Questionable: How do you decide what your main plot is and who your antagonist is?

AG wrote:
So when is the decision to beef up your villain into the antagonist, and when is the decision to shrink the villain so that the focus is on the primary relationships? I remember that a common complaint has been that Marvel villains are weak, but for several of those films, that worked, since they didn’t get in the way of the primary relationships. But when does the complaint that the villain is weak become an actual issue?

There’s a lot to unpack there. I’ll tackle the first question at length and then hit the second on the way out.

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So Here’s What I Would Have Done: Venom

The last time I looked at a piece of pop culture storytelling and said, “You know, I’d have done it THIS way,” I ended up spending four years writing Nita Dodd. So I’m a little leery of going there again, except that the film Venom is such an interestingly flawed story. Generally monsters, even super monsters, aren’t my thing which is why it took me so long to get around to this one. Also, I’m kind of Marvel-ed out. And yet, this is one of those movies where the good parts are really good, and the bad parts are just blah (as opposed to those movies where the good parts are really good and the bad parts are horrible–see January Man).

This kind of story always fascinates me. If they could get the good stuff right, why couldn’t they avoid the bad? Hypocrites R Us, of course, my books have the same problem. Still, I wanted to take Venom apart to see why Rotten Tomato critics gave it a 29% favorable rating and regular people put it at 80%. Here’s my take (spoilers all over the place below):In the end, I decided it came down to knowing what your story is really about and focusing on that, no matter what you’d planned before.

MAJOR SPOILERS FOR THE MOVIE AHEAD.

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Leverage Sunday: The Broken Wing Job: Completing Long Form Character Arc

BrokenWing
In “The Broken Wing Job,” Parker’s been left alone minding the pub because she’s torn something in her leg that’s immobilized her. The best way to watch this episode is to probably go back and watch “The Juror #6 Job” first. Parker’s arc is extraordinary and, in the context of the show, completely believable. Her family has spent four and half seasons teaching her to pay attention to things besides her thefts and to connect to people, and it all pays off in “The Broken Wing” because Parker not only spots thieves by paying attention, she connects to several different people in the restaurant and understands what they’re doing, too, even though they’re not criminals. Not only that, she solves everything, even the romantic entanglements, while foiling kidnappers. She does call Eliot and Hardison for advice, but when she calls Nate, he tells her she can do it by herself and hangs up, throwing her out into cold where she does just fine, redeeming himself when he comes home by quietly telling her that she did great work, just as he knew she would. It’s a father/daughter moment that’s brief but true, and sets up the next episode.

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Person of Interest: “Synecdoche” and the Importance of Consequence

This episode had to follow the cataclysmic events of last week, and it managed to do so in the least effective way possible. It’s as if the writers of this episode were more interested in moving plot than in character and consequence, and as a result, the entire forty-odd minutes fell oddly flat as the show moved people through their paces, checking off boxes without any real emotional arc or connection with the viewer. This would be a bad idea any time, but at this point in the series plot, it’s a terrible idea. HUGE things happened last week; if you’re going to drop that kind of weight on your viewer/reader, the impact has to have equal weight. Think of “The Devil’s Share” after Carter’s death: the grim weight of that story showed that Carter’s death mattered, would continue to matter. This episode shows that Root is now the Machine so she’s okay, and Elias never mattered at all. There are no consequences to last week, and that undercuts not only this week but last week, too. Root’s and Elias’s deaths should matter; attention should be paid. Continue reading

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Person of Interest: “A More Perfect Union,” “QSO,” and “Reassortment”

The last act of a story has to be lean and mean. The story’s first three acts (or two or four or whatever) have burned away everything but this final push, our protagonist is in the crucible, and there’s only one real mandate: Fight Back.

In a hundred-thousand-word book, my last acts are usually around 15K sometimes less. That’s seven, eight, maybe ten scenes, tops, for my protagonist to pick herself up, get to the antagonist, and end the damn thing one way or another. This isn’t just for pacing purposes, this is for the reader/viewer, too. She’s waited a long time for this, so I don’t stop for anything else isn’t directly related to getting to that climax. This is the top of the roller coaster; don’t slow down on the final drop. Continue reading

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Person of Interest: “6741” and “ShotSeeker” and End of Story Pacing

So the first move after the crisis is the reset: the protagonist picks herself up and charges back into the fray, changed irrevocably from where she began and now determined to bring down the antagonist and achieve her goal or die trying. (Since this is Person of Interest, “die trying” is not an exaggeration.) And the first three episodes of Season Five did this: the five remaining Gang members (I’m counting Bear) are relatively safe back in their undiscovered subway lair (or in Fusco’s case, the police station), the Machine is relatively back to normal (big asterisk on that one), and the numbers are coming again. So this is the time for the Gang to move from recovery to assault; this is the last act and it has to move swiftly. And with “6741” and “ShotSeeker,” it does. Continue reading

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