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On Writing

The Writer Ain't Your Personal Pinata

Stephen H. Provost

It's not the reader's job to whack away at the author until candy comes spilling out of his or her guts, then continue to swing away in frustration because said writer has dispensed fruit sours instead of Hershey's kisses. The writer isn't my slave, and George R.R. Martin doesn't "owe" me another Game of Thrones installment any more than he owes it to his characters to keep them alive.

They're his characters, and we're his readers. Note the sentence construction. No one ever says, "Neil Gaiman is my author" (with the possible exception of Amanda Palmer) or "Joss Whedon is my screenwriter" (unless it's the CEO of Disney, which employed him for the latest Avengers flick). There's a perfectly sound reason for that: Neil Gaiman, George R.R. Martin and Joss Whedon are the ones doing the work. Without them, there'd be nothing to criticize. Do you think J.K. Rowling goes around bashing her readers for mispronouncing the name of a character, skipping a chapter or failing to finish the book in one sitting? Get real. She's got better things to do with her time - like write another book.

Some people are ripping Joss Whedon for the way he wrote the Black Widow character, Natasha Romanov (Scarlett Johansson), in The Avengers: Age of Ultron. As near as I can tell, the criticism is mostly about a story arc in which Romanov and Bruce Banner/The Hulk (Mark Ruffalo) tentatively explore their feelings for each other and she reveals that she was subjected to the trauma of a forced sterilization procedure.

Hey, critics: Last time I checked, there was nothing wrong with falling in love - it can be a downright pleasant experience, and it doesn't automatically make you a "weak" character. In fact, the Romanov character is a lot stronger than the indecisive Banner in the movie. As to the forced sterilization procedure, yes, that would be traumatic, and the inability to have kids does have the tendency to create a sense of loss - for men and women alike. Both Romanov and Banner feel it. 

The subtext of the scene in which this is revealed suggests that the inability to have children doesn't make someone a monster. It doesn't make either of them less human. And for those critics who failed to notice, procreation as a means of continuing the species was a fairly clear theme running through the plot as a whole; I suspect Whedon wove this secondary story into the script as a means of exploring that theme on a more personal level.)

Regardless of such considerations, however, it was Whedon's story to tell. He didn't deserve to get death threats on Twitter for writing the Natasha Romanov character the way he did - or for not writing it the way a few strident critics wanted it written. A say "a few" because, as of this writing, 89 percent of audiences and 75 percent of critics on Rotten Tomatoes liked the movie. Whedon can take that as vindication. And he can take pride in the fact that his name's on the film - because he did the work. You didn't. I didn't. We have a right to our opinions, but this will never be "our" movie because without us, it would still exist. Without him, it wouldn't - at least not in its present form.

And that would be a shame, because it was a lot of fun to watch.

Note: Careful observers will have realized that I misspelled the Black Widow character's last name - which is actually "Romanoff" in the Marvel Universe - throughout this post. This was by design. My wife's next novel is titled "Romanov" (with e "V"), so I thought I'd plant a little seed: a little advance marketing. Wink.