If you haven’t binge watched the living daylights out of Marvel’s “Daredevil” over on Netflix, then this post may get a little spoilery. I will begin with this warning, because I’m going to discuss a few aspects of the series that could spoil it for those who haven’t watched the series yet.
For that I am truly sorry…but you really need to watch “Daredevil”. It’s very good.
There are many aspects of the series that are fantastic, from the incredible acting by Vincent D’Onofrio as Wilson Fisk (aka Kingpin) to the 6 minute fight scene that was done with one continuous shot. I am going to focus on three writing techniques used in the series that writers should take as lessons in storytelling.
Here they are:
- In Post Res – At the start of episode 2, we find Daredevil lying in a dumpster half dead. He landed there after falling off of the roof when he lost a fight. Charlie Jane Anders notes this over on io9, but what we should take away from it as writers is that we don’t need to show a reader all the action in the story. Sometimes it’s a really good idea to drop the reader down in the action long after a major event has happened, one that the reader will never experience. We know that Daredevil had his black mask handed to him, but we don’t need to see it. It is referenced that he was trounced by a bad guy (or more likely a group of them) but the real drama comes from how he survives the next few hours. He meets a major character, we see more of his resolve as a crime fighter, and we learn even more about Matt Murdock as a person than any fight scene could have told us.
- Villainous Motivation – I’ve read a lot of fiction where the villain is completely evil, totally sold out to their cause of being the most dangerous person imaginable, but the character of Wilson Fisk is something to be seen. He is terrifying. I had a nightmare about him after binge-watching the entire series last Saturday. What intrigued me most about Fisk was not the fact that he can decapitate a man in a car door, but that he is truly damaged by the events of his childhood. This makes him somewhat sympathetic, and as the series played out I became more and more awed by him. As I have stated in previous posts, our villains need to have a sympathetic hook that causes our readers to understand the logical reason the villain is committing horrid atrocities. Wilson Fisk believes that he is preventing Hell’s Kitchen from falling apart. If he controls everything, he can keep everything together. His motives are noble, but his actions toward that goal are horrifying. He is also in a romantic relationship with an art dealer, and that relationship is very tender. This is a multi-layered aspect of his personality that is intriguing and at the same time tragic.
- The Hero Is Not Ultimate – Often in our epic novels or adventure novels our hero is like John Wick or Liam Neeson from “Taken”. Invincible. Matt Murdock is definitely not invincible. He’s flawed, spends most of the series recouping from life-threatening injuries, pulls stitches, and is visibly exhausted after going toe-to-toe with foes. He also has to balance his vigilante life with his life as a public defender. Toward the end of the series these things blend, causing awful consequences for the relationships he holds dear. The best heroes are those who are damaged or those who are banged up terribly by the heroic actions they take. Indiana Jones was kind of a cartoon, leaping great distances, falling from great heights, but never really going to the hospital to recoup from injuries. Matt Murdock somehow manages even with deep lacerations and stitches…and stab wounds. It is his resolve that keeps him going, but he is indeed hindered by his injuries. The point here is we should not be afraid to punish our protagonists so much that they nearly die. It will heighten the suspense for the reader.
There you have it. If you have time, or maybe because you have writer’s block and need some inspiration, check out Daredevil as soon as you can. Drew Goddard’s hard work on the series is definitely a sight to behold.
Art by Sean Izaakse. Check his art here.
4 thoughts on “3 Writing Lessons From Marvel’s “Daredevil””
Hi Roger, I watched the first episode with my son — and he couldn’t handle the violent scenes, so we stopped watching it. It’s difficult for me to get in TV time without the kids hanging around, so I have to cater to them! But, without having watched beyond the first episode, I fully agree with your 3 points in the general sense. I really enjoy layered antagonists as they amp up the tension with their unpredictability. And flawed protagonists make for a great storyline, too.
Kate. I totally understand about the violence. It was, for a Marvel production, quite over the top at times. Watch the series when you can get some time away from the kiddos. It’s well worth it from a writing standpoint.
This is a great post! I throughly enjoyed watching Daredevil, and can see all of these points. I didn’t think I would like Fisk as much as I did and I think the layering of his personality had a lot to do with that. I was really surprised at the love/hate feeling I developed for Wesley. We really didn’t get much insight into his backgrounds and motivation, but I was devastated by his death near the end of the season.
Yes. I was saddened by his death as well…and shocked.