What Do Girls Want? I’m Not Sure

Before I get into the post, I wanted to announce that I’m still reaching out to authors as I mentioned in my last post. Expect the interviews at some point.

Back in the day when I had a Barbie (or four), I tied a cape around her and made her a superhero. This was before Supergirl action figures existed. (More on that later.) A napkin made an excellent cape. And a parachute. My Barbie also was a spy who parachuted out of trees. She knew karate and had super strength. (Interestingly enough, the latest Barbie movie is Barbie: Spy Squad.)

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My BFF and I wanted our Barbies to be empowered before we even knew the meaning of the word empowered. Now, before I go any further, this is not a Barbie-bashing post. This doll has had enough controversy in her over 50 years of existence. (By the way, a really good book about Barbie is The Good, the Bad, and the Barbie by Tanya Lee Stone.)

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Last week, I went to Toys “R” Us with a friend and her little son, and saw a huge display case full of Barbies in various professions. She’s a doctor, a spy, a businesswoman, a pet groomer—you name it. She’s even a pizza chef.

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Barbie’s handlers want her to be a role model. Female superheroes are getting their day too. Recently I read an article about a line of DC action figures for girls (including Supergirl)—something I would have wanted when I was a kid. You can read that article here.

Getting back to Barbie-like dolls, the Elsa doll pulls in more sales than Barbie. With her ice powers and staunch determination to be herself in Frozen, Elsa seems the picture of empowerment. (You’re probably thinking of the “Let It Go” song now, aren’t you? And after months of finally getting it out of your head. Sorry.)

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Her sister Anna, however, didn’t have ice power, but was heroic in a very moving way. (Which makes her my favorite from that movie.) Awhile ago, Time and Fortune featured articles on the empowering influence of Elsa and Anna. You can read them here and here.

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Now, many channels on YouTube feature discussions about toys, and include dolls in various fanfiction scenarios. (For example, Elsa marries Jack Frost; Baby Alive becomes a superhero.) So imagine my surprise when I saw not one but several fanfiction depictions of Elsa being kidnapped and having to be rescued. And those are just the YouTube videos. You have only to Google elsa kidnapped fanfiction to find a host of stories—some rawer than others. (There are several Anna-as-the-damsel-in distress scenarios too.) So much for empowerment!

“Now wait a minute,” you might say. “Anna had to save Elsa in the film.” True. And what a beautiful moment of sacrifice. But Elsa was not hand-wringing helpless. So many girls had mentioned how much they love Elsa’s ice powers and let-it-go attitude. And since many of the YouTube videos are fan-driven (many YouTubers asked fans, “What do you want to see?”), fans obviously desired to see the helpless-Elsa scenario. (I saw one of those videos just today in fact.) Many of these fans are girls.

You might think, Who cares? But as an author who is trying to provide strong heroines in books, I care. Yet I’m confused by the mixed messages. Last year, many people complained about Black Widow’s damsel-in-distress scene in The Avengers: Age of Ultron. (I was not one of the complainers.) Which leads me to believe that people want to see strong heroines ala Wonder Woman, Supergirl, etc.

The audience for Frozen, the YouTube toy videos, the non-YouTube Elsa fanfiction, and Age of Ultron differs to a degree. After all, Frozen had a very high preschool fan base (girls and boys) who probably did not see Ultron. I wrote probably, because I saw small children in the audience at the theater I attended. But there is some overlap, obviously, since Frozen grossed over a billion dollars. Many teens and adults loved Frozen, and were inspired enough to write fanfiction or request it on YouTube. But many younger kids also watch YouTube, sometimes with their parents. They make their desires known too. Based on what I’ve seen online, not only do I wonder what they want but also whether they have a different definition of empowerment.

What say you?

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I asked these girls how they defined empowerment, but they remained mum on the subject. I guess I’ll let it go.

Barbie images from ricardodemelo.blogspot.com, shoppingsquare.com.au, and pixmania.fr. Black Widow action figure from tvandfilmtoys.com. Barbie Spy Squad poster and Elsa doll from fanpop.com. Elsa and Anna dolls from disneytimes.com. Elsa with ice powers from blogs.disney.com. Photo of Popette (Moose Toys), Donatina (Moose Toys), Hello Kitty (Sanrio), and Strawberry Shortcake (Hasbro) by L. Marie.

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Color Show

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While researching sight in horses, I learned that horses can’t distinguish as many colors as humans can. The human retina has three cone photoreceptors while the equine retina has two (dichromatic vision).

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One of the articles I read is “Vision in horses: More than meets the eye” by Neil Clarkson for Horsetalk.co.nz. The following line from the article made me sit up and take notice:

The research showed that horses, with their dichromatic vision, cannot distinguish red.

love-red-colorHumans with protanomalous (red-weak) vision have the same issue. And since red is my favorite color, well, you can see why I took notice, especially since the color red led me to research the topic in the first place. While writing a story with shape-shifters, I wanted to know which colors a teen in his animal form (horse) could distinguish. Could he distinguish the color of blood on snow?

I guess it’s up to me whether or not he retains his trichromatic color vision or switches over to dichromatic while a horse. (This is a fantasy book after all.) Since I wound up dumping the snow in the scene, the color aspect became moot anyway. But it caused me to think of how enriched my own world is due to having trichromatic color vision. Since I love bright colors (note the nail polish in the first photo), I have to fight the temptation to make every person, place, or thing I write about brightly colored. But I love using colors as symbols to show the emotional landscape of a character or to show mood in general.

Color choice can be very important when you’re using an objective correlative. If you’re wondering what an objective correlative is, here’s a handy definition from Merriam-Webster.com:

Something (as a situation or chain of events) that symbolizes or objectifies a particular emotion and that may be used in creative writing to evoke a desired emotional response in the reader.

A great post on objective correlatives with a helpful (and color-filled) example can be found here at Ingrid’s Notes. I can wait while you jet over there. I’ve got coffee to drink anyway.

You’re back? Good. Moving on, I also love to use color in an ironic way; for example, a depressed character who has the most colorful hair or wears the most colorful clothing (or both).

Color is one of the reasons why I love superhero ensemble shows or movies—all of those colorful costumes. Yet some of the most interesting heroes are the ones in basic black (or “very, very dark gray”; if you’ve seen The Lego Movie, you probably recognize that line). Here are some of those heroes:

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Black Panther (in front) and Lego Batman

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Black Widow and Hawkeye

(Still wondering about the “dark gray” line? Watch this video.)

How do you use color in your stories? What, if anything, have you admired about another author’s use of color?

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Hello Kitty and Jordie wanted to be part of the color photo shoot, since they’re colorful as well. However, if this post were a magazine, this photo would be one of the alternate covers.

By the way, I mentioned in another post that I was going to make myself a puppy hat. Mission accomplished. And yes, I wear it proudly.

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Horse eye from commons.wikimedia.org. Color wheels trotusa.com (which had the same photos from the Horsetalk article). Red wallpaper from love-wallpapers.com. Batman from jeffajohnson.com. Jeremy Renner from Hawkeye from fanpop.com. Black Widow from hdresimler.com. Black Panther from fanpop.

Convenient Incompetence?

I get on various kicks. These days, I’m really into the Justice League animated series, having seen most of the Justice League animated movies. Though this series is well over ten years old, I’m finally getting around to watching the episodes of season 1 that I missed. Better late than never, I guess.

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The Justice League (from left to right) Martian Manhunter, Green Lantern, Wonder Woman, Superman, Batman, Flash, Hawkgirl

Maybe it’s the slo-mo hero walk as the theme music swells that gets to me, but I can’t get enough of the show. Here. Watch the opener for yourself.

Like it? Makes you want to put on a cape, doesn’t it? Or, perhaps it inspires you to find six people and make them walk with you in slow motion. While I love the series, one thing irks me: many times the heroes get a serious beat-down until the last few minutes of the second or third episode. (Episodes have at least two parts in this first season.) I’m not against a hero getting the worst of it in a fight for the sake of building tension. But some aspects are frustrating to me, especially if a character is (allegedly) almost invincible. Take Superman and Wonder Woman.

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They have super strength and are bullet proof (Wonder Woman through her bullet-proof bracelets), among other skills. But in many episodes, someone who seems to have less power is able to slip in and sock either of them on the jaw, which sends them flying back. Maybe I’m missing something, but if you can’t even use scissors to cut Superman’s hair (since the scissors would break), I ask myself, Does it make sense that someone could punch him on the jaw or in the ribs without breaking several bones in one’s hand? Same with Wonder Woman. I just watched an episode where a woman raised on Themyscira (home of the Amazons) and given super strength via magic, gets the better of Wonder Woman more than once. But shouldn’t a woman who was born an Amazon have a slight advantage over a woman who is merely given super strength? I don’t pretend to be an expert. I’m just curious.

And Martian Manhunter (J’onn J’onzz), who supposedly is one of the most powerful creatures around with his super strength, regeneration ability, as well as his ability to shape shift and mind read, regularly gets knocked unconscious.

Martian Manhunter

I know I’m quibbling here. May I remind you that I do love the show. But having watched some of the behind-the-scenes features, I learned that other viewers had issues. Some described Superman as “a wimp” (according to producers Bruce Timm and James Tucker). The producers admitted that they pulled back on Superman’s power to make the threats the Justice League faced have more weight.

Okay, I can understand that. If Superman or Wonder Woman could easily defeat certain villains, the stakes would seem pretty low. And with their abilities, watching them take down a villain practically with one hand tied behind their back would seem boring by the third episode. But that’s the issue with seemingly invincible characters, isn’t it? We don’t feel the tension if we know that they will easily defeat an antagonist. (That’s why I’m a huge Batman fan. He lacks super powers, so the stakes are usually high for him.)

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But I still feel frustrated when a character’s “incompetence” seems convenient for the sake of the plot. For example, if a villain is able to slip in and attack a character who supposedly has super hearing or psychic ability.

I know, I know. These characters were developed over many decades. So nitpicking comes easily to someone who does not have to write or produce an animated show every week. That’s why I need to carefully assess my own characters. If they seem too powerful (the Mary Sue effect), the threat is neutralized. But if they have certain abilities (like super strength), there needs to be a good reason why an allegedly physically weaker antagonist can get the better of them. A good example of this is Lex Luthor waving a chunk of kryptonite at Superman, knowing that kryptonite is Superman’s weakness.

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That’s why I’m inspired by a Justice League movie—Justice League: Crisis on Two Earths—which seems to hit all the right notes. In that movie, the Justice League are faced with their evil doppelgangers on a parallel earth. I won’t go into the plot. You can find that out here. Suffice it to say that the stakes are high for each character. And that’s what I want to keep in mind—high stakes for hero and antagonist alike.

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Making sure a character lives up to his or her abilities while keeping the tension high is a tightrope walk. But it’s worth the journey!

Maybe you’re not writing a superhero book. But if you have a hero (male or female) and an antagonist in some capacity, what do you do to keep the stakes high while avoiding making your hero seem conveniently incompetent?

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Hello Kitty, after assessing her archnemesis Jordie’s skills, has deemed him incompetent, and therefore worthy to attack.

Justice League image from supermantv.net. Wonder Woman from halloweencostumes.com. Superman from supermanhomepage.com. Martian Manhunter from dcmovies.wikia.com. Justice league: Crisis on Two Earths image from murrue02.tumblr.com. Lex Luthor image from listofcomicbooks.com.

Writing with Abandon

I’ll reveal the winner of Like Water on Stone by the amazing Dana Walrath in just a minute. But first . . .

greg_berlanti_headhotToday, I finished reading an article by Tim Stack in Entertainment Weekly (Dec. 5 issue). The subject: Greg Berlanti, the co-creator of The Flash and Arrow, hit shows for the CW. I could mention how an article like that is the perfect bathroom reading, but I wrote a post on that subject before. So I won’t go there now. (You get it? Go there? Okay, I hear you. Some puns shouldn’t exist.) Anyway, Greg is not only involved with the above mentioned shows, he has another hit show on NBC (The Mysteries of Laura) and is developing a show about Supergirl for CBS. If that’s not enough, he’ll be the head writer for the next Oscars broadcast. And that’s not all. The guy has a long list of projects for which he’s either a writer, co-creator, or executive producer. Just reading the article exhausted me. But after reading it, I realized that Berlanti exemplified what I’d discussed in my previous post—writing with abandon. Thanks, Greg!

The following quote struck me:

Berlanti has been a huge comic-book fan since he was young, and seeing him at work is like watching a kid play with his favorite superhero toys. . .except these action figures will be life-size when production starts. (44)

Love for what he’s doing seems to be the key to Berlanti’s quantity of projects. (That and opportunity.) Another plus in Berlanti’s favor is a testimonial from Chris Pratt, who was part of the cast of one of Berlanti’s past shows, Everwood: “He’s capable of showing real heart without being melodramatic.”

Passion. Real heart without melodrama. Sounds like a winning combination, doesn’t it? Wouldn’t we all like to achieve that balance? It takes a delicate touch.

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Jordie hopes that someday a television show is developed about him. He has a cape ready just in case. He’s sure that his story has real heart, and not an ounce of melodrama.

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His first order of business: mopping the floor with his arch-nemesis: Hello Kitty (code name: HK). Don’t let the cupcake and the bow fool you. She’s wanted in fourteen states for being a supervillain. Coincidentally, she has seen her favorite movie, Megamind, fourteen times. Be afraid.

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Getting back to Greg Berlanti, whatever he’s doing seems to be working, judging by the many viewers his shows have earned. I’ve been meaning to watch The Flash and Arrow. Have you seen them? I’ll get around to them at some point. But for now, my time would be better spent doing what I’m passionate about: weaving works of a high fantasy nature and crocheting whimsical hats. As I’ve mentioned before, I need to make several hats like this in the coming weeks.

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Unlike HK above, this hat has no desire to take over the world. . . .  At least not that I know of. Be afraid.

And speaking of someone who writes with abandon, let’s get to the winner of Like Water on Stone by the multitalented Dana Walrath. (See interview here and here.)

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The winner is . . . (drumroll, please) . . .

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Is . . .

Is . . .

Is . . .

Jill Weatherholt!

Jill Weatherholt, come on down! Please comment below to confirm. Thank you to all others who commented.

Stack, Tim. “The Man Behind the Masks.” Entertainment Weekly. 5 Dec. 2014: 42-46. Print.

Drumroll gif from cutenessoverflow.com. Greg Berlanti from hollywoodreporter.com.

Testing . . . 1, 2, 3

Call me silly, but I sometimes take quizzes or watch videos like this that tell me what my car color, sleep habits, or choice of donut allegedly says about me. (I’ll bet you thought I was kidding about the donut. Look here.) Do you look at quizzes or videos like these? I didn’t learn as much about myself as the above video promised I would learn. If you don’t care to watch the video or can’t for some reason, it’s all about sleep positions. In case you’re wondering, I start off on my side, but somehow wind up on my back when I wake up in the morning. I’m not sure what that says about me. That I have commitment issues?

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This is my donut of choice: a chocolate cake donut.

Side sleeping is what the majority of people do (54%). At last I’m part of the in crowd. According to the doctor on the video, you can train yourself to sleep in a particular position. I don’t know about you, but that sounds like too much work. Yet I can see the benefits to it, especially if snoring is involved.

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I’ve also seen videos and blog posts where experts state that you can train yourself to dream a certain way. My natural bent toward laziness rebels against that.

gryffindor_crest_print-r92608dde23aa4bca82f74baab045c6a5_geub_8byvr_512And then there are quizzes that tell you which fictional character you’re like or which fictional environment or faction best suits you. Like this or this. (No training is involved.) I don’t know about you, but I don’t always tell the complete truth when I take a quiz like this. If I know the desired person, environment, or group (Dauntless; Batman; Wolverine; Black Widow; Gryffindor; Aragorn; Rivendell; Harry Potter), I’ll tailor my answers to fit that person or group. Hey, I don’t want to end up in Slytherin. And I’m too selfish for Abnegation. But for some reason, no matter how many answers I fake, every time I take the superhero quiz, I wind up as Superman.

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That’s me for both. (The fiery symbol is the symbol for Dauntless.) I’d better get used to the color yellow.

One test I’m tempted to lie on but don’t is the Mary Sue Litmus Test for fictional characters. You can find it here. Unsure what a Mary Sue or a Gary Stu is? Go here. The test is to help you gauge whether or not your character is too idealized. It also provides tips to help you develop stronger characters.

Mary Sue

A Mary Sue. But if your characters are fairies or angels, don’t let this stop you. Just keep on truckin’.

My natural writing bent is toward the convenient, so making the effort to go beyond a Mary Sue has been challenging. It mainly involves letting my characters suffer instead of protecting them like a Mother Hen. That’s not pleasant. But I know that in the end, my novel will benefit from the effort I put into making my characters strong. Now if I can only figure out their sleep positions/Divergent factions/Hogwarts houses, my work would be complete.

Donut from Wikipedia. Woman asleep from theaustintimes.com. Gryffindor crest from zazzle.com.Dauntless symbol from first-jumperr.tumblr.com. Christian Bale as Batman from comicvine.com. Superman logo from thehummusoffensive.blogspot.com. Mary Sue image from lydiakang.blogspot.com.

Girl Power? Grrrrrrr!

Green-Lantern-The-Animated-SeriesThe other day, as I watched an episode of Green Lantern: The Animated Series (developed by Bruce Timm, Giancarlo Volpe, and Jim Krieg for Cartoon Network), I wondered whether or not the producers, animators, and writers of animated superhero shows really want more female viewers. The point is moot in regard to this show, however, since it was canceled after one season. But the catalyst for my musings is the look of the females in it. Many have the look of swimsuit models with Barbie-like measurements. Even a starship’s AI (artificial intelligence), after deciding to take on human form to travel and converse with three male comrades, chose to be a female wearing a midriff-baring shirt and tiny briefs.

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Aya the computer turned Green Lantern warrior

In the illustration below, note the amount of clothing of males like Hal Jordan, one of the Green Lanterns, in comparison with females like the Star Sapphires—a group of women wielding pink power rings. The woman in the suit is Hal’s boss and girlfriend, Carol Ferris. Her Star Sapphire outfit (long story) is at her right.

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When referring to the Star Sapphires, Hal Jordan calls them “hot girls” (not women or smart, powerful women). How’s that for empowerment? Fine. I get the fact that to him, they’re “hot girls.” They’re supposed to be powerful, but do you think of power when you look at the illustration above? (Makes me long for Katara and Toph of Avatar.)

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Katara and Toph

Look, I grew up reading comic books and loving superheroes. But some things irritate me. I realize that writers and animators have the right to do what they want with these characters. I’m speaking as a woman who watches them, but sometimes is ready to throw in the towel. If the power of women is really to be emphasized, let’s start with the basics, namely wardrobe. If I’m blasting people with my power ring while ducking their energy blasts, a bikini and six-inch high boot heels don’t add up to a smart wardrobe. Ever try to run in six-inch heels without turning an ankle? Also, anyone who has ridden a roller coaster high up in the air knows how cool the air can be. Who in their right mind would fly around half naked in cool air? Who would expose that much skin to an energy blast that could singe you?

Okay, I realize I’m in the minority with this. And I’m not saying I haven’t enjoyed many of the Green Lantern episodes I’ve seen. I gave the show a shot by watching 14 episodes. But I can’t help seeing a pattern here which also was obvious in other series. Women might have powerful abilities, but that power is deemphasized when design choices for the characters are made to appeal to only one demographic. My thought is this: why not try to appeal to a wider market?

I searched the Internet to see if I could find anyone who had a comment on this issue. I found a different take on the subject. Writer/director/actor/producer Kevin Smith and famed writer of Batman/Superman animated series, Paul Dini, discuss the issue of female viewers and canceled animated superhero shows on this SModcast. Warning: if you’re sensitive to language, avoid listening at all costs. I listened, because I’ve seen many of Paul Dini’s scripted episodes in various Batman animated series. I wanted to hear what he had to say. Part of the conversation was transcribed here. This part especially jumped out at me:

DINI: “They’re [Network executives] all for boys ‘we do not want the girls’, I mean, I’ve heard executives say this, you know, not [where I am] but at other places, saying like, ‘We do not want girls watching this show.”

SMITH: “WHY? That’s 51% of the population.”
DINI: “They. Do. Not. Buy. Toys. The girls buy different toys.” (Emphasis and punctuation as per the transcript.)

Well, my blood boiled after that exchange. Adults buy the toys—not boys. I’ve bought many toys for the kids in my life. And I’ve seen many girls playing with action figures long after the boys have given up and turned to Hot Wheels or Thomas trains.

I like Kevin Smith’s solution to those who claim they can’t market to girls toys related to animated superhero shows: “Get better at your job.” In other words, find something else you can sell, rather than write off a significant group of viewers. Irate listeners agreed with Smith and totally disagreed with the notion that girls weren’t interested in the licensed products. The problem, says the parents whose children watched some of these series, is the lack of toys for girls.

Honestly, based on the decisions made about female characters in some series, I wouldn’t want to hand a little girl an action figure of those characters, where the depiction of women leaves a lot to be desired. I’d rather give a girl the X-Men action figures (particularly Rogue and Storm). Or, better still, I’d rather just say, “You’re beautiful and special just as you are.”

Toph and Katara from fanpop. Green Lantern logo from Wikipedia. Aya, Green Lantern, and other characters from Cartoon Network.

Gone in a “Flash”

Feels like forever since I last posted or stopped by other blogs to say hi. With two deadlines soaking up most of my time last week and this past weekend devoted to my uncle’s funeral and family gatherings, I felt a bit overwhelmed. The following is the post I wrote last week, but put aside until now. I hope to return to my routine this week.

What is it about a baby shower that makes men’s eyes glaze over? I’m always amused when I see how fast guys scurry away as they drop their wives/partners off or run out the door if their wife/partner is the one throwing the shower. Yet my extremely busy week of curriculum projects due now, now, now culminated in a baby shower, for which I had to crochet sixteen kittens. (Sounds like a fifties song, “Sixteen Candles.” “Six-teen kit-tens!”) So, I’m sorry to have missed reading many of the blogs I usually read, since I had next to no free time whatsoever, even to post on my own blog.

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Hermit-ThrushC14784Speaking of now, now, now, the other day, as I waited in my car at a light, watching tiny birds like brown teacups gathered at a street corner, I thought about a quote I read in Entertainment Weekly’s double issue (September 19/26).

“I think we have to get to stuff faster probably than we otherwise would have,” [Andrew] Kreisberg sighs. “Everybody is telling stories a lot faster on TV now.”

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Andrew Kreisberg

Who’s he? The producer of the upcoming new series The Flash, the CW network’s vehicle for DC’s comic book hero, the Flash—“the fastest man alive.” Grant Gustin stars as the Flash. The quote is Kreisberg’s answer to the question of how the series will roll out the Flash’s powers—all at once or gradually? Inquiring minds wanted to know. But Kreisberg’s words raised questions within me beyond those having to do with the Flash’s abilities.

The-Flash

With so many shows for viewers to choose from, I totally get the need to quickly grab viewers’ attention. A trip to Half Price Bookstore helped me see that. As I wandered in the section for MG and YA books, I felt overwhelmed by the amount of books on the shelves, books screaming for my attention. Many were written by authors I’d never heard of. I scanned the first pages of some of them before I quickly moved on.

Skimming books in a bookstore doesn’t give justice to the authors who slaved over their manuscripts like great chefs—meal maestros who slave over a hot stove. And I don’t mean to convey that a book’s greatness should be judged by one hastily skimmed page nor that a television show’s worth is proved by how quickly viewers are gripped. After all, good storytelling often plays out over several pages and or over a season in television. Yet many people allow only one shot–a fleeting opportunity to quickly engage them or lose them forever.

I hope that the “fast” storytelling Kreisberg mentioned doesn’t mean that time spent crafting compelling characters will take a backseat while gimmicks and formulaic action sequences are thrust into the driver’s seat. That method of storytelling causes me to scurry away from a television program or a novel.

While I like to be engaged in a story early on, I also like to care about the characters beyond So-and-so’s hunt for his partner’s/wife’s/girlfriend’s/brother’s killer while he deals with his own issues with rage/PTSD/addictions. Of course this is not a description of the Flash/Barry Allen, whose antics I used to read about in comic book form. But I’m hoping that “fast” storytelling refers to his famed speed only and not to slapdash characters. Otherwise, I’ll be gone in a flash.

What do you think “fast” storytelling means? What’s the fastest way to engage you in a story?

“Fall TV Preview.” Entertainment Weekly. 19/26 Sept. 2014. 35-109. Print.

Grant Gustin as the Flash from screencrush.com. Bird from aconerlycoleman.wordpress.com. Andrew Kreisberg from arrow.wikia.com.

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