Writing and Captain America: Winter Soldier

This weekend was the release of Marvel Studio’s Captain America: Winter Soldier. Captain America is my favorite comic book character of all time, Batman running an extremely close second (almost neck and neck really). This is the second movie in the franchise, the first having left much to be desired. After I left the theater, I walked away elated. It was an example of how a character can be redeemed if you have the right people and the right writing.

Now, I come to the table on this well versed. I have scores of Captain America comics and I have the story line that the movie was based on (sort of). That being said, I wanted to come at this from the perspective of a writer. For those three people that actually read these and care, I write on superhero movies because that is the genre of novels that I will write. Blackson’s Revenge will be that vein as well as the other two novels in the trilogy.

Three key elements I believe novelists can learn from the movie to help them in their writing.

Captain America: Winter Soldier is a much more true to character movie than the first. Notice I said that it stayed true to character, not true to origin. The first Captain America was true to origin for the most part, but it was weak in staying true to character. Which brings me to the first lesson: know who you are writing about. That means building backgrounds and detail files on each of the major characters in your novel, especially the protagonist. You should have a firm grasp on who the characters in your stories are before you type a syllable in the novel. This does a few things, the main one being making your job easier in writing. If you know your characters, it makes it easier because you will know how they will act and react, what they will and won’t do in the story. That tends to help the story write itself in many respects.

Another plus for the Captain America: Winter Soldier it staying true to the source material. Now, you may be wondering how can you stay true to source material as a novel writer. You are, effectively, creating the source material. True. But once that is created, you don’t deviate from it for some storytelling gimmick. You stick to it. This is especially true for novel series. Science fiction and fantasy writers have to be concerned about this a little more than novelists in other genres. Consistency is the key. Fans will notice inconsistencies not only in characters but also in settings. If the evil lab was at the abandoned army base suddenly shows up in the basement of the oil conglomerate, there better be an explanation in between. Take your universe seriously by knowing it inside out. It would do much good to write out key locations and landmarks with their descriptions and history just like your characters and what changes happen to them in your story and where that can be found in the continuity. It’ll save some headache later.

Where I believe the movie excelled however was in story pacing. This is where the previous movie failed and

failed miserably. The pacing in CAWS was done very well. I never felt underwhelmed nor overwhelmed with a particular aspect of the story. There was just enough time spent on each scene though some of the banter was predictable and tried to be a little too humorous. For a novelist, this can be measured and more precise. Editing can help in the pacing as well as the amount of dialogue and whether we’re showing or telling.

I highly recommend going to see Captain America: Winter Soldier, noting the pros and cons from a writing perspective. You’ll enjoy the movie as well because, to put it in slang vernacular, it was off the chain.

8 thoughts on “Writing and Captain America: Winter Soldier

  1. Love you, Easton, but I have to respectfully disagree with your first point. I don’t think it’s important to have backgrounds and files on a character before writing. You must be a plotter.

    In fact, that’s the fastest way to drop my motivation for writing. I have to write to figure out my characters and my story. It evolves so much as I go, and so do the characters, that deciding it beforehand makes me feel like I’m working in a box with little more than elbow room. Often I sit down with no idea of what’s going to happen, and just let the words flow.

    That approach makes for a lot more writing, but I have a lot of fun doing it, and end up developing the novel, and/or backstory, as I go.

    That’s me, a pantser.

  2. Well, Miss Katie, my girl. I respect that you disagree though…well…I don’t think you’re wrong as much as I think your method is more convoluted than it has to be. I’m thinking on the other side of the equation. Writing your way is like driving a car to a destination without a map or any idea where you’re going. You might end up where you want but chances are more likely than not, you won’t.

    The purpose for character files is to help you write the novel faster. You discover just as much when you write a character back story. Now, the reason I write like this is because I write more character driven stories. Without interesting characters, it won’t matter what the plot is. The plot may be good but with half-baked characters, no one cares (actually I believe you need an interesting plot in addition to strong characters. You can get away with a mediocre plot and strong characters but not vice-versa. Well…not with me any way).

    You are writing when you create a file on your characters. Whether you write it in data or story form, you are still writing. I am big on preparation because that helps the novel flow, as you say, when I actually sit down to write it. It flows rather fast actually. The slow part is the back story. What you do in the novel, I do before because I feel it’s counter-productive.

    An example of this can be seen in my Samuel Neff data file which is right before this post. It’s a truncated version of what I normally write but I wanted people to get glimpse into the character that’s not presented in the story he’s in. The next time I write him into a story (he’s coming up in the story after The Basement), it will be rather easy to write him.

    But hey…do your thang, chicken wang. Whatever works for you to knock them bad boys out of the park is the right way to write your novels. But for those who haven’t discovered their method, do it my way. Like my sensei Adrian Monk used to say, you’ll thank me later.

  3. Hmm, you make a few good points, but I’m wary of anyone saying, ‘do it my way’.

    I think it just comes down to a matter of difference in how you do things. I literally would NOT be able to sit down, write a character file, and then write a story with those characters. It puts me in a box and completely takes away my motivation. For me, the fun part of writing is the discovery as I go. To be honest, I do write more than most people, but most of it actually makes it into the book, whether or not that was my original plan, so it’s by no means wasted time.

    I really don’t think writing should be all about speed, either, if we are talking about a first book. Time frames: definitely. I’m giving myself 5-6 months to completely finish, edit, format, and have ready for publication my second book. But it’s not my first book. In self publishing, and traditional, really, that first book involves a LOT of learning and learning curves. Pushing that process is not wise, I think.

  4. Wow. Talk about taking what I said out of context. Slow down Tex.

    When I said do it my way, I said it with the disclaimer that it was to be for those who didn’t have any method at the moment. I felt it was better than saying, “Don’t bother doing it at all.” Plus, it’s not really my way since a score of writers write in the exact same way. Books have been written about it. Also, it was said tongue in cheek since Adrien Monk is not a sensei. Those who watch the show will know the meaning of that.

    I also didn’t say everyone has to write fast. I said that once you complete your back story, It makes the writing faster. I explicitly said that the back story is the slow part. So interpreting my comments as if it was treatise on fast writing is reading something into it that’s simply not there. I also said, and I quote, “Whatever works for you to knock them bad boys out of the park is the right way to write your novels.”

    So, if my confidence in telling someone to try it my way (which, again, is not really MY way) is not palatable or makes you wary…well…it is what it is. I mean, you’re going to feel that way regardless and I’m going to say what I say regardless. I respect what you say. I don’t have to agree with it. Writing is so subjective. There’s a million different ways and methods to accomplish the end result of a novel. Some are good. Some not so much. But like I said before, it’s whatever works for you.

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