Tuesday, September 17, 2013

Things The Legend of Korra Taught Me About Writing

Do you hear that? It's the sound of The Legend of Korra being back on the air with new episodes. And, subsequently, my high-pitched fangirl screaming. 

So to celebrate my favorite hard-headed Avatar returning to the air waves, here's some things that LoK has taught me about writing.

1. You can't please everyone. Well, if you follow me on Tumblr, you know what I'm about to dive into. After the hour long premiere of Korra last Friday, I excitedly hopped onto Tumblr and entered the Legend of Korra tag in order to reblog my guts out in excitement. However, when I arrived, I found that nearly the entire tag was filled to the brim with negative comments. I was stupefied. In my opinion, it was a fair premiere--nothing more, nothing less. I couldn't understand how it seemed like half the fandom absolutely hated it, and for some pretty petty and perhaps trigger-happy reasons. It kept getting worse the more and more I scrolled down until I finally got pissed off and did something I soon regretted. I made a post saying that the premiere was better than no premiere at all. Albeit, I was being sarcastic. Boy, howdy. The post reached over 1,000 notes within an hour. Half of them agreed with me. The other half vehemently did not. I received at least five angry Anon messages in my Inbox. I lost eight followers overnight. So. What did I learn? 

Writing is subjective. If you wanted to get down to bare bones, there probably is not definitive way to decide what is "good" and "bad" writing. All we can do is weigh in and see what the general consensus is. As a result, it's impossible to write something that makes literally everyone happy. You could ask every single person on this planet what they like and try to incorporate that into the end all, be all novel...and someone would still hate it. Because we're human. Because we're flawed.

Did the Korra premiere have issues? Hell yeah. All over the place. But it's clear--at least to me, if no one else--that the writers/animators/directors actually care about the characters and the storyline and they made the best story they felt they could based on the direction the series is going. In order for Korra not to be a retread of ATLA, they are taking more risks and diverting from the source material. In some ways, it works. In others, it doesn't. This is something that every writer--myself included--will face whenever they put ink on the paper. Someone's going to disagree with you. Someone's going to hate you and your work. But it's part of the job. We aren't here to be liked. We're here to art, and art hard. 

2. Pacing can make or break you. Now it's time to travel back through time to the first season of Korra. I liked the first season. It had some truly gorgeous fight scenes, one hell of a creepy villain, and some excellent characters to explore. However, the one complaint that nearly everyone has brought up is the pacing. Sadly, LoK started out as just a mini-series. They had absolutely no indication or promise that it would make it past twelve episodes. As a result, the writers had to cram an entire season's worth of story into half a season's worth of episodes. This meant taking huge shortcuts with plot elements, character interactions, and overall story arcs. 

This unfortunate drawback imparted an important detail to me: know the length and duration of your story beforehand, if at all possible. Some writers do this very well. Jim Butcher, for instance, does an excellent job with stringing together elements from the first Harry Dresden novel all the way to the latest one. Some writers struggle with it. The writers of Supernatural, for instance, are great at bringing back certain minor characters, but they massively abuse it by simply bringing them back to bump them off, or completely forgetting a major recurring character entirely because of whatever reason. (*cough* ADAM *cough, hacks up a bloody lung and cries because at least it's not burning in hell like Adam*) 

Pacing is just as important as any other threads that hold a story together. It's important that things happen naturally, even if their nature is something irregular or bold. The story needs to have plot points that are organic, and the characters' actions should reflect such accordingly, or you'll give your audience a massive case of whiplash. You don't want to do that. Medical bills are expensive.

3. Memorable characters can make your story soar. Okay, so it's no secret that I like Korra. She's ballsy and awkward and headstrong. I also like Mako, despite the fact that over half the fandom hates his guts. Whatever. But you know who will always stick out in my mind as a great character? Lin frickin ' Bei Fong. This is yet another aspect that the writers of ATLA and LoK are really good at--developing side characters and making you love them. As a reader, you usually expect to like or want to follow your main protagonist, but I've noticed that good writers can also write great supportive characters. I'll give two examples for science reasons: Waldo Butters from the Dresden Files and Jason Schulyer from the Anita Blake novels.

Alright, shut up, it's time to talk about the Dresden Files. If you're not reading them, hold out your hand so I can smack the back of it. If you are, please email me with all your feelings about Cold Days. I need to share. Anyway, Waldo Butters is by far one of my favorite characters in the novel series, and that's saying a lot considering I am 1000% head-over-heels in love with Harry. Butters was introduced in Death Masks and later received supportive character status in Dead Beat. This was easily one of the best decisions Butcher made. He is a wonderful offbeat character who started out as an awkward dorky guy who didn't have much courage, and then turned into this hilarious, quirky friend of Harry's. There is nothing I love more than to trip over a character and fall in love with them like a cheesy rom-com. 

Jason Schulyer, however, won me over basically the first time he was introduced in The Lunatic Cafe. I mean, let me describe his character: he's a male stripper whose stage name is Ripley (yes, as in Ripley from the Alien movies), he's a werewolf who spends his nights feeding his blood to his vampire master, he's bisexual, and he's a total lecherous pervert with a noble streak. I mean, come on. Doesn't he sound like he should be the actual protagonist of the novel series? The point I want to make about Jason is that he is so entertaining that I actually kept reading the Anita Blake novels specifically for him after the series went in the crapper after the infamous Narcissus in Chains. It is completely absurd that I liked him so much that I would put up with the purple prose, horrible sex scenes, misogyny, and general unpleasantness that is Cerulean Sins and Blood Noir, but it still happened anyway. 

To circle back around to my point, The Legend of Korra did exactly that--it gave me an extra reason to tune back into the story for season two. Anytime a reader finds more help to love your series, that's an achievement. For example, my editor told me that a minor character from The Black Parade made her laugh so hard that she hopes he reappears someday. I had no intention of ever bringing him back, as he was just a one-off villain, but thanks to her, he might show his face again. Details like a well-rounded cast of characters can be that boost to an author's reputation that they never knew they needed. 

Well, I think I've gushed enough. If you're curious, The Legend of Korra premieres Fridays at 7:00pm EST on Nickelodeon. Join us. WE ARE LEGION. 

*waves hands, whispers* Water tribe.


  1. Even though I have no desire nor am I in the Korra target demo, I still get some enjoyment reading about it and following it through your eyes as a very passionate woman about this series.