WRITING THE PLOT (A LETTER)


Several things first. 1. I’ve been asking for questions to answer on this page, but so far there have been no takers. Let’s get some good back and forth going. Ask stuff, comment on what is being done, etc. 2. There’s also been a dearth of letters sent to the message board. That’s for smaller questions of interest perhaps to only one or two folk, so if you have specific questions you want answered, post them there. If you have broader based questions that most folk would like to read about, send them directly to me.
For the past two weeks I’ve been talking about plots. I received this letter in response to part one:

Dear Marv,

I just wanted to say I thought it was wonderful that you made your original plot for New Titans #109 available to read. What put a cherry on the cake though was your added comments about why you plotted events the way you did and why you believed certain characters behaved the way they did. I'd certainly like to see much more of that, especially on your Titans work since Titans is, was and always will be my all time favorite series. It's the only comic book whose characters seemed so authentic that they practically leapt off the printed page and into our hearts with each and every issue.

It's ironic that you wrote this piece now since I just finished reading both series' from start to finish (including all annuals, one shots and guest appearances) last week in chronological order so it's all still very fresh in my mind. It's quite ironic that you brought up the points you did about Kory because now, I look back in retrospect and see things a bit differently than when I read the books on a monthly basis. Reading the issues one right after the other makes it seem as if it was all one continuous flow, one complete story so its easier to see the hits and misses, the kinks so to speak.

I happen to be one of those people who disagreed with where Kory's story went. You might say, 'Wow, how pompous, how arrogant of you to tell me how my characters should or should not behave' and perhaps you might be right in making that statement but as a reader, someone looking from the outside in, the whole story just seemed awkward, not right, from start to finish. Please let me tell you why in the most respectable manner possible because as always, even though I may not have agreed with all your stories, you are still my favorite comic writer of all time.

I understand that you wanted to tell a compelling story that clearly defined the differences between Dick and Kory but opting to go down the avenue you chose with her marriage to Karras just didn't seem to be the proper way that Kory would have behaved, as you had been building her character up during the prior 5 years of stories. And the reasons for my (and obviously other readers since I remember it all very clearly back then) feeling this way is very simple.

You had clearly established that Kory was taken from her planet at a very young age (6?). Already a warrior and someone who behaves from emotion rather than intellect, she was sold into slavery but escaped as a teenager and became a member of the Titans. During that time, she met and fell in love with Dick Grayson. Additionally during that time, she learned from him and all other members of the team that you just cannot kill on Earth. It's not tolerated here (though how it could be tolerated on Tamaran still completely baffles me, what, every time someone feels justified they can walk around and kill someone? That's anarchy and in that case, what do they even need a king or system of gov't for but again, that's not what this is about).

In time, she began to change and you clearly stated so in the text "Living on Earth has changed me". When she began reverting back to her old ways in the stories building up to issue #16 of the Baxter series, it seemed more like a regression than a progression of character growth. Besides, even if she wasn't with Dick, no one would have tolerated that type of behavior so the character is left with the same ultimatum that every individual faces: conform to the rules that govern society or suffer the consequence. Either way, during the 5 years before the wedding storyline, you portrayed both Dick and Kory growing closer as they worked through some terribly tough, difficult issues. Though all along, while Kory did restrain herself from acting on the impulse to kill, she did still react from a place of emotion rather than intellect because, as you established, Tamaranians were people of emotion, not reason.

However, when it came time for her to return home and her father demanded that she comply with her duties as a princess and marry Karras, as a reader it felt out of character for her to say yes. You said she felt that she was obligated to fulfill her duties as a princess and comply. However, she was sold into slavery as a young girl and was a princess in name only. She was never actually raised on Tamaran. Why she felt an obligation to a place that she spent more time off, then on seemed absurd... princess or not. Additionally, she was an emotional person. They act on their feelings, not reason or intellect.

Maybe it was responsible from an intellectual standpoint for her to comply with the king and not question him but from an emotional standpoint, it was unreasonable. You clearly established that she had made the Earth her home, with the man she loved and worked SO HARD to get. It would have seemed more in character for her to abdicate the throne for Dick (Tamaranians do anything for the people they love, as you so clearly established before), the man she loved. After all, for the past 5 years, whenever Dick's issues came up, Kory was always shouting that love should be the only thing that matters. However, you stated that Tamarians do it all the time, marry but keep love and sex separate. But how would Kory even know that? She left there when she was six! And besides, from birth to age 4, people aren't really self-aware anyway so technically, she spent 2 years on Tamaran. Was that long enough for her to know that love and sex are different on Tamaran, especially at age 6 -- or let's be generous, at age 10 even? Many of Tamaran's traditional customs should be more alien to her than Earth since she never really grew up there to grasp and comprehend those customs!
It didn't make sense when she chose to behave intellectually and fulfill her obligations to a king (who sold her to their enemy, no less) rather than emotionally -- especially when you stated that they were emotional people. It just didn't make sense Not only to me but to many other readers as well because I recall working at a distributor at that time, and we saw sales dramatically slide afterwards. Did people want things to turn our right for Dick and Kory? Sure they did, you certainly put them through it for five years prior. It was like you were building this great big skyscraper and just before opening day, you tore it down. If it would have made sense, then sure by all means and while I'm sure you feel it made sense to you, it didn't to many of us readers who had watched the way you had been building the character for all those years before.

At least that's the way I, and many others saw things... from the outside looking in.

-Brett Tolino

Over the years I’ve had many people ask me about that story. They usually give me a weird look that can pretty much be summed up by “What were you thinking?” I’m pleased that Brett’s letter is well thought out and reasoned. We may have differences of opinions on this issue, but the points Brett brings up leads me to some of the comments I had wanted to make on those Starfire stories, points I’ve raised before about what could be right and still be wrong.

I stand by the Starfire story, but, in retrospect, as I’ve said before, I would not do it again. Not because I think Kory acted incorrectly (we’ll get to my reasons in a bit) but because there is a difference between catering to the readers and understanding their expectations.
I believe it’s a writer’s job not to do what the readers want, but to make the readers want what you do. If you follow the advice of the more vociferous fans, they want you to either make sweeping changes but only in the way they’ve decided the book has to be: kill Aunt May! Kill Jason Todd! Kill… you get the point, or they want you to stay the same and if you move a character into a different direction they are all over you like ugly on an ape.

These are the angry people who wrote to the Titans after our first ads appeared and before issue #1 actually came out slamming us for destroying the great Teen Titans characters by adding several new people they hadn’t seen before. Trust me, we got many letters screaming at us for daring not to use Bumblebee or the Harlequin…all based on them seeing only the cover that appeared in the ad. That they wrote in afterward saying we were the best thing since sliced bread, is irrelevant.

The writer’s job is to take readers in new directions, to show them possibilities that they don’t see. The idea is to surprise them. If you only did what they wanted there would be no reason for them to read the book or see the movie. They’d already know what was going to happen, so why bother?

That said, there are expectations. I did what I felt was right, but I failed to take the readers along with me because I screwed with the core of the their expectations concerning Dick and Kory. I could have broken them up in any number of ways which would not have engendered the anger the Karras storyline created despite the fact that I still believe it was done within character. But the way I chose to tell the story was, ultimately, wrong, and once done it was hard to undo. Pretty much the way that now that Lois and Clark are married – in my opinion a mistake that will be hard to undo that without a major retrofit.

I call this playing dominoes. If you’re only interested in selling a ton of copies right now and you’re not worrying about the future, you’ll do big, explosive stories and the hell with what’s to come. I believe comics have been doing this more and more, worrying only about today and not the health of the characters, books or company down the line. But if you don’t look down the road to see how the domino you’re putting into place here will affect the domino way down there, you’re going to find yourself making a huge mistake. It’s inevitable.
I think if I wanted to break up Dick and Kory I should have built up the problems between them in a different way. Kory might still have married Karras but the relationship between her and Dick would have been over by then. How could they have broken up better? Possibly by having Kory slowly reach out to reclaim her Tamaranian heritage. I disagree with Brett in that I believe Kory was about 11 or 12, not 6 when she was taken. I believe – excuse the memory if I’ve forgotten (I’ve not re-read that story in awhile) – that I stated somewhere early on that she’d been aboard the Gordanian slave ship something like 5-6 years. If she was 18 (by our standards) with Titans 1, then she had to be about 12 when she was taken.

By 11 or 12, Kory would have long been indoctrinated with Tamaranian culture and exactly what would have been expected of her. She would have known what her duty was, and though she felt more of an Earthling than a Tamaranian those feelings, when triggered by her father, would have returned. She would do what she believed was expected of her. I believe she could have rebelled against her father’s demands but saw no reason to. This was a marriage in name only. Her intent was to leave Tamaran and return to Earth and I wanted to explore the differences between her and Dick before ultimately deciding what would be done with them.

The relationship had been going on for almost eight to ten years by then – in real time although only maybe two-three years in comic book time) and had not progressed. Being teens, they were far too young to be married. I thought that by putting them through a journey that may either keep them together or split them apart permanently (or as permanently as there is in comics) we would keep things fresh. The concept was correct.

I decided to go to the core of the characters; Kory’s reluctant but long-standing need to do what she is ordered to for her world, and Dick’s basic earthborn feelings. It would be impossible for Dick to be with a married woman, no matter what the circumstances. If you’re to test your characters there is nothing better than put two people who care for each other in a position where they have to stick by their opposing view points no matter where it leads them. To keep Kory, Dick would have had to accept that Kory was married and that on her world it was acceptable for her to be in love with someone else. To keep Dick, Kory would have to accept Dick’s feelings and not do what was required of her.

As I say, I stick by the concept, but for one reason or another my execution of this concept didn’t make it palatable. Readers have certain expectations when it comes to characters. You can push them so much, you can even end great romances, but you can’t do what I did in the way I did it. Could I do it better in retrospect? I think so.

I would slowly have built up the differences between them. I would have had their relationship change over the course of a year. I would have had a better confrontation between them where they would have laid their cards on the table. I would not have just presented it as I did as a fait accompli which didn’t give the readers time to get their heads around what I was trying to do. Of course, even doing it better might not have changed their reactions, but I’d like to think if it was done just a bit better it would have done exactly what I’d hoped it would do.

The Kory wedding story and the change in Jericho’s personality which led him to becoming a villain are the only two stories I ever did in Titans that I regret doing. Others may be good or bad, some might not have successful, but these two were mistakes.
You learn. You move on. And you hope you do better next time. At least I didn’t come up with that Spider-Man clone story.
Man, what were they thinking?

If you have any questions concerning comics, my work, etc. please write to me. Also, don’t forget to link on over to www.marvwolfman.com for a look at my always updated website.

See you in seven.
Marv

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