Tuesday, July 21, 2015

What I learned as a writer from this year's Comic Con

Posted by: Angela Campbell
First of all, let me clarify I didn't actually go to Comic Con International, but thanks to Youtube and Entertainment Weekly and social media, I was able to keep up with my various fandoms, such as Doctor Who, Batman v. Superman, Supernatural, The Hunger Games, The Walking Dead, and Star Wars.

Please note: If you're a fan of the CW show Supernatural but haven't seen the last few episodes of the last season, the following will contain spoilers, so read ahead at your own risk.

My favorite moment from this year's Comic Con probably came from seeing the all-male panel from Supernatural being called out by a fan during the Q&A for its less-than-stellar treatment of female characters and their reacting to the question with nothing short of uncomfortable awkwardness. By the way, I call showrunner Jeremy Carver out for giving a complete b.s. answer as to why Charlie's death was necessary. Because this was his reply: "When we’re in the writers’ room, we have to go where the story takes us.”

You can watch for yourself below. The question happens around the 35-minute mark. For those who don't watch the show, Charlie Bradbury (played by Felicia Day) has been one of the show's only recurring female characters for years. She's a computer hacker who got the Winchester brothers (a pair of hot demon-hunting brothers) to binge watch Game of Thrones, became a demon hunter herself, and oh, she also happened to be a lesbian.

I actually thought long and hard about Jeremy's Carver's answer — "When we’re in the writers’ room, we have to go where the story takes us" — since, you know, I'm a writer myself. On one hand, yes, I totally get what he's trying to say. Sometimes when you're writing, you end up writing scenes and characters you didn't anticipate writing — they just happened somehow along the way, and by golly, they work, so you run with it.

On the other hand, I find it hard to believe in this instance that someone in that writer's room, or in that cast, didn't hold up their hands and say, "Whoa, guys. Is it really a good idea to kill a fan favorite female character who also happens to be the only substantial LGBTQ character in our show's history? I mean, she's really the only recurring female character on our show now, and you know, this scene has a very, very, very simple solution to avoid her death?"

For those of you who don't watch the show or need a refresher, Charlie was being chased by some really bad guys who wanted something she had and who would gladly kill her to retrieve it. The Winchester boys put her under the watch of Castiel, who happens to be an angel. That's right. AN ANGEL. Up to this point, Charlie was doing a kickass job of keeping herself safe, but for whatever reason, suddenly she needed the show's male heroes to step in and protect her. I mean, OK, if you must. *grumble, grumble*

But wait. It gets worse.

Charlie is a computer hacker who has generally been portrayed until this point as an intelligent woman, yet knowing her life is in grave danger, she ditched Castiel for some alone time at a very unsafe-looking motel and (gasp!) seemed shocked when those bad guys found her. Now, Charlie knows Castiel is an angel with all kinds of angel powers. In the show's history, Dean or Sam have prayed to Castiel when they needed help and, poof! He appeared to save them with his angelic superpowers. When that final scene with Charlie played live on television, all of the Supernatural fan base on Twitter lit up with "For the love of all that is holy, why isn't Charlie praying for Castiel's help right now?!?!?" Because she didn't. And she ended up brutally murdered and her body left in a bathtub for the show's heroes to find.

So, what I learned from this year's Comic Con wasn't really a new revelation. It was more of a reinforcement that I'm incredibly grateful to my critique partners and beta readers for keeping me from making stupid choices like that. Thank God for my editor because I know she, at least, would have slapped that manuscript back to me and said, "No. Hell, no, and FIX THIS. Thank you." Only a lot nicer, probably, because she's British.

Here's the thing. Anyone who is a fan of Supernatural with half a brain saw Charlie's death coming a season away. Her death was the one thing that would push Dean Winchester over the edge, and it became pretty clear mid-season that's where the writers were headed. Fans of the show are used to its bad treatment of women, but Charlie's death, for whatever reason, seems to be the last straw for many.

That's because in her final minutes, they made Charlie ridiculously stupid AND made it obvious her death was nothing more than a plot device since it could have so easily been avoided. That's what made me so mad about her departure. It wasn't so much that they killed off Charlie that angered me as a longtime fan of the show (I'm still more pained about Bobby and Kevin, to be honest), it's how they did it. And yes, I know, she will probably come back somehow — this is Supernatural, after all — but that's not the point.

I think a lot of genre fiction writers can probably sympathize with Jeremy Carver and his room full of writers. After all, Supernatural has been on TV for 10 years and counting. After a point, it's got to be hard to keep stories flowing. This situation highlights another possible dilemma for writers, especially of genre fiction. At what point do you make decisions based on the popularity of your characters over what you personally feel their story arcs should be? I haven't yet faced this dilemma in my writing, but I'm sure plenty of writers have.

So I ask the writers out there — if you had a popular series, would you write a scene for a character if you felt it moved the story along yet would probably anger your readers? We'll even pretend it would be a lot smarter than the Supernatural example shown above.

And I'd love for readers of genre books to weigh in, too. Have you ever read a book series that at some point angered you enough to curse the author? We've all been there, right?

With that said, I'll leave you with a link to my favorite panel from Comic Con — Women Who Kick Ass! Because female characters can and do kick ass on a daily basis, especially when they're written well.

Angela Campbell is the author of the psychic detectives series from Harper Impulse. Learn more about her and her books at www.AngelaCampbellOnline.com.


  1. Yeah, I didn't watch Supernatural's panel this year. I was afraid it would upset me too much. I would rather Charlie have stayed in OZ than have come back for the beatdown and then death this season. I got over Dean's beatdown but Charlie's death was so stupid.

    I have to say I'm almost ready to root for Rowena because she is the only female left.

    I loved Arrow's panel and most of the kickass female's there. I have issues with Laurel's character. I keep wishing she'd be the one to die one of these days.

    1. I love Arrow, but I found my interest waning this last season — especially the second half. I'm with you on Laurel. I liked Sara's Black Canary much better, so I'm glad they're bringing her back for Legends of Tomorrow at least. Thanks for commenting!

  2. I don't watch Supernatural, but it sounds like they didn't do justice to the character. It reminds me of the totally pointless death of Tasha Yar (in Star Trek: TNG) in the Skin of Evil episode--and how they later gave the character the more heroic death she deserved in Yesterday's Enterprise.

    1. Yes! Yesterday's Enterprise was fabulous. But then they took back her heroic death in "Redemption" by having it turn out that she'd been captured by Romulans instead, so that she gets to end her life right back in the same kind of brutal environment she grew up in and struggled to escape from. Grrr. I still can't believe they found an alternative that was worse than death-by-slime-monster, but betrayed-by-your-own-daughter was both pointless AND cruelly ironic.

  3. I used to love SPN but they've treated their few women characters badly for so long, plus they keep rehashing the same plot over and over, that I've lost interest. Those first five seasons were a great run, though.

    As for your question to writers - I've not been in that position yet but I like to think I'd stick to my guns and risk angering readers if it was the right thing for the story.

  4. SPN writers have a history of listening to fan feedback--and making stupid story decisions because it's what the viewers said they wanted. So I don't for a minute believe they're all that motivated by where the story takes them. I think they just all want to be George Martin right now.

    As for your writer question, I think it depends. If it's truly necessary and not stupid and there's no way around it then yes. Sometimes you have to make the hard choices.


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