Tag Archives: Characters

Wonder Woman and Getting Characters Right

DC Comics hasn’t had much luck with movies lately. They’ve been striving to catch up with Marvel Comics’ unsurpassed cinematic universe with several films of their own—with mixed results. Then this past weekend Wonder Woman was released. A lot was riding on it. It was the first female-led superhero film in 12 years (and none of the others were successes). It was the first time Wonder Woman was ever on the big screen. DC desperately needed a film to save their “extended universe.”

And it was, well, wonderful.

This blog isn’t a review of the film. What I want to talk about is the first and most important reason why I think this film succeeded. It’s something that took DC’s film division four tries to learn, and it’s something you as a writer can benefit from knowing.

Get your characters right.

One of the major problems the DCEU films have had is they’ve tried so hard to reimagine and/or “modernize” their already iconic characters that they’ve almost ceased to be those characters. Superman is brooding and doubtful. Batman is paranoid and murderous. And don’t even get me started on the Joker.

Here, though, DC doesn’t screw around. They present Wonder Woman—a character I’m sure they were too scared for years to put on screen—as she should be: earnest, inspirational, and above all, compassionate. I’ve not read many Wonder Woman comics (though I suddenly want to read more now), but I’ve always thought that she was written best when she was written as I just described. Yes, she is an Amazon warrior. Her strength rivals Superman’s and her fighting prowess probably exceeds Batman’s. But hers is a distinctly feminine strength. Her drive to fight comes from a desire to comfort and protect. In the film, she witnesses the horrors of war, seeing wounded soldiers and civilians, and without speaking a word, the audience knows her heart is breaking. She’s naïve, but she’s not brooding, doubtful, or murderous. It’s a welcome change from what DC’s been doing with their films.

Along the same lines, this film isn’t steeped in feminist propaganda. By that I mean making all the men in the film worthless idiots (like what was done in last year’s horrid Ghostbusters remake). Wonder Woman is determined to forge ahead and make her own way, but she gladly seeks and accepts help from men. The male characters, especially Steve Trevor (Chris Pine), are all strong, competent, and well-written characters. Wonder Woman even (gasp!) falls in love with one of them and (SPOILER WARNING) renews her faith in humanity because Trevor told her he loved her before dying heroically. In other words, Wonder Woman saw the best of mankind thanks to men.

Let this be a lesson to you, writers: believe in your characters and let them be true to themselves. Don’t let culture or trends dictate how you write them. That’s a one-way ticket to cookie-cutter clichés. Write the characters you want to write. Make them unique. Make them your own. What audiences want isn’t always what they need, or even what they want in the long run. That’s why you need to let your characters be true to themselves, and by extension, you remain true to yourself as an artist and storyteller.

What did you think of Wonder Woman? What are some ways you’ve learned on how to write your characters right?

Why Shouldn’t Characters Make Mistakes?

My mind tends to wander at my day job (no surprise, right?) and contemplate random ideas. Most recently, I thought about how audiences are averse to characters making mistakes.

Critics and comedians alike have made careers out pointing out the “stupid” mistakes characters—villains in particular—make in many stories. I’ll be the first to say I’m not beyond making such criticisms/jokes and I love websites like the Evil Overlord List. But this begs the question: What’s wrong with characters making mistakes?

"Now here's my little secret--I AM YOUR FATHER! (oh wait...wrong movie!)" Image courtesy of www.queeofsarcasm.tripod.com
“Now here’s my little secret–I AM YOUR FATHER! (oh wait…wrong movie!)”
Image courtesy of www.queeofsarcasm.tripod.com

The specific instance I was thinking when this thought came to mind was Scar in The Lion King. When Simba returns to Pride Rock, Scar forces him to confess that he’s responsible for Mufasa’s death. He pushes Simba over the edge of a cliff. Then, with his nephew clutching the precipice, Scar whispers that was actually him who killed Mufasa. Simba suddenly finds a second wind and pounces on his uncle. The climactic showdown follows.

On the surface, this seems like a variation of the tried-and-true “villain’s monologue before killing hero” trope. If Scar had just kept his mouth shut, he’d probably still be king. Plenty of other villains have made the same mistake. Is it often contrived and stupid? Yes. But I would argue that when done right, it serves the story.

One of the great ironies of villains (and other characters) is that they’re undone by their own hubris. For villains it usually manifests as sadism or narcissism. In other words, they show off. They can’t just kill the hero: they have to flaunt how badly they’ve beaten them. The hero, usually being the villain’s foil, exploits this weakness, thus proving that humility trumps arrogance.

But this isn’t limited to villains. Many have criticized Hamlet’s reluctance to kill his uncle when he had the chance in Shakespeare’s classic play. (I’m amused at the unintentional irony because The Lion King was loosely inspired by Hamlet, but I digress). If he had done so, Hamlet not only would’ve avenged his father, he probably would’ve prevented his own death. (My apologies for the spoiler). 😛

I think much of this criticism stems from audiences’ own arrogance, whether they know it or not. They watch characters make mistakes and think, “I wouldn’t have done that.” Maybe they wouldn’t have. Or they would’ve made a different mistake. The truth is that both good and bad people make mistakes in real life. Napoleon made an infamous one at Waterloo. Hitler foolishly tried to invade Russia during winter. George W. Bush gave a war speech under a banner that said, “Mission Accomplished.” The list could go on. Nobody’s perfect. Art is a reflection of reality, and mistakes are part of it. That can be traced all the way back to the Garden of Eden. Mistakes can and do service a story.

So be careful next you criticize a character’s mistakes. You may as well be indicting yourself, too.

Besides, Vizzini avoided making “one of the classic blunders,” and it still got him killed!

"...but only slightly less well-known is this: "'Never go in against a Sicilian when death is on the line'! Ha ha ha..."
“…but only slightly less well-known is this: “‘Never go in against a Sicilian when death is on the line’! Ha ha ha…”