experience.

When you find yourself disliking the hero yet rooting for them anyway, or loving the villain yet understanding that they have to be stopped – the writer is probably doing it right.

I am Cecilia is now available on Amazon: https://www.amazon.com/I-am-Cecilia-Zara-Miller-ebook/dp/B094519D7T/ref

You can follow me on Instagram @zaramiller_author, or on LinkedIn under Zara Miller for more news and swoon-worthy fiction content. Looking forward to meeting you all!

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