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5 Ways to Earn Your Audience’s Loyalty

earn your audience's loyaltyPart 22 of The Do’s and Don’ts of Storytelling According to Marvel

There’s little in this cosmos that writers want more than our readers’ love and respect. We want them to buy our stories, love our stories, tell their friends about our stories, buy more stories, support us in style for the rest of our lives, and acclaim our words far after.

But when it comes to figuring out how to earn your audience’s loyalty, you’ve likely noticed you’re on the receiving end of much confusing and conflicting advice. Some say you have to write to your audience, with a precision-point awareness of what it is they want. Others say you just have to write a good story, and your audience will follow anywhere you lead. Some say it’s about pacing and full-fledged development of character motivations. Others say it’s about proper setup and payoff of reader expectations.

In an era of pervasively disappointing stories and ever-waning audience attention spans, it can be difficult to find stories that offer solid examples of what it means to earn your audience’s loyalty—much less how to actually do it. One of the major and, at the moment, most obvious exceptions is the Marvel Cinematic Universe. As it closes out its expansively ambitious 22-movie mega-arc, it feels only appropriate that we complete our series “The Do’s and Don’ts of Storytelling According to Marvel” by addressing some of the reasons behind its well-earned success.

Needless to say, there will be SPOILERS.

Avengers Endgame Spoilers

Saying Goodbye to The Avengers: Endgame

I am so full of feels right now.

Honestly, I’m still trying to unpack it all. Mostly, what I find myself feeling is gratitude. I am full of gratitude that I got to see Endgame in theaters at all (various obstacles—illness, company, weather—prevented me from getting there until literally the very last showing at my local theater). I am full of gratitude for eleven years and twenty-two (mostly) bright spots in what was a tempestuous era in both my own life and the world around us. I am full of gratitude for characters who made me love them, made me relate, and made me think. And I am full of gratitude that the whole experience was given the sendoff it deserved—that, indeed, it had earned.

In thinking about what writing topic I might focus on for Endgame, I realized what I really wanted to do was talk about the entire series—because, as I always say in structure discussions, the end is in the beginningEndgame works because the series works, and the series works, in the end, because Endgame works.

Almost all of my personal highlights (and a few lowlights) feature later in the article, so let’s just get down to it.

5 Ways Endgame Shows You How to Earn Your Audience’s Loyalty

You know that feeling you get when you open the final book in a series or attend the final movie? It’s a feeling of deep anticipation and excitement—but also a feeling of nervousness. What if they don’t get it right? What if, with all the best intentions, they get it all wrong and forever put a blot on a story experience that has become such an important part of your life?

I’m quite sure I wasn’t the only one feeling that as Marvel’s opening logo unfurled across the dark screen. After eleven years and so much thought, energy, and emotion invested in these characters and their stories, I hoped so much that the finale would at least not screw it up.

About two and half hours later—as the screen filled up with nearly every single character the series has ever introduced—I found myself with tears in my eyes. It wasn’t so much because of what was happening onscreen (those tears came a little later), but because I suddenly had this overwhelming feeling of gratitude for the incredible experience the MCU has been in my life. With all its ups and downs, its handful of great films, its many so-so-but-always-entertaining entries, its few bombs, its incredible casting across the board, and its sheer audacity as one of the most expansive story ventures ever created—I can truly say it has been an unforgettable gift in my life.

Avengers Endgame Everyone

It has influenced my own storytelling in many ways. It has contributed its archetypes to my own personal journeys. It has provided me precious memories with dear ones who have sat beside me in dark theaters. And, of course, it’s given me a couple ideas for a blog post here and there…

For me, Endgame was the red ribbon on top of that gift, a thoroughly satisfactory final entry that has solidified the series as an epochal story within my life.

Today, I want to take a look five examples from this climactic installment, demonstrating what Marvel did to earn and keep its fanbase’s appreciation and what you, too, can learn about how to earn your audience’s loyalty.

1. Setup and Payoff: Earning the Feels

Here’s a secret about storytelling that isn’t always obvious: cool stuff actually isn’t cool at all in isolation.

Truly memorable moments never just happen. Rather, they are the result of a two-part power punch: setup and payoff.

Ultimately, setup is always going to be foreshadowing. If there’s a callback to anything that happened earlier in a story, however mundane it might have been in the beginning, that earlier thing instantly becomes recognizable as foreshadowing.

Foreshadowing is the biggest magic trick in all of fiction. When readers feel the writing was on the wall all along, when they realize that sly dog of an author already gave them everything they needed to make the payoff work, the feeling they get is one of deep satisfaction. Not only does the story make sense, but in that moment the world itself makes sense.

This is why payoffs—both big and small—are always the best moments in any story. Whether or not the payoff directly answers a question readers may have had, the readers will always feel like a question was answered. They feel like they’re participating in the story. They feel like they got the in-joke. And more importantly, they feel like the story works. Instead of the author simply assuming the audience should feel a certain way, the author has earned all these good feelings.

How Endgame Pays It All Off

Endgame is chock full of payoffs. There are big and obvious payoffs, such as using the Infinity Stones to undo Thanos’s dust-up. And there are countless smaller payoffs to earlier character moments throughout the series. These payoffs work solely because of the extensive set-up work that was honored from the previous stories.

For example, would Cap’s wielding of Mjolnir have been anything more than a weapon exchange if it hadn’t been set up in Ultron? Would Tony’s hugging Peter have offered any meaning beyond the relief of the moment if it hadn’t been set up in HomecomingWould Tony’s final words have packed such deep resonance if they hadn’t symbolized his entire character arc by calling all the way back to the beginning of it all in Iron Man?

Endgame benefits tremendously from the sheer massiveness of the story that preceded it. A simple rule of thumb is that the bigger the buildup, the bigger the payoff. Not only do many of Endgame‘s “small” payoffs pack more punch because of the huge story that preceded them, but the film can afford to pack them in. A shorter series or standalone episode can and should utilize setup/payoff similarly, but only a story of this scope can create tremendous impact out of such objectively small moments.

Avengers Endgame Tony Stark Peter Parker

2. Resonance: When the Artist Is the Audience

Sometimes you’ll hear fans talking about getting the story “we deserve.” To this, I say phooey. The only thing audiences deserve is a good story well-told. They don’t deserve to have all their personal theories or wishes validated. They certainly don’t deserve creative control à la “democratic storytelling,” which as I talked about a few weeks ago only dilutes artistic integrity.

But this is not to say audiences don’t deserve to be wildly satisfied with any story in which they invest themselves.

How can an author be assured of creating this kind of resonance without simply polling the audience for their Christmas wishes?

There are two sides to this answer:

Part 1: The author must be in control of the story, must remain firmly dedicated to the artistic and thematic integrity of that story. The author must be disciplined enough to make only the right choices for the story, regardless whether they necessarily seem to be the most popular choices.

Part 2: The author must be an audience of one. The author must be the story’s single greatest fan. The author must fanatically love and respect the story and the characters more than any other member of the audience.

When the latter happens, the author doesn’t need to poll the audience to know what resonates. The answer is already there, in the author’s own heart. What resonates for the author resonates for the audience and—if the first part of the equation also rings true—usually in a way that is deeply meaningful within the overall story.

How Endgame Connects With Its Fans

Even in my (astonishingly successful) bid to avoid spoilers before seeing the movie, I did run onto a few references to “fan service.” I agree that the film did an incredible job of giving its audience just about every single thing they could have asked for, and a little more to boot. But for my money, these moments can’t be considered fan service when they have been suitably earned over the previous course of the series.

What it felt like to me was a storyline that had been planned and executed by storytellers who, more than anyone, wanted themselves to see appropriate endings for beloved characters. They didn’t provide moments such as Tony’s having a daughter or Thor’s glee when Cap wields Mjolnir or Cap’s dance with Peggy or Tony’s making peace with his dad simply because fans wanted them. They built them into the story because, as fans themselves, they wanted them.

Avengers Endgame Captain America Mjolnir

3. Honesty: Staying True to Your Characters

The only stories that matter—the only stories that are ever remembered—are those that are honest. These are the stories that resonate on a level deeper than whatever cotton-candy visuals they’re spinning across the screen in our heads or at the theater. That honesty starts and ends with the characters.

There is no greater slur upon a story than to say its cast is “acting out of character.” What this inevitably means is that the characters are no longer acting with sincerity, but instead mouthing lazy lines of convenience.

Creating and implementing “true” characters is the greatest challenge in all of writing. Few of us pull it off 100% of the time. Mostly this is because staying true to your characters is difficult not just technically, but also personally. It’s hard to understand ourselves well enough to understand the story we’re trying to tell in order to understand the characters who are telling it.

When we do achieve this deep and true understanding, the result is character dynamism. These characters power the story. They are realistic, dimensional. They are sympathetic. The audience comes to love them not in spite of their flaws but even because of them. We come to love them, at a certain point, because they are us.

How Endgame Gave Us True Characters

I won’t say Endgame pulled this one off across the board. Hulk’s transformation in this story didn’t resonate deeply for me, and however authentic the idea behind Thor’s devolution, it was executed abysmally in a way that did not respect the character and his importance in the series.

That said, the film did a good job with almost all the rest of its main cast, particularly Steve and Tony, whose polarized styles and relationship have always been the series’ beating heart.

These two characters have rarely strayed from their initial headings. Both would have been difficult characters to write, both could have been difficult characters to like. But they have always burned true to their deep driving desires, to their strengths, to their weaknesses.

Largely because of these things, their endings feel particularly earned. We are happy both were given the chance for closure, for a normal life, for fulfillment, and even for the end of their struggles.

Avengers Endgame Tony Stark Steve Rogers

4. Meaning: As the Climax Goes, So Goes the Story

In any story, the Climactic Moment is the defining moment. Whatever happens in the Climax is what every moment of the preceding story was leading up to. Whether or not the story as a whole succeeds is proven by how well it builds into and explodes out of its Climax.

In structuring your story, you can use your Climactic Moment as the plumb line to align your story’s structural spine. When you isolate your major structural moments, they should line up thematically, all of them pointing in a straight arrow directly at your Climax.

More than that, the Climactic Moment is your story’s reservoir of meaning. When the conflict is finally resolved in the Climax, what must emerge from this final bit of context is the deep subtextual meaning of all that has come before. This, more than any other factor, is why stories are made or broken by their endings. No matter how great the ride up to that point, if the ending fails to make sense of it all, the audience will almost always leave frustrated.

How Endgame Nailed Its Climax

No one was ever in doubt how the overarching conflict with Thanos would end. As per genre conventions, he would be defeated. The horrific consequences of his actions would be overturned. We’d all get our happy ending.

But we could have been given that exact ending in a way that mattered far less. The Climax Endgame gave us was specifically Tony’s climax. This was as it should have been. The ending was in the beginning. When Tony closes his fist and snaps his fingers, he is ending what he, in so many ways, began himself. When he defiantly tells Thanos, “I am Iron Man,” he finally and fully climaxes his own long and desperate attempt to do the right thing, to make the sacrifice, to save the world.

I’m not aware of how thoroughly the events of Endgame were known and planned when Marvel started its ambitious project way back in 2008. I suspect they knew very few of the specifics, but they clearly did know the bones. They knew Thanos was the antagonist. They knew what the conflict would be. They knew how it would end. As a result, the series offers a solid structural integrity, with Thanos being introduced very near the quarter mark (at what might be considered the series’ First Plot Point) and followed up regularly throughout. The Climax proves the structure, and the structure is the reason the Climax works.

Avengers Endgame Tony sTARK sHOWDOWN

5. Finality: The Blessing of Closure

Very few satisfying stories are open-ended. They reach their Climaxes, they fade out through their Resolutions, and they end. This is the only way in which structure can provide resonance. It is the only way in which character arcs can come full circle.

These days, many stories avoid finality like the plague. If they can crank out a few more episodes, seasons, movies, books, so much more the money, right? But the stories suffer. Even if the follow-up episodes don’t actually happen, all those little teases the authors included in early installments just in case the story went on (and on and on and on), almost always mess up the story that could have been.

This is why so many TV series are good only for about three seasons. After that, the storytellers start messing with the initial arc in order to expand the story. The result is that the characters start getting messed with as well—and the slide begins. Smart, sympathetic characters who started out making smart, sympathetic choices start being forced to act out of character in order to accommodate a more complicated plot.

A story that offers successful finality is a story that planned and prepared for that finality. It’s a story that used its structural throughline to build into a meaningful Climax. It is not, necessarily, a story that ties off all loose ends. However, even though the characters don’t end (unless they die, of course), the structural throughline of the plot does end. And the audience, however sad they may feel about saying goodbye, will find relief in the closure that comes with closing a story.

How Endgame Offers Closure

There were a handful of things I really wanted to see happen in this movie, but at the top of the list: I wanted Cap and Tony to die.

There, I said it. :p

I didn’t, of course, want them to die because I wanted them gone, goodbye, finito and good riddance. I wanted them to die because I desperately wanted to see their characters closed out. For twenty-two movies (or whatever number they each actually appeared in), they had been scripted with scarcely a misstep. And that’s the way I wanted them to go out. I desperately did not want them to be given open-ended finales in which maybe they’d come back if ever the actors could be tempted.

Of course I’d go see another Captain America movie or another Iron Man movie. But I am ecstatic that I’m not likely to get the chance. I have so much respect for the Marvel team not only for planning and pulling off a huge story arc, but even more so for ending it. Yes, the MCU continues with secondary characters introduced during this initial arc, but they will be continuing with their own story arc (and, frankly, they have their work cut out for them if they want to win my heart in the same way as the originals).

Endgame really was the endgame. That was more than half the reason it took every bit of my self-respect not to sit there in the theater and bawl all the way through the credits. But it was also the reason I was given the gift of such an emotional closing experience.

Avengers Endgame Old Steve

***

This will be the final installment in The Do’s and Don’ts of Storytelling According to Marvel. It’s been an incredibly fun ride, and I’ve enjoyed sharing my love of the series with so many of you. I’ve learned a lot myself in pulling a definitive writing tip out of each movie. But after twenty-two entries, it’s getting harder to find a new technique to discuss in each film. I feel like Endgame is the right place to end it.

Thanks very much for coming on this ride with me, both here on the blog and as MCU fans yourselves. Here’s to all of us continuing to learn from other great storytellers on our way to writing our own amazing adventures.

Previous Posts in This Series:

Wordplayers, tell me your opinions! What do you think is the biggest challenge in earning your audience’s loyalty? Tell me in the comments!

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About K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland

K.M. Weiland is the award-winning and internationally-published author of the acclaimed writing guides Outlining Your Novel, Structuring Your Novel, and Creating Character Arcs. A native of western Nebraska, she writes historical and fantasy novels and mentors authors on her award-winning website Helping Writers Become Authors.

Comments

  1. Finally, part 22 is here. Love with your effort to analize the best 3 hour movie. Now I will waiting for part 23 (Spider-Man: Far From Home)

  2. It’s said that “The king died, and then the queen died of grief” only qualifies as a story because of the last two words, the connection between the events. Of course a story’s real power comes from all the pieces it has– and the more pieces and the more consistently and well-coordinated they’ve been, the better.

    Seeing the Marvel movies build such a colossal tale, and bring it all together so well, has been a privilege.

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says

      Although it’s arguably more difficult to write a truly simple story that works, I can personally attest that it’s extremely difficult to pull together so many disparate elements into a story that seems cohesive. I have a ton of respect for what this series managed to pull off–not perfectly perhaps, but astonishingly well, nonetheless.

  3. Eric Troyer says

    Thanks for the series, Katie! I was underwhelmed by Endgame, but I have always preferred the smaller-scale stories and have rarely liked any non-comedic time travel stories. Despite that, it was an entertaining enough movie. (I much preferred Shazam!)

    However, if you think just because Tony Stark died and Steve Rogers got really old that’s the obvious end to their stories…ha!…you’re not thinking clearly. When has death necessarily stopped any character in the comic world? Heck, Thanos killed half the universe’s population and it came back!

  4. Number 1 in particular, the relationship between payoff and setup, is the biggest flaw I see in some stories I’ve been beta reading. I can spot the moment where a plot point is supposed to be momentous, but it wasn’t set up, so it’s just “a thing that happens.” Go back and foreshadow.

    I think about Marcia Lucas, the ex-wife of George Lucas, who famously advised him on how to make the audience cheer when Han Solo helps Luke destroy the Death Star. She knew we were supposed to cheer, but the moment wasn’t set up. I think George just had Han fighting alongside Luke the whole time. But in that case, Han’s shooting Vader was just “a thing that happens.” Having Han insist on abandoning the Rebels, and then show up again and save Luke, made him a big hero. Never let the big moments be “a thing that just happens.”

    I am glad for you that Marvel rewarded your viewing! I was reluctant to get invested in the franchise, because in the book world I’m used to series being abandoned by publishers, or having editors changed in midstream, and the second editor hates the series. When the movie, “Captain America: The First Avenger” came out, I cynically wondered if it would be the last, or second-to-last “avenger” movie. That Marvel avoided all the potential pitfalls with this franchise is marvelous! I really hope to see more franchises pull off something like this.

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says

      “I can spot the moment where a plot point is supposed to be momentous, but it wasn’t set up, so it’s just ‘a thing that happens.'”

      Zinga. Well said.

  5. OMG on the setup. I was just watching SIGNS again and as an author i could totally appreciate the movie more. Like the set up with little things from the bat on the wall that you ignore most of the movie, to the young daughter having an issue about “stale water” so there were water glasses all around the house. Some things I recognized but those…I totally missed them and it was so awesome to watch the movie again and really see all the different foreshadowing/setups

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says

      Yes, I’m very much looking forward to seeing Endgame again. I’m sure there was a ton of stuff I missed the first time around.

  6. What? Avengers over! Did you say over? Nothing is over until we decide its over! Was it over when the Germans bombed Pearl Harbor?

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says

      The Japanese? 😉

      • It’s an integral quote from a famous 1978 comedy. You had to be there.

        Best of all the characters in this movie do not change. They are their same stupid self from start to finish. 😉

        • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says

          Yeah, someone pointed that out to me. Should have googled it. :p

        • Well, you’ve just given me flashbacks 🙂 A columnist at my old newspaper used that same quote, and our phones rang off the hook as soon as the story went live on our website. My editor took a call from an actual German, who insisted on setting the record straight on German activities during WWII.

          I shot an email to the columnist and asked him to revise the column to name whatever movie he was quoting (I’ve since forgotten what it was). It turns out, humor and sarcasm can be very hard to do in writing, especially if no one recognizes the references you’re making. I admire the likes of Terry Pratchett and Douglas Adams, who made it look so easy.

          • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says

            Well, the good news is that all the people who got the reference now get a double laugh. 😀

        • Paul Worthington says

          In my current book, the main character often quotes Bil Murray lines — and no one gets it. Which is the point. Then when he meets someone who does, that’s a common reference for them.
          But my beta readers don’t get the references either, and spelling each one out really ruins the whole effect, so I might just cut that idea.

  7. Next time, Katie, you must reach deep inside yourself and get in touch with your deepest inner emotions. Let those tears flow! Don’t hold back! Next time, tell us how you really feel. 😉

  8. I thought Endgame was fantastic, with some middling issues (pretty much all of Thor and the Asgardians). As Hulk has always been a metaphor for a certain kind of person’s inability dealing with anger and frustration, I felt his appearance completed his arc in a satisfying way. He has synthesized his two sides into a whole and can for the first time harness all his power without negative consequences. He has even matured to the point that he is embarrassed at his past outbursts; he’s going to be fine. Plus it was very funny.
    Thank you so much for this series. It was always interesting, very informative and just as epic a journey as the MCU.

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says

      Thanks for your contributions along the way as well!

      I like the idea of Banner’s transmogrification, but it felt underdeveloped since it all happened offscreen. Ultimately, it’s a very small beef.

  9. Thanks for this post. I am laying out a series with an open-ended concept. I have ideas for the first 3 books but had not thought about an overall end for the series. I will have to think more about an over-all series arc and conclusion to work toward. I have concerns that open-ended concepts eventually “jump the shark.”

    I was talking with people about the miserable ending of Game of Thrones. I think the Game of Thrones is the poster child for how not to end a series. When they raised the point that the writers were setting up spin-offs and not ending the story, the writer malpractice made more sense.

    But, if you set up a series with the promise that “in the game of thrones, you win or you die,” you pretty much have to have few characters left at the end for spin-offs. So, closure seriously impacts future marketing and future marketing pretty much closes off the possibility of a satisfying conclusion.

    Anyone interested in my further thoughts on the epic fail of the Game of Thrones final season and my alternate ending may check out:

    http://edgycatholic.com/game-of-thrones-writer-malpractice/

    Yes, there are spoilers, but I have heard people suggest that if they knew the ending would be this bad, they never would have started watching it. So, it is and ending worthy of spoiling.

    Of course, my ending would leave little room for spin-offs, so I’m a failure at television marketing…

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says

      I haven’t watched GoT, but from everything I’ve heard, it certainly seems an apt juxtaposition against the MCU’s triumphant finale.

  10. The same way I want to go back and re-watch every single one of the movies, I want to go back and re-read all of your posts using them as examples. Thanks, Kim, for taking the time to share what is obviously a love for these characters with us in a way we can use. I love the series of articles.

  11. Awesome post, Katie! Thank you for this great series of MCU posts. They have been really enjoyable to read, a well as very helpful.

    -Jewel

  12. Jack Bannon says

    Miss Katie,
    I think you outed some great words in this post, and I will think about them for a long time:

    “Ultimately, setup is always going to be foreshadowing. If there’s a callback to anything that happened earlier in a story, however mundane it might have been in the beginning, that earlier thing instantly becomes recognizable as foreshadowing. Foreshadowing is the biggest magic trick in all of fiction.”

    Have you ever put that in a book? By the way, I esteem your site. You do a marvelous job.

    Jack Bannon

  13. Jared Michalski says

    I’ve been (not so) patiently awaiting this post, wondering which way you’d go with it. I’m a little surprised by your overall positive take on the film (as I’m almost always in lock step with the way you see things), but ultimately I’m glad you took a positive view on Endgame. Because there really were a lot of fantastic payoffs to the series in this one, and I hope one day I’ll be able to enjoy them properly.

    Unfortunately, that day is not today.

    I’ll preface my comments by saying I’m not a fan of time travel stories. So the film set itself up to have an uphill battle in my eyes, despite my love of everything that came before. That said, I did go in with a lot of faith in the screenwriters, whose strong work on all three Caps plus Infinity War gave us (IMHO) the strongest entries in the entire series (along with the original Iron Man). Also, SPOILERS ABOUND.

    Sadly, I knew this one wasn’t going to work for me from the moment they killed Thanos early in the film. On the heels of Infinity War, and his strong showing as the MCU’s best antagonist, our first glimpse of Thanos in Endgame was seeing this majestic titan laid low thanks to the aftereffects of both his first and second snap – and then summarily dispatched. So while the ending with Tony sacrificing himself was so very fitting (and well done emotionally), it felt anti-climactic. We’d already seen Thanos defeated, which in turn robbed the Climactic Moment of much of its impact, IMHO. Even if I were one who enjoyed time travel conceits, that strikes me as a bad structural decision.

    I also struggled with the character changes that took place off screen. You mentioned the Hulk, which I too struggled with, but I was thrown even more by how they handled Hawkeye. In the Hulk’s case, they at least explained what happened in the interim. But in Hawkeye’s case they didn’t even do that. We’re just to accept that he’s now a mass murderer, not to mention that his friends conveniently overlook that fact and embrace him back with open arms.

    I’ve had a few friends say they had no problems with that because they could see how losing your family could take one down that path. But even if you accept that being one of billions who lost everything would drive Clint to become a Punisher who uses bows, arrows and katanas, they needed to SHOW that transition. That needed to be earned with the audience, not forced upon them. Same with Hulk. As a longtime comic reader, I’ve never been interested when they go down the “smart Hulk” route. But if you’re going to do it here in the movie, after everything that’s come before, the audience needs the payoff of seeing that happen. Not having it unsatisfyingly explained through exposition. In both cases, they needed to SHOW, not tell.

    The film also made the cardinal sin of taking me out of the world of the story. While I applaud their desire to have female protagonists step into larger roles in the film and the MCU in general, there’s a shot in the film that brings attention to itself by having the female lineup conveniently pose together in a group hero shot while the battle rages on all around them.

    And while it probably doesn’t upset others like it bothers me, I don’t know if I’ll ever be able to forgive them turning the best line of the entire MCU, Steve’s “I can do this all day”, into a joke when Cap battles Cap. It bothers me to no end that they cheapened the line for a short lived chuckle.

    I could go on about their head-scratchingly difficult approach to time travel and other frustrating aspects of the story, but I digress. Like I said at the start, I’m glad you took a positive view on it, because there were great moments in it. Black Widow and Tony’s deaths were genuinely impactful, and I will forever get delight out of seeing Cap be worthy. He is my favorite character by far in the entire series, and I was waiting for that moment – and they did not let me down.

    I hope one day I’ll be able to get past their many (in my eyes) missteps in this one, although the specter of time travel and alternate universe stories has me fearful for the future of the MCU. Either way, I’ve enjoyed this series immensely and have learned a lot from your insightful analyses. So thank you.

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says

      I hear you. The saving grace for me is that I’ve never had trouble suspending disbelief over time-travel tropes. But I can see how that could be a big choke point for a lot of people.

      That said, I do agree with most of your other quibbles, including the “I can do this all day” joke, although I like the take that it wasn’t so much a joke but “older, wiser Steve” feeling a little wearier with the idea than his younger iteration.

      I also don’t particularly like the idea that the time travel created a multi-verse, which has indeed been explicitly mentioned in the new Spider-Man trailer. But, as I say, in my mind the existing series is now finished. Where it goes from here is a new adventure altogether and will need to re-convince me to love it in the same way.

      • I disagree. “I can do this all day” was a pay off, but it was also foreshadowing to the moment when a battered Cap, unbreakable shield broken, stands alone against Thanos and his entire army.

        And waits for them to bring it. Cause he can do this all day.

        It’s a reminder that his real superpower is not the super soldier serum – it’s his unwavering determination to stand up and fight in the face of certain defeat.

  14. Jenny North says

    Thank you so much for this amazing series of posts! They’ve been clever, instructive, and entertaining, and have helped to clarify a lot of concepts for me. This was a great topic to end things on!

    I was a bit surprised that Endgame didn’t acknowledge the notion that the years-long gap may cause big problems for people who managed to move on. Like if Clint had remarried and had a kid (instead of turning into a crazed vigilante), and then *poof* his old family came back, for instance. I’m worried that Spider-Man:FFH might sidestep this obvious problem, too, since Peter’s friends seem largely back together.

    I feel like this is a problem with shared storytelling where one movie teases stuff and the next one either ignores it, undoes it, or outright contradicts it. (Although the MCU has been remarkably consistent!) In improv, they teach you to treat whatever the person that came before you as a gift…lately, sequels seem to treat what came before as inconveniences.

    If you end up doing a follow-on to this series of posts, I’d be curious your thoughts on how best to pick up on stories from other writers, or writing in a shared universe. And how to avoid stepping on toes when you don’t have total control like in solo writing a standalone story.

    I’m also transparently trying to goad you into writing a Spider-Man:FFH article. Is it working? 🙂

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says

      I’ll be very interested myself to see how this is handled in future stories. The series so far had a solid unifying arc, which helped a lot with avoiding inconsistencies. Not sure how much they’ve thought about how this arc plays into the next one, so that will be interesting to watch unfold.

  15. M.A.F.W. says

    I’ve really enjoyed reading your Marvel series over the last few years, and it’s helped me a lot with my own writing, so I admit I’ve been waiting to read what you would say about Endgame. I have to admit I was surprised that you didn’t talk about theme at all, as I felt the theme of the movie was particularly negative and could be summarized as “it’s okay to never move on.” Out of all the characters in the movie, Tony was the only one who actually did move on to some degree, and only got involved again when he realized there was a plausible way of getting everyone back.

    Overall, I liked the film, and Tony’s death was satisfying for all the reasons you mentioned, but the one reason I can’t truly feel any closure was because of Cap. I would’ve preferred they killed him.

    His ending was an absolute betrayal of his character that only reinforced the overarching idea that “it’s okay to never move on.” It’s like he ran away. He knew the end to Peggy’s story. He knew she lived a complete life, satisfied, with kids and a husband. Regardless of whether a person subscribes to the theory that her husband had always been meant to be “future Steve,” Steve himself wouldn’t have known that, and would he really have been selfish enough to erase the happiness Peggy had found after moving on from him?

    Living in the past also meant he would have to spend every day doing exactly the opposite of what he told Tony about himself back in Civil War. I think the line went something like: “I see something that isn’t right and I just can’t help myself.” There’s no way Steve would have been able to just sit back and let things play out the way he knew they would. Tony’s parents’ deaths and Bucky’s imprisonment especially. And what kind of life could he have possibly lived where he pretty much had to stay in the house all day so no one would ever recognize him, where he could never be seen in public with his own kids?

    As much as I loved Peggy and Steve together, that “missed opportunity” was part of what gave his character so much power. The dance at the end just…wrecked it. Not even just in a character sense, but in a thematic sense. Stories are supposed to reflect Truth back at us, and the truth is that sometimes we lose out on something, and we don’t get a second chance, but we go on living because our lives are so much more than the sum of our missed opportunities.

    Oops, that got longer than I intended. But I am curious, what were your thoughts on the theme of the movie outside of Tony’s own character arc?

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says

      I think the theme was intended along more positive lines, such as “don’t give up on your responsibilities,” etc. But I’ll have to watch it again to really have a solid opinion. There was a *lot* happening in this movie. It definitely needs multiple viewings, which I haven’t had the chance for yet.

    • Jenny North says

      I thought the same thing, that it was odd that Cap would choose to live a life in hiding and not get involved, but then I remembered that it was a parallel timeline, so he could do anything he wanted and not affect his own timeline…he could marry Peggy, go on adventures, and all that.

      Personally I thought the themes were less about “moving on” than about duty and selfless sacrifice. Tony was always self-centered, so at the beginning he reverts to type and forgets about the rest of the world so long as he can keep his little slice of heaven. Then at the climax he commits the ultimate selfless sacrifice to save everyone.

      Cap’s arc struck me as the opposite. At the beginning he selflessly helped others to try to move on even when he himself couldn’t. So his was kind of a “negative arc,” where he ended up by allowing himself to put his own desires first for once, but after a lifetime of service it seemed to me like a good ending for him. Tony’s last gift was to teach him it’s okay to be a little bit selfish.

      The other characters seemed to follow this theme, too. Widow and Hawkeye literally fought for the right to sacrifice themselves. Thor had descended into despair and become very self-centered but redeemed himself after he learned not to equate self-sacrifice with always winning. So with everybody arcing all over the place, it kind of fit that someone would be on a flat character arc, but I admit I didn’t expect it to be the Hulk. 🙂

      Aaand this one got longer than I intended, too. Sorry…

      • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says

        I like that. I’ll definitely be keeping this approach in mind, in regards to theme, when I view it again.

    • Jared Michalski says

      Steve’s ending was just one of the movie’s MANY confusing time travel rules. I’m not sure how his choices created an alternate timeline yet he was able to return to the funeral that was in the original timeline?

      Or maybe it wasn’t the original timeline. Who knows? It was all so confusing it was hard to tell. But it definitely felt out of character for him either way.

      I can see why the idea that he finally put himself first would have appealed to the writers. It’s a nice way to send him off, but it just didn’t work for me. Additionally, while I loved the scene where Tony told off Cap, that scene essentially reversed course the takeaway from Civil War by saying Tony was right all along – which I don’t think he was.

      So Cap’s ending ultimately left me very unsatisfied. He’s my favorite character by far but, truthfully, I wanted him to die. I was hoping for the opposite ending actually. One in which Cap sacrificed himself to mend the rift between him and Tony, and Tony learned an important lesson that was the impetus for Thanos’ ultimate defeat.

      • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says

        I’m going to have to see it again to sort out all the time-travel implications, but my take is that they created multiple timelines, so Cap’s life in a different timeline with Peggy made no changes in the timeline with which we’re familiar.

        • Jenny North says

          I’m plotting out a time travel story, so I’ve been researching various concepts for how it might work in a story, since different models have huge implications on if characters’ actions have genuine consequences.

          Endgame went with the multiple timelines approach, which is arguably the weakest because nothing they do has any consequences for the “real” timeline. (“Sorry we helped your Loki escape with the Tesseract. We gotta run, but good luck with that.”) That’s why the writers hand-waved it so hard and then doubled down on making it fun, so we wouldn’t notice. It makes for an entertaining ride, but the fridge logic settles in afterwards…

          • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says

            Truth. For better or worse, I usually find time-travel stories so entertaining that I’m willing to overlook most of the plot holes.

  16. DragonGeek says

    I can only disagree with one thing: Thor. His arc is the only one that isn’t ended, so while it might be unfulfilling now, it’ll come around when he comes back next.

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says

      Hope so. :p

      • Yeah, that’s what I’m thinking. Since he’s with the Guardians now, he’s probably gonna be in GOTG 3…(and hopefully that trickster brother of his too) And I really need a second viewing too, because when it comes to movies I’ve been anticipating, I tend to be a little biased at first.

        (But can we all agree that the portal scene was one of the most epic scenes in movie history? Next to all the epic scenes from LOTR, of course!)

        Also, this right here: “This is why so many TV series are good only for about three seasons. After that, the storytellers start messing with the initial arc in order to expand the story. The result is that the characters start getting messed with as well—and the slide begins. Smart, sympathetic characters who started out making smart, sympathetic choices start being forced to act out of character in order to accommodate a more complicated plot.”

        That made me think of the series h20. The first season is pretty good, but in the second season, they start messing with Zane and his character development from the first season. It slides more in the third and final season, and I’m just like, “You guys. STOP MESSING WITH ZANE. HE WAS STARTING TO DO JUST FINE UNTIL YOU STARTED HAVING HIM GO BACK AND FORTH BETWEEN MAKING STUPID DECISIONS AND THEN DECIDING LATER TO DO THE RIGHT THING. STAAAAAHP.”

        That being said…I keep viewing the ending to my Matthews Family series as ending where it began – with John and Margaret facing his parents, only this time, instead of battling with them over whether or not they’ll choose abortion or life for their child (aka Connor, who was conceived out of wedlock), they’re reconciling. And I’ve also thought of both the Matthews and Reid families getting together at Christmastime for the ending too.

        • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says

          (But can we all agree that the portal scene was one of the most epic scenes in movie history? Next to all the epic scenes from LOTR, of course!)

          Agreed. 😀

  17. Tracy Davies says

    Hi KM, thank you for your outstanding use of Marvel as teaching tool. I’m feeling quite inspired because of you and your insights this morning. All the best!

  18. Dennis Michael Montgomery says

    Even though I only saw Iron Man I believe I have learned some elements for good storytelling.

    Thank you.

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says

      Thanks! I always wanted the series to be useful even to those who haven’t seen the movies, so that makes me happy!

  19. JOHN G CRYAR says

    Ms. Weiland, I have been a faithful follower of yours since I began trying to become a writer. Every day I feel the more I learn, the less I know.Below is a post I made on to my FB page April 28. I was fresh from the theater and my post reflects my immediate, honest responses.

    “Went to see ENDGAME today. It was OK, nothing special. Parts were slow then you’d get a brief to medium length span of intense action. And, like the title states, at the end some main character were killed. I won’t say who. Was it worth the >$28.00 (ticket, small popcorn, and drink)? Maybe, but I liked some of the earlier Marvel movies much better. Just saying . . .”

    I offer this after reading today’s post. Like my post, ‘Just saying.’

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says

      Mileage varies. 🙂 My reaction was very emotional. I may have a different opinion myself after I can view it again a little more rationally.

  20. Marvel, especially in its Silver Age, always produced top-notch stories. Stanley Leiber changed his name to Stan Lee when he started writing comics because he dreamed of writing novels, and didn’t want anyone to know he was slumming. His storytelling skills made Marvel what it is.

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says

      Absolutely. Another thing for which I’m grateful is that Stan was able to complete all his cameos for this arc of the story. It won’t feel right without him.

  21. I, too, was sitting in the theater trying my best not to cry. Made all the more awkward because it was a company showing so my boss was sitting just a few seats down from me.

    Endgame payed off the series so well that I actually think it elevated all 11 years of stories. They became definitive in my mind, somehow, and rose from good entertainment to something I shall never forget.

    What a rare privilege to partake in this saga as it unfolded. I look back gratefully, and say goodbye with more than a slight twinge in my chest.

    And, to be honest, I have legitimately looked forward to your analysis of each movie, and for that reason have been double-excited each time a new Marvel movie came out.

    So I guess this is goodbye both to the MCU journey and the Do’s and Don’ts. It, as they say, has been real.

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says

      Yeah, I wasn’t the only one sniffling in my theater either. Misery loves company I guess. 😉

  22. David Snyder says

    Katie,

    Another great post! I do love me some super heroes. Reminds me of the Bible.

    My key take-away from all of these posts of late is to try and write every day, and every single time you do sit down to write, say to yourself: “Ok dagnabbit, I am going to write the best danged story today that was ever written in the history of mankind. Today. Right now. So here we go.”

    Writing from a place of personal integrity and purity of heart, as if the writing itself were a form of prayer—as weird as that might sound. All the truth you have—if you only have one more day.

    Every day.

    I think if you tell a heartfelt story every day you eventually get better at it.

    But that could just be crazy talk.

    🙂

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says

      Love everything you just said here, but especially this: “Writing from a place of personal integrity and purity of heart, as if the writing itself were a form of prayer—as weird as that might sound. All the truth you have—if you only have one more day.”

      I’ve been mulling on a post about the spirituality of art that I want to share soon.

  23. Great comments on characters and how much should they change if at all. Great stories are hard to write and hard to come by.

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says

      Yes, there’s a big difference between an organic character arc and characters acting “out of character.”

  24. Thanks so much for this series! It was awesome to find someone else in the center of this particular venn diagram.

    I would take your comments about payoff and add that since the series was so long and intricate, a lot of moments were payoffs of setups that were, in themselves, payoffs of a kind. Cap once again wielding Mjolnir was the payoff to the setup from Ultron, which was a payoff from the setup of Mjolnir’s history. Only someone worthy can wield it. That moment was a BOOM and so this moment is another BOOM, reminding us, once again, that Cap is worthy. Tony’s relationship with Peter is set up in Homecoming, which was relying on the setup of Tony’s character that we’ve been watching from the beginning. Endgame took all the threads and tugged them enough to see them woven all the way back through the fabric of the series.

    And, as others have stated, you were not alone with your tears. Our entire theater was clearly sniffling. I knew I was doomed when Tony said, “I lost the kid” in the first like, 10 minutes of the movie.

    Great finale.

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says

      Totally agree. Big series that get their audiences to invest over a long period of time usually have much more to play with (or mess up) by the time the finale comes around.

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