Why Authors Can’t Afford to Dupe Their Readers (or Why Hawkeye Ruined Age of Ultron)

This week’s video talks about why a certain plot twist in Age of Ultron made me really, really, really mad—and how you can do better in your own stories.

Video Transcript:

So if you’ve been watching me for any length of time, you’ve probably figured out I’m a major Marvel fan. But I’m just going to say it straight up: Avengers 2: Age of Ultron made me really, really, really, really, really mad. Really. If I’ve said it once, I’ve said it a dozen times: I trust director Joss Whedon’s storytelling chops. Most people would agree the man is nigh on a genius, but in my opinion, with Age of Ultron, he blew it on the basis that he did not play fair with his audience—and here’s why. (Be ye warned: spoilers ahead.)

So one of the big reveals about a third of the way into this movie is that heretofore relatively minor character Clint Barton, aka Hawkeye, has a secret family, consisting of one wife and two and a half kiddies. Aside from the fact that this was all rather clumsily set up, in my opinion, the whole thing immediately started screaming one carefully constructed, single, solitary message to the audience: Hawkeye is gonna die. Whedon even noted in interviews that he felt it was absolutely essential for audiences to believe Hawkeye was doomed.

Why? For the simple reason that Whedon wanted to do a switcheroo and fake out audiences by leading them to believe that the hinted-at doomed Avenger was Hawkeye when really it was the even minor-er character Quicksilver. This fake-out is bolstered all the way from that early scene with Hawkeye’s family right down to the final scene in which Quicksilver dies. So what’s the problem? Again, the problem is that Whedon deliberately took advantage of the audience’s trust and duped them just for the sake of duping them. The Hawkeye fake-a-roo did nothing to advance the plot. In short, it wasn’t a plot twist at all. It was a foreshadowing twist. Dramatic irony—in which the misdirection has some significance or thematic resonance—is one thing, but blatantly false foreshadowing is nothing more or less than a lie to the audience. So as you’re planning your own (presumably much more awesome) twist, make sure you’re bringing readers along for a meaningful ride—instead of laying a trap for them.

Why Authors Can’t Afford to Dupe Their Readers (or Why Hawkeye Ruined Age of Ultron)

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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. I saw Age of Ultron and I liked it, but Joss Whedon didn’t direct it. Someone else did, I think. If he did, he would’ve had Hawkeye killed off I’ll bet. I’m waiting for Infinity Wars and I’m sure it’s gonna be awesome. I just hope that Cap isn’t killed off. Joss tried that with Tony, but he didn’t really die, though the only way to kill him is have him be out of range. Cap doesn’t have a suit like Tony or super-strength and he’s just a human with advanced strength and stamina but, still. He’s just a human which means that Thanos could easily kill him. Like, if Cap was taken into outer space and was on the moon and thrown all the way to Earth, he’d be toast.
    As you could probably tell by this post I am also a Marvel fan, and I don’t think it would be a good idea to kill off someone like Cap, since he is the leader after all and without him, the Avengers wouldn’t have a leader unless Thor or Tony stepped up to the plate.

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says

      Yay for Marvel fans! 🙂 But Joss Whedon did direct Age of Ultron; it’s his last Marvel film. The Russo brothers (who directed the last two Captain America films) will be doing the Infinity Wars movies, which, frankly, makes me feel incredibly relieved.

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