Friday, May 27, 2016

Shock Factor Fail

If you follow comics at all, you probably heard about Steve Rogers, aka Captain America, and the shock factor Marvel is using to market the new Captain America comic run. If you haven't, long story short: in the first issue of the latest comic run, Steve Rogers is apparently revealed to be Hydra agent. The link above has a fantastic look at some of the multiple reasons why this is problematic, but I'm not going to use it as more than a jumping off point for this particular post.

There's a tendency in creative circles (especially when we get into marketing, but a lot of new authors do it, too) to use shock factor in an attempt to make people care about products, stories, or characters. You know, killing characters off just to surprise the audience, or suddenly having a character betray everything they've stood for without any sort of foreshadowing. Things of that nature. Anything that shocks and surprises the reader out of nowhere. I think it's often a writer's attempt to salvage what they feel is a story that isn't working or has gotten boring, but it backfires more often than it works.

The problem with using shock factor to try and make your story interesting again is that it tends to pull the reader out of the world you've created. That isn't to say you shouldn't try to surprise your readers (who doesn't love a good plot twist?), but you need to make sure that any twist makes sense, can be seen in hindsight, and isn't there just to try to get a reaction--of disgust, anger, whatever--from your audience. A shock twist makes the reader ask what the heck is going on and, at least for this reader, makes them put down the book.

So take a look at your plot twists and surprises. Ask yourself if you're putting them in just for shock value or if they add something to the plot and character development. Sometimes it's not easy to tell the difference as the creator, so ask for outside opinions. Especially if your twist is going to involve a good guy apparently revealing connections with a world-destroying hate group like Hydra.

Emily is thoroughly disappointed in Marvel at the moment. She's sure there will be some twist eventually revealed to ensure that Steve isn't actually a Hydra agent, but that only really makes it worse. So, to make herself feel better, she's going to build a cave out of her Image and Aftershock comics and soak up the good-feels of Saga and Insexts until she's not angry any more.

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